"What is she holding in front of her?" The Renaissance Man asked me. He was actually in the middle of telling me something else when he caught a glimpse of my June goal page.
"It's her vagina." I answered, non-nonchalantly, knowing perfectly well he wouldn't be comfortable with the answer.
"No it's not, It's Sheela-na-gig. She's carved into churches all over Ireland and Britain."
He wasn't convinced and neither was my dark and twisty 9 year old. Every month, she sets up her own altar to the Goddess.
This month she passed. "It's just gross" was her explanation. I didn't push her - she's only 9.
I'll confess, the first time I saw a Sheela, I was uncomfortable too.
My first thought was it was some adolescent stonemason apprentice cracking a joke.
*like the porno comics of the early 20th century*
I mean, you can hear the conversation, right!
Punk #1 "Dude! Her pussy was so big, you could crawl in it!"
Punk #2 "And she's all bug-eyed, holdin it open saying, 'Give it to me stud!'."
They fall over in a fit of laughter, elbowing each other with numerous puns and one-liners
*I know, I know... I've spent too much time hanging out with guys*
I don't like being uncomfortable about sex or body parts so I refused to shy away from this.
Doing my research, I've found that there's no definitive theory on who she was or why she was put on churches.
There are some theories on what her name means, Sheela of the Branches? Sheela on her Hunches? There once was a ship named Sheela na gig - its name was translated to mean "The female sprite"
The real Sheela has been lost to history, so we can only speculate.
I did discover that many of the stone depictions of her on the churches and buildings were actually recycled from older buildings.
I do know that pre-christain civilizations weren't nearly as prude about sex and had more respect for women. *Which makes my imaginary conversation between the two apprentices unlikely.*
Then, I had an epiphany.
I'm pretty sure I know why She's showing off her Yoni on the churches.
I looked at the Renaissance Man as he insisted Sheela was pornographic, "You read The DaVinci Code. Remember the theory that man finds God through Sex."
The stubborn man wasn't willing to bend, "That was pornographic too!"
So here's my theory:
The clergy came in to convert the heathens, they explained why the churches needed to be built. They explained it was the House of God and that no one would be able to find God without the church.
Now the Irish peasants were pretty used to being told what to do. Same shit, different day.
They probably didn't agree. They probably believed that God was found through communing with a woman, or in a grove of trees or where the ocean crashed onto the shore.
They probably thought these guys were crazy but they weren't going to argue.
You do you, Bro!
The Irish were always pretty good at going with the flow . They did their own thing, regardless of who was in charge.
After a couple drinks, some jolly bloke probably offered to help out these Church leaders who seemed so adamant about their beliefs.
This guy suggested adding the Sheela's in the stonework. The Sheela's were probably already around, marking the homes of the Clan's Spiritual Leaders
*probably a post-menopausal woman - weathered, wise and can't get knocked up. One of her services might have been helping single men connect with a higher power or at the very least educating couples on the ways of the spirits*
The Drunk Dude, with all the jolly charm and charisma of Joe Biden, explains that the people would understand it.
The church officials consented. They probably didn't agree. They were probably as appalled as my husband. Still they knew the easiest way to convert was to blend into the established culture.
In a nutshell, Sheela-na-gig isn't a fertility Goddess, she's too skinny for that.
She isn't a stonemason's joke.
She isn't a warning about evils of lust or lewd behavior. *i didn't get that one*
Let's look at the symbols. Symbols are the language of the unconscious mind.
The eye's: In almost all depictions, Sheela na gig's eyes are prominent. In most of them, they're protruding, bigger than they need to be.. This suggests we should open our own. See. See everything. Look at the bigger picture, look beyond our own worldly problems. See the good and the bad. See the possibilities. See our own potential.
The smile: In almost all of the carvings, Sheela has a smile or a grin. In one she's sticking out her tongue. Even the carvings that are worn away still suggest a remnant of a mouth. Perhaps it's a reminder to be happy or to not take things so seriously.
The Va-Jay-Jay: At first it appears to be an invitation but maybe its a suggestion. Our private parts are delicate, sensitive, vulnerable. Sheela na gig offers hers for all the world to see. Maybe she's telling us to reveal our secrets, show our vulnerablities; our weaknesses. Share our guilt and shame. Give it up, let it go.
If you think about it, the practice of confession *whether it be to a priest, a lover or a therapist* is incredibly transformative.
We can't conquer our weakness until we admit we have one. We don't move beyond our shame until we can give it a voice and set it free.
I believe that Sheela-na gig, in spite of her shocking appearance, is a symbolic reminder and an invitation to travel through the dark narrow passage, enter the sacred space, reveal your secret, tell your truth, heal, refresh, transform and be reborn a better stronger version of yourself.
I believe we can achieve this through sex in intimate relationships, church, meditation or just tough life lessons.
Me? I prefer sex.
So what's your theory? How do you feel about the image of Sheela na gig? What's your preferred way of healing and transforming?