With this post I attempt a G or PG treatment of what might seem to be a risqué topic. It is not.
I start this examination of recursion with the medieval appearance of the Sheela na gig carvings found on some rural churches and castles in parts of the English Isles and Ireland.
I personally became fascinated with depictions of The Witch on the Wall in the book by the same name when my major professor borrowed a copy of the work shortly after its publication in 1977 through interlibrary loan. We discussed the phenomenon in informal seminar. The “vulgar hag” has no universally accepted interpretation among academics or avocational discussants.
The Goddess community is purported to believe that these carvings of females with skull-like heads who are holding open their vulva trace to ancient depictions of Cailleach, a winter weather Goddess of the Celts. It is quite difficult to support this supposition for two reasons.
- There is no single Goddess Community to make this statement.
- These carvings did not appear until in the 11th and 12th Centuries in Ireland, England, and parts of France and Spain, long after the real evidence of reverence for the female form is known to exist in small paleolithic carvings of voluptuous women.
Other interpretations suggest a warning about lust and death, warding off evil spirits, witch-burning and some major players in the discussion have even made a connection to the fall of Romanesque belief in England with King Henry VIII.
One of the things that seems evident when looking at this and other images of Sheela na gigs is that there is some sort of juxtaposition between life (vulva) and death (skull, and skeletal rib cages in other images) in the carvings.
The linking of life and death, the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, between wombs and tombs, is ancient and these Sheela na gigs are related, somehow, to this linkage.
Another thing that seems evident is that these relate to the expression or communication of a folk or rural belief not evident in the major population centers of the time.
An element that seems evident to me is the connectivity and oneness of life and death through the female form. Perhaps human cosmological mysteries of life and death are suggested via the similarity to modern topological puzzles. Sometimes we need images that stump our logic circuits in order to stir things up enough to really think about something.
I cannot be the only person who sees similarities between Sheela na gigs and Klein Bottles can I?
Sheela na gigs served as some sort of a moebius strip for the mind. You start at one point and end up at the same place. How can there be only one side of something?
Where do the sacred and the profane meet, and what is that space or place called? How can life and death be part of the same thing? How can something come from nothing? These cannot be new questions. I suspect that these are some of the oldest questions ever posed by humans. We just evoke them in different ways.
Who knows? No one can know exactly what was thought and felt hundreds of years ago. We have hints and suspicions based on interpretations that take place below the conscious surface of data and facts. It is sort of like a woman’s intuition: discussed, denied, detailed and viewed as both virtue and vulgarity, sort of like the view of lady parts.