Displaying Her Parts. This Celtic archetype of the Great Mother appeared in folk
and church art by at least 1080 AD, but undoubtedly is of much earlier origin.
She may be identical with
the war goddess Morrigan, consort to the Dagda. One of her images is found near
the ancient goddess shrine of Avebury, where she symbolized fertility;
displaying her sexual parts was believed to ward off evil.
Carvings of Sheela-na-Gigs
may have accompanied the seasonal harvest custom of weaving corn dollies which
dates from North European antiquity.
[Church of St. Mary and St. David. Kilpeck.
Herefordshire, U.K. 850 A.D. Celtic Wall Hanging, 1140 CE]
Victorian prudery resulted in the defacement or destruction of large numbers of
these figures. Some have been embellished. She is represented usually as a naked
woman, squatting with knees apart, displaying her vulva and often presenting it
with both hands. The term Sheela-Na-Gig means something like "Vulva-Woman."
Celts generally protected doorways with some female-genital fetish. Sheela-Na-Gig
figures closely resembled the yonic statues of Kali which still appear at the
entrance to Hindu temples. There, visitors lick a finger and touch the yoni for
From the PJ Harvey Song-
Sheela na gigs (Síle na
gcíoch in Irish) are figurative carvings of naked women displaying an
exaggerated vulva. They are architectural grotesques found on churches, castles,
and other buildings, particularly in Ireland and Great Britain, sometimes
together with male figures.
One of the best examples
may be found in the Round Tower at Rattoo, in County Kerry, Ireland. There is a
replica of the round tower sheela na gig in the County Museum in Tralee town.
Another well-known example may be seen at Kilpeck in Herefordshire, England.
Ireland has the greatest number of known sheela na gig carvings; McMahon and
Roberts cite 101 examples in Ireland and an additional 45 examples in Britain.
Such carvings are said to ward off death and evil. Other grotesques, such as
gargoyles and hunky punks, were frequently part of church decorations all over
Europe. It is commonly said that their purpose was to keep evil spirits away.
They often are positioned over doors or windows, presumably to protect these