Geas ~ an odd word for an odder concept

Geas ~ an odd word for an odder concept

I’m working through a number of things at present, most of which sadly have no easy word to encompass them in English. I’ve written about Sehnsucht, and today I want to write about geis/geas. Both words are of Gaelic origin, one being Irish and the other being Scots. The word describes a compulsion, prohibition or a taboo, laid upon a person supernatually, often by a god or goddess.

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 dishonor or even death. On the other hand, the observing of one’s geasa is believed to bring power. Often it is women who place geasa upon men. In some cases the woman turns out to be a goddess or other sovereignty figure.

The geis is often a key device in hero tales, such as that of Cúchulainn in Irish mythology. Traditionally, the doom of heroes 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.

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.


Now I live a world away from the Irish heroes of ancient stories but I have felt much of my life as if I am under some kind of geis, except no one has ever informed me of it and all I have is an unreliable inner voice that tells me I can or can’t do something. Or that I need to do something but which seems to others to be illogical or even mad.

My need to do things a certain way, rather than the regular way, is like a geis/geas. My refusal to acquiesce to certain things is the same inexplicable, but blinding certainty that to do a something would bring disaster. This is not a form of OCD, that debilitating condition that too many folks suffer from, though I am sure that many might judge it to be so. My experience is such that I have seen that obeying these inner promptings brings new and exciting things into my life, but the difficulty is explaining to another person quite why I know that something must be done in such a way, or another thing or person or place avoided altogether.

Given my belief that this existence is not the only one, or that our daylight realm is far from the only land, then perhaps my feeling that I am under several geasa at the same time may not be far from the mark.

8 thoughts on “Geas ~ an odd word for an odder concept

  1. Rich food for character dynamics. The geasa evoke the image of a crowd inside – can’t please them all. Roberto Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis developed the concept of sub-personalities who are rarely in agreement. One that often wins out is the Trickster. We can trick ourselves out of impossible situations or get tricked by irrational impulses, which could be both a curse or a blessing.


  2. I find this interesting Viv. As you know, I worked for years in mental health, and the debate around the reductionist approach to distress is one I have followed, particularly having talked to a psychiatrist (who was also a professor) who was also a practising christian. Interesting is the gap you infer between OCD and other behaviours rather than seeing it a continuum. I guess the extreme forms of compulsive behaviour have always been with us as a species but, I conjecture, what may have changed is our acceptance of the validity of the”spiritual” explanation. One thing that always impacted on me was that it was not the mental illness itself which caused most distress to sufferers as much as its inexplicability – “why do I do this?” Perhaps that distress (and thus the consuming nature of the illness) was mitigated by having explanations? Of course, in this thesis, I am making no assumptions about the correctness or otherwise of either the reductionist or religious explanations – maybe another time…


    • Hi Cait, – if the comment was in response to mine – I was only referring to Viv’s mention of OCD which is a piece of medical jargon for what the profession see as a “mental condition” . My comment was only on that very minor aspect of Viv’s interesting post rather on gaes per se. Maybe I should stay on the rails rather than commenting on asides, but mental health and spirituality have always fascinated me.


  3. I wonder if a woman I met lately has put a “Gris” on me. She is a high priestess from Haiti, who has invited me to her island for further instructions and I developed a terrible pain in my left neck and shoulder. She had also suggested that I would need to have a private “reading” while she is visiting America over the next few weeks, and I’ve been wondering if some voodoo may have been used for me to seek her help for my pain.

    A close friend who accompanied me for a nearly two-hour session is suffering the same pain in the exact same shoulder and neck area. The Haitian priestess told my friend that she would need to be “bathed” and that she too would need a private meeting with all donations accepted.

    Viv. Have I been given the “evil” eye? What can one do who might have had a curse applied to him or her?

    Any advise would be greatly appreciated!

    Michael J


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