Geilt

Being in SEO, I often search for my own name to see how its ranking, making sure I dominate the first page. I also go by a pseudoname “geilt”, that I picked up during my adventures into spirituality, and research into Celtic mythology and spirituality then later used in MMO‘s and Online Gaming. It is an old Gaelic term that means “one who has gone mad from terror”. Searching for it I found this lovely article by Erynn Rowan Laurie on her blog about Geiltadecht.

She describes a geilt as:

It is translated as “one who goes mad from terror, a panic-stricken fugitive from battle, a crazy person living in the woods and supposed to be endowed with the power of levitation, a lunatic.” It may also be the name of some kind of bird or it might mean “grazing.” The title I’m using here, geiltadecht, is a neologism to describe the practice of the geilta.

This is the title that I also found from a book called the Lost Books of Merlyn, where I originally encountered the word “geilt”, though the description was vague and only mentioned Merlyn as a Geilt. Although Meryln had not technically gone mad, as Suibhne Geilt did, there can be other interpretations of the word. Madness, has different meanings from different perspectives, as can be seen in this next quote:

Other “madmen” in the Celtic literary tradition, including Myrddin and Lailoken, were regarded as prophets — seers and possessors of a certain “crazy wisdom.”

Crazy wisdom may not mean that the person is insane, but could mean that the standard of knowledge they have attained is seen as crazy by others. Philosophies and concepts such as Non Dualism (Advaita), Emptiness (Shunyata), the World as Illusion (Maya) are examples of ideas that don’t work in society. Try telling someone that love does not exist, nor hate, nor any emotion they feel; that its all an illusion; and see what kind of response you get?

This next excerpt is excellent as it show the contradictory nature of the term, and the philosophy I see behind it.

That said, the nature of the geilt means that control is often an illusion. Interpretation and acceptance is a more fruitful path for one with these proclivities. This is not in any way suggesting “giving up” but merely a statement that the world and the Otherworlds are vaster than we can understand and we, mere humans, have very little power over some things that happen.

Knowing control is an illusion, that what you do is not actually you, but something that is just happening, and accepting it. It is hard to describe. A Geilt realizes that they are doing something and have choice in doing what they are doing, but then realize that this thing that they are doing, is only being done, without purpose, reason, and even without need for control…

a geilt is an outsider, someone who lurks on the boundaries of groups and societies. That inclination to solitude is part of what marks someone as geilt

Every Geilt is different and so are the symptoms of madness! But this much is true, the “mad wisdom” a Geilt has usually stays with themself, and why? Because most aren’t ready to hear it, or if they are, are not willing to discuss it. “That person is just “crazy”, he doesn’t fit into my little box that i’ve put the world in and what I have defined as it’s “parameters”.”

Within the experience of geiltadecht, madness and destruction is the foundation for transformation.

Madness and Destruction happen both physically and metaphorically, in the mind and body, these experiences are transformative and depending on how it is harnessed, can open doors or close them. Concepts of geiltadecht exist in Eastern Traditions as well such as Shaivism, where there is Worship of Shiva the Destroyer, who brings about wondrous transformations. Even the older Rigvedic God’s such as Rudra are worshiped for their destructive yet regenerative qualities.

Erynn will have a paper on the concept of Geilt in a academic book that is soon to be published by Macmillan: Disability and Religious Diversity

Digital Nomad. Programmer, Entrepreneur. Academic, Philosopher, Spiritualist. Gamer, VR/AR, IoT & Wearables. CTO @esotech.com @tldcrm.com. Miami, FL Native

  • Thanks for the links and for the friendly quotations here. I very much appreciate it.

    I do think that geilt can be seen metaphorically, though in its cultural origins the phenomenon was definitely indicating some form of mental disturbance or mental illness. Some scholars read this as a shamanic illness of sorts, seeing the flight of the geilt as “shamanic flight” and there are certainly otherworldly resonances to what’s happening in pretty much all of the tales where the geilta make an appearance.
    Merlin was definitely regarded as mad in the source materials, though:

    Basil Clarke’s translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “The Life of Merlin: Vita Merlini” offers this:

    “Merlin called his
    companions from the battle-field and instructed them to bury the brothers in a
    richly-decorated chapel.

     

    He mourned for his
    heroes; his flooding tears had no end. He threw dust upon his hair, tore his
    clothes and lay prostrate on the ground, rolling to and fro. Peredur and the
    other princes and commanders offered comfort. He would not take the comfort and
    rejected their entreaties. So for three long days he wept, refusing food, so
    great was the grief that consumed him.

     

    Then, when the air
    was filled with these repeated loud complainings, a strange madness came upon
    him.

     

    He crept away and
    fled to the woods, unwilling that any should see his going. Into the forest he
    went, glad to lie hidden beneath the ash trees. He watched the wild creatures
    grazing on the pastures of the glades. Sometimes he would follow them,
    sometimes pass them on his course. He made use of the roots of plants and of
    grasses, of fruit from the trees and of the blackberries in the thicket. He
    became a Man of the Woods, as if dedicated to the woods. So for a whole summer
    he stayed hidden in the woods, discovered by none, forgetful of himself and his
    own, lurking like a wild thing.”

    Geoffrey of Monmouth, Basil
    Clarke (ed./trans.), The Life of Merlin:
    Vita Merlini, University of Wales (Cardiff 1973)    There’s a great deal more to the tradition than just Merlin and Suibhne, though. I’m planning on exploring the material and some of its modern implications in further writing. I hope to do a book on the topic at some point, particularly in regards to the links between geilt and PTSD, and the spiritual possibilities it opens for people who are working on recovering from trauma.

    • Thanks so much for the response Erynn! It is an honor to have you post here. I am happy to say I do not have PTSD, but I can understand where the connection between Geilt and those who have it. It is commonly known that great traumas can open up spiritual doors because of the sudden shock toward ones sense of reality. 

      There is a book called Battle for the Mind, by William Sargant that correlates religious conversion experiences to the effects of PTSD. It goes in depth about how trauma can change perception and behavior.  And how normally, a true religious convert participates in their religion every day hoping, but not often finding, the same sense they had when they had converted. Enduring the drudgery of everyday religious rite for a glimpse at that initial experience.On the flip side, there is an interesting study in that book that discusses the project of Pavlov’s dogs which salivate when they hear a bell ring due to conditioning. The little known story is that Pavlov’s lab had flooded at one point, causing great Trauma to the dogs. Those dogs no longer salivated when they heard a bell ring, it is as if their conditioning had been erased, or at least the fear and trauma from the environment they were in caused them to focus on that more than the ringing. 

      In this way, a traumatic event could “shock” a person out of their own social, spiritual or religious conditioning and open them up to possibilities, however frighting, that they had no considered or repressed / ignored. With this opening there is the opportunity for power and wisdom or weakness and despair, I would assume this is mostly decided by the individual and the rest of their life’s conditioning. 

      I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

      • I’m actually having kind of a hard time reading the white-on-white comments here, so I’m working from a place of some difficulty. I haven’t read the book you mention by Sargant, but I do agree that trauma changes perception and behavior in many (though probably not all) people. It also often changes brain chemistry, as can be demonstrated in a number of studies of people who suffer from PTSD. One of the huge puzzles the Veterans Administration is struggling with is why some people develop PTSD while others do not under the same or similar traumatic circumstances.

        The book sounds like an interesting one, though it’s possible that Conway and Siegelman’s “Snapping” covers much of the same territory. http://books.google.com/books/about/Snapping.html?id=jrkq7s2i12EC

        I think that such experiences can result in both positive and negative changes in a person, but I would never recommend trauma as a way to spiritual enlightenment. There’s far too much risk of never coming out of it. As I’ve said to people before, being a professional madwoman is interesting, but I can’t recommend the training program.

        Traditionally, the training of the filid, the poets in Gaelic culture, was said to result in one of three things — poetry, madness, or death. Madness, geilt, seems to be one of the results of an only partially-successful assay into the field.

        • I spoke to a Shaman once in Miami, and he mentioned that he had a traumatic experience that opened him up, but it changed him forever. He wandered the streets, completely traumatized for a week. 

          He warned me to be careful when studying Shamanism and looking for that spiritual experience because there “Might be a guy with a shotgun behind a door somewhere out there waiting for you”. I took his advice! I do not feel it is necessary to go through a traumatic physical experience in order to achieve spiritual sensitivity, nor do I seek it. I prefer to explore the route of the mind. There are many traditions that prove that there are many paths to the same, or similar states. This was one of the reasons I became so interested in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Devotion(Bhakti), Service(Dharma), and Knowledge(Jnana) are all Valid paths toward perfection/enlightenment/liberation.

          I do not really recommend looking for a traumatic experience to become a Geilt in the true sense of the word to anyone, but for anyone who has had a traumatic experience I urge them to see the geiltadecht, as you have termed it, that can be practiced and harnessed to increase one’s spiritual awareness instead of leaving the, albeit unfortunate, opportunity, remain completely negative in ones life.

          • There’s a lot of stuff out there in the otherworlds that can be dangerous, definitely. Caution is always a good idea when delving into things that can overwhelm. As you say, there are a lot of paths that lead to similar states and places. I’m not one of those who believe that all paths lead to the top of the same mountain (I’m very much both a polytheist and an animist) but I do certainly think that there are a lot of useful spiritual states and practices that can lead to different types of enlightenment, or at least to the possibility of healing. When one finds oneself in a place where trauma has occurred, spiritual work is absolutely one of the possible methods for getting through it.

  • That’s really interesting! Thanks for sharing. I wish I’d picked an online pseudoname as cool as geilt, a crazy madman who, while crazy, is wise. I often Google my own name, first and last, but it’s no fun as I am the only Melanie Shebel in existence. Perhaps special that I’m the only one, but it doesn’t do much to set me up for some competition in ranking for my own name. 😛

    • Thanks! I just Google’d your name and you dominate the first page and then some! There are a couple of Alexander Conroy’s but I pushed em down in the dust 😉

      Geilt was actually harder since it is also a topic. Only recently did I hit the top.

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