Revisiting the Sheela-na-gig

Radnorshire Museum Sheela, the British Museum

The Radnorshire Sheela is one of the only Sheela-na-gigs found in Wales.  Many more have been found in the British Isles, especially in Ireland, as well as other areas of Europe. Dated to the medieval period, the Radnorshire Sheela was found hidden beneath an old parish church in Llandrindod Wells, likely concealed several generations ago.

Over the years, Visualizing Birth has showcased Sheela-na-gigs on several occasions. One of the blog’s first main posts (Calmness and Strength in the Birthing Figure of the Sheela-na-gig) was devoted to the figurine’s importance in the context of visualizing birth. See also: Visualizing Birth through the Sheela-na-gig, Visualizing Birth through the Sheela-na-gig Project, and Faith-based Birth.

As renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin has contended, Sheela-na-gigs provide pregnant and laboring women with an aid to understanding and visualizing opening of the cervix and vulva during birth. Gaskin explains this in her Guide to Childbirth (2003):

My idea is that this figure was probably meant to reassure young women about the capabilities of their bodies in birth.  Ellen Predergast, in an article written for an Irish journal, remarked, “After a lifetime’s awareness of such figures I am convinced their significiance lies in the sphere of fertility, and that is what is depicted…is the act of giving birth.”  Whether Ms. Predergast and I are right or not, I can testify that a sheela-na-gig figure can be a great help at a birth.  As you can see, the vulva of the crouching figure is open enough to accommodate her own head.  Such a sight is quite encouraging to a woman in labor (253). 

Images of the Sheela-na-gig can printed out and placed at home on a birth altar (See Birth Altars – Sacred Space and the Visualization of Birth) or elsewhere in the home to help pregnant women prepare for labor and birth. Numerous inexpensive pendants, figurines, and other images of the Sheela-na-gig may also be purchased online. For these, Google “Sheela-na-gig” and press on the shopping button.