Irish mythologyand folklore, a "geis" (pron-en|ˈɡɛʃ, plural "geasa") is an idiosyncratic taboo, whether of obligation or prohibition, similar to being under a vowor spell.
"Geasa" in Irish Mythology
A "geis" can be compared with a
curseor, paradoxically, a gift. If someone under a "geis" violates the associated taboo, the infractor will suffer dishonour or even death. On the other hand, the observing of one's "geasa" is believed to bring power and good fortune. Often it is women who place "geasa" upon men. In some cases the woman turns out to be goddessor other sovereigntyfigure.MacKillop, James (1998) "A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology". Oxford, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280120-1 p.249]
The "geis" is often a key device in hero tales, such as that of
Cúchulainnin Irish mythology. Traditionally, the doom of the hero comes about due to their violation of their "geis", either by accident, or by having multiple "geasa" and then being placed in a position where they have no option but to violate one "geis" in order to maintain another. For instance, Cúchulainn has a "geis" to never eat dog meat, and he is also bound by a "geis" to eat any food offered to him by a woman. When a hagoffers him dog meat, he has no way to emerge from the situation unscathed; this leads to his death.MacKillop (1998) pp.115-117]
A beneficial "geis" might involve a
prophecythat a person would die in a particular way; the particulars of their death in the vision might be so bizarre that the person could then avoid their fate for many years.fact|date=November 2007
There is a considerable similarity between "geasa" (which are a phenomenon of Gaelic mythology) and the foretold deaths of heroes in
Welsh mythology. This is not surprising given the close origins of many of the variants of Celtic mythology.
For example, the Welsh hero
Lleu Llaw Gyffes(in one version of his story) was destined to die neither "during the day or night, nor indoors or outdoors, neither riding nor walking, not clothed and not naked, nor by any weapon lawfully made." He was safe until his wife, Blodeuwedd, learning of these foretold conditions, convinced him to show her how he could theoretically be stepping out of a river onto a riverbank sheltered by a roof and put one foot on a goat, and so on, thus enabling the conditions that allowed him to be killed.
Prohibitions and taboos that fit the patterns of "geasa" are also found in more recent
English literature, though they are not described as "geasa" in those texts. For example, in William Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macbeth believes himself safe because "no man of woman born shall harm Macbeth."
Also similar is the case of the
Witch-king of Angmarin the literature of J. R. R. Tolkien. In Appendix A of " The Return of the King" the elf Glorfindel prophesies to Eärnur of Gondor that "Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall." "The Return of the King", Appendix A (I, iv).] In "The Return of the King", the Witch-king of Angmar is stabbed in the leg by Meriadoc Brandybuck, a Hobbit, and it is a woman, Éowyn of Rohan, who delivers the killing blow by stabbing him in the head.
The ideas and terminology associated with "geasa" continue in modern literature, especially in
fantasy fictionand other works which incorporate influences from Celtic mythologyor Celtic polytheism.
role-playing games mention "geasa" as "spells" or "powers", though these "geasa" are often only loosely inspired by the historical concept. For instance, in " Dungeons and Dragons" there are two such "spells": "lesser geas", which forces the victim to obey a command issued by the caster, and "geas/quest", which is much the same but with more severe penalties. [http://www.d20srd.org/srd/spells/geasQuest.htm Dungeons&Dragons 3.5: Geas / Quest, d20srd.org] ]
* In the
Discworldnovel " Sourcery", the great Hero "Nijel the Destroyer" claims to have a geas, which Rincewindmistakes for a type of bird. In A Hat Full of Sky, Rob Anybody is put under a geas by his wife Jeannie, the kelda, to protect Tiffany Achingfrom the Hiver.
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