Meet Sheela-Na-Gig

Meet Sheela-Na-Gig

The 18th March is known as Síle’s Day in Ireland. A long forgotten and un-celebrated Saints day following St. Patrick’s Day. Síle is an ancient female deity of fertility and re-birth. There are over 100 stone effigies of the Sheela-na-Gig (Pronounced Sheela-Naw-Geeg) in various locations in Ireland. Though many were defaced, stolen and hidden away due to their vulgar nature. I like to think of Síle as a 3D instructional guide for childbirth. In fact these ‘birthing stones’ were quite possibly loaned out to women in labour. I recall discussing with Bob how language for female genitalia was not actually in existence in writing until the witch trials,so the value of these instructions may have been vital.

The vulva as a primordial gateway, the mysterious divide between non life and life. These Síle’s were often taken from their original sites and placed into new buildings (found on Church’s, houses and municiple buildings) over windows and doors, warding off evil spirits. Apotropaic magic.

The Irish mother goddess is known as the Cailleach – The Hag/Witch. Female deities are prevalent in pre-Celtic society. An  Anú (Danú ) was the mother of the Gods of Ireland. In Co. Kerry, near Rathmore are The Paps* of Anú . Named for their uncanny resemblance to the female body. On each summit a cairn, mounds built of rocks. Stone nipples on the great breasts of the Mother Goddess. There is a ritual walk from one cairn to another.

My maternal Grandmother came from Rathmore, near the Paps. My Grandmother Margaret and her sister Annie left for New York when they both were 16 and 17. My Grandmother died when I was 12. She returned home to Ireland to marry when she was 25. Two sisters married two brothers. She was a wonderful and adventurous cook. She used garlic, basil and all the spices. I inherited her wooden spice rack. To cook curry and rice when most ate spuds and bacon was a truly exciting experience for me as a child. Flamboyant. When edema swelled her legs, her sister Annie came from Cork on the train with a cure, all the way to Dublin with 2 litres of urine in bottles. Annie prepared a bath for my Grandmother, poured in the urine and added a tin of mustard. Needless to say I was horrified, and confused that it brought her relief. Not understanding what purpose or methods she was employing. Urea is an ingredient in many expensive face creams though it is distilled from animal urine. The logic of old Irish cures baffle but despite their strangeness, their tradition continues and passes onto the next generation to this day, though rooted in the pagan tradition they have subsumed into a Catholic set of rituals.

To celebrate Sile’s Day myself and my daughters planted bulbs on the rocky cairn in our garden.

  • Paps is another word for breasts used in Ireland. “He had buckgoats paps on him, soft ones for orphans” James Joyce, Finnegans Wake.
  • The slang word ‘Gee’ is a term used in Ireland/Scotland for a woman’s vagina that is thought to be derived from the Sheela-Na-Gig. When spoken it sounds like gee-g.