Geis


Geis

In Irish mythology and folklore, a "geis" (pron-en|ˈɡɛʃ, plural "geasa") is an idiosyncratic taboo, whether of obligation or prohibition, similar to being under a vow or spell.

"Geasa" in Irish Mythology

A "geis" can be compared with a curse or, 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 goddess or other sovereignty figure.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 Cúchulainn in 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 hag offers 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 prophecy that 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

Welsh mythology

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.

English literature

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 Angmar in 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.

Modern fiction

The ideas and terminology associated with "geasa" continue in modern literature, especially in fantasy fiction and other works which incorporate influences from Celtic mythology or Celtic polytheism.

* Some 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 Discworld novel "Sourcery", the great Hero "Nijel the Destroyer" claims to have a geas, which Rincewind mistakes 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 Aching from the Hiver.

* In the anime series Code Geass, there are several references to Geis including the name of the series, the nature of the powers and the alias of C.C., a hinted reference to Cú Chulainn

ee also

*Tynged

References


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