Far in the remote high valleys of the Himalayas, something inhuman and icy cold is stirring. These creatures, known as ro-langs, are deadly dangerous, unless your door is low enough.
These zombie-like creatures originate in Tibetan folklore. Ro is the word for corpse and Langs can be translated to “to rise up”. Ro-Langs can be translated quite literally therefore into a risen corpse.
In order to create a ro-langs, one would need to be a spirit or a sorcerer. One of the many quirks of ro-langs is that they cannot speak or bend over. It attracts the attention of its victims by wagging its tongue backward and forwards.
Because they cannot bend any joints which makes their walking very stiff. In Tibet, many regions have low doorways in order to prevent ro-langs from entering their homes. But where do they come from and how are they made?
How are they Created?
In what sounds like the beginning of a horror movie in order to create a ro-lang. To bring one into the world, one must be alone at night with a corpse. Then, whilst chanting magic, the person would place their head upon the corpse and the body should begin to twitch.
When this happens, the person should reach into their mouth and bite out their tongue. This odd and unusual practice has long been held in Tibet in an attempt to gain mysterious and dark power. The undead creature is very similar to the Western zombie.
In 1929, author Alexandra David-Neel wrote in her book Magic and Mystery in Tibet that if one is to fail, then it means certain death. This is because ro-langs do not necessarily always have a human hand creating them.
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Some believe that they can rise on their own accord in order to hunt down the living. However, there are key differences between ro-langs and zombies.
Zombies are a huge part of Western culture. They have soared in popularity in films and video games throughout the 70s and 80s. it is more and more common to see zombies across all kinds of media and in popular media. In some cases, they have even infiltrated classic novels. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was rewritten with the novel addition of zombies.
Zombies have their origins in the Haitian variety of the voodoo religion. It was believed that a corpse was re-animated with magic through a sorcerer. The zombie would be mindless and a slave to the sorcerer. This is not unique to Haiti; many people have similar beliefs. Hence why the comparison with the ro-lang.
The ro-langs tend to come into broad categories. There is the tantric and demonic ro-lang. The tantric ro-lang is much more similar to a traditional zombie. They are created by a human master for their own agenda.
The reason for creation is often different though. In Haitian culture, the zombie is mindless and a servant to their creator. In Tibetan culture, the ro-lang is created to be destroyed in a complex ritual so that the sorcerer can get a powerful and magical tool from the body of the ro-lang.
Tibetan culture dictates that this is usually the tongue. It is thought that this practice continued until the 20th century.
The demonic ro-lang is quite different from its tantric counterpart. The biggest one is that they are raised by an uninvited evil spirit without the activity of a human being involved.
The belief of the spirit being involved as it existed in Tibetan culture prior to Buddhism. It is thus believed that the belief of the spirit inhabiting the corpse originated in Tibet or in that region.
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The demonic ro-lang has some similarities to the Western zombie but does not resemble the zombie of Haitian origin. This is because the demonic ro-lang does not have a human master and hopes to kill people in order to bring them back into their own image.
However, this is a really simplified way to explain it. Belief in the ro-lang has varied across the region of Tibet and the education level of the people in the area. In her description of the ro-lang, Alexandra David-Neel explains that Lamas (Buddhist religious teachers and specialists) took part in funeral rituals and knew the words and chants to protect against the ro-lang should it rise and begin to cause problems.
Fosco Maraini, on the other hand, claims that whilst in Tibet he spotted a rock formation that looked like a ro-lang. He threw his shoe at it in the hope to defeat it. Despite it being rocks, it was enough to encourage him to follow up on the beliefs by asking local Tibetan people. It suggests that local Tibetan people still believe in ro-lang through popular belief. There is likely a large range of beliefs across the regions.
Are they Zombies?
The comparison of the lo-rang and the zombie at first is that they are very similar though this is on a superficial level. There is a definite difference between the Haitian zombie and the Western zombie of popular culture. Like the lo-rang, there are many differences in Haitian zombies as well. Not every lo-rang and Haitian zombie variety is the same or even similar.
Many of the differences between the ro-lang and the zombie can be found in their behaviors. In Tibet, there have been many precautions put in place to protect against them. Buildings were built with low ceilings so that the ro-lang could not enter.
Whilst this may sound like some of the zombies in films that are popular today, it is too simple to call the lo-rang, a Tibetan zombie. Both a zombie and a lo-rang are built from a complicated set of beliefs. It is possible that they stem from a similar emotional place: the fear of death and the unknown or the supernatural.
The one thing to remember with the lo-rang is that they can be killed just as easily as a human can. This is a clear difference from the zombie in popular culture. So, if they do begin to rise, find a low space and arm yourself and you should be fine.
Top Image: Ro-Langs are created by dark sorcerers, who seek to use them to acquire powerful artifacts. Source: Likozor / Adobe Stock.
By Kurt Readman