The Gesena Project

You might have noticed that my blog now has a “donate” button on it.  The idea is to fund myself as a researcher, writer and teacher through donations from interested parties, to whom I would send, via email, longer essays and monographs.  We haven’t worked out all the details yet.  Those of my acquaintance who have my email can come here to donate but we are still working out a safe general contact method.  Stay tuned. I’ll get this tech stuff sooner or later!

The first offering (suggested donation is $3.50) is a 32 page booklet on the Gesena, also known as the Gallicenae and Dryades – whom some have called “female Druids” but this is really a misnomer – even “Dryades” has slightly different connotations than “Druid” – more “foresty”, although this may be a later development brought on by necessity – the history here is long, involved and deals with the reach of imperial fears.  I will be giving a workshop on the Gesena (and their current incarnations) at the Pagan Pride Gathering here in Toronto this weekend and the booklet is the outcome of the planning for the workshop but I think it functions very well as an introduction to a little known area of European arcania.

For over 20 years, I have followed “the Gesena Way” – a type of Paganism not well-known, as I mentioned above, although, to be sure, Neo-Druidic Revivals, Wicca and Womyn Spirit/Reclaiming all partake of the history and intent of Gesena.  Briefly, Gesena is an Anglo-Saxon word, in the plural, feminine, genitive, a derivative of an ancient Irish word, Geis,Geassa, Gessi.  The original Irish is usually translated as “taboo” but functioned more like a curse (the consequence of a transgression) or a warning, an interdiction not to do something or a prescription to do something and could last from momentary to lifetime -and beyond.  While the objectives of Geis laying could be extremely wide-ranging, the usual reason had something to do with protection of sacred land and it was usually given at the Ford of a River – thus, “The Woman at the Ford” was a Gesena, Gallicenae or Dryad and thus the term, Gesena (Women of the Laws), which marks the transition from a fading Celtic ambit into the middle ages, via the “English” of a distinct European ambit and so on to our own time. 

This would be all to the good: heaven knows (or Goddess knows) we certainly need such “guardians of the land” – but the original inhabitants were deeply bound into their native soils – what happens in the European Diaspora?  Do “guardians of the land” – in the sense of calling on the supernatural in defense of the natural, have any authority in their immigrant territories?  In previous blog entries, I have raised these questions – which remain in discussion and in contemplation.  For while the idea of Gesena seems apropos, given the crises we all face with regard to global warming, peak oil, peak fish, peak soil, peak water – peak everything, transplantation to a new locale must give rise to questions of adaptation and cooperation with spiritual  guardians of the land already in situ.  In this regard, I am delighted that Bioneers, one of my favourite organizations (and radio programs) is directing interested persons to a “Becoming Indigenous Program” – you can go to their website to find it: finally this question is being seriously addressed – and I welcome the thoughtful and “before the curve” understanding that has gone into  collaboration between First Nations and Environmental teachers.

I have just been re-reading The Druids by Peter Berresford Ellis who points out that the original homeland of the Celts is thought to be (note the provisional nature of that) along the Danube, the name of which, like so many rivers in Europe, indicated Goddess associations.  He says that the children of Don (the Goddess, spirit of the river – or even spirit of life-giving waters, like the Ganges, he says), the Tuatha de Danan, left the Danubian concrete reference behind, while taking along with them names similar and associations similar, to be attached to significant sites in new territories into which they migrated.  Yet the process was slow – the pace was infinitesimal, over millenia.  Part of our problem today is the rapidity of change, the unforgiving pace, the drastic alterations in fundamental relationships.  In those ancient days, there was time to get to know the place, to become part of it – a prerequisite, surely, before one could speak for it. What must we do, now, to become knowledgeable enough to take on that responsibility? Before one could lay a Geis, in a new setting, what process would vouchsafe that authority?

Although I consider myself to be Gesena (that’s the “Green Nun” part), that calling is in abeyance until this most central question has been answered, through more reflection, study and, most of all,  in community collaboration.

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