Early 12th century, mainly Irland and UK
Sheela na gig
Irish-Celtic goddess of protection, birth, death, joie de vivre and feminine power
all depictions of the resemble each other: old woman in squat position pulling her vulva apart
Location: especially Ireland, but also other places in UK, France and Spain.
Feature: 140 of them are still preserved in the original place (castles, churches, etc.), many were censored
Vulva representations to ward off evil spirits (apotropaic)
Sheela ela na gigs are figural carvings from the 11th and 12th centuries depicting an oversized vulva found on doors of churches, castles and other buildings.Even though the image is overtly sexual the representation is always grotesque, sometimes even comical. They are usually associated with “hags” or “old women”.
»The sacred image of the yoni is an archetype, a timeless energy pattern that occurs in the human psyche.« Starr Goode
Sheela na - what?!
Sheela-na-gig: probably comes from the Irish Gaelic
"Sighle na gCioch" ("Julia with the breasts").
Another variant is "sile ina Giob" ("Sheela on her big genitals").
gig: also refers to the term "giggie" - a term for the female genital, which is said to be related to the Irish folk dance "jig", this goes back to the French dance "gigue" and this again allegedly to an orgiastic dance in pre-Christian times.
Vulva display on churches
An old woman squatting and pulling apart her vulva, a fairly strange thing to find on a church! The carvings are old and often do not seem to be part of the church but have been taken from a previous older, usually romanesque, building. Victorian and Christian prudery damaged or completely destroyed a large number of them. They were found buried behind monasteries or were left on buildings but damaged from the hip below.
One Sheela at a time
In order to create awareness for the veneration of Sheela na gig, Project Sheela was founded in Ireland, a street art project for women's rights, female sexuality and empowerment.
Also: at sheelanagig.org you can find an extensive collection of all Sheelas!