[Closer to Death] What Exactly Is A Revenant?

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Most of you reading this are amply privy to the plethora of variations within the family of “the undead”. Zombies, spectres, ghosts, vampires – the list goes on and on. But what about the revenant? Are you familiar? Enough to be able to explain the difference to your friends?

With The Revenant coming out in theaters and on disc soon, its time to take a look at what makes this legendary blood sucking creature of the night different from the zombie, or the vampire. Read on, and consider yourself yet another inch closer to death.

The word “revenant” is derived from the Latin word “revenans”, which means “returning”. In French, it is related to the verb “revenir”, which means “to come back”.

A revenant is a ghost visible to the common eye, or an animated corpse that has returned from the grave. While this is very close to the zombie and vampire, there are differences that make it distinctive from the two.

Like the African folklore zombie, a revenant usually returns for a specific purpose, only not under the command of a “master”. History has logged many accounts of mortals crossing paths with revenants. In most cases, they are documented to have been harassing friends and family, or in some cases, even carrying out acts revenge against their killers.

Like vampires, they have often been associated with the act of drinking blood – although the reason for this (as opposed to the vampire drinking blood to survive) has been largely unknown.

Those most likely to become revenants are people who lived their lives on the “dark side” of mainstream reality – such as those who are blasphemers of religion and faith – wicked people, who instigate negativity and darkness among their peers. Most commonly, revenants, in their return from the dead, are associated with the spreading of disease.

Returning to similarity regarding their zombie and vampiric brothers and sisters – they are said to be dispatched only by digging up the grave of the reanimated, and burning them to ashes, staking or removing the heart, and/or decapitating the head.

The Revenant by director Kerry Prior is pretty much a walk through related to all this information. I personally had never heard of this creature until this film, and after seeing it, I was pleasantly surprised to find a history of its “reality”.

Stories of revenants originate from Western Europe, from Ireland to Great Britain. English historian William of Newburgh wrote in the late 1100s, “one would not easily believe that corpses come out of their graves and wander around, animated by some evil spirit, to terrorize or harm the living, unless there were many cases in our times, supported by ample testimony.”

William of Newburgh wrote of a number of cases “…as a warning to posterity.” He claimed that revenants walked the earth quite commonly, saying “were I to write down all the instances of this kind which I have ascertained to have befallen in our times, the undertaking would be beyond measure laborious and troublesome”.

One of his stories told of a mean man who had decided to become married, who upon returning home from work one day, found his wife in bed with another man. Upon his subsequent death, he returned and walked the streets, hunting down several men in their homes and beating them to death with his hands. After several persons were killed by this monster, the townspeople sought out the beast with the intent of destroying it. William wrote:

“Thereupon snatching up a spade of but indifferent sharpness of edge, and hastening to the cemetery, they began to dig; and whilst they were thinking that they would have to dig to a greater depth, they suddenly, before much of the earth had been removed, laid bare the corpse, swollen to an enormous corpulence, with its countenance beyond measure turgid and suffused with blood; while the napkin in which it had been wrapped appeared nearly torn to pieces. The young men, however, spurred on by wrath, feared not, and inflicted a wound upon the senseless carcass, out of which incontinently flowed such a stream of blood, that it might have been taken for a leech filled with the blood of many persons. Then, dragging it beyond the village, they speedily constructed a funeral pile; and upon one of them saying that the pestilential body would not burn unless its heart were torn out, the other laid open its side by repeated blows of the blunted spade, and, thrusting in his hand, dragged out the accursed heart. This being torn piecemeal, and the body now consigned to the flames…” – Wikipedia

The English Abbot of Burton told a story of two runaways from around 1090, who died of unknown causes and were entombed, but later…

“…the very same day in which they were interred they appeared at evening, while the sun was still up, carrying on their shoulders the wooden coffins in which they had been buried. The whole following night they walked through the paths and fields of the village, now in the shape of men carrying wooden coffins on their shoulders, now in the likeness of bears or dogs or other animals. They spoke to the other peasants, banging on the walls of their houses and shouting “Move quickly, move! Get going! Come!” – Wikipedia

Those villagers became sick and began to die. Eventually the bodies of the revenants were dug up, the heads cut off and their hearts removed, and the undead plague was thereafter neutralized.

Kerry Prior’s The Revenant hits limited theaters on August 24th 2012, and will be released on DVD and VOD September 18th. Its a bloody good time, bringing the gore you expect from a film of the dead, and a lot of laughs that you wouldn’t otherwise expect. In fact, its as hilarious as it is disgusting. Check it out when you get the chance.

~ John Marrone – CLOSER to DEATH

  • BelaManiac

    Interesting. I’ve never heard about this but I will definitely dig up some information. Always great to take a break from court transcripts! haha
    Thanks for the awesome read again!

    • John Marrone

      Yeah I was surprised Id never heard of revenants. I thought Id heard of them all… Guess not. Pretty cool to think that they actually walked around and terrorized people back in the day.