“For the rebels and the misfits, the black sheep and the outsiders. For the refugees, the orphans, the scapegoats, and the weirdos. For the uprooted, the abandoned, the shunned and invisible ones.
May you recognize with increasing vividness that you know what you know. May you give up your allegiances to self-doubt, meekness, and hesitation. May you be willing to be unlikeable, and in the process be utterly loved. May you be impervious to the wrongful projections of others, and may you deliver your disagreements with precision and grace. May you see, with the consummate clarity of nature moving through you, that your voice is not only necessary, but desperately needed to sing us out of this middle. May you feel shored up, supported, entwined, and reassured as you offer yourself and your gifts to the world. May you know for certain that even as you stand by yourself, you are not alone.”
‘Belonging. Remembering Ourselves Home’ by Toko-pa Turner.
We managed to escape it for 2 years, but in the middle of our time in Ireland, we both got it! It made for a quiet week in County Clare, but since we didn’t feel too bad (like we had a bad cold is all), we went wandering a few times in the car into some of our favourite isolated places (no people but lots of sheep and cows)….And scenery of course.
It felt strange to have caught the thing that had changed the world so much and provoked so much fear and isolation. It feels strange to be somewhere where it mostly feels like it never happened (except for old tatty signs about hand washing, and testing locations). People are still dying from covid. More in Australia than ever before apparently. For me, the whole experience has created a lack of trust and a confusion- what’s the truth? I guess there is many truths.
One of my favourite things in Ireland is checking out Sacred Wells. There are many of course. Most now Christian-ised but existing , used and venerated before that of course. Here are a few of my favourites:
The Lady’s Well in Kenmare, County Kerry with my Yule (Winter Solstice) candle lit at the moment of solstice here (summer solstice here, winter solstice in Australia)- it was raining, windy and very cold (this is summer in Ireland).
The 2 beauties below are both in County Clare and not easy to find. (If you want details you will need to contact me!)
There are loads of stone circles as we come further south. These sacred places have often been dismantled for the stones to be used in buildings or fences…They are usually oriented to one of the Sabbats or cross quarter days. There is so much to learn and just being near and in them is such a buzz!
This (above) is Grange Circle in County Limerick This Circle is one of the largest in Ireland and is situated on land sacred to the Godess Áine (Anu- Godess of summer, wealth and sovereignty)- the area around here (Lough Gur) is particularly inhabited by the Sidhe (faery folk).
This one below is our favourite: Uragh in County Kerry.
More Sheela na Gigs
So I met Jack Roberts when we wandered into a shop in Kinvara. Jack is the expert in Ireland on Sheela na Gigs. We had a lovely chat or two. He has so much reverence for the powerful, wild feminine- and is so knowledgeable. It was such a thrill to meet him.
There have been a few more meetings with Sheela: This one at St Gobnait’s church we have visited often. St Gobnait is an amazing woman- she met 7 white stags at the location of her church and knew this was where she should build her community of women- and then they worked with all things bees 🐝
This lovely (below) is high up on a tower in County Cork. And here I am with my Yule candle on Solstice day at St Gobnait’s holy well.
We have spent a lot of time tramping around looking for Sheela na Gigs on every visit to Ireland (variously pronounce Sheela na GIG or Sheela na Ghee by those Irish experts I have met- Irish is Síla na Gigh).
The meaning of the words also varies according to what you read. Sheela: feminine, connected with Sidhe (Shee- the fairy folk of Ireland). Gigh: variously breasts, buttocks- The Sheela na Gig Ireland website is very clear that the pronunciation is Ghee and that the word is still in use and refers to the Vulva.
In any case, it is always a great pleasure to find a Sheela that we haven’t seen before. We found 4 last week. We have a battered map by Jack Roberts (the Sheela-na-Gigs of Ireland: An Illustrated Map and Guide) that we have used since 2009. Jack Roberts put it all into a book in 2018 which is updated (“new” Sheelas are regularly found) and we used that as well as the website.
And who or what might they be? Jack Roberts says:
“Sheela-na-Gigs are carvings of naked females posing in a manner that is usually described as “exhibiting” themselves and are often found on churches and other religious structures. Even more surprising is the fact that they are not hidden or put somewhere they could be missed but are usually placed in the most prominent and visible positions where everyone could see them such as above the main doorway or over a prominent window” No-one knows what they actually mean- there is a lot of supposition but every Sheela is unique (although the exposed vulva is a distinct commonality) and she is variously connected with fertility, the Cailleach or Hag, or simply put there to place the fear of God in men related to women and sexuality.
Sheela-na-Gigs were created over 5 centuries– between the 12th and 17th century, so some refer to her as a medieval Goddess/symbol.
Last week we visited one in County Sligo and 3 in County Mayo Firstly, there is Herself in County Sligo (originally from Behy Castle (in ruins) and now stored in a farm building):
I wanted to see this Sheela but it is on private land and we are super sensitive about entering these places.
Geoff insisted on visiting the farmhouse 5 times no less- no one was home and I was for giving up, but he persisted. The 5th time led us to relatives of the owner who said the wife of the owner could be “contrary”, so we were a little concerned when we knocked on her door.
She was a delight! She hates the Sheela and never goes down there because when she met her husband she was told that he was one of 10 children and this had been attributed to the Sheela. She said one child was enough for her! She said that she often gets visitors from all over the world and often they are seeking a blessing from the Sheela for their own fertility. Geoff wasn’t keen to have a child at this stage of our lives but I re-assured him that it would be a miracle indeed if that was to happen!!
She is stored in a barn building which is piled high with varied farm equipment and detritus. Such an Irish thing to have such treasures merged with the live-a-day world. She is painted red and apparently no one knows when or why that was done- or what the paint consists of. She is in fantastic condition as she has been protected from the elements for so long.
Sheelas in County Mayo
Aghagower- this very small but lovely lady is on the wall of a Sacred Well and not in the position described by Jack Roberts or on the website. We needed help from a local to find her– she is only 10cm square and apparently recently moved because trucks and lorries kept clipping the wall on the corner where she previously resided. She has been removed from the nearby ruined church/graveyard.
This lady in Hollymount is a little hard to see (I have put Jack Roberts’ diagram here for clarity) and is unusual because she is one of the few wearing a hat.
Cross, County Mayo
And finally, this beauty above is in the foyer of the very much in use Catholic church in Cross, County Mayo- there is a plaque next to it stating that it is an ancient carving of a child- it has been verified as a Sheela na Gig however. I guess a carving of a child is more palatable to the catholic church.
Isolated in County Clare
Our visit to County Galway involved a very peaceful stay in a tiny house in the middle of the countryside. We felt very rested and loved the tiny home and the way it had been fitted out.
Unfortunately (but perhaps unsurprisingly considering the crowds in the pubs and the lack of precautions) we have both tested positive for covid and are now in isolation in a tiny house in County Clare. Resting up and not feeling too bad, so hopefully will be back at the wandering in a few days. I guess it “had to” happen eventually.
We arrived and spent one week in County Donegal and it was hard to leave. The little cottage where we were staying in was so comfortable and in the midst of pristine beaches, beautiful sunsets over the Atlantic and places with so many old stories.
We imagined this was my Cailleach cottage (this is not where we were staying! But very close by) – even at low tide, it appeared inaccessible from the beach – a small rivulet of water remained a barrier…I loved the wild isolation of it!
Geoff took to sitting out behind our cottage watching the view and the sunset.
We also went walking on a day when the weather was finer and the wind less biting. There was not a person to be seen and the beaches are truly magnificent and pristine in their wildness.
When we rather reluctantly left, after trialling seafood chowder at multiple pubs (none as good as the one at Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin so far) and discovering a new addiction to deep fried Brie (the waist line is feeling a little tight already), we set off for County Sligo. There’s many things I love about Sligo County- including that it’s W.B.Yeats country (I am a Fangirl of his) and the ancient landscapes of Carrowkeel, Carrowmore, Keash caves and on……. (there will be more about these in the next newsletter)
On our first day, we left County Sligo to visit County Roscommon and the ancient royal site of RathCroghan (Cruachan Aí). Reported to be the oldest and largest unexcavated royal site in Europe- it is the royal seat for Connacht- one of the 5 ancient regions of Ireland. Also the centre of many of the stories from Irish lore (the Ulster Cycle) and the home of Queen Medbh (Maeve)- a great warrioress according to the lore.
This is a recent painting at the Rathcroghan visitor centre which depicts Queen Medbh, the Mórrigan in her form as the hooded crow and the great bulls of the Táin Bó Cuailnge.
The site of Rathcroghan contains many ancient sites and burials (including Medbh’s- if she was real- and if she wasn’t buried in Sligo on Knocknarea- which apparently she cannot be as the timeline for the cairn on Knocknarea and Queen Medbh’s life do not match).
Oweynagat – the cave of the cats
There is also a cave (Oweynagat) which is a dwelling place of the Great Queen, the Mórrigan. I have wanted to go into Oweynagat for a very long time and this time it happened!
There are many tales in Irish lore about Oweynagat (the cave of the cats)- it’s also called “Ireland’s Gate to Hell”- but I wanted to be there for the Mórrigan.
Here is a quote from the Rathcroghan guide book:
“Oweynagat is also said to be the dwelling place of ”fit abode’ of the Mórrigan- Mór Rioghan (Great Queen/ Phantom Queen), the Battle Goddess of Ireland. She is a shape-shifter, most commonly associated with the form of the hooded crow. She features prominently in the Táin, initially by approaching Cú Chulainn in the form of a beautiful young maiden, His rejection invokes her fury and later in the tale when he is in single combat in the ford, she attacks him in the form of an eel, a wolf and a hornless red-eared heifer. She also marks his death by alighting in her crow form on the shoulders of his corpse, which signals to his enemies that it is safe to finally approach.”
Geoff claims to have claustrophobia, but decided to come with me anyway. I could hear him behind me muttering curses at me the whole way down!
Here he is at the entrance (see outside pic below). It’s incredibly muddy and rocky and you need to slide down the very narrow entrance and perhaps 10 metres after that on your backside.
The entrance to Oweynagat is below too. It has a big hawthorn over it which was comforting- very vulva like, don’t you think?
This is the inside of the cave- thin and narrow and about 7 metres high, it leads to a cervical looking entrance to a further cave, which was a stretch to far in terms of mud, slipping and climbing. With lights off, the silence and darkness is complete, but not oppressive- I’ve only been in similar darkness when deep within the earth, doing an assessment in a mine.
Here I am emerging from the cave entrance- muddy after slipping and sliding and crawling my way out over boulders and rocks, but a wonderful sensation of emerging ready for the new!
More to come about Sheela na Gig and County Sligo in the next newsletter!
It’s been one week since we arrived in Ireland. I have discovered a few things. One is that flying is not as much fun as it used to be, sadly. But taking photos is fun.
Dublin was super crowded which I didn’t enjoy and my favourite writer’s museum has closed down for good (which is sad). However, I saw one of the most gorgeous statues in Dublin. It’s the one of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square – I don’t know who placed a lovely pregnant woman statue next to him, but here it is and it’s quite delicious really.
The research basement
The National Museum of Ireland in Dublin graciously allowed me to enter the research basement (a maze that I would never have re-surfaced from without supervision and guidance) to see the Sheela na Gigs that are not on display in the museum.
There is maybe 10 of them, all have been “rescued” from their original sites in order to save them from the rigours of time (and weather and humans acting badly). I was allowed to see them on condition that my purpose was research only and that any photos that I took (a lot of them) were not to be published in any way (which is sad because I know many of you reading this would be keen to see them. I will find a way to conduct a research debrief at some point!
We have often journeyed around Ireland with the specific purpose of finding Sheela na Gigs in their original places. There is a great map made by Jack Roberts and also a website that is useful.
The stone of destiny
I visited the Sheela on the Hill of Tara – she is so worn now that she is barely discernible, but I said hello anyway. And then to visit the Lia Fáil on the Hill of Tara – the stone of destiny – although I don’t really think anyone knows it’s purpose. As far as I can tell this rather phallic looking stone was originally at the doorway of the Mound of Hostages on the Hill and has been relocated with stories about it being related to the inauguration of the kings of Ireland. I have visited it in the freezing cold of winter when at one time someone had poured red paint all over it. This time we arrived on a very windy and cold spring day to find someone lighting incense in the depression on the top. When I first visited the Hill 25 years ago it was a little known place with very few people. Now it’s a major tourist attraction with buses coming along all day.
Remarkably, standing next to the stone in what felt like a howling gale, (which fortunately blew the last of the incense from the top), a crow flapped out from the trees a few hundred metres away (seriously hard work in that wind) – he or she flew to me, did a semi circle around me and the stone and flapped back (into the wind- very seriously hard work) to the trees. A strange event by all accounts. The Lia Fáil is also associated with the Mórrigan. Some say it is a portal of hers – who knows?
On the way to Sliabh na Cailli
On the way to Sliabh na Cailli (Loughcrew) we happened upon a Sheela na Gig that we had not seen before- well we stopped to look at a wood carving by the side of the road and she was mentioned in the local attractions board. (If you believe that happening upon such a thing is accidental, then you probably also think that the crow in the Lia Fáil story above was just going about crow business. I tend to err on the side of everything happening for a reason).
This wonderful Hag woman is above a church window at Taghmon, County Westmeath. She is quite wild and fierce looking, don’t you think?
Here is a little info from Jack Robert’s book “Ireland of the Sheela-na-Gigs”
“Sheela-na-gigs are carvings of naked females posing in a manner that is usually described as “exhibiting” themselves and are often called obscene images, so it is rather surprising that they are found on churches and other religious structures. Even more surprising is the fact that they are not hidden or put somewhere they could be missed but are usually placed in the most prominent and visible positions where everyone could see them such as above the main doorway or over a prominent window.”
They were mostly carved between the 13th and 16th centuries- the middle ages- and are mostly on Christian churches or buildings. No one really knows what their meaning is. I will have much more to say about Sheela as I continue on my journey here.
Now we are in County Donegal
The most peculiar thing about Donegal appears to be that knitting needles are hard to come by. I know that is obscure, but I was so excited to purchase some balls of Donegal tweed, but can I find needles fit for the purpose? No!
Donegal is truly wild- we are in a little cottage on the Atlantic coast- more to come on that. We visited Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) and Beltany stone circle (images below).
Yesterday I decided I wanted to read and ponder Emily Dickinson’s poem “Grief is a thing with feathers” – which (of course) she did not write.
There is a remarkable and odd little book of that name by Max Porter. It starts with a rather obnoxious crow (the thing with feathers) who facilitates the journey through grief of a man and his 2 sons who have lost partner/mother. The description of self Crow gives, goes like this: “Crow of the death-chill….God-eating, trash-licking, word murdering, carcass-desecrating math-bomb mother-f***er…..”
Maybe one needs to fully express grief (and be heard in that grief, even if that hearing is done by a crow) before one can move on to Hope…so, back to Emily Dickinson, who wrote “Hope” is the Thing With Feathers. I will just leave it here for your possible enjoyment and contemplation – we need to grieve and we need to hope…don’t forget BOTH!
“Hope” is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard – And sore must be the storm – That could abash the little Bird That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land – And on the strangest Sea – Yet – never – in Extremity, It asked a crumb – of me.
I came across this saved piece of writing this morning from 2012 (I have a habit of keeping snippets of writing that have meaning for me) called ‘The Space Between’ by Tracy Cochran.
“In the end, spiritual work is about being willing to be naked and vulnerable, about letting go of the armour of answers to live to be open and defenceless (I once heard that the word “lost” came from a Norse word that means to disband an army). Real spiritual work depends on an awareness that can embrace contradiction and brokenness – that can bear not knowing, being in between.”
A long time ago (more than 15 years I think) I was asked by someone “What is your spirituality?”- like I could define it. I recall feeling deeply uncomfortable- was my answer going to be acceptable? What was my answer anyway? Did I have an answer? I have long wished I could say in response to such questions- I’m catholic/christian/muslim/pagan/hindu etc.
Once when I was very young I thought it would be good to be jewish, because then my life would have some sort of spiritual definition. I had a brush with the Church of Scientology back when I was a uni student in my late teens, when I was self-defined (and by family of origin) as Catholic/Christian, and recall a hearty argument about belief: I was convinced that faith/belief was everything and the Scientologist advocated (forcefully I recall) that faith/belief meant nothing if not based on “fact”.
Last year, a client came to see me because a fellow counsellor had told him I was a “spiritual” person. He assumed that meant I was Christian.
There are many things I “believe” in, and some things I “know”. I have a science degree- I know about objectivity and measurable evidence. I also have a creative imaginal world that is potent and feeds my life in ways that science cannot.
I “know” about the creative imaginal world, however, it is often devalued as childish and unproven. I have seen and experienced the creative imaginal world change many people’s lives for the better and for healing. What is psychology if not about the creative imaginal world translated into action? (As much as researchers try to make it objective and measurable).
Be curious about what the trees are speaking- and the ocean and that symbol or image that attracts you so much. For me, one of those symbols is the Sheela na Gig pictured above.
We must be prepared to not know- and as Rainer Maria Rilke says: “I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now…the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”
This is my prayer for my grandchildren, and dare I say, for our politicians and our world.
Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose. Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently, until the song that is your life falls into your own cupped hands and you recognize and greet it. Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world so worth of rescue.
The Women Gathered
Last weekend the women gathered at Rydal for ‘Women Flourishing: the shadow and the light”. It was a very special weekend – full of sharing, creating, letting go, poetry, psychodrama and cyclic wisdom.
I learnt that next time I will create more space for rest and take some insect repellent spray for the mosquitos!
One thing that seemed to resonate with the women was the psychodramatic way of thinking about spontaneity – a new response to an old situation or an adequate response to a new situation. It’s lovely to hear about new responses and new role development!
We had a large working space that was often filled by the altar.
We moved the altar aside at times to create a stage for psychodrama. Much time was spent exploring the wisdom of the cycles and discussing such things like women and their hair – what does your hair symbolise for you? And the grand possibility of the subversive powerful nature of Being Maga (age 50-75, menopausal/post-menopausal).
This morning I went for a walk. Not an especially rare occurrence, but not as frequent as it “should” be (should…who created that word, seriously!!…The most guilt provoking word ever).
I went out of my front door, down the driveway and into the mist. I drank the mist in the smells and tastes and feel on my skin is so much like Ireland…and this mist in the Blue Mountains has its’ own particular taste and beauty.
I spent a significant part of the walk admiring the creative webby work of spiders. I could duck and weave under and around a few, but some were across the path at waist height – don’t go that way!
I got to thinking – the creating of the web looks (to me) like hard work. But is it truly hard work when one does what one is meant to do? What one has been created to do?
And then I begun to hear in the mist (in my head…same thing) my favourite song which I think will be my funeral song (remind me to tell my children) “The Woman in the Moon” as sung by Barbra Streisand. It’s a battle cry for me…
Here are some words from the song:
I was warned as a child of thirteen Not to act too strong Try to look like you belong but don’t push girl Save your time and trouble Don’t misbehave ………Little sister, little brother Keep on pushin’ Don’t believe a word about Things you heard about Askin’ too much too soon Cause they can hold back the tide But they can never hold the woman in the moon
Keep on pushin’ folks…to be and do whatever you have been created for. And do this with ease and grace and passion.
Women’s Circle of Reflection and Connection Circle
Extra Evening Sessions Added Every Tuesday @ 7.30pm (AEST)
I have had a few requests for the Reflect and Connect Circle to be held day or evening, so I have added in a Circle at 7.30pm on Tuesday nights commencing 14th September.
These circles are for 45 minutes and focus on a reading which is sent out 3-4 days prior to Circle, followed by a sharing Circle.
We will do the readings that we have completed in the Wednesday morning circle, including:
Courting the Wild Twin – by Martin Shaw;
If Women Rose Rooted – by Sharon Blackie
Burning Woman – by Lucy H Pearce
Sacred House – by Carolyn Hillyer
Belonging – by Toko-pa Turner
Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore…and more
My hope is that we can be inspired together and connect with each other through sacred listening and that this will stimulate and support each of us to bloom in our creativity and spontaneity as we continue through our days and weeks.
This Circle has been working well on Wednesday mornings with a “closed” group of the same women coming regularly every week. We may have that in the evening group, or there may be an open group (people pop in and out as inspired), time will tell.
Regardless, numbers are limited to 10 (including me) and I need to know if you plan to come so I can send you the reading and the links.
The online weekly circle on Wednesday mornings is fully subscribed. If a place comes up, I will notify you of that in my newsletter.
Payment will be on a “Pay-What-You -Can” basis- from $0- $10AUD.