On Sheela's Day We Celebrate Ireland's Ancient Divine Feminine

...And Saint Patrick's wife, too?

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Have you met Sheela?

Sheela-Na Gig or Síle-Na Gig refers to the many carvings of bold, often scary big-headed women bearing their vulvas wide and looking you in the eye as they do it. They’re found across Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England, and no one really knows what on earth they meant to the medieval folks who put them there.

There’s something about the ancient recognition of the divine feminine and the understanding of birth, death, and rebirth. There’s something about luck, too. There’s a whole lot of subversive magic that has allowed them to endure in plain sight for so long.

And now, there’s a whole lot of reclaiming of their bold, shameless power.

Bandia Publishing put out this poster/guide in 1997, and I picked it up in Galway in 1999. It hung on the walls of dorms and my first couple of apartments, but then, this explosion of sacred sexuality and feminine power got pushed to the back of the closet.

Surely there is a whole world of story about my own understanding of what it was to become an “adult” and how to be a woman in America. It certainly involved rounding off the most radical feminist edges and trading a vulva poster for wedding photos and school pictures.

And yet, for me, and for Ireland, despite the repression or the bid to seem more acceptable to “polite society,” Sheela has always been there, waiting to be re-discovered/re-engage.

Here are some artists and organizations who are bringing the Sheela energy, and calling on this ancient celebration of sexuality and sensuality, this mysterious force of birth, death, and rebirth to the stage, page, and screen.

Dee Mulrooney as Growler
  • Project Sheela is a street art project celebrating female sexuality and empowerment, and advocating for women's rights on International Women's Day. They place Sheela sculptures around Ireland, and they focus on sites where Magdalene Laundries stood, where women were essentially incarcerated by the Church for expressing sexuality or other alleged behavior that set them outside of the impossibly narrow grip of so-called Christian morality.

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Marisa Goudy