Sheela na gigs, are carvings of naked women exposing their vulva. These have been found mainly in the British Isles. Oddly enough, many of these old representations of Goddess are found on churches, and some castles. There are many theories surrounding the meaning behind the sheela na gig, and the most popular is that she is a survivor of an ancient pagan Goddess. Usually, the sheela has been identified with the Celtic Goddess Callieach. This Goddess is known to be a "hag" like figure of Irish mythology.
The myth of the sheela says, that she appeared as a lustful hag, and most men refused her advances, except one. After this man slept with her, she turned into a beautiful maiden, and granted the man with royalty and blessed his reign.
Before I went to Ireland, I complied a list of sheela na gigs in the places we were going to be visiting. Not knowing how hard or easy it would be to find them, I kept my hopes up. The first place I found one, was at the Hill of Tara. When you arrive at the Hill of Tara, you have to pass through a small cemetery and old church before reaching the actual mounds of Tara. After we checked out the mounds, we walked back through the cemetery where I noticed a single standing stone. As I looked at it, I realized that there was a slightly faded carving at the bottom right corner. As I looked closer, it revealed itself to me, I had found my first sheela na gig! Very exciting indeed! The other two sheela's I found on our trip, were at the Rock of Cashel in the museum, and at the Clonmacnoise monastic site.
If you set out to find them, you will, just keep looking and dont give up! It's very reassuring that these little figures of an ancient Goddess still adorn the walls of churches and castles throughout the British Isles.
For more information on Sheela na Gigs, check out : SheelaNaGig.org
Photo courtesy of my personal album from Ireland