The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #20699   Message #219042
Posted By: GUEST,Okiemockbird
27-Apr-00 - 02:34 PM
Thread Name: The Pagan Alternative. What's the music?
Subject: RE: The Pagan Alternative. What's the music?
Further comment on Sheelas-na-gig and green men:

When I mentioned Ronald Hutton's discussion of these figures before, I was working from memory. Now that I've had a chance to go back to Hutton's book, I find that his remarks were more elaborate than I remembered.

Relying heavily on earlier workers (as any Historian writing broadly must do), he provied the following synthesis:

1) Sheelas-na-gig originated in Aquitaine in the 11th century, "Reaching Poitou and then (around 1070) northern Spain, before crossing to England in the next century. The earliest which can be dated there, in Herefordshire, were certainly brought over as part of the French school of carving patrionized by Oliver de Merlimont. They seem to have got to Ireland slightly later. They travelled with two other motifs, the beaked head and the biting horse's head, and were part of the great high medieval architectural style known as Romanesque."--PRABI, p. 311.

2) There are no precedents for these pictures which can be dated to pagan times. "There appear to be no images like them in Celtic or Romano-Celtic art. Elsewhere in the Roman Empire there did exist splay-legged female figures displaying their bellies and vulvas; these are found especially in Egypt. But they are generally modelled in clay and never carved upon buildings." --Id.

So far, so good. This is approximately what I was trying to convey in my post yesterday. Hutton goes on to discuss the 1986 theory of Wier and Jarman, that the figures were originally intended as a warning about the perils of certain kinds of sin.

However, (this is the part I had forgotten) the Irish use of the new figures seems to have been influenced by some very old attitudes:

"[The theory of Weir and Jarman] fails to explain the presence of some of the later Irish Sheelas upon structures such as castles. Here it is necessary to look again at the examples quited by Jorgen Andersen of several nineteenth-century antiquarians who were told by local Irish people that Sheelas were intended to ward off evil...It seems wise to suggest that the device of the Sheela, which arrived in Ireland as part of a Christian campaign against sin, was absorbed there into a native belief in powerful female protectors. These carvings on later medieval buildings in Ireland may, then have been a last manifestation of the old tutlary godesses."

I think the reference here is to the view that a land was protected by godesses such as Maeve, or Eriu herself, whom (we have some grounds to believe) the king was said to have "married" when he became king.

Hutton goes on: "But to propose this is very different from arguing, as Ronald Seridan and Anne Ross did, that the people who carved them still viewed them as pagan deities."

In other words, the pictures are entirely medieval and Christian in their origin. In Ireland, and so far as we know only in Ireland -- not in Britain -- the pictures were interpreted in terms of a thought-pattern which indeed had pre-Christian roots. But the thought-pattern had by then become a Christian thought-pattern. The Irish who saw the carvings did not think they were seeing Maeve, or Eriu, or the Morrigan or a "goddess of fertility and destruction". They thought they were seeing a carving which had the ability to chase away evil.

Hutton's citations for this synopsis are:

Jorgen Anderson, the Witch on the Wall, London, 1977.

Anthony Weir and James Jerman, Images of Lust, London, 1986.

Concerning the relationship of the Green Man to the folk-figure of Jack-in-the-Green, Hutton notes that "Lady Raglan's original comparison [of Green Men] to the foliage-covered figure who danced in May Day processions was shattered in 1979 by Roy Judge, who proved that this folk ritual had itself only appeared in the late eighteenth century." --p. 316.

The citation here is:

Roy Judge, The Jack-in-the-Green, Ipswich, 1979.

T.