The Geis Upon My Life

Written by Elizabeth Kirwin, Electronic Music Composition by Liam Sckhot

The Geis Upon My Life

A geis is an Irish curse.  In the traditional mythology, a geis is uttered by a god or goddess and carries great power over the person cursed.  Usually, the god or goddess curses the hero, who is actually doomed to die by performing the act forbidden by the geis.

In my lyrical ballad, “The Geis Upon My Life” the hero is the bard, not a warrior.  The bard is more than a character I have created out of my imagination. To me, he is a remnant or shard of past lives I lived as him. The bard spent over 1,000 years being reborn to the same sea village in Ireland. He calls it Galway town.  I can trace my actual ancestry to the vicinity of Galway Bay, on my father’s side.  I believe the lyrical ballads were written by the bard and recorded in his memory. The bards wrote nothing down – they memorized their verse and tales and told them to people as they traveled around.  The primary role of the bard was to keep the lore of the land and the people alive. It was a highly revered role in ancient Irish culture.

In this particular ballad, the bard is experiencing grief over the loss of his mother.  He is camped on a beach not far from his home, when he is visited by a friend, a seaman who loves him and seeks him out when he is near shore. The seaman knows how to find the bard, and he arrives at the right time. The bard is cursed by a sea hag during his visit.

The curse is the worst possible thing that could have happened to the bard.  He is forbidden to make sea journeys.  I believe the bard was well traveled up until the time he was cursed.  He made frequent journeys on ships to faraway lands.  But once the geis was made, he could no longer take these types of voyages, and had to limit his travels to Ireland.  It was a painful episode, one which came upon the heels of the death of his mother.  It underlines the point that when things are bad in life, they can only get worse, before they get better.

I composed “The Geis Upon My Life” in Virginia, on Lughnasa, after attending a feast and performance hosted by Lea Ann Douglas, a talented storyteller and musician. She works in the same genre and aesthetic as I do – keeping the tales of the Sidhe, and the faery faith alive by recounting stories in verse.  When I returned home to Hampton, after spending a full evening in Norfolk celebrating this Pagan holiday of the first harvest of the summer, I was awake most of the night writing this ballad.

The composer on this ballad is Liam Sckhot.   Shortly after my return to Asheville from VA, he was able to keep me sane and compose this trance like  electronic music track during recording sessions in Asheville, NC in early August. I feel his composition is a great complement to the ballad. It sets the mood of sadness, and creates a haunting sensation deep within the soul. For me, Liam’s musical composition evokes the spirit of the American Gothic, a genre I have always loved.

Liam Sckhot’s musical composition stands on its own, without the ballad being read.  This is why I have included an instrumental track of “The Geis Upon My Life” on

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The Geis Upon My Life is copyrighted by Elizabeth Kirwin and Liam Sckhot, 2011

The Geis Upon My Life Instrumental, copyrighted by Liam Sckhot, 2011

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