It is a singular fact that in Ireland it was the female organ which was shown in this position of protector upon the churches, and the elaborate though rude manner in which these figures were sculptured, show that they were considered as objects of great importance. They represented a female exposing herself
to view in the most unequivocal manner, and are carved on a block which appears to have served as the key-stone to the arch of the door-way of the church, where they were presented to the gaze of all who entered. They appear to have been found principally in the very old churches, and have been mostly taken down, so that they are only found among the ruins. People have given them the name of Shelah-na-Gig, which, we are told, means in Irish Julian the Giddy, and is simply a term for an immodest woman; but it is well understood that they were intended as protecting charms against the fascination of the evil eye. We have given copies of all the examples yet known in our plates V and VI. The first of these 21 was found in an old church at Rochestown, in the county of Tipperary, where it had long been known among the people of the neighbourhood by the name given above. It was placed in the arch over the doorway, but has since been taken away. Our second example of the Shelah-na-Gig 22 was taken from an old church lately pulled down in the county Cavan, and is now preserved in the museum of the Society of Antiquaries of Dublin. The third 23 was found at Ballinahend Castle, also in
the county of Tipperary; and the fourth 24 is preserved in the museum at Dublin, but we are not informed from whence it was obtained. The next, 25 which is also now preserved in the Dublin Museum, was taken from the old church on the White Island, in Lough Erne, county Fermanagh. This church is supposed by the Irish antiquaries to be a structure of very great antiquity, for some of them would carry its date as far back as the seventh century, but this is probably an exaggeration. The one which follows 26 was furnished by an old church pulled down by order of the ecclesiastical commissioners, and it was presented to the museum at Dublin, by the late Dean Dawson. Our last example 27 was formerly in the possession of Sir Benjamin Chapman, Bart., of Killoa Castle, Westmeath, and is now in a private collection in London. It was found in 1859 at Chloran, in a field on Sir Benjamin's estate known by the name of the "Old Town," from whence stones had been removed at previous periods, though there are now very small remains of building. This stone was found at a depth of about five feet from the surface, which shows that the building, a church no doubt,
must have fallen into ruin a long time ago. Contiguous to this field, and at a distance of about two hundred yards from the spot where the Shelah-na-Gig was found, there is an abandoned churchyard, separated from the Old Town field only by a loose stone wall.
The belief in the salutary power of this image appears to be a superstition of great antiquity, and to exist still among all peoples who have not reached a certain degree of civilization. The universality of this superstition leads us to think that Herodotus may have erred in the explanation he has given of certain rather remarkable monuments of a remote antiquity. He tells us that Sesostris, king of Egypt, raised columns in some of the countries he conquered, on which he caused to be figured the female organ of generation as a mark of contempt for those who had submitted easily. 28 May not these columns have been intended, if we knew the truth, as protections for the people of the district in which they stood, and placed in the position where they could most conveniently been seen? This superstitious sentiment may also offer the true explanation of an incident which is
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said to have been represented in the mysteries of Eleusis. Ceres, wandering over the earth in search of her daughter Proserpine, and overcome with grief for her loss, arrived at the hut of an Athenian peasant woman named Baubo, who received her hospitably, and offered her to drink the refreshing mixture which the Greeks call Cyceon (κυκεων). The goddess rejected the offered kindness, and refused all consolation. Baubo, in her distress, bethought her of another expedient to allay the grief of her guest. She relieved her sexual organs of that outward sign which is the evidence of puberty, and then presented them to the view of Ceres, who, at the sight, laughed, forgot her sorrows, and drank the cyceon. 29 The prevailing belief in the beneficial influence of this sight, rather than a mere pleasantry, seems to afford the best explanation of this story.
This superstition which, as shown by the Shelah-na-Gigs of the Irish churches, prevailed largely in the middle ages, explains another class of antiquities which are not uncommon. These are small figures of nude females exposing themselves in exactly the same
manner as in the sculptures on the churches in Ireland just alluded to. Such figures are found not only among Roman, Greek, and Egyptian antiquities, but among every people who had any knowledge of art, from the aborigines of America to the far more civilized natives of Japan; and it would be easy to give examples from almost every country we know, but we confine ourselves to our more special part of the subject. In the last century, a number of small statuettes in metal, in a rude but very peculiar style of art, were found in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, in a part of Germany formerly occupied by the Vandals, and by the tribe of the Obotrites, considered as a division of the Vendes. They appeared to be intended to represent some of the deities worshipped by the people who made them; and some of them bore inscriptions, one of which was in Runic characters. From this circumstance we should presume that they belonged to a period not much, if any, older than the fall of the Western Empire. Some time afterwards, a few statuettes in metal were found in the island of Sardinia, so exactly similar to those just mentioned, that D'Hancarville, who published an account of them with engravings, considered himself justified in ascribing them to the Vandals, who occupied that island, as well as the tract of Germany
alluded to. 30 One of these images, which D'Hancarville considers to be the Venus of the Vandal mythology, represents a female in a reclining position, with the wings and claws of a bird, holding to view a pomegranate, open, which, as D'Hancarville remarks, was considered as a sign representing the female sexual organ. In fact, it was a form and idea more unequivocally represented in the Roman figures which we have already described, 31 but which continued through the middle ages, and was preserved in a popular name for that organ, abricot, or expressed more energetically, abricot fendu, used by Rabelais, and we believe still preserved in France. This curious image is represented, after D'Hancarville, in three different points of view, in our plate. 32 Several figures of a similar description, but representing the subject in a more matter-of-fact shape, were brought from Egypt by a Frenchman who held an official situation in that country, and three of them are now in a private collection in London. We have engraved one of these small bronzes, 33 which, as will be seen, presents in exact counterpart of the Shelah-na-Gig.
These Egyptian images belonged no doubt to the Roman period. Another similar figure, 34 made of lead, and apparently mediæval, was found at Avignon, and is preserved in the same private collection just alluded to; and a third, 35 was dug up, about ten years ago, at Kingston-on-Thames. The form of these statuettes seems to show that they were intended as portable images, for the same purpose as the Shelahs, which people might have ready at hand to look upon for protection whenever they were under fear of the influence of the evil eye, or of any other sort of enchantment.
We have not as yet any clear evidence of the existence of the Shelah-na-Gig in churches out of Ireland. We have been informed that an example has been found in one of the little churches on the coast of Devon; and there are curious sculptures, which appear to be of the same character, among the architectural ornamentation of the very early church of San Fedele at Como in Italy. Three of these are engraved in our plate VIII. On the top of the right hand jamb of the door 36 is a naked male figure, and in the same position on the other side a female, 37
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VENUS OF THE VANDALS, BRONZE AND LEAD IMAGES, AND CAPITAL OF A COLUMN
which are described to us as representing Adam and Eve, and our informant, to whom we owe the drawings describes that at the apex 38 merely as "the figure of a woman holding her legs apart." We understand that the surface of the stone in these sculptures is so much worn that it is quite uncertain whether the sexual parts were ever distinctly marked, but from the postures and positions of the hands, and the situation in which these figures are placed, they seem to resemble closely, except in their superior style of art, the Shelah-na-Gigs of Ireland. There can be little doubt that the superstition to which these objects belonged gave rise to much of the indecent sculpture which is so often found upon mediæval ecclesiastical buildings. The late Baron von Hammer-Pürgstall published a very learned paper upon monuments of various kinds which he considered as illustrating the secret history of the order of the Templars, from which we learn that there was in his time a series of most extraordinary obscene sculptures in the church of Schoengraber in Austria, of which he intended to give engravings, but the drawings had not arrived in time for his book; 39 but he has engraved the capital of a column in the church of
[paragraph continues] Egra, a town of Bohemia, of which we give a copy, 40 in which the two sexes are displaying to view the members, which were believed to be so efficatious against the power of fascination.
The figure of the female organ, as well as the male, appears to have been employed during the middle ages of Western Europe far more generally than we might suppose, placed upon buildings as a talisman against evil influences, and especially against witchcraft and the evil eye, and it was used for this purpose in many other parts of the world. It was the universal practice among the Arabs of Northern Africa to stick up over the door of the house or tent, or put up nailed on a board in some other way, the generative organ of a cow, mare, or female camel, as a talisman to avert the influence of the evil eye. It is evident that the figure of this member was far more liable to degradation in form than that of the male, because it was much less easy, in the hands of rude draughtsmen, to delineate in an intelligible form, and hence it soon assumed shapes which though intended to represent it, we might rather call symbolical of it, though no symbolism was intended. Thus the figure of the female organ easily assumed the rude form of a horseshoe, and as the original
meaning was forgotten, would be readily taken for that object, and a real horseshoe nailed up for the same purpose. In this way originated, apparently, from the popular worship of the generative powers, the vulgar practice of nailing a horseshoe upon buildings to protect them and all they contain against the power of witchcraft, a practice which continues to exist among the peasantry in some parts of England at the present day. Other marks are found, sometimes among the architectural ornaments, such as certain triangles and triple loops, which are perhaps typical forms of the same object. We have been informed that there is an old church in Ireland where the male organ is drawn on one side of the door, and the Shelah-na-Gig on the other, and that, though perhaps comparatively modern, their import as protective charms are well understood. We can easily imagine men, under the influence of these superstitions, when they were obliged to halt for a moment by the side of a building, drawing upon it such a figure, with the design that it should be a protection to themselves, and thus probably we derive from superstitious feelings the common propensity to draw phallic figures on the sides of vacant walls and in other places.
36:21 Plate V, Fig. 1.
36:22 Plate V, Fig. 2.
36:23 Plate V, Fig. 3.
37:24 Plate V, Fig. 4.
37:25 Plate VI, Fig. 1.
37:26 Plate VI,, Fig. 2.
37:27 Plate VI,, Fig. 3.
38:28 Herodotus, Euterpe, cap. 102. Diodorus Siculus adds to the account given by Herodotus, that Sesostris also erected columns bearing the male generative organ as a compliment to the peoples who had defended themselves bravely.
41:29 This story is told by the two Christian Fathers, Arnobius, Adversus Gentes, lib. v. c. 5, and Clemens Alexandrinus Protrepticus, p. 17, ed. Oxon. 1715. The latter writer merely states that Baubo exposed her parts to the view of the goddess, without the incident of preparation mentioned by Arnobius.
43:30 D'Hancarville, Antiquities Etrusques, Grecques, et Romaines, Paris, 1785, tom. v. p. 61.
43:31 See our Plates II, Fig. 4, VII, and Plate XII, Fig. 3.
43:32 Plate VII, Figs. 1, 2, 3.
43:33 Plate VII, Fig. 4.
44:34 Plate VII, Fig. 5.
44:35 Plate XII, Fig. 4.
44:36 Plate VIII, Fig. 1.
44:37 Plate VIII, Fig. 2.
47:38 Plate VIII, Fig. 3.
47:39 See Von Hammer-Pürgstall, Fundgruben des Orients, vol. vi, p. 26.
48:40 Von Hammer-Pürgstall, Fundgruben des Orients, vol. vi, p. 35, and Plate iv, Fig. 31--See our Plate VII, Fig. 6.