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Fear Gorta –Irish “Good Luck” Zombies

Most cultures and religions seem to have one version of a zombie-like creature or another, but few are as peculiar as the Fear Gorta. Translated as Man of Hunger or Phantom of Hunger from Irish, the name can also mean Hungry Grass (féar gortach). And, yes, all these different translations do make sense given the Fear Gorta’s interesting mythology.

Who are the Fear Gorta?

At first glance, the Fear Gorta are quite literally zombies. They are the dead bodies of people risen from their graves, walking around in their rotting flesh, scaring everyone who chances upon them.

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However, unlike the stereotypical zombies from most other mythologies, and despite their fear-inspiring name, the Fear Gorta are quite different. Instead of searching for human brains to feast on, the Fear Gorta are actually beggars.

They roam Ireland’s landscape carrying nothing more than the rags around their waists and the alms cups in their hands. They look for people who would give them a piece of bread or fruit.

A Physical Embodiment of The Famine In Ireland

As zombies, the Fear Gorta are literally just skin and bones. What little flesh they have left is usually depicted as rotting green strips that are actively falling off of the Fear Gorta bodies at every step.

They are also described as having long, patchy hair and beard that’s either white or grey. Their arms are thin like branches and are so weak that the Fear Gorta can barely hold their alms cups.

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The people of Ireland knew full well what it was like to suffer a nation-wide famine. The Fear Gorta were the perfect metaphor for this.

Were the Fear Gorta Benevolent?

If you look at a picture of a Fear Gorta, it’s unlikely to appear as a benevolent creature. After all, that’s what leprechauns were supposed to be.

However, this isn’t the case. The Fear Gorta were viewed as benevolent fairies. Their main drive is to beg for food and help of any sorts, but when someone does take mercy on them and help them, they always return the favor by bringing good luck and wealth to the kind soul.

Was the Fear Gorta Violent?

While the Fear Gorta always repay those who have helped them, they can also become violent if someone tries to attack them. Even though they are generally frail and weak, an angered Fear Gorta can still be a dangerous foe, especially for the unprepared.

Moreover, even if you’re not actively aggressive toward the Fear Gorta, you can still get in trouble if you pass them by without giving them alms. In those cases, the Fear Gorta wouldn’t attack you but it would curse you instead. The Fear Gorta’s curse was known to bring grave misfortune and famine to anyone it was directed towars.

Why Does the Name Translate as Hungry Grass?

One of the common translations of the name Fear Gorta is Hungry Grass. This comes from the common belief that if someone was to leave a corpse on the ground without giving it a proper burial and if grass was to eventually grow over the corpse, that little patch of grassy ground would become a Fear Gorta.

That type of Fear Gorta didn’t, walk around begging for alms, but it was still able to curse people. In that case, the people who’d walk over it were cursed with everlasting hunger. To avoid the creating of such Fear Gorta, the people of Ireland went to great lengths when it came to their burial rituals.

Symbols and Symbolism of the Fear Gorta

The symbolism of the Fear Gorta is quite obvious – famine and poverty are great burdens and people are expected to always help those in need.

When we do so, we’re usually blessed with good fortune, whether that’s from god, karma, the universe, or a walking Irish zombie.

When we fail to help those in need, however, we can expect to soon be suffering and in need of help ourselves.

In this way, the Fear Gorta myth was a reminder to people to help those less fortunate than themselves.

Importance of the Fear Gorta in Modern Culture

While zombies are incredibly popular in contemporary fantasy and horror fiction, the Irish Fear Gorta are not really related to the modern zombie myth. The Fear Gorta are their own thing, so to speak, and they are not really represented in most modern culture. There is the occasional mention in indie literature such as Cory Cline’s 2016 Fear Gorta book but those are rare.

Wrapping Up

Irish mythology is full of intriguing creatures, both good and evil. However, none are more interesting than the Fear Gorta, who have elements of both good and evil. In this respect, they’re among the more unique creations of Celtic mythology.

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Yordan Zhelyazkov
Yordan Zhelyazkov

Yordan Zhelyazkov is a published fantasy author and an experienced copywriter. While he has degrees in both Creative Writing and Marketing, much of his research and work are focused on history and mythology. He’s been working in the field for years and has amassed a great deal of knowledge on Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Mesoamerican, Japanese mythology, and others.