The Day of the Hag - Photo collage.
Here I've combined a photograph of the Romsey Sheela with images of the spring equinox sunrise illumination at Sliabh na Caillí (Loughcrew), Ireland.
I chose the Romsey Sheela for this depiction of Sheelah's Day / Là na Caillich, as she's one of the few surviving images that show the Hag with her staff. Whether a branch from a budding whitethorn in springtime, or her blackthorn staff that she uses to freeze the ground, the stick she carries is an important symbol of her role as a spirit woman who controls the weather.
She has the characteristic flat head and large eyes of many of the sheelas, such as the Kilpeck Sheela depicted below.
As the equinox sunrise lights up the back chamber, a patch of sunlight moves slowly across the abundant carvings on the stones, most of which appear to be depictions of the sun. The two suns in this image are from that back stone, and I have placed them flanking her to depict an ghrian mhór (the large, red sun of summer), and an ghrian bheag (the small, pale sun of winter), and how she stands at the threshold point between them. You might also notice the suns have nine rays, as in the traditional formulas from the Carmina Gadelica that mention "The Nine Rays of the Sun."
Síla of the Trees - Original drawing from 1998.
The Kilpeck Sheela, here depicted in an Otherworldly setting, is the best-known and most popular of the sheelas. Perhaps this is due to the unreal aspects of her appearance (no breasts, surreal proportions, looks less like a human than some of the others), and that her smile and lack of scars makes her one of the tamer sheelas. She has the exaggerated, somewhat triangular head and huge, emphasized eyes found in early Celtic art. Some scholars believe the huge eyes emphasize the presence of the soul.
Though the model for this sheela resides on an English church (Kilpeck Church of St.Mary and St.David, Herfordshire, England, 12th cent. CE), she bears a marked resemblance to figures found in earlier Celtic stone carvings and metalwork, such as the figures on the Moone Cross (8-9th cent. CE, Co. Kildare, Ireland) and the stone heads found among both the Insular and Continental Celts (such as the 3rd cent. CE Northumberland Head, a votive figure believed to represent a Celtic deity. Offerings may have been placed upon a plate atop this figure's flat head).
The Pictish-style spiral border is based upon on a similar design from the Book of Kells, as recorded by George Bain. I have altered the design, redrawing the connections between the spirals, to more clearly represent the continuity of the soul as it travels from lifetime to lifetime.
For more on general themes in Celtic art:
Lloyd and Jennifer Laing, Art of the Celts (London: Thames and Hudson, 1992), pp. 9, 10, 49, 52-3, 119, 131, 171, 180, 192-3.
George Bain, Celtic Art (New York: Dover, 1973), pp. 65, 67, 154.
John Sharkey, Celtic Mysteries (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1975), plates 5, 6, 9, 18, 19, 22, 34, and pp. 85-87.
An Cailleach Bheara short film from Bord Scannán na hÉireann (The Irish Film Bord). The Hag walks the land and renews herself in the spring.
Ireland's Síle na Gigs: Gay Cannon has produced a truly impressive addition to the Sheela community. This website has an exhaustive catalog of Sheelas from all over Ireland. I won't even try to list them all here. Please visit this site, especially if you've only seen a handful of Sheelas before. Thank you, Gay, this site is amazing.
The Sheela na Gig Project: A guide to Sheela Na Gig
Carvings and Sheela Na Gigs in the UK, with photos, maps, and commentary from
those who have visited these Sheelas in person. Brought to you by John Harding
Megalithica (a gazetteer of ancient sites in the UK, Sheela
Na Gigs, Standing Stones, Dolmens and Stone Circles.) this site is his new
domain for Sheelas. What a treasure trove! Includes:
Tara's Sheela-na-Gig Page: Pictures of many diverse
Sheelas, from Ireland and England, some which I have never seen represented in
photographs before. Tara has recently updated and expanded her fabulous website
with stories of her firsthand encounters with the Sheelas, and excellent
photographs from her travels (like her adventure with the Sheela-na-gigs in the
National Museum of Ireland). Includes the Irish Sheelas of :
SHEELA-NA-GIGS IN ENGLAND AND WALES By Ivan Bunn: Lots of
excellent descriptions and pictures. The photos take a bit of time to load, but
are well worth it as they have incredible detail and high image quality.
Details on the Sheelas of:
Sheela na Gigs of Ireland and England. Jill Schubert's lovely pages, with some well-written theories and her photos of the Kilpeck, Killinaboy, Stretton, Tugford, Bunratty Castle and Holgate Sheelas.
The Fethard Historical Society Fethard, Co. Tipperary,
Ireland. Pictures and information on the Sheela na Gigs of Fethard:
Cavan County Museum is home to the Lavey Sheela na Gig and the Cavan Sheela na Gig. A picture and brief writeup.
St. Mary's Famine Church, Thurles, Co.Tipperary, Ireland. "This Sile na Gig... embedded in a wall in Thurles, is to be moved to the Famine Church for safe keeping and protection from the elements." A picture and information on the Thurles museum.
Meetings with Remarkable Sheela-na-Gigsby Fiona Marron.
Ecclesiastical Empire and the Feminine by Dara Molloy. "A reworking of the feminine into an expression of Christian church will require a new beginning. That new beginning could be made by refounding the Celtic Church. The stone which was rejected would then become the corner stone. The image of a Celtic Cross with a Sheela-na-Gig on it could become its primary icon." While criticisms of the Church are common among Pagan and Feminist writers, here we find a former Roman Catholic Priest adding his voice to the criticism. A personal and scholarly critique of the patriarchal, woman-hating, sexual politics of the Catholic Church. ***Unfortunately, this link seems to be down. I hope this essay appears again, as it's well worth the read.***
If you like the Sheelas, you may enjoy the death crones
The Sínebharr Sheela. A recent find! Exclusive to this site!
Larissa's Sheela page Miscellaneous links and images.
Sheela-na-gig article by Jack Roberts. Appeared in the English Pagan magazine White Dragon. Relies on same source material as Fiona Marron and Lori DeMarre's articles. Too much wishful thinking and not enough scholarship, imho, yet some nice points and ideas, nonetheless. Jack has recently published a book on the sheelas. *note the new URL *
Pictish Warrior Brooch: Here's an online image - "inspired by early Celtic petroglyphs" - with similar characteristics: the flat head, emphasized eyes, and even the double spiral (!)
Sri Salagrama Sila - For those interested in the Hindu connection to the Celts, you might be interested to know that in Sanskrit, "sila" (yup, pronounced "SHEE-luh") means "stone." These holy stones, gathered from a sacred river in a very arduous and intense ritual, are very special manifestations of Deity. I dreamed of Salagrama Sila ("SHAL-uh-GRAM SHEE-luh") while working on the Síla na Géige article, and while I'm unaware of any direct linguistic connections between the two names, at the very least it's a way cool synchronicity (and maybe subconsciously influenced my choice of spelling for Síla). Someone more versed in Indo-European root words may want to check it out.
In Hindu temples I have seen Shalagram Silas with visible faces - they emerge from the river that way, and are not carved by human hands. I hear there are Silas for other Hindu deities, as well. And the fact that Salagram Silas come from the Kali-Gandaki River has not been lost on me. I'd like to know more about how the river got that name, and whether everyone who makes the pilgrimage to gather the sacred stones from the river thinks of them as Vishnu manifestations - after all, some images which Vaisnavas consider to be Vishnu, other Hindus worship as Kali (like the rough-hewn, black Jagganath deities - who also have huge heads and big, emphasised eyes.). Some of the large holes in these sacred stones, that the Vaisnavas see as "chakras," could easily be seen as yonis.
As many scholars have pointed out the marked similarity between the Sheelas and the Yoni-Goddesses found over or near the doorways to numerous Hindu temples, this Síla and Sila thing could be a very deep and meaningful connection, indeed.
Here are a few pages about Salagram Sila: Pictures of Vipramukhya Swami's Salagram-Silas, "The Most Sacred Gem in the Vedas," and Salagrama Sila Puja a mystical Experience. (Note, These links only brush the surface of Salagram Sila traditions, and are from a rather patriarchal perspective. But they do have some pictures, and links to more in-depth sites.)
A number of people have written me to inquire about purchasing Sheela jewelry or images. A good google search will find resources, but here are some I like (tell 'em we sent you):
The Woman Sculpture Site has a variety of modern Sheela images, including one by Cydra R. Vaux illustrating my vision of a vaulted corridor leading all the way back to First Woman. Cool!
Milk and Honey women's bookstore has some of K. Robbins beautiful, womanist pendants in sterling silver. These are modern originals, but they really capture the energy of the Goddesses and Powers. Maybe a good choice for someone who wants the Sheela energy but is a bit timid about wearing an actual Sheela.
Talaria Enterprises has a nice votive image of the Kilpeck Sheela, suitable for altar, wall or doorway.
House O'Chicks is a San Francisco based, grassroots community providing positive and healthful sex information in a society that shames and denies sexuality, especially of women. They are the creators of the The Wondrous Vulva Puppets - order yours today! (The artist does custom vulvas, as well.)
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©1998, 2014 kathryn price nicdhanà