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The Magic Island


Added Wed, 28/02/2018
Release date
Original title
The Magic Island

William Buehler Seabrook is a famous American occultist, magic researcher, traveler and journalist. It was thanks to him that the word "zombie" became known all over the world.

As a reporter for the famous newspaper "New York Times", William Seabrook went to Haiti. As a result of his expedition, he published the book "Island of Magic", which quickly gained worldwide popularity. In this book, the author tells about his life on the island in the house of the famous sorceress mambo Maman Seli. Because of this neighborhood, he witnessed many Voodoo rituals, including those dedicated to turning a person into a zombie. Right before his eyes, the deceased person was revived, and then sent to a sugar cane plantation, where he worked all day, without requiring food, money, or basic living conditions.

The popularity of this book has led to the appearance of a huge number of literary works and films, and the image of the living dead has reliably occupied its niche in world culture.

Despite the fact that not much attention is paid to the mystical side of Haiti and the Voodoo cult in the book, she left a big mark on history, not only bringing ideas about the living dead zombies to the Western world, but also popularizing this image. Already in 1932, based on one of the chapters of the book, the film "White Zombie" was released.

White Zombie


In Haiti, a wealthy landowner convinces a sorcerer to lure the American woman he has fallen for away from her fiance, only to have the madman decide to keep the woman for himself, as a zombie.
It's interesting 

The book "The Island of Magic" (1929, by William Seabrook) brought to the Western world ideas about the living dead created during Voodoo rites and popularized the word "zombie".

Part 1 Voodoo RITES (Part One THE VOODOO RITES)

I. Hidden fires (Secret fires)

The author introduces the reader to the island and its secrets. He tells how he arrived there and how his servant Louis told that behind the electric light brought by white people, a small sacred flame of the Voodoo cult burns in every house. The author decides to take notes of all the information about the cult that he will meet (the pantheon of gods, rituals and beliefs), since this is an unknown world for a European person.

II. The way is open and closed (The way is opened and closed)

The author, along with Louis' servant, go to the latter's native village: Louis to see his mother, and the author to learn more about the life of local residents and the Voodoo cult. When they arrive at the place, Louis' sick mother is happy to see how respected her son has become (the shoes on his feet speak about the status). The author and the servant brought sweets and gifts to the Louis family, so the author is accepted as a friend, despite the fact that he is white. His acquaintance with the Voodoo cult begins with viewing a ritual corner with Voodoo ouanga amulet dolls, other objects and a lit ritual fire in a bowl with coconut oil. The author notes that the objects of the Voodoo cult are adjacent to Christian relics. These two beliefs are strongly intertwined in the minds of local residents. Louis introduces the author to other relatives and tries to organize his presence at ritual ceremonies. The author indicates that he is going to stay for a long time, and with the assistance of the local government, he is sent to live with the priestess of the Voodoo cult Maman ("Mother") Sat down (Maman Celie).

III. Stone Sacrifice (The petro sacrifice)

The author points out that there was a kind of mystical connection between him and Maman Seli, as if they had known each other for a long time, although they met for the first time in their lives. She says that Voodoo is hidden from the eyes of white people because it is forbidden, but rituals are still carried out. Further, the author is present (and describes it in detail) at the ceremony of the god of the ancient African snake Damballa, which refers not to traditional, but to new rituals that arose as a result of the merger of several branches of the cult.

IV. The charm of "ouanga" (The "ouanga" charm)

Maman Seli shows the author how she prepares a love powder "ouanga" from dried poultry, some other ingredients, as well as drops of blood and semen of her nephew, who wants to attract a girl. This strengthens the author's belief that Voodoo rituals work. Next, he describes the manufacture of a protective amulet for him, and also gives examples of the actions of other rituals.

V. Crying goat crying girl (Goat-cry girl-cry)

In this chapter, the author describes a ritual involving a young girl and a sacrificial goat, as well as a ritual in which he himself became a participant. He called it a "preliminary rite of passage."

VI. The Incarnation of God (The god incarnate)

This chapter tells about the author's meeting with a young black man whose body was occupied for some time by the spirit of the deity Ogoun Badagris.


I. The altar of skulls

In this chapter, the author tells about a certain Dr. Holly, who uses traditional medicine for treatment, but actively studies books with ancient knowledge. The doctor tells the author that these people, despite the prohibition of Voodoo, not only actively profess it, but even use necromancy for their own purposes. The author describes another ritual using skulls and grave candles. With the help of this ritual, the Oracle speaks to the dead, asking them questions from parishioners, and also tells about the spirit of the cemetery, called Baron Samedi. Only with his permission can you take parts of corpses to make amulets and powders. The author points out that the facts of the use of such amulets were reported by the American military during the guerrilla uprisings in Kako. Next, he describes the features of the funeral rites of local residents.

II. "...Dead men working on cane plantations" ("... Dead men working in the cane fields")

In this chapter, the author is introduced to local folklore by farmer Constant Polynice. He talks about werewolves, vampires, fire spirits burning fields, and demons. He himself considers all this pure superstition. The only creatures he thinks are real are zombies. He says that the peculiarities of local funeral rites are aimed at protecting the deceased from becoming a zombie. He talks about the zombies themselves and that they really work on plantations. He goes on to cite one case where zombies worked for a planter, but after tasting the food with taste, they realized that they were dead and left. Next, the author is shown several of the alleged zombies, after which he and the farmer discuss whether these people are really dead, or is it some kind of mental illness. The farmer shows the journalist the criminal code of Haiti, in which there is article No. 249 about the forcible introduction of a person into a coma, which is punishable as murder if the person was then buried, regardless of the subsequent result.

III. Toussel's pale bride

In this chapter, the author talks about how sometimes representatives of the upper world hide belonging to the Voodoo cult, and also gives a story about the crazy bride of Toussel (a rich owner of coffee plantations from Morne Hopital) and what led her to madness: Toussel was reputed to be a Voodoo sorcerer, his wife suspected it and tried to tell her mother, after which her husband invited her to dinner with guests who turned out to be corpses, which drove the poor woman crazy.

IV. Celestine with a silver dish (Celestine with a silver dish)

The chapter begins with a story about how President Sudre Dartiguenave saw a Voodoo amulet in the hall of the presidential palace, which is believed to carry a curse. Next, the author tells about the president and his daughter Celestine, who was considered the high priestess of the Voodoo cult. The author cites a scandalous case of how once a colonel died in the presidential house, and at his funeral there was a dead goat in the coffin. The President called it the machinations of enemies. He died soon after. Next, the author tells about the bloody rites of Celestine, who, with the help of a silver dish and a wand, hypnotized the soldiers and killed one of them by taking out the heart.

Part 3 Tragicomedy (Part Three THE TRAGIC COMEDY)

I. A blind man walking on eggs (A blind man walking on eggs)

In this chapter, the author returns to the beginning of the story and talks about the general situation in Haiti and how he began his research. He compares himself to a blind man walking on eggs ("walking on eggshells" is an idiom that is often used to describe a situation in which people should be extremely careful when "stepping" on someone's sensitive topic). He talks about his communication with the highest ranks of Haiti. All of them talked about the dislike of Haitians for white people, as well as about the great difficulty that the author will face if he tries to get closer to their culture.

II. Nymph in bronze (A ymph in bronze)

In this chapter, the author talks about the Haitian aristocracy and his participation in a soiree.

III. The truth is a beautiful thing (The truth is a beautiful thing)

The author begins the chapter with doubts expressed by Haitian newspapers about the "truth" that a journalist can write about the "real" life of Haitians, being all the time at social receptions, in country clubs and visiting aristocrats. He arranges with a writer friend living in Haiti for help in writing an article. He tells him the story of the appearance of white people on the island and what has changed with their arrival.

IV. "ladies and gentlemen, the president!" ("ladies and gentlemen, the president!")

Here the author describes the presidential palace, its inhabitants and guests, as well as conversations with them.

V. But the truth becomes somewhat confusing (But the truth becomes somewhat tangled)

The President and his entourage (including the author as the guest of honor) are going on a four-day trip to Haiti to open the bridge. The author describes his observations about the appearance of the places where they arrive, and also points out his obvious discrepancy with reality, since in interviews several peasants tell him about the deplorable situation.

Part 4 Winding Trails (Part Four TRAILS WINDING)

I. The white king of la gonave (The white king of la gonave)

In this chapter, the author tells the story of the island of Gonave (La Gonave).

II. The Black (Queen's court) (The black (queen's court))

Here the author tells about the old queen of the island, who lived in its geographical center, who ruled for more than thirty years. The author notes the organization of her board: she was approached for dispute resolution and conflict resolution. The author also tells about other features of local government, traditions and the structure of the palace.

III. A piece of torn paper (A torn scrap of paper)

The author begins the chapter by mentioning that Gonav Island is the subject of fantastic speculation, strange rumors and legends grow around it, some of which turn out to be true. Then he tells several similar legends (for example, a bronze geodesic tablet found, the purpose of which the locals did not know, in their understanding became the tombstone of the king of antiquity).

IV. Portrait of a "big negro" (Portrait of a "gros nègre")

In this chapter, the author returns to the farmer (planter) again The Polynich constant. He describes his appearance and life, and then tells about the life of local workers.

V. "Polynice and his white" ("Polynice and his white")

In this chapter, the author talks about cockfights and roosters. In particular, about the roosters of his friend farmer Constant Polynich.

VI. The Congo Dance (The "danse congo")

In this chapter, the author deals with dancing. Congo dances, which came from Africa, although they play a key role in ritual practice, are also entertainment that has nothing to do with Voodoo, which means they are allowed. The following is a description of the dances and several songs are given.

VII. "no white man could be as dumb as that" ("no white man could be as dumb as that")

The author begins the chapter with the statement of a certain Cumberland, who is one of the five high-ranking officials of Haiti and has full control over the financial flows of Haiti: "No white man can be as stupid as this one." Then the author tells the story of how, thanks to the cunning of local residents, a medical institution appeared in Haiti.

VIII. Portrait of a scientist

In this chapter, the author tells about an interesting scientist Ekkman, who was a great man. The author also mentions some features of the flora of Haiti.

IX. Adventures on the Peak of la Selle (Morne la selle adventure)

In this chapter, the author tells about his attempt to climb the Peak of La Selle (Morne La Selle).

X. The soul of Haiti

In this chapter, the author tells a little more about the history of Haiti, revolutions and rulers.

Phenomena in artwork: Zombies

The farmer tells the author that in the folklore of the locals there is a kind of creature, not found in other peoples. It is a living corpse, which is called "zombie". The farmer considers them to be real because there are local cult rituals associated with the dead.

The farmer says that the local characteristics of graves (stone tombs, the proximity of the graves to the road or other busy place) we need to protect dead relatives from a terrible fate.

The farmer tells the story of how a man Joseph in 1918 led to work for a group of strange, numb like people. He said that uneducated people from the valley and they fear the noise and smoke of the factory. They had empty eyes and they did not react, when they asked the name.

Zombies, the author is described as follows:

... band of ragged creatures who shuffled along behind him, staring dumbly, like people walking in a daze. As Joseph lined them up for registration, they still stared, vacant-eyed like cattle, and made no reply when asked to give their names.

The farmer also explains that zombies feed: they are usually cooked tasteless food that does not contain salt and meat. It is believed that if zombies taste, you will understand that dead.

The author also shows the alleged zombie. When he first sees them, they seem weird. They are completely passive and obedient. Their eyes are like the eyes of the dead: unseeing and unfocused:

My first impression of the three supposed zofnbies, who continued dumbly at work, was that there was something about them unnatural and strange. They were plodding like brutes, like automatons. Without stooping down, I could not fully see their faces, which were bent expressionless over their work. Polynice touched one of them on the shoulder, motioned him to get up. Obediently, like an animal, he slowly stood erect — and what I saw then, coupled with what I had heard previously, or despite it, came as a rather sickening shock. The eyes were the worst. It was not my imagination. They were in truth like the eyes of a dead man, not blind, but staring, unfocused, unseeing. The whole face, for that matter, was bad enough. It was vacant, as if there was nothing behind it. It seemed not only expressionless, but incapable of expression.

Translated by «Yandex.Translator»

Phenomena in artwork: Fire Poltergeist

The farmer talks about the lights (fire-hags), who burned the plantations of cane:

fire-hags who left their skins at home and set the cane fields blazing

Translated by «Yandex.Translator»

Phenomena in artwork: A vampire

The farmer tells the story of a female vampire with red hair, who sucked the blood of children:

...the vampire, a woman sometimes living, sometimes dead, who sucked the blood of children and who could be distinguished because her hair always turned an ugly red.

Translated by «Yandex.Translator»

Phenomena in artwork: Werewolf

Farmer mentions about werewolves. He says it can be male or female, taking the form of a animal (mostly dogs) and attacking livestock:

... the werewolf — chauche in creole — a man or woman who took the form of some animal, usually a dog, and went killing lambs, young goats, sometimes babies.

He also mentions that his roommate once saw in the yard a small dog that gnawed the leg of lamb. He shot her and buried her, confident that it is some girl named Liana.

Translated by «Yandex.Translator»

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