a cache of usenet and other text files pertaining
to occult, mystical, and spiritual subjects.


Sheila-na-Gig and the lucky vulva

To: alt.lucky.w,alt.magick.tantra,
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Sheila-na-Gig and  the "lucky vulva"
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1998 18:16:51 -0800

Here is a query from e-mail, posted to the sacredlandscape-list (and to
three relevant newsgroups, alt.lucky.w,, and
alt.magick.tantra) in hope of generating more comments from people who
may have further or better informtion. 

> re sheila-na-gig. what do you know about her? a real celtic heresy 
> would make her mary -- ergo jesus' mom.

        never knew a gal like-a little Sheila
        her name drives me insane
                        (Tommy Roe, circa 1959) 

Sheila is a goddess in her own right and i really don't think she is
Mary. For one thing, she is never shown with a child.In some ways she
has more in common with the Hindu goddess Kali, but a happy Kali, a
"cute" little Kali -- if such a thing were possible. 

The Sheila-na-Gig is always shown as a bony and thin woman with
pipe-stem arms and legs and very large-eyes, a neotenic hag of sorts,
who either exposes and points to or holds open her enormously oversized
vulva, while smiling a goofy grin. She has an impromptu "Kilroy Was
Here" look about her. She appears mostly in medieval Irish churches as a
bas relief, invariably positioned beside or above a doorway. 

Lots of speculation surrounds the symbolism of Sheila's iconography:
Some have thought that because she is so bony, she is a famine goddess
and thus her vulva is a grave -=- but that doesn't hold up too well when
you gaze upon her pleasantly cheerful face. The usual explanation for
her position at a doorway is that just as the door is a passage into or
out of a building, so is Sheila's vulva a passage into the world or
perhaps the bony grave is a passage out.  

I know of no neolithic or "ancient goddess" counterparts to Sheila in
Ireland. However, it has been speculated that some of the bas reliefs of
Sheila-na-Gig found in medieval churches are of far earlier manufacture,
and i have read (and can see from photos) that some are made from
different stone than that used for the churches themselves. 

It is also speculated that the images still left of her are all that
remain of many more, ripped down and broken by church officials who
frowned on her. I recall reading somewhere that the 17th through 19th
century saw widespread destruction of her image and at least two
Sheilana-Gigs were taken out of churches in the 19th century but saved
and have been set back in place in recent years in order to satisfy the
tourist trade. 

To the priests who hated her, the really galling part of the
Sheila-na-Gig image is that since she is always on or over a doorway,
pious church-goers lovingly rub her vulva "for luck" as they enter the
church.  There is not very much "Christian" in that. 

I look forward to further comments and corrections regarding this
goddess, her image and iconography, her "luckiness," and her role in
medieval Irish church architecture. 

catherine yronwode

Lucky Mojo Curio Co:
The Lucky W Amulet Archive:  
Sacred Sex:
The Sacred Landscape:
Freemasonry for Women: 

check out news:alt.lucky.w for folk magic and good luck charms

Path: Supernews70!Supernews73!!!!!!erols!!!!not-for-mail
From: catherine yronwode 
Newsgroups: alt.lucky.w,alt,magick.tantra,
Subject: Vesica and Vulva, Iku and Apsu
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1998 23:53:59 -0800
Organization: Lucky Mojo Curio Co.
Lines: 204
Message-ID: <>
References: <>
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-Mailer: Mozilla 3.0Gold (Macintosh; I; 68K)
Xref: Supernews70 alt.lucky.w:2280

Having just vetured forth with a note about the sacred vulva of the
irish Sheila-na-Gig, i was pleasantly surprised to see a message from
Pam Giese and then a post from Dan Washburn...

In order, then: 

Pam wrote:

> I'd never heard about rubbing the Sheila-na-gig for good luck, but 
> fits in with the more openess of female sexuality in Celtic myth and 
> literature.

I have read several mentions of rubbing the vulva for luck, and was told
the same by a British friend whose first wife was named Sheila. 

What i failed to mention (and this is where there is a little tie-in to
Dan's message -- the vulva of the Sheils-na-Gig is usually (not always)
a vesica pisces, not an anatomically-correct vulva. 

> In the Wisconsin State Capitol building (a wonderful masonic structure 
> with badgers sticking out of the cardinal points, astrological symbols 
> in the hallways, and nymphs cavorting with the founding fathers) there 
> is a life-size statue of Artemis (Diana?).  

Please, please tell us more about this building! Who designed it? When?
What style is it (Neo-Grec, Beaux Arts, Deco?). It sounds like a cool
site. Any pictures on the web? I love the part about "badgers sticking
out of the cardinal points"!!! Our non-U.S. list-members may need to
know that the badger is the Wisconsin state animal, to get the full
glory of the nuttiness of this image. (Do you have totemic regional
animals in Great Britain like, say, the grizzly bear in California or
the alligator in Florida?) 

> Her exposed breast is always shiny with tourists rubbing her for luck? 
> or just copping a feel?  (does it matter?)
> I wonder how many other examples there are of female sexual luck 
> symbols.

They are few female sexual luck symbols compared to male (phallic) luck
symbols. If you go to my other web site, the Lucky W Amulet Archive and
type in the word "penis" into the search engine, you will come up with a
veritable cornucopia of lucky lingas. But the keyword "vulva" will yield
far fewer hits. There are several reasons for this, as far as i can

     1) goddess worship is ancient and has, within the past few thousand
years, gone out of style in favour of phallus worship. 

     2) female sexuality is often represented by the entire torso
(especially the pregnant torso) not just the vulva because to many
people the female's fertility is considred more awe-inspiring than her
mostly internal contractve orgasms, while the seed-shooting phallus
certainly commands attention and respect from all who watch it.
Conversely, according to this symbolic frame of reference, the male
torso is, while certainly beautiful beyond comapre, not the dwelling
place of mystery. 

     3) the complexities of the vulval structure, with its folds and its
curves and its idiosyncratic draping of the labia, are not as easily
reduced to simple symbolic ideograms as are the penis and testicles. If
too much simplification is achieved -- as in the downward-pointing
triangle of the Hindus -- the juicy image of the real cunt is lost and
the thing becomes pure geometry. As such it may appeal to certain
rarified architectural types, but it will not command the attention of
the masses. If you abstract the form too far but keep the curves, you
may end up with a lucky horseshoe, but eventually half the folks who
nail one over their door will not realize that it is a vulva. (Side
note: In Ireland and parts of Britain, they up-end the horseshoe, "so
that the luck won't run out," attenuating further its visual link to the
vulva and attributing the luck to a sky-god who pours it into the
upturned vulva-cup. In most of Europe, however, the horseshoe is
displayed in the normal, downward-facing or vulval position, so that
"the luck will pour onto on you," the luck obviously emating from the
vulva itself.) 

Then, turning to the vesica pisces, 

Dan Washburn wrote:
> Barry Carroll wrote:
> >
> > what these books suggest in common is that the catherdral floorplans 
> > are developed from a square and expanded out using shapes based on 
> > the root rectangles 2,3 & 5.
> > 
> > the square can be formed by two vesicas lying across each other 
> > with the inscribed square connecting the points of intersection (i 
> > need a scanner!).tho this is not the only method. The axis of these 
> > two are in turn established by the shadows cast from a post at sun-
> > up and sundown on the saints day the church is dedicated to. 

I'm not sure i follow this, Barry. I believe that no matter what day of
the year, you will get a true east-west and north-south right angle
cross from the intersection of the vesicas laid out as described using
consecutive sunrise and sunset shadows. The way the saint's day figures
into these plans, as i understand it, is usually in terms of marking the
angle of the first rays of sunrise (and/or last rays of sunset) on the
saint's day relative to the true east-west axis, once that has been
established. This is often expressed as a supplementary window or door
in which the depth and angle of the stonework frame "ponts to" the
direction from which the beam of light will come, directing it upon an
image (of the saint) within the sanctuary. 

In some cases, the orientation of the entire structure may be skewed so
that the walls of the building follow the line of the saint's day rising
sun angle relative to east-west; that is, the wall "points to" the place
on the horizon where the sun will rise on that day. But such entirely
skewed layouts seems to have been more common in small, rustic chruches
than in cathedrals. You once sent me an article on some of these, from
the Balkans, or Greece or a place of that degree of remoteness from the
centers of Europena catherdral building, remember? 

> > as a true temple its form needs to be linked to the cosmos. 
> > (Babylonians  might call the square that results from all this, an 
> > IKU. for anyone  who knows that concept) likewise these churches 

Barry refers here to some of the material in "Hamlet's Mill" by
Santillana and von Deschend on the "heavenly iku" (equaivalent to our
word "acre") of the Pegasus Square (a constellation), which was thought
by the ancient people of the middle east to be connected by a sort of
cosmic pipline to an underworld sea called the apsu (equivalent to our
word "abyss") and to thus pass through the iku-square temple. Fresh
water in the sky flowed from the heavenly iku down to the apsu, where it
mixed with salt (fallen stars) and created the briney depths. All three
forms -- the iku, the temple, and the apsu, were squares (or cubes). The
temple of Marduk, in particular was said to be one iku (one local
"acre") in size and the length of its walls were the official state
measure for determining the size of grain fields and pastures.  

> > the division of elements in the vertical demension however appear 
> > governed by harmonic intervals such as may be found in the musical 
> > scale
> Funny, but I had been meditating recently on the two vesicas laid 
> across one another.
> John Michell has an illutration in his Dimensions of Paradise (p72)
> showing the two vesicas one vertical and one horizontal. This is a
> method for squaring the circle, for bringing the earth and the heavens
> together. The square formed by connecting the four points of
> intersection has approximately the same perimeter as the circle drawn
> touching the centers of the four arcs.  Michell says that it is the
> traditional diagram for the foundation of Temples in India.  (I 
> believe he is citing Mayananda, The Wonder Beyond)

I am not sure who Michell cited, but the same material -- and a
foolproof method of construction using only sticks and string -- can be
found in Tony Lawlor's recent (and highly recommeneded) book "The Temple
in the Home." Lawlor demonstrates the Hindu method, which uses
vesica-based geometry and takes sightings at any sequential pair of
sunrises and sunsets, to establish both due east and west and also to
create the central square for the fire-altar around which the temple is

> My flash of insight on this is that it is Shiva-Shakti, pure
> consciousness coming together with the pure creative power of bliss.


> The horizontal vesica with the circle in the center is the image of an
> eye, of pure receptive self-aware consciousness.  The vertical vesica
> with the circle in the center is the image of a vulva, the pure female
> power of creation in ecstatsy, pain, and birth, bringing forth a baby
> that represents the whole universe.

This is an interesting notion. Have you noticed, too, that in some Hindu
reprentations of the "third eye" on a god or goddess, it is drwan as a
vesica, vertically oriented? 
> The way to build the sacred space of the temple is to cultivate the 
> two powers within ourselves.  In meditation we watch the contents of 
> mind come and go, leading to the realization that we are pure 
> consciousness, beyond any identification.  This is the way of 
> attention and detachment.  Bliss arises in the body, refined it is the 
> ecstacy of love and devotion.  This is the way of mystical union.
> The path forward is to refine and balance the two within ourselves.
> When bliss threatens to overwhelm, retreat into pure consciousness.
> When pure consciousness is too cold, kindle the fire of bliss.  The 
> two are one.
> The void that radiates is the real void.

Well said. It is this union of consciousness and bliss, of Shiva and
Shakti, or the two vesicas that define a square and square a circle,
that make the building of a temple so much more than a mere plan for
piling up stonework. 

I know this originated on the scaredlandscape-list, but as with my
previous post, i am crossing this over into alt.lucky.w (discussion of
good luck iconography), alt,magick.tantra (sacred sex), and (the group's title says it all). 

catherine yronwode

Lucky Mojo Curio Co:
The Lucky W Amulet Archive:  
Sacred Sex:
The Sacred Landscape:
Freemasonry for Women: 
Comics Warehouse: 
check out news:alt.lucky.w for folk magic and good luck charms

The Arcane Archive is copyright by the authors cited.
Send comments to the Arcane Archivist:

Did you like what you read here? Find it useful?
Then please click on the Paypal Secure Server logo and make a small
donation to the site maintainer for the creation and upkeep of this site.

The ARCANE ARCHIVE is a large domain,
organized into a number of sub-directories,
each dealing with a different branch of
religion, mysticism, occultism, or esoteric knowledge.
Here are the major ARCANE ARCHIVE directories you can visit:
interdisciplinary: geometry, natural proportion, ratio, archaeoastronomy
mysticism: enlightenment, self-realization, trance, meditation, consciousness
occultism: divination, hermeticism, amulets, sigils, magick, witchcraft, spells
religion: buddhism, christianity, hinduism, islam, judaism, taoism, wicca, voodoo
societies and fraternal orders: freemasonry, golden dawn, rosicrucians, etc.


There are thousands of web pages at the ARCANE ARCHIVE. You can use ATOMZ.COM
to search for a single word (like witchcraft, hoodoo, pagan, or magic) or an
exact phrase (like Kwan Yin, golden ratio, or book of shadows):

Search For:
Match:  Any word All words Exact phrase


Southern Spirits: 19th and 20th century accounts of hoodoo, including slave narratives & interviews
Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by cat yronwode: an introduction to African-American rootwork
Lucky W Amulet Archive by cat yronwode: an online museum of worldwide talismans and charms
Sacred Sex: essays and articles on tantra yoga, neo-tantra, karezza, sex magic, and sex worship
Sacred Landscape: essays and articles on archaeoastronomy, sacred architecture, and sacred geometry
Lucky Mojo Forum: practitioners answer queries on conjure; sponsored by the Lucky Mojo Curio Co.
Herb Magic: illustrated descriptions of magic herbs with free spells, recipes, and an ordering option
Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers: ethical diviners and hoodoo spell-casters
Freemasonry for Women by cat yronwode: a history of mixed-gender Freemasonic lodges
Missionary Independent Spiritual Church: spirit-led, inter-faith, the Smallest Church in the World
Satan Service Org: an archive presenting the theory, practice, and history of Satanism and Satanists
Gospel of Satan: the story of Jesus and the angels, from the perspective of the God of this World
Lucky Mojo Usenet FAQ Archive: FAQs and REFs for occult and magical usenet newsgroups
Candles and Curios: essays and articles on traditional African American conjure and folk magic
Aleister Crowley Text Archive: a multitude of texts by an early 20th century ceremonial occultist
Spiritual Spells: lessons in folk magic and spell casting from an eclectic Wiccan perspective
The Mystic Tea Room: divination by reading tea-leaves, with a museum of antique fortune telling cups
Yronwode Institution for the Preservation and Popularization of Indigenous Ethnomagicology
Yronwode Home: personal pages of catherine yronwode and nagasiva yronwode, magical archivists
Lucky Mojo Magic Spells Archives: love spells, money spells, luck spells, protection spells, etc.
      Free Love Spell Archive: love spells, attraction spells, sex magick, romance spells, and lust spells
      Free Money Spell Archive: money spells, prosperity spells, and wealth spells for job and business
      Free Protection Spell Archive: protection spells against witchcraft, jinxes, hexes, and the evil eye
      Free Gambling Luck Spell Archive: lucky gambling spells for the lottery, casinos, and races