“Geis”

Recently, I was reading The King and the Corpse by Heinrich Zimmer (edited by Joseph Campbell). In it, he references a delightful Celtic story. In this story, a mean-spirited step-mother, the queen, challenges the hero of the story, Conn-eda, to a game of chess. To make the game more interesting she declares that the winner is to place a geis on the loser. However, this particular chessboard is charmed so that the owner, the evil queen, would always win the first game.

In her zeal of winning the first game, she challenges the hero to a second. This time Conn-eda wins. So, they place a geis on each other.

The Anglo-Saxons as well as the Irish had the notion of ritual “geis.” There is a great deal of latitude in geis. Forms of geis vary. They may refer to a code of chivalry or they may be merely superstitious. Regardless of what they were, they were considered sacred obligations. The prohibition dared not be broken for fear of forfeiting divine support (and a king with bad luck which affected his realm was often deposed).

The geis imposed on Conn-eda by this evil queen was formidable; in satisfying these requirements of this geis, Conn-eda would no doubt meet his death.

The terms and conditions of a geis are not always known. Sometimes they are fairly straightforward, for example, the taboo of not eating the meat of your totem animal. However, how do you satisfy or avoid breaking a geis that you don’t know has been put on you? That is when you seek the advice of a person well versed in the reading the “signs.”

photo by h. koppdelaney 2009 Titled: Protection

photo by h. koppdelaney 2009
Titled: Protection

I must admit, there are times I feel I have one of these unknown geis on me. Wherever I turn, whatever I do, things do not seem to work out. It’s not like I am treading water or even sinking. It’s more like I am asleep and cannot to wake up. (Do you remember the TV show The Prisoner?)

In the story I mentioned above, the geis was a quest to find and bring back mythical trophies from the fairy world. What if we are all under that geis? What if Life is a quest to retrieve the trophy of the luminous world. Unbeknownst to the wicked queen, by satisfying the geis, instead of having Conn-eda killed, he actually releases the brother of the fair king.  This brother of the king, was himself, under a geis. So, when the evil queen proclaimed the geis, she was actually doing the will of the world beyond, which restored balance, not only to that special world, but to the ordinary world of Conn-eda too.

If my geis, is to go in quest of the trophy, then go I must. It is my sacred obligation.  Maybe the lethargy comes from avoiding the quest.  Once I step beyond the limited awareness, perhaps, I not only will find the trophy, but restore balance to my world.

May your geis be your greatest gift.