Sheela

I want talk a bit about Mary Magdalene. But before I do that, I reckon I need to talk about Lilith. And I can’t really do that without talking about Sheela Na-gig.

Bear with me here.

Those who have journeyed with me online before may recall that I am a bit of a fan of Amy Palko’s Goddess Readings. For example, in 2015 I received Artemis. At first I was a bit disappointed (Classics Minor = I know all about her!) but she coaxed me into the forest, taught me to hear the call of my ancestors, showed me what pilgrimage meant initiated me into the ways of the sacred feminine witnessed by bears and bees. The experienced changed me, so much so, that I was seriously excited for the new year and a new reading.

Then in 2016 I received Sheela Na-gig.

Actually, I’m not so sure she qualifies as a goddess as such. But I know now that she is deserves her place in the sacred feminine pantheon as much any other mythological figure. My biggest stumbling block, to be honest, was how to work with her.

I mean. Can we talk about the obvious? It wasn’t like I was going to buy posters of her to adorn the walls of the family home or a piece of jewellery to commemorate my devotion, right? And not because I found anything about her “grotesque” (as she has been described) or offensive or embarrassing: I just didn’t feel ready to talk about what might arise in the event that others saw her and started asking questions.

Sheela is a total mystery! No one really knows who she is and where she comes from and why she has been found here and there throughout Ireland and, to a lesser extent, England, France and Spain. And why she usually appears above doorways of churches! There are some pretty compelling theories as to her origins and I honestly think it’d be fun to visit her in person some day and see what she has to tell me.

But in the interim, in January 2016, having recently had my novel shredded and received death threats from a neighbour, I wondered what light Sheela Na-gig might shed on my life.

I think I ended up with more questions than answers.

I think she was warning me that not everyone likes what they see — especially when they look at me — but most people do not bother to look beyond the surface. I think she was pointing out how most people, when they look at me (or anyone, for that matter) only really see themselves. I think she reminded me that the reverse is also true: I know so little about most of the people who share my world beyond what I choose to see, whether I am conscious of that or not.

I think she was holding up a mirror and testing to see whether I’d look away as so many have done before.

I think she invited me into the darkness. I think she challenged me to think about what lies beyond. I think she wanted to remind me that there is a bigger truth inside us and that it is enormous and eternal and just too slippery for us to grasp. I think she wanted me to learn how to live in awe of that mystery; all mysteries.

I think she was a kind of midwife. A midwife for life, for sure. But also a midwife for death.

In 2016, I was tested in every way possible. It was my undoing. But it was also the making of me.

I finally grew up and became an adult. I finally stepped into my role as the hearth of our home. I learnt the hard way how to defend what was important but I also learnt that “fighting” for something does not mean what we usually think it means… and being the only one who sees this in the midst of fear and ignorance can feel like being cast into the wilderness.

I love Sheela Na-gig and she is still very much a part of me. She taught me that journeys vary according to different seasons of life and the ones we hope we never have to take can be the ones we are most grateful for. She taught me that the womb of the world is vast: it feels like forgiveness and and open fire and hot cocoa and hearty belly laughs. In that womb, there is room for us all.

Having internalised Sheela, I was almost ready for Lilith.

I did have to make a slight detour. When 2017 arrived, my inner flame had been so thoroughly doused and trampled, I did not have the energy to invite another goddess into my life. I saw that the sweet soul Ronna Detrick was quietly offering sacred readings and that felt like just the right amount of balm for my soul.

My Sacred She arrived at 3am while I was sitting in the Emergency Ward of a nearby hospital and I read about Michal as tears streamed down my cheeks, bouncing off my surgical mask and onto the sterile floor. She was perfect for me at that time, in ways that I can’t explain without compromising my family’s privacy or Ronna’s copyrighted material. Suffice to say, I was gifted a companion who knew what it meant to suffer because she loved and who was not afraid to see all the beauty and brutality of that because what else is the human experience?

So maybe it wasn’t a detour after all.

Anyway, I healed as we all do. And worked hard and did my best, as most of us have the privilege of doing. And felt like I emerged with an even greater, more nuanced understanding of who I am and why I am here.

And then Lilith arrived.