(CNN) – In Ireland, churches all over the country forget walls or crumbling walls, small figures ignored.
Lost in gray etwork, obscured by ivy or moss, sheila-na-gig stone carvings can be difficult to spot in the wild – but these medieval creations are by no means coy.
Usually naked women with bald heads, widely spread to display exaggerated vulva with dangling breasts and legs, Sheila-na-jiggs seem out of whack for the first time in the main surroundings of a Christian church.
However, these messengers from an ancient past have done much to teach us about Irish and Northern European history, and about the pagan roots of the global festival now known as St. Patrick’s Day.
While in modern times it is a one-day celebration, it was once a three-day carnival that ended on 18 March – Sheallah Day.
This is the story of Sheila – who she was, why she forgot when St. Patrick was not, and what scars are left behind.
‘He is always there’
Irish mythology is paired with many female celebrities. The stories of warrior queens, deities, kingmakers, and holy hags have been passed down from generation to generation.
However, an oral folk tradition means that names, characters, and meanings over time are subject to the interpretive whims of forms and changing societies.
“Sheila is a folk expression that we call the Women’s Cosmic Agency”” Shane Lehnen, an archaeologist, folklorist and historian at Cork’s CSN College of Advanced Education, has been instrumental in reviving Sheila’s interest in recent years.
“Think of her as the consent of the Purusha and the Purusha of the great mythological tradition of that goddess. She represents the land.”
While the Sheila-na-jigs are medieval, and the figure of Sheila first appears in newspaper and documentary accounts around the 17th century, its history is attributed to its ancient Celtic beginnings.
“Leithen says,” is a part of the belief in people studying mythology that represents each female figure in any shape or form. “” The very fact that he is alive is interesting. He is always there. ”
‘That great human concern’
There are Sheila-na-Gig carvings around Northern Europe – the best example of this is at Kilpeck Church in Ilfordshire, England – but there are 115 listed in Ireland, which are nowhere in the world.
As they are often moved from their original locations and placed in new buildings, “they are quite difficult to date, but the general consensus is that they date between the 12th and 15th or 16th century” , “Says Matt Sewer, assistant keeper at the National Museum of Ireland. The Dublin Archaeological Museum at the museum has a sheila display while six more are on loan for regional exhibitions.
Sheila has two main interpretations explaining Saver. The old view is that they are “promoting living life, a prohibition on sexuality in the Middle Ages. Other theories, developed mainly after the 1930s, see them as symbols of fertility.”
One of these revisionists, Lina, tells CNN Travel that, “Sheila has long been the subject of a strong wrong view. She was seen as a symbol of evil, a symbol of lust, a symbol of sexuality.”
She argues that Sheila-na-Giggs “celebrates the woman who has more than birth and guardianship at the time of death. Sheila symbolizes that great human concern.”
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Hill of Tara is an ancient archaeological site and the traditional seat of the High Kings of Ireland.
The hill of Tara in County Math is the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland, a site for ceremonies and burials that has been in use for more than 5,000 years. Tour buses travel north from Dublin to visit Tara and nearby Newgrange, a Stone Age nearby mausoleum.
Tara Fial of Tara, a stone standing like a fruit, has a powerful history, Lehane explains. “If you were going to be king then you were sitting on top of Lia Feil and you were symbolically attached to the land. If you were the right king, Lia Phile would scatter.”
There are many examples in Celtic mythology called the sovereign goddess – the female deity who obtains the king’s powers through mating.
When a king is out of line, the goddess who represents the land transforms into a withered old woman similar to Sheila-na-tamatam, known as Kelach. “In order for the new king to come along, she must embrace this dangerous hag,” Lehenen says, “and she reforms this beautiful, bountiful, kind figure again.”
Cailleach is found wherever the land is barren and treacherous, and the weather adversity is found. He named her the megalithic mausoleum, the rocks in the sea, and the hill outcorps. You can come face to face with the Cailleach at Ceann na Caillí (Hag’s Head) on the Mohan cliffs and the mausoleum atop the Gray Gulion Mountains is known as the home of Calliagh Beira.
‘Ireland’s First Story’
St. Patrick, the historical figure, was a former slave from Roman Britain to Ireland in the fifth century. Especially among Irish saints, he wrote his own story, in two Latin works “Confessio” and “Apiola.”
“One thing that very few people disagree with is that there was someone named Patrick and he wrote the first story of Ireland,” says Tim Campbell, director of the St. Patrick’s Center for Downpatrick, County Down. “The history of Ireland literally begins with him.”
Patrick makes reference to the Celtic tradition of more mud when he refuses to show subjection to another man by sucking his nipples. There are two preserved Iron Age bodies on display at the National Museum of Ireland which are testament to this. They belong to two unsuccessful kings who have been slain with rites and have their nipples cut, so that no one is guilty.
Patrick’s legacy as a Christian missionary and bishop was “woven into the later legends of early medieval Ireland,” Campbell says, and the legendary Patrick would also absorb old legends.
Leh states that Lord Lugh is associated with the most royal dynasty in Ireland. “He represents the perfect male.”
When Christianity came along, the legend of Patrick captured the cult of Luge. And by his side was his wife Sheila – now called Patrick’s wife.
Many countries have pre-Christian spring festivals and Ireland is no different. Patrick and Sheila’s three-day celebration – from March 16 to 18 – falls just before the spring equinox. The license to curb and defy the strictness of Lent is the Carnival version of Ireland.
“You were hoping to go wild, to throw the wind carefully, to embrace the chaos, because that’s the nature of the carnival,” Lehane says. “This is a very important Irish tradition to recognize.”
Christian influence gave the name to the festival’s laziness and Sheallah Day – recorded as being widely celebrated by Irish and Irish expatriates in the 18th and 19th centuries – fell by the roadside. But Patrick was not left without a female partner.
Three saints, one tomb
Patrick may be the poster boy, but there are two other patron saints in Ireland – St Brigid and St Colmisil. All three, thanks to the influential promotional efforts of the Anglo-Norman knight John Day chair, are reputed to have been buried under the same rock in Downpatrick, a sacred site to date.
“During the medieval period, there was a claim to be pilgrimage everywhere. If you could bury three major Irish saints in one place, you would win the lottery,” Lehane laughs.
The Christian Saint Brigade shares many of the characteristics of the pre-Christian Goddess Brigade and the feast day of the Saint – February 1 – was originally the pagan festival of Ebolek, marking the first day of spring.
Irish people still weave this Springtime festival to St. Brigid’s Cross, which is made up of crowds, set at doors and windows to protect the house from damage.
Like many Irishwomen before him, this author was taught by his mother how to assemble crowds from the marshy lands and build the St. Brigid’s Cross.
Maureen O’Hare / CNN
St. Patrick’s and Brigade are also associated with the sacred wells of Ireland, of which there are thousands. These natural springs reserved for curative purposes “are found in practically every parish,” Lehane says.
For the relief of gynecological problems, women will repair sacred wells to pray for the protection of their virginity or to boost fertility. “While Patrick is the best-known patron of wells,” says Lehane, most of the wells are devoted to female figures.
Today, some living sheela-na-jigs can often be found near sacred wells, while the wells will also usually have a rag tree, on which visitors set their tokens and their prayers.
“Sheila-na-jigs represent a point between life and death,” Lehane says. During many centuries when pregnancy was a delicate balance between a fruitful new beginning or a cut in young life, women replaced – Sheila – the symbol of birth – in their time of need.
The wells also provided a sanctuary and a women’s place of healing in the sometimes hostile landscape.
Prithvi Devi, Sheela, lives in these quiet areas of rural Ireland, where water flows down and the wind cuts ribbons in grasslands and rip trees.
In Irish mythology, the hag is withered, but he is also bewildered. He will surprise us all.