A geiscode: gle promoted to code: ga or geascode: gle promoted to code: ga (pl. geasacode: gle promoted to code: ga ) is an idiosyncratic taboo, whether of obligation or prohibition, similar to being under a vow or curse, yet the observance of which can also bring power and blessings. It is also used to mean specifically a spell prohibiting some action. Geasacode: gle promoted to code: ga are common in Irish and Scottish folklore and mythology, as well as in modern English-language fantasy fiction.
The word originates in Old Irish, also known as Old Gaelic, and retains the same form in Modern Irish (nominative singular geiscode: gle promoted to code: ga /ɟɛʃ/, nom. plural geasacode: gle promoted to code: ga /ˈɟasˠə/; genitive sg. geisecode: gle promoted to code: ga /ˈɟɛʃə/, gen. pl. geascode: gle promoted to code: ga /ɟasˠ/). In modern Scottish Gaelic, the spelling has evolved in a slightly different direction (nom. sg. geascode: gla promoted to code: gd /kʲes/, nom. pl. geasancode: gla promoted to code: gd , gen. sg. geiscode: gla promoted to code: gd or geasacode: gla promoted to code: gd ). It has also been borrowed into English in both forms (sg. geas or geis /ɡɛʃ/ or /ˈɡi.əʃ/, pl. geasa)).
In Irish mythology
A geascode: gle promoted to code: ga can be compared with a curse, or paradoxically, a gift. If someone under a geascode: gle promoted to code: ga violates the associated taboo, the infractor will suffer dishonor or even death. Conversely, the observing of one's geascode: gle promoted to code: ga is believed to bring power. Often, women place geasacode: gle promoted to code: ga upon men; in some cases, the woman turns out to be a goddess or other sovereignty figure.
The geascode: gle promoted to code: ga is often a key device in hero tales, such as that of Cú Chulainn in Irish mythology. Traditionally, the doom of heroes comes about due to their violation of their geascode: gle promoted to code: ga , either by accident, or by having multiple geasacode: gle promoted to code: ga , which then come into conflict. For instance, Cú Chulainn has a geascode: gle promoted to code: ga to never eat dog meat, and he is also bound by a geascode: gle promoted to code: ga 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.
In some cases, the placing of a geascode: gle promoted to code: ga can lead to tragedy even when it is not violated. Aoifecode: gle promoted to code: ga imposed three geasacode: gle promoted to code: ga on Connla, her son with Cú Chulainn: he cannot turn back once he starts his journey; he must not refuse a challenge; and he must never tell anyone his name. She then sent Connla, aged seven, to seek out his father, but he was a child of such extraordinary skill that he was seen as a threat after having defeated all Ulster heroes who met him. Because of the geascode: gle promoted to code: ga placed on him by his mother, he refuses to identify himself, which leads to his own father, Cú Chulainn, killing him in single combat using the Gáe Bulg before recognising too late who he was. He then introduces his dying son to the men of Ulster as a fitting hero.
A geascode: gle promoted to code: ga might appear beneficial by involving a prophecy that a person would die in a particular way so bizarre that they could then avoid their fate for many years. As with Conaire Mór, though, in the tale of Togail Bruidne Dá Derga, who strictly observed a number of geasacode: gle promoted to code: ga , a small unconnected infraction can escalate to one's undoing. By initially making exceptions to crimes of stealing by his foster-brothers contravening fír flathemon, the king's upholding of true judgement, things proceed until they deliberately contravene a geiscode: gle promoted to code: ga of Conaire's against marauding in his reign. Though he tries to rectify the situation by exiling them, his fate intervenes, so the remaining geasacode: gle promoted to code: ga are involuntarily and accidentally broken one after the other with a sense of gathering doom that cannot be checked.
In the Irish saga of Conchobar mac Nessa, the king is said to have the right to the first night with any marriageable woman and the right to sleep with the wife of anyone who hosted him. This is called the Geis of the king. Whether this right actually existed and was exercised by the Celts is not attested outside the sagas. It is similar to the droit du seigneurcode: fra promoted to code: fr of feudal Europe.
Considerable similarity exists between the Goidelic geasacode: gle promoted to code: ga and the Brythonic tyngedcode: cym promoted to code: cy . This is not surprising given the close origins of many of the variants of Celtic mythology.
For example, the Welsh hero Lleu Llaw Gyffescode: cym promoted to code: cy (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, Blodeuweddcode: cym promoted to code: cy , 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 wounded.
Parallels in English literature
Prohibitions and taboos similar to geasacode: gle promoted to code: ga are also found in more recent English literature, though they are not described as geasacode: gle promoted to code: ga in those texts. For example, in William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, the title character believes he is safe because "no man of woman born shall harm Macbeth". However, his nemesis Macduff was "from his mother's womb untimely ripp'd" (i.e., born by Caesarean section), and was therefore not "of woman born".
Another example is the Witch-King of Angmar from Tolkien's legendarium, who has a geascode: gle promoted to code: ga -like prophecy described by the Elven hero, Glorfindel: "Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man shall he fall." In this the meaning is quite literal, for the Witch-king eventually falls at the hands of Éowyn and Meriadoc, one a shieldmaiden of Rohan, and thus not a man but a woman, and the other a hobbit, and thus not a Man as in species.
In popular culture
Geascode: gle promoted to code: ga , geiscode: gle promoted to code: ga , and derivative words and concepts, have appeared in a variety of forms in popular culture. See the Geas/Geis section at Irish mythology in popular culture for examples.
- Michael Quinion, World Wide Words (accessed 8 November 2010
- MacKillop, James (1998) A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280120-1 p.249
- MacKillop (1998) pp.115-117
- Rudolf Thurneysen: Die irischen Helden- und Königssage bis zum 17. Jahrhundert. Halle 1921, p. 394, 525
- Helmut Birkhan. Kelten. Versuch einer Gesamtdarstellung ihrer Kultur. p. 1091.
- Loughlin, Annie. "Gessi and Buada". tairis.co.uk. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
- Qiu Fangzhe, ‘Geis, a Literary Motif in Early Irish Literature’, St Anne's Academic Review, 2 (2010), 13–16