Who are the Mysterious Sheela-na-gigs?
I ran my hands along the old stones of the church. Lichen-lined and crumbling, the walls emanated a sense of deep peace. I moved in a slow circle around the perimeter of the ruins—a place of pilgrimage for thousands of years— until I found her.
Perched above the curve of an open window and haloed by stone, she was so faded that I only recognized her by her smoothness at first. A thousand years of hands had polished her lower half to a high shine. I had found the Sheela-na-gig.
All over Ireland and the UK, sitting astride abbey entrances and church doors, are mysterious stone carvings called Sheela-na-gigs. The etymology of the word is unknown, but one possibility is the Irish Síle-na-gigh, or “old woman of the vagina.” This name feels pretty apt because there is only one thing that truly defines a Sheela—her vulva.
These stone Sheelas were carved in many different styles throughout the 12th to 15th centuries, but every single one is making the same gesture— reaching down to open their vulvas. To this day, pilgrims still come to rub a Sheela’s lower half to ensure good luck. Sheela-na-gigs originate from a time we have trouble conceptualizing now; a time when a vagina was seen as an agent of blessing, a shield of protection, a magical entity that opened a portal to the Otherworld.
Since I first visited this Sheela in Ireland, I’ve made pilgrimages all across the Isles to visit these sacred carvings, and the experience of peace, mysticism and beauty is nearly always the same. These mysterious Sheela-na-gigs are coming back into our global awareness now for a reason. Like a message in a bottle, these carvings have been sent into the future so we can remember a truth we had almost forgotten.
In my new video I explore the history behind the Sheela-na-gigs— how they are connected to our earth-based ancestors, the theories of why they were created, and the powerful message they have to share with us today.
From vulvas painted on cave walls to venus figurines, visual enshrinement of the vulva was absolutely prolific for close to 30,000 years. The very parts of our bodies that we’ve been told to hide was once revered as a place of holy mystery, creativity, and empowerment. Imagine what our culture would look like if we still saw this part of ourselves as a literal gateway to the divine?
Sometimes these old ways of knowing seem buried under the weight of recent history, but when we connect back into these Sheelas they seem to sing, “This time, this time is not dead. This time, this time is coming again.”
I don’t often talk about it— but my whole journey into earth mysticism and intuition began with this part of my body. In my early adulthood I was wracked with vaginal health issues: including yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis and a chronic pain condition called vulvodynia. Emotionally incapacitated from years of illness and pain, there were days when I felt like healing was impossible. If only I had been able to meet a Sheela back then, perhaps I would have understood what was really happening to me…
When we manifest issues in the root of our bodies, we aren’t being punished. And we aren’t broken. We are being initiated back into our power— and back into an ancient lineage of magic, prophecy and connection that lives in this part of our body.
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