Sheelagh-na-gig

Enlarge picture
Carving of sheelagh-na-gig on the exterior of Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire. Courtesy Janet and Colin Bord/Fortean Picture Library.

Sheelagh-na-gig

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In a number of old churches in Ireland and other parts of western Europe can be found a sheelagh-na-gig: a small bas relief carving depicting a woman with legs spread wide and displaying greatly enlarged genitalia. Much like the foliate masks— the representations of the old God of Nature and of Hunting—that are found in such buildings, these figures were put there by the pagan artisans who were made to build the churches. The stone masons and wood carvers incorporated figures of their own deities so that, if they were forced to go to these places to worship, they could still worship their old gods there.

The sheelagh-na-gig is the representation of the Goddess of Fertility—the female generative principle. These figures were often placed over building entrances. In addition to churches, they have also been found on priories and convents and occasionally on castles, according to the Janet and Stewart Farrar. Examples can be found above the south door of Whittlesford Church of St. Mary, Cambridgeshire, and at a priory building at St. Ives, Huntingdonshire, among other places.