County Clare, Wednesday, 27th July 2022…
The ruined church at Killinaboy
had a number of surprises in store for us.
The stump of a round tower, above, showed
only a few signs of polygonal walling
which is maybe one of the reasons
why it is no longer standing?
By far the most pleasant surprise,
though, was the Sheela-na-Gig
over the now door-less doorway to the church.
It is badly eroded, and in need of protection
from further weathering, but still very much a Sheela…
These figures appear predominantly
in Ireland on church and castle exteriors
although there are a few in England and Scotland,
and, indeed, elsewhere…
Although often mis-shapen, with grotesquely
grinning, or leering smiles, and mis-matched or lopsided eyes,
the lay folk were wont to regard them as saints
and where possible rubbed them for good luck!
It is a curious custom
and one which would, perhaps,
be better suited to the sacred wells
now presided over, for the most part, by Marian statuary.
Perhaps this is where they originally came from?
In places close to running water
they are known as river hags.
The wishing-well at Kilfenora
Kilpeck church’s ‘Sheela’…
…The corbel that had made us decide to visit Kilpeck was the famous ‘Sheela na gig’. This enigmatic figure is found on many ancient churches and castles throughout France, Britain and Ireland. Nothing is known about her for certain although many books and theories have been put forward. Some regard her merely as a warning against the sin of carnal desire, others see her as a representation of the mother goddess. One theory suggests she guards against the evil eye and protects against demons. Others refer to the liminal nature of the gates of birth while some see her as little more than a fertility symbol and in some areas, there is a tradition that the figures were shown to brides.
Perhaps, as most church sources suggest, they were just a warning… a moral compass with a threat of punishment, but I think there is more to it than that. I am reminded of the ancient Greek story of Demeter and Persephone, when the mother, grieving for her lost daughter, abducted and carried away to the Underworld, met an old crone. When all else had failed to cheer the broken-hearted mother, the crone, Baubo, lifted her skirts, exposing her genitals… at which Demeter burst out laughing and was restored. A similar tale was told in ancient Egypt where Ra, the All-Father was depressed and shut himself away during the contending of Horus and Set for the throne of Osiris. The goddess Hathor exposed herself before him, making him laugh and shake off his depression in order to resolve the conflict between the younger gods…
Lands of Exile:
KITH ‘N’ KIN
Stuart France & Sue Vincent
The Beeley Stone, ‘liberated’ from the churchyard at Bakewell, stands proudly in the centre of its village green once more. While the locals enjoy the fruits of its restoration, Ben, who had led the daring raid against authority, still languishes in jail.
Don and Wen, arrested and released without explanation in Ireland, now plot an erratic course through the wild places of Wales, while Jaw-Dark and Kraas, seeking the legendary stone of Fergus Mac Roy, have been separated in the most uncanny of circumstances…
As the darkness closes around them, the Black Shade haunts the moors above Beeley and, in the shadowy rooms of the old tower, an ancient and even stranger story begins to unfold…
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