As the sun sinks below the horizon, darkness creeps in, held at bay by the huge bonfires burning in the village. The atmosphere is a strange mix of somber and celebration, everyone preparing offerings and dressing in costume to prepare for the long night ahead.
You stare into the darkness beyond the flames, and swear you feel something looking back.
Happy Samhain, brave adventurer.
It’s pretty easy to chart the evolution of classic Samhain traditions to modern Halloween. Offerings for the dead become candy, traveling from house to house reciting rhymes becomes trick-or-treating, all these little rituals to ward off spirits absorbed into 21st Century festivities. But what exactly were those Samhain practices trying to keep away?
It was thought that the boundaries between the real world and spirit world got a bit more fuzzy at the changing of seasons, with Samhain as the most significant transition. Samhain marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the tough, cold months. Communities came together to decide how to divvy up crops and livestock for the hard winter ahead and set aside offerings for the dead who were able to wander back into the world on Samhain.
But it wasn’t just ghosts who could pop into the real world.
The Aos Si, roughly translated as fairies or elves, had an easier time crossing into our world on Samhain. This group includes basically every famous Celtic creature, from the Puca to the Dullahan and the Clurichaun. All these benevolent spirits were free to roam, and the best you could do is hope to appease them so they move on and save their wrath for someone else.
Among this cast of nightmares you might bump into on Samhain is the Fear Gorta.
The Fear Gorta looks like a pretty classic zombie, emaciated and decaying and desperate for food. However, unlike many of the malicious spirits running amok on Samhain, the Fear Gorta is typically benevolent, and just gets a bad rap from the dubious company it finds itself with. If you share your food with the Fear Gorta, it will be intensely grateful and lend you some good luck in the coming year. However, if you snub the Gorta or worse, attack it, brace yourself for a bad time. The Fear Gorta will respond to a physical attack in kind, matching physical violence for physical violence. Since this is a zombie-esque spirit, beating it in a fight is going to be tough to impossible. You can’t kill something that’s already dead, so your best bet is to fight it back long enough for an escape and hope to wait for All Saints Day when the Fear Gorta retreats to the spirit world. Ignore the Fear Gorta’s begging for food and instead of good luck, you’ll be cursed with insatiable hunger.
If you want to stay safe on your Samhain adventures, make sure you bring plenty of snacks to share with the Fear Gorta and any other wandering spirits you may encounter, and maybe consider sticking close to the bonfires for the night.