Sunday, June 29, 2008

of Sheela na Gigs & other things.



Diane, at Tomato Soup, named her cat Ranavalona (Anne for short), Queen of Madagascar, a lady of whom I had never heard...so I began a little research. After all, a female Caligula sounded intriguingly notorious. How notorious she actually was seems to depend on your point of view. This seems to be a more balanced viewpoint ~ or at least a different one.

I never comment on these clever blogs but sometimes I wonder because this interesting writer also had an article on Sheela Na Gigs ~ those grotesque, vulgar man/woman things you sometimes find over medieval church doors that along with gargoyles & dragon's heads seem a strange anomaly for a Christian people. I was not happy with her comments.

Now I admit I know more than I probably should about paganism ~ at least from an archaeological point of view. I have never been in the least tempted to practise it, mostly because I believe there is a very dark aspect to these things that many people blind themselves to. Ancient peoples tended to have a much more fundamental & concrete approach to their religion & sacrifice was rarely symbolic. However even some cursory research gives some insight into why these very exhibitionist ladies ended up adorning church doorways.

And by cursory I do mean cursory. You don't have to read very far to realise that Celtic women were not meek & mild keepers of hearth & home. From Mab & Boudicca onwards they've been a feisty lot wielding their own particular power. I suspect Celtic men were rather terrified of them. Just my think. Descriptions of Boudicca (admittedly by Roman men who had very different expectations of their women) are hardly flattering. Likewise their goddesses were warriors, harridans, hags as well as beautiful maidens & prior to Christianity there was a strong fertility aspect to Celtic religion. Hence it was circular.

At uni I majored in English literature & what literature deals in is symbols, so when I come across ancient fertility images on church doors lots of things immediately come to mind: doorways of another kind; Dana's doorways into Life & Death, Ceridwen's doorways into poetic inspiration, doorways into the sacred spaces. There there is the collary to 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust' because from woman is man born, to woman (the earth mother) does he return ~ at least in Celtic thinking. I know of several Irish hills whose older name is *the paps of Anu (another godess), so this was a rather literal interpretation. If you know your church history you will understand that the Celtic church was quite different from the Roman church (enough so the Roman church felt impelled to impose it's viewpoint in order to stamp out *heresies*). In the process Celtic godesses became *saints*. Brighid is a good example, however you want to spell her name. Another godess. The ancient religion has been rather difficult to eradicate completely. Even today, although much of the meaning has been lost, the ancient practices still continue as *festivals* that draw thousands of tourists. I suspect the sheela na gigs are simply the remant of a much older practise & belief that survived despite the onslaught of Christianity & are there because people were loathe to let go of the known & familiar & tried to blend the old with the new. Certainly one role of the sheelas was that of protectoress ~ though that begs the question, protecting from what?

Seeing the sheelas always makes me sad. Sad because Christ came that we might have life, & have it abundantly. So often what Christianity, the religion, has brought, has been death. Instead of entering into a vital living relationship with God people have been offered the dead ashes of ritual, liturgy & form. The sheelas & the gargoyles, the dragon's heads & cats faces are a poignant condemnation that we have brought people to Church instead of bringing them to Christ.

5 comments:

Persuaded said...

well, that certainly was a more sympathetic telling of queen r's tale...

this part of your post
"...we have brought people to Church instead of bringing them to Christ."
really gave me pause for thought.

you are one smart gal... you do know that, don't you?

Ganeida said...

Diane, you are very good for my ego. You do know that, don't you? ;D

Persuaded said...

:)

Mrs. Darling said...

I know nothing about this stuff and Ive never seen thes heads and stuff over dorrways. Is it a downunder thing? Maybe they dont do that here in the states. hmm Or am I just hoplessly unobservant?

Ganeida said...

Mrs D, you find these things on European churches of the medieval period so you're not unobservant. I've never heard of them being on any American church. We don't have them either but I have seen some most pecul;iar things on European churches. They make you wonder...