Friday, October 15, 2010
Sheela na Gig. or is it Sidhe Lena Gig???
Sheela Na Gig
Sheela-na-gigs are stone carvings of naked females that use one or both hands to direct the viewer's attention to their genital area. Although some were carved in the 12th century, they did not come to the attention of scholars until about 1840. There has been much debate about their origin, meaning and role since then. Ireland has the most by far of any other country. Some suggest they were brought here by the Anglo-Normans, some say they are Celtic in origin.
Although it is now a type-name to describe the figures, many had individual local names such as Evil Eye Stone, Hag of the Castle, Witch on the Wall, Julia the Giddy, and St Gobnait.
In 1676, two Irish Church regulations ordered the burning of obscene carvings of naked women and, even earlier in 1631, provincial statutes for Tuam, Co. Galway, ordered parish priests to hide away such carvings and 'take note of where they were hidden. Although the church regulations don't use the term, it is very possible that the figures referred to were those known today as Sheela-na-gigs. The order to 'burn' them suggests that some were made from combustible material, possibly wood.
One suggestion concerning the real meaning of the name Sheela Na Gig revolves around the fact that place names in Ireland are almost always corruptions of Gaelic words and you have to listen to the place name rather than read it in order to understand it. It is necessary to hear the name as our ancestors heard it. In Irish this could mean that Sheela Na Gig when spoken was Sidhe Lena Gig. Now if you follow this path then Sidhe is Irish for Fairy, Lena could mean ‘with her’ and Gig is Irish for sexual appendage. Put all together you arrive at Sidhe Lena Gig (Sheela na Gig) meaning Fairy with her sexual appendage. As I said, it is only one suggestion.
There are various interesting theories surrounding the Sheela na Gig and I include some of those here. There has even been a suggestion that there is evidence of a male version and yes it’s called Séan na Gig. However we will leave Séan for another day.
A fertility symbol.
When you first look at these figures with their prominent genitalia you may see them as some form of fertility symbol and most books would support this view but there may be other ways of interpreting them.
A warning against lust.
It has been suggested that the early Christian church used Sheela na Gig to support their moral teachings. They were used to put people off sex and to show that eternal damnation awaited those who succumbed to the sins of the flesh. To vilify women. Of course the Sheela na Gig pre-dates these frustrated eejits and there have been many suggestions why the Christian church had a problem with women but I won’t go into that here. It has a certain irony because in modern Ireland women have reclaimed the figure as a symbol of strength and independence.
A protection against the evil eye.
Another theory says that the Sheela na Gig figure was erected in order to give protection from malevolent forces such as the evil eye. The fact that many of the figures were placed high up on the walls of castles and churches out of sight of passersby could support this. An example of this is Ratoo round tower. Here the Sheela na Gig is inside the north window recess on the top of the tower.
Celtic goddess theory.
It has been suggested that the figure is the third in the Celtic goddess trinity of maiden –mother-crone. In her aspect as the crone. She is inviting the hero back into her womb to death. Through this figure we are reminded that we are all born of Mother Earth and we will all return to her in death. I suppose you could say “From the womb to the tomb”.
I like all the above theories as they all offer something to the pot.