Sheela Na Gig

I love Sheela na gig! I recall when I first met her in Scotland during my 20s, as my mother gifted me a ceramic necklace of her. She was fascinating! Ghastly and gorgeous, my image had a stark face, big sagging breasts (with a third nipple), and a wide open vulva! My first looks different…

Spiral triskelion (formed from mathematical Archimedean spirals), occasionally used as a Christian Trinitarian symbol

Sheela Na Gig

by Alison Brierley: https://alisonbrierley.wordpress.com/

by Dr. Jamie Ramsey

I love Sheela na gig! I recall when I first met her in Scotland during my 20s, as my mother gifted me a ceramic necklace of her. She was fascinating! Ghastly and gorgeous, my image had a stark face, big sagging breasts (with a third nipple), and a wide open vulva! My first looks different from her other images, because she may not have breasts, or may show ribs, for example. However, no matter what variation of this ancient naked Crone goddess, she can almost always be recognized by her massive hole, legs spread wide open.

Where Sheela na gig comes from exactly and her purpose historically is not totally clear, and there are many hypotheses. She is often found on Norman and Romanesque churches above doorways and windows, and sometimes on other buildings such as castles. Her image is often found throughout Ireland, in the UK, and other parts of Europe. Some historians think she protected against and warded off evil, death, and negative entities, and others think she represented a warning for medieval times that female sexuality was sinful and base. Her roles in society may have changed over time. Another theory is that her icons were added to structures, and originated from Mother Goddess fertility roots, potentially connected to the birthing stone. She is often identified as pagan Celtic, and may be a war or territorial earth goddess, or may have been the lusty crone who granted men their kingship. There are questions on the meaning of her name, with different spellings, but her name means something along the lines of “old hag/Julia of the breasts/on her haunches.” Many (Irish) feminists have reclaimed Sheela na gig for empowerment of female sexuality and positive body image.

Project Sheela: https://www.projectsheela.com/

Even if historians are uncertain, I feel like I intuitively understand her in our relationship together. In my experience of her, Sheela-na-gig is wild and free, even laughing or mocking, unabashed in revealing what others may deem grotesque. For example, when I made her my Facebook picture, I received no to few likes at that time! But, what may be generally unacceptable to others is actually her gift to us as a sacred, protective portal. We mortals can learn from her wisdom in what she shares with us, reminding us about true self-love, which accepts both the negative and positive aspects of our whole selves. She teaches us that our dark, ugly judged, negative parts can also be beneficial to spark growth, motivation, and self-transformation, if only allowed and worked with. Then by having more self-acceptance and non-judgment from personal shadow work, can we better relate to others, holding compassion for their own experiences of shame and suffering. This self-work therefore leads to good acts of love and recognition ultimately of the Divine in Self, others, and all Existence—aka Divine Love. She reminds us of how we have and are portals within ourselves, not necessarily needing to go beyond ourselves to find.

Sheela na gig is especially helpful for women to recognize their own inner beauty– and natural ability to bring forth life from their dark wombs, planted by the seeds of men. Some women, like I have, have found her very helpful to call upon during childbirth. To explain how she assisted me during labor, we worked together for my fourth child’s birth, when I was 40 years old. I did many complementary practices like daily walking which included weekly hikes up and down a mountain for prayers, and using medicines like raspberry leaf and eating the superfood sardines. Doctors expressed some worry about my fetus not growing well based on their scientific technology, attributing it to my old placenta. More of me disagreed with this and cast it off as an untrue fear, versus trust of body and adequate self-care. Although taking their precautions, I trusted, and my position was eventually confirmed when baby and placenta emerged healthy together. By letting the hag wisdom guide me, each contraction or surge I envisioned my baby’s spirit coming down from the heavens and further down, through my body, with a gush of stars bursting from my own dark hole. Instead of anticipating and avoiding the pain, I embraced it and used it to bring her on Earth. When no longer able to stand and shaking with each surge, at this final moment of crazy surrender that occurs before each of my children were born, that’s when Sheela came to the rescue. Grunting and groaning like Artha she-bear, Sheela and I then were one. I opened my legs wide open sitting down, letting it all hang out naked (with all conventional modesty forgotten)- not holding back for anyone… And out came my baby, blood and all!
Sheela-na-gig continues to protect my house and family above the entry to my bathroom door from our master bedroom. I plan to someday teach my three daughters (starting when they experience menarche) what I have learned overall about the power of womanhood, my own pregnancies and childbirth, and especially calling on Sheela-na-gig as empowering of feminine wisdom, and as a strong doula.

She currently is teaching me to love and care for myself as I learn to accept my own natural aging– defying the notions that vitality, sexuality, and passions need stop at old age. Sheela is open to my secrets as I continually work on my parts I hide and am ashamed of. Finally, I feel that I still have more to learn from her as a portal for death and rebirth, especially since I work in nursing homes and encounter many in stages toward their sacred transition and journey.

I hope what I have shared about Sheela has been illuminating and helpful for others to better remember, honor, and even work with her as an ancient goddess, wild Cailleach figure. Certainly, any more insights upon her are welcome.

To conclude, the importance of Sheela na gig aptly relates to a quote about “wombman” and the divine feminine in Queen Afua’s book Sacred Woman:

The womb is the gateway to all human life. When the womb is honored and respected, she becomes a channel of power, creativity, and beauty—and joy reigns on Earth. When her voice goes unheard, unanswered, denied, the womb becomes a vessel of disease.

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