The Golden Dawn: Player Aid #7

What You Know About Sheela-na-gig

         Th peculiar carvings known collectively as "Sheela-na-gigs" occur across England, and are generally done on largish stones that are in turn set into the walls of buildings. Most often they appear over doorways. According to popular lore, "Sheelas" bring good luck and ward off evil spirits, hence their position above doors (to prevent evil from entering). Though the imagery varies, the subject matter is almost universally consistent: a crouched woman, usually emaciated and often with skeletal ribs, has her hands placed within a grotesquely enlarged and distended vulva that hangs between her legs. Generally, Sheelas have big eyes and a large, round head; frequently, they have an unpleasant expression on their face. All are heavily stylized, some to the point of near-complete abstraction.

         Most surviving Sheelas date to the middle ages, but their origins are unknown. Links to some sort of female fertility goddess or spirit seem likely, but no such being connected with the Sheela-na-gigs is known; Sheelas were more or less adopted by Christian churches in Britain by the Middle ages, but are almost certainly of pagan origin as they resemble nothing found in Christian mythology. In recent years, Victorian morality has led some to eradicate Sheelas wherever they may be found, to the horror of antiquarians, historians, and folklorists. Celtic folklore applies the term "Sheelas" to whores in some areas, midwives in others. Another piece of Celtic folklore suggests that a woman's vagina holds great supernatural power, and that a woman could chase away a devil by exposing her genitals to the beast. In some places, it is believed that touching the vulva of the Sheela as one passes through the doorway beneath her brings good luck.


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Sat Nov 11 00:46:35 2006