Sheela na Gig, Síla
Primary historical, etymological, and spiritual research into these mysterious Celtic images. Traditional and original Sheela artwork, tales and links.
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News Alert, Spring, 2013
At some point I will be integrating these findings into the main article but, for now, check out what my dear friend and colleague, Annie, turned up: Sheelah's Day. Finally. Confirmation for why that dictionary fell open to that page years ago and led me to investigate the etymology of géag. While Frietag may have gotten the idea from me (it's really not clear), the other sources on this are over 100 years old. Yet we first heard of them last month. Sheelah's Day was not celebrated, or spoken of, where I grew up in the diaspora (Chicago and Boston). I've also asked among my contemporaries in various parts of Ireland, both Catholic, Protestant and polytheist, and none of them have heard of this either. So it looks like it was not a widely-known celebration and, like the Sheelas, we really can't be certain how old it is. But since it's clearly a variation on the tales of the Cailleach, and the Cailleachan, as beings who control the weather, I think the connection is clear.
Major Update, SamhainTide, 2012
It's been six years since my last update, and fourteen years since the first version of this article was published. In working with Síla daily (as she who opens the way to the spirit world), some of my conclusions have morphed a bit over the past twenty years. I now see her as most definitely a name of, and depiction of, the Cailleach as Creator. I came to this conclusion years ago, and had suspected it at the initial writing, but had not updated the article to state this more clearly. I believe that Síla is a depiction of the Hag in the act of creation. My theory is that the sheela figures depict the power of a woman to give birth to a child, and our oldest female ancestor who gave birth to many tribes of humans, and a Spirit Woman who creates features of the landscape (mountains, rivers, and perhaps the world itself). Check out the Cailleach tag on my blog, and the Gaol Naofa FAQ for more on her role as a Creator.
News from the front, ThornBlossom Moon, 2006
I have updated the etymology sections a bit, including some more Gaelic folklore on Géige as a Gruagach-type figure.
is owned by Kathryn Price NicDhàna. RingSurf!
ThornBlossom Moon, 2005
Just added a few new links to the main article and the Links section.
Moon of the Big Green Leaves, 2004
Updated with Gay Cannon's photo of the Bronze Age proto-Sheela, and Shae Clancy's photo of the Boa Island figure (where you can see that people have been leaving her offerings). A few more etymological explorations, some footnotes on material found in waulking songs and Scottish harvest rituals, and a couple more things on Sheela and gynandry/gender-variance.
Taillte Moon, 2003
In the summer of 2003, a "new" figure was found that may predate the more well-know Sheelas: Historic stone carving uncovered in Co Fermanagh. To those of us looking at the photos, this "carved stone image, originally from a graveyard on nearby Lusty More Island, [which] has possible links to the renowned Janus figure at Caldragh Cemetery on Boa Island [in the Fermanagh lakeland, between Kesh and Belleek]" sure looks like a possible in situ Sheela to us. According to local historian John Cunningham, "the two are pre-Christian, dating back around 2,000 to 3,000 years." We're awaiting word back from our trusty Sheela-scouts, but this could be a really significant find. These two-faced "Janus" figures' possible connection to the gatekeeper function also seems very significant. She also looks like she has coins at her feet - are people making offerings?
I'm not sure why they're calling
this one a "new" find, though, since a picture of it can already be found on
plate 22 of John Sharkey's Celtic Mysteries - The ancient religion (New
York: Thames and Hudson, 1975), as well as in a few other books on Celtic art
and landscape. Guess it was just new to that newspaper ;-)
Read the article at http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/story.jsp?story=428311
And stay updated on the latest news
sheelanagig · A mailing list for people interested in Sheela na Gigs and other exhibitionist stone figures.
New Sheelas are being found all the time, and a group of us are going and photographing them and reporting back. After you've read all of this stuff, come and join our international group of Sheela researchers.
I've done some major revisions to Síla na Géige - Sheela na Gig and Sacred Space. The text is only changed in a few places, but I have substantially changed my views on some of the historical theories concerning the Sheelas. I have also added a couple more photos (real, historical Sheelas on standing stones!) and updated some links.
One of the fabulous things about the Internet, and this website, is that I'm now in touch with Sheela scholars from all over the world -- a gift I did not have when I wrote the original version of the article. Consequently, I'm now revising some of my theories. This is common in historical research, and readers may be glad to know that I am now questioning the possible biases of Ronald Hutton, who was a major source for my initial research. I now feel that Hutton has neglected key evidence. Whether this neglect is due to lack of awareness -- he, too, was dealing with a largely-unresearched area in writing about the Sheelas -- or due to the alleged anti-Pagan and anti-Woman agenda of which many feminist scholars have accused him, I cannot say. The problem may simply be that he tried to cover too much material at once, and so only skimmed the surface in some areas.
What I will say about all of us doing research in this area, is that up until very recently very little was written about the Sheelas, and almost none of it from a scholarly viewpoint. In the US you could find almost nothing on them. And what little material was available was often heavily biased towards romantic fantasies. So perhaps, in an effort to bring some balance to the debate, there was a tendency, on my part, and Hutton's, to swing too far to the contradictory and more conservative of archaeological theories.
But now things are different. We e-mail and e-publish our data, we share our experiences, images and theories. Research has speeded up to an astonishing degree. For those of us willing to be flexible and open-minded, to have courage, humility, compassion and the ability to ride the waves of change, it is truly an exciting time.
Síla na Géige - Sheela na Gig and Sacred Space
The Material Tradition
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Favorite posts include: Guess What? You Are Not Indigenous. Thoughts on the history of Celtic Reconstructionism, 1985 - 2008.
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