back-to-life techniques
December 1, 2010 4:12 AM   Subscribe

Methods used to revive the dead, from myth/fiction/film/history...

any and all.

posted by breadfruit to Society & Culture (47 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
In Christian mythology, Jesus of Nazareth revives Lazarus of Bethany after Lazarus has been entombed for four days. Jesus has the tomb opened, recites some sort of incantation, calls out the dead guy's name, and out walks Lazarus.
posted by pracowity at 4:23 AM on December 1, 2010

Conan the Barbarian is resurrected in a fairly elaborate way that involves covering his body in writing, wrapping him in a black sack and suspending it between pegs.
posted by themel at 4:23 AM on December 1, 2010

In H.P. Lovecraft's Reanimator, the protagonist is a scientist trying to create a chemical mixture that will restart a dead body when injected shortly after death. The story takes a pseudo-scientific approach, with much talk of alkaloids and such, with the main problem being that the brains of the reanimated creatures have decayed in the short while they have been dead, making them aggressive and dangerous.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:38 AM on December 1, 2010

Calling the dead is an interest of mine. The question is do you need the dead person to return in their original, physical form or can transference occur as well such as, possession? Would the dead need to be sentient or eating machines included e.g., zombies or certain classes of vampire? Keeping these questions and a few others in mind here is a not exhaustive list and may contain overlap:

By travel, which usually involves a journey to the underworld with the intent of retrieval (success not guaranteed):
* Orpheus and Eurydice
* Ishtar
* Izanagi and Izanami
* Balder from Norse myth

By Incantation, verbal invocation, musical instrument sometimes in combination with substances (note that I consider the use of written communication of this):
* Osiris and Isis (not only by incantation but by potential procreative act as well)
* Jesus calling forth Lazarus
* Traditional witch doctors for zombies
* The immortal champion
* the Mummy (all film versions)
* The Horn of Valere from the Wheel of Time Series
* The use of bells in the Abhorsen series from Garth Nix
* Runes (references in old Norse myth)
* Any bad D&D campaign with a lich lord and all his minions

Revivification (questionable if it is the initial personality being returned though dead matter is returned to usable state)
* Frankentstein via electricity or other scientific methods

* Spock in Star Trek III -- New Spock body with his katra transferred from McCoy

Immersion or water journey
* Black Cauldron (used in Disney film; written by Lloyd Alexander and derived from Welsh mythology)
* Cauldron from the Fionavar Tapestry again, derived from European myth
* The river of life from Dr. Phibbs Rises Again

Offerings, usually blood:
*Dracula being returned from many dead states. Think Hammer films for a source
* Return or life maintenance of the gods via human sacrifice e.g., ancient MesoAmerican cultures such as, the Aztec

Communing with the Dead -- unsure if it is purely spirit and not a temporary body
* Witch of Endor calling forth the prophet Samuel for Saul
* Odysseus with a blood sacrifice to call Achilles and other heroes of the Illiad

This, of course, is not an exhaustive and is just out of bed brain functioning. I may need to consult notes further. Will look forward to reading further, this thread.
posted by jadepearl at 5:06 AM on December 1, 2010 [21 favorites]

In season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy is brought back from the dead with a spell.
posted by neushoorn at 5:08 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

In Stargate SG-1, a sarcophagus is used to both heal injuries and revive a person even from death. Solkar used it to bring Apophis back to life after his death following an attack.
posted by Telpethoron at 5:20 AM on December 1, 2010

In Harry Potter, the Resurrection Stone is (SPOILER! :) one of the Deathly Hallows, and it brings people back from the dead (but only as "shades").
posted by purlgurly at 5:24 AM on December 1, 2010

Stargate SG-1 also dealt with Ascension, in which a person could die, go to a higher plane of existence, then return to human form - though I'm not sure that really fits your criteria. Daniel Jackson did it twice during the series.
posted by Telpethoron at 5:24 AM on December 1, 2010

Billy Crystal does it with a magic pill in The Princess Bride (but The Man in Black is only mostly dead.)
posted by jon1270 at 5:25 AM on December 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

Anita Blake, her of teen fiction Vampire Hunter fame, is a professional Animator of the dead.
posted by londonmark at 5:28 AM on December 1, 2010

Oh - also from the HP-verse are the Inferi, which are reanimated (presumably with the use of a spell) corpses.
posted by purlgurly at 5:32 AM on December 1, 2010

jon1270 - I was coming to say that, but I don't think the pill was actually magic. In the end, wasn't it the power of True Love or something?
posted by muddgirl at 5:34 AM on December 1, 2010

Lazarus Pits, as used by Ra's Al Ghul.
posted by corvine at 5:38 AM on December 1, 2010

Muddgirl -

Skim, skim, skim... getting warmer... here it is!

True love factors into it. True love is the reason he needs resurrecting, and also the reason that Miracle Max's wife Valerie makes him take the job. It looks like the resurrection pill is genuinely magical.
posted by jon1270 at 5:47 AM on December 1, 2010

Nobody in the main credits stays dead on Supernatural for very long. So far people have been raised from the dead by having someone who loves them sell their soul to a crossroads demon, being pulled out of Hell and back into their grave by angels, being sent down from Heaven by angels, being healed by an angel right after death, and being popped back up onto Earth, sans a few vital parts, by the new King of Hell.

(Hm, I'm starting to put my finger on why I don't enjoy the show so much any more.)
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:11 AM on December 1, 2010

Fair enough; we can probably agree that it was a miraculous pill.
posted by muddgirl at 6:11 AM on December 1, 2010

In Superman (the movie), he runs time backwards for a while to bring Lois Lane back to life.
posted by Gorgik at 6:17 AM on December 1, 2010

In The Mummy, I think Imhotep is brought back to life because his cursed tomb is opened or something like that? And then his ex-lover Anck Su Namun is brought back to life through incantations from the Book of the Dead. The book is used throughout the movie series for similar effects.
posted by like_neon at 6:39 AM on December 1, 2010

Another Harry Potter one: Voldemort is given a new body using his father's bones, his servant's flesh (whole hand, actually,) and his enemy's blood. In a graveyard. With a spell recitation. He emerges from a cauldron, into which a proto-Voldemort bundle was dropped with all of those ingredients plus, I assume, water.

He also took over the bodies of various animals and humans in a thirteen-year-long resurrection oriented Xanatos gambit series (the graveyard ceremony was at least the second proper "get a new body" scheme involving him actually doing things on his own volition.)

One kind of wonders whether he really counts as dead - but his body was obliterated, so.
posted by SMPA at 6:43 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Scott Pilgrim uses a 1UP in the film.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:51 AM on December 1, 2010

In Torchwood there are a couple ways to come back from the dead:
-Be Jack Harkness, who is a fixed point in time and always comes back to life
-Use the Resurrection Gauntlet on Suzie or Owen

In Doctor Who you can be the Doctor, the Master or another Time Lord and regenerate
posted by chiefthe at 7:01 AM on December 1, 2010

Cloning is a common science fiction method for overcoming or cheating death; the "gholas" of Duncan Idaho in Dune, for example.
posted by XMLicious at 7:05 AM on December 1, 2010

In the recent science fiction television series Caprica, a computer program basically processes the records of a character's entire life and uses them to create a digital simulation of the person, which somehow becomes conscious and is essentially a resurrection of the character.

A similar effect is achieved in many science fiction stories by directly copying a person's brain into some computerized form.
posted by XMLicious at 7:15 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think Voldemort didn't really die (well til the end... uh is that a spoiler?) because SPOILER: all the horcruxes meant he split his soul so he couldn't really die even though his body was gone. I guess similarly to The Princess Bride he was just mostly dead.
posted by like_neon at 7:17 AM on December 1, 2010

It is true as neushoorn points out that Buffy Summers returns from the dead in season 6 of the series, but there are also 3 other characters who return from the dead in the overall Buffy/Angel universe. Angel returns from the dead in season 3 (through the intervention of a power known as the First Evil). In the Angel series, Darla is returned from the dead by means of a very elaborate magical ceremony performed by the Wolfram and Hart law firm, and Spike, who dies in the series finale of Buffy, returns in Angel, although we have very little information on how that was managed. In general, we are given to believe that when death was itself caused by magic, that makes it easier to bring the dead back to life. What magic does, other magic can reverse. That's why Willow could bring Buffy back to life by magic in season 6, but could not also bring Tara back to life in the same season.

And that's not all. Buffy also dies in the last episide of season one of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. She is killed by The Master, but then Xander performs cardio-pulmonary resusitation on her and she revives. We should note that CPR is the one non-fantasy method that we have for bringing the dead back to life. Although that depends upon how you define death. For most of human history, death has been defined as the moment at which the heart stops beating. But then we discovered that the heart can be restarted in some cases. Now, the normal medical definition of death is brain death. Once the brain dies, it cannot be revived. Even then, we have the odd phenomenon of people who are alive but in a vegetative state, since with sufficient medical support, even a person with a non-funcitoning brain can still be alive in the sense that the body's metabolism continues and the flesh does not decay. Death is not as clearly defined as it used to be.

And in science fiction, even more versions of life after death have been devised. It is hypothesized that if the personality of a human being can in some manner be converted into a program that will run on an electronic computer, and then put into a computer, then that person lives on in a downloaded state, as an artificially intelligent computer. I personally have argued at ridiculous length, in a previous discussion on this site, that the brain is an organic computer, therefore it would logically follow that whatever the brain does can in theory be done by a sufficiently well built and well programmed electronic computer. Whether this will ever actually be done is another matter. Just because something is possible, doesn't mean it will actually happen. But it may.
posted by grizzled at 7:19 AM on December 1, 2010

In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the protagonist (Aang) is struck by lightening and dies. He's revived when another character, Katara, uses a healing variant of Waterbending -- combined with special water from the Northern Water Tribe's spirit oasis -- to bring him back to life.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:24 AM on December 1, 2010

Another big sci-fi "back-from-dead" technique - restoring consciousness to a new, or spare, body from a backed-up copy. I'm thinking specifically here of Richard Morgan's Takashi Kovacs books, but I'm sure there are many more.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 7:32 AM on December 1, 2010

Or, on preview, what XMLicious and grizzled said.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 7:33 AM on December 1, 2010

Does thawing out from deep freeze count? If so, Encino Man, Demolition Man, I'm sure a lot of other mans too...
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 7:35 AM on December 1, 2010

Magical cornfields that channel all that is great and good about baseball frequently bring people back to life.

also everyone learns something about themselves, so win-win.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 7:38 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Has anyone mentioned bargaining with a figure like Satan or Hades? I.e. (in recent fiction) Percy Jackson ("The Lightning Thief") gets his mom back from Hades after retrieving his helm for him.
posted by purlgurly at 7:50 AM on December 1, 2010

Frankenstein via electricity or other scientific methods.

Electricity is also used in Poe's story "Some Words With a Mummy".
posted by ryanshepard at 7:59 AM on December 1, 2010

In the song Finnegan's Wake the protagonist is brought back to life out of outrage over liquor being wastefully spilled in his presence. (Although probably he was never really dead.)

In Edgar Allen Poe's story Ligeia the narrator's first wife is resurrected into the body of his deceased second wife, apparently through a combination of the first wife's lust for life and the narrator's fervent wish for her. But with the usual ambiguity of Poe it could simply be that the narrator is insane or taken by an opium dream.
posted by XMLicious at 8:02 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is a supposed practice in some rural Haitian communities that turns people into "zombies" as a form of punishment. The people are "killed" with a drug concoction (in most cases, they actually die) and in some cases, if what they did was bad enough, they "come back to life" devoid of any identity or soul. I watched a documentary about it in a class a few semesters ago (this isn't the same one, but I don't remember the name of the one I watched).

There was a book written about it called The Serpent and the Rainbow. Here's an interview with the filmmaker who did the documentary I linked to above, and here's an academic article, The Story of Zombi in Haiti.
posted by a.steele at 8:13 AM on December 1, 2010

Pet Sematary
The Monkey's Paw
posted by peep at 8:20 AM on December 1, 2010

Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle (spoiler!!) ends with an alchemical revival involving unusually heavy gold mixed into a red fluid of some sort; the resulting substance is spooned into the mouth of the corpse, who is reanimated by it.
posted by richyoung at 8:22 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Evidently in Hawaiian mythology spirits wander around for a while before leaping off particular cliffs that lead down to the underworld. If the spirit is caught before it has leapt to the underworld it can be crammed back into its body after a number of rituals are carried out.

Eleio(1, 2) was a champion runner, who could run so fast that one day he was able to catch up with the spirit of a young princess who had recently passed away. After finding where her body was laid in state and making several preparations and ceremonies,
When Eleio had finished his invocation he turned and caught the spirit, and, holding his breath and invoking the gods, he hurried to the puoa, followed by the parents, who now began to understand that he was going to try the kapuku (or restoration to life of the dead) on their daughter. Arriving at the puoa, he placed the spirit against the insteps of the girl and pressed it firmly in, meanwhile continuing his invocation. The spirit entered its former tenement kindly enough until it came to the knees, when it refused to go any further, as from there it could perceive that the stomach was beginning to decompose, and it did not want to be exposed to the pollution of decaying matter. But Eleio, by the strength of his prayers, was enabled to push the spirit up past the knees till it came to the thigh bones, when the refractory spirit again refused to proceed. He had to put additional fervor into his prayers to overcome the spirit's resistance, and it proceeded up to the throat, when there was some further check; by this time the father, mother, and male relatives were all grouped around anxiously watching the operation, and they all added the strength of their petitions to those of Eleio, which enabled him to push the spirit past the neck, when the girl gave a sort of crow. There was now every hope of success, and all the company renewed their prayers with redoubled vigor. The spirit made a last feeble resistance at the elbows and wrists, which was triumphantly overborne by the strength of the united prayers. Then it quietly submitted, took complete possession of the body, and the girl came to life. She was submitted to the usual ceremonies of purification by the local priest, after which she was led to the prepared lanai, when kahuna, maid, parents, and relatives had a joyous reunion.
posted by XMLicious at 8:37 AM on December 1, 2010

In numerous DC/Vertigo comics, the dead return usually because Death is somehow distracted, outmaneuvered, or otherwise disinclined (or unable, as in Lucifer) to take their spirits.
posted by elendil71 at 8:54 AM on December 1, 2010

I can't believe it isn't here yet:

Kenny from South Park

Who dies and comes back to life without anyone, other than his parents (particularly his mother), noticing.
posted by chiefthe at 9:00 AM on December 1, 2010

One of the best techniques is to be a psycho killer in an 80s slasher film. It seems to be something innate in them.

I see that voodoo zombies have been mentioned, but post-Romero zombies have a number of different origins: viruses, nanotechnology* passing comets, et cetera.

Lastly -- and I don't know if this counts -- there's fake resurrection, as in Weekend At Bernie's

*This one also applies to the slasher film genre, as this is how Jason Vorhees is brought back at one point in Jason X.
posted by brundlefly at 10:03 AM on December 1, 2010

In Indian mythology there is something called mṛtasañjīvanī (or mritasanjivani or mritasanjeevani, मृतसञ्जीवन in Devanagari?) that can raise the dead, but it doesn't seem definite and is described variously as a power, a kind of knowledge, a mantra (in the Matsya Purana), or an herb (in the Ramayana, which I believe would be one of the oldest sources.)
posted by XMLicious at 10:28 AM on December 1, 2010

Kiss them. Worked for Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, at least.

(okay, I know they weren't actually dead, but the Prince didn't)
posted by Mchelly at 11:18 AM on December 1, 2010

Garth Nix's totally kick-ass Old Kingdom series, magic users can project their minds/souls/essences into the realm of Death, which is perceived as a grey, watery limbo divided by Gates into nine Precincts with varying properties and levels of peril.

The Dead (and other, nastier things) can linger and lurk in the river indefinitely, and can come back (or be brought back) from any point short of the Ninth Gate, which is one-way and presumably leads to the afterlife proper.

Necromancers use enchanted bells to bind, raise, and command the dead, but this is largely the province of chaotic Free Magic; only the hereditary bloodline of the Abhorsen uses orderly Charter Magic to maintain the border between Life and Death.

Aw, man, now I've got to track down my copy of Sabriel and re-read all this.
posted by Zozo at 11:49 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

This depends a bit on whether or not the world you're dealing with has "souls." Taking from game material, calling a soul back into a body (its own, someone else's, or an artificial construct) makes an easy method of revival. Whether or not this comes with consequences is up to the author. ("Whoops, and only half your soul made the trip. My bad.") Souls make revival easy-- maybe the soul never left this plane to begin with and was trapped, for example, removing the need to call them back from the dead at all.

Gods might just decide, for whatever reason, to grant second chances to the dead. Particularly through gambles or deals. (Chess with Death, etc.) Friends might also argue, barter, or trade with gods/spirits to bring a loved one back to life. (His soul for mine, or less severe transactions.)

On that note, ascending to a "higher plane" can work as a pseudo revival. The person comes back as a god, angel, demon, or psychopomp themselves. From a story standpoint they're back and functional, if technically not alive.

In other settings, memories can be copied. Go go clones and androids!

Time travel is an option. Going back in time to prevent it, or having someone who can control the flow of time reverse it on the dead to restore just their body back to a less dead state.

Preempting death is another option. Liches who hide their soul away from their body can't die unless their true soul is found, and will eventually revive according to most myth. (I think D&D started that, though.)

More simply, healing magic. Stuffing a person so full of life energy from other people/from nature/from whatever that they wiggle back to life. This works better when the cause of death was brutal injury.
posted by vienaragis at 11:51 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lightning Lad of the Legion of Super-Heroes was resurrected through a ritual involving lightning striking a metallic rod held by another person and the transfer of that person's "soul energy" (or something like that). Depending on which version of the Legion's continuity you prefer, this either brought him back or merely reanimated his body with the soul of the person who sacrificed his own life (in this case, a protoplasmic creature named, approrpiately, Proty).
posted by roosterboy at 2:57 PM on December 1, 2010

A bit late, but hopefully still of use.

From popular entertainment:

Deathdream-This movie is a take off on the Monkey's Paw, but much much more. It not only explores the horrifying power of the wish to resurrect the dead, but symbolically explores how Vietnam vets felt upon returning to their previous lives.

Dead and Buried In this tale a funeral director restores people to life after filming their murder. The process of resurrection is unclear, but it clearly rises from the funeral directors fanatical desire that his "work" (ie corpses restored to their previous beauty) not die, but live on. In this case another variation of revealing the desire to resurrection of the dead as selfish and the negative power of the wish.

Truly, Madly, Deeply-A woman's inability to accept the death of her husband eventually results from his return from the dead. Here her long term inability to accept his death "forces" him to return as he can't move on while she still holds onto him.

The Crow-in which a soul who died before it's time is allowed to return with supernatural aid in order to revenge the death of another as well as correct the balance between right and wrong (the world of the crow initially being immersed in evil, there is the hope of, if not good, at least a more balanced world at the end)

Creator--In this bizarro 8o's comedy, Peter O'Toole attempts to clone his dead wife. The goal would result in the physical resurrection of his wife, but not her specific consciousness.

The Doll Who Ate Its Mother and The Parasite- Both books deal with individuals attempting to transcend death by transferring their consciousness out of their bodies and into a new one by use of ancient ritual (specified as Greek in The Doll Who Ate Its Mother). The Doll Who Ate Its Mother deals with multiple cases of such claims while the Parasite is fiction linking a particularly notable historical personage to such attempts.

From mythology: Inanna and Dumuzi-a story that is much like the abduction of Persephone by Hades, only the abducted is a male lover, Dumuzi, and Inanna restores him, although only partially to the world above. Thus not entirely successful.
posted by miss-lapin at 2:31 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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