Sheela Na Gig is the name given to a group of stone carvings found on churches, castles and other large buildings built in Ireland, the UK and Europe during the Medieval Period. These carvings show naked women holding open their own vulvas.
That sounds a little odd, doesn't it?
|A Sheela Na Gig on Kilpeck church in Herefordshire|
Architectural historians can't agree whether Sheela Na Gigs are meant to represent a warming against the evils of lust, or whether they are cerebrations of fertility. Other academics think they might serve as protection against evil (in a similar way to Nazars) or that they are re-cycled stonework depicting much earlier pagan goddess symbols.
Personally, I really like Sheela Na Gigs. This is mostly because they always seem so pleased with themselves, and also because it feels to me like they're celebrating their own womanhood in a very strange but joyfully anarchic way. There's something about them that feels cheekily transgressive to the modern eye, and I very much like that too.
|Sheela na Gig at Dunaman in County Limerick|
Anyway, here's my sonnet for Sheela Na Gig. I hope you like it!
Conversations with Sheela Na Gig
Corruption is the moral soul's disease
and Sheela serves to offer us the proof.
She crouches, showing all the world her foof
and makes the passers by feel ill-at-ease.
“Put on some granite knickers, if you please!
You cannot dress like that while on our roof!
It's no good looking smug and all aloof
coz even Playboy wouldn't print such sleaze!”
She counters “Do you fear a woman's power?
Does nakedness transgress the rights of man?
Or is the blossom of this fertile flower
the seed from which all present life began?
Your outrage is just twisted poetry;
The shame you feel says more of you than me.”
|The Llandrindod Wells Sheela|
I feel a bit smug that I managed to rhyme 'proof' with 'foof' - that's a career first for me!
And, if you enjoy a good carving of an open vulva, you can read all about the project to catalogue all the Sheela Na Gigs in the UK here.
You can also get hold of the PJ Harvey track Sheela Na Gig here. (I listened to that song a lot while writing this piece!)