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Amandine 
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More about pagan sex and nudity
Go Sacred exhibitionists: Baubo, Iambe & Sheila-na-gig
Go First civilizations: Sex goddesses Ishtar and Isis
Coming soon: The Greco-Roman world: Aphrodite and Venus
Coming soon: Naked spirits: Nymphs, Graces and divine seductions
My Favorite Nudes

Celebrating sexuality: Porn's pagan origins

 
This well-preserved Medieval Sheila-na-gig figure, with her open genitals as symbol of female power, yields to an affectionate close-up. Photo by Met-Art.
  Sheila-na-gig,
Baubo, Iambe
   Throughout Europe, but especially in Ireland and England, ancient churches are adorned with carvings of a female figure holding open her vulva. These explicitly sexual images are thought to be remnants of pre-Christian Mother Goddess beliefs.
   Both Celtic and Greco-Roman mythology includes tales of women or female deities flaunting their sexual attributes as a display of female power, usually for a female audience.
   The northern "Sheila-na-gig" effigies, like the Mediterranean "Baubo" or "Iambe," are direct ancestors of today's overtly sexual spread-leg, open-labia pornography. This page offers some direct comparisons.
 



  Then ...
A Medieval English 'Sheila-na-gig' figure
This is a modern reproduction of an original
stone carving from a church in England.

  and now
A modern Sheila-na-gig pose from the pornography website 'All Over 30.' Click for more mature models in sexually explicit poses.
Photo by AllOver30: Naked Mature Women
A naked modern woman as 'Sheila-na-gig'
  The power of sex
to safeguard life and ward off death

   Sheila-na-gigs are sometimes seen with male figures, which display a prominent penis. The carvings are said to ward off death and evil. Clearly, this means sex drive and sexual intercourse were once considered good and life-affirming.
   Temple prostitutes in Pagan religions of the ancient Near East had sex with worshipers as an act of devotion to the fertility goddess. This is echoed in the lore of Medieval Europe, where the Sheila figures were called "Sacred Whores."
   The word "gyg" has Norse origins and means a gigantic, supernatural or divine female. "Sheila" is an Irish name and is often used to mean "girl." The name may also come from the Irish Gaelic "Síle na gCíoch" or "Sheila of the Breasts."

Demeter laughs
   In Greek myth, Iambe was a servant woman (some accounts say a goddess in disguise) whose laughter and jokes cheered up the grieving harvest goddess Demeter. Iambe is associated with or identical to Baubo, whose special gift was to dance for Demeter, telling her bawdy jokes, and finally to lift her skirt.
   Showing her naked vulva and bare belly, Iambe/Baubo provoked the goddess to laughter. This sexy, funny performance cheered up Demeter enough that she resumed her search for her kidnapped daughter Persephone.
   It was Persephone's abduction to the underworld by Hades that caused her mother to go into mourning. This brought eternal winter and stopped all crops from growing. Starvation threatened to snuff out human life. But re-energized by Baubo, Demeter found her daughter, negotiated her return, and brought sunshine and growing seasons back to earth.
   Baubo bares all in a similar Egyptian story about the goddess Isis. The sight of Baubo's vulva brought Isis out of her grief at the death of Osiris. Women of ancient Egypt acted out this story in a ritual of the sacred feminine, lifting their skirts and displaying their genitals.
   An almost identical Japanese myth has the character Uzume joking and dancing, lifting her skirt, to lure the sun goddess Amateratsu out of a cave. The result was to bring back light and warmth, make the rice grow again, prevent famine and restore the world to balance.

  A gold Sheila-na-gig figure by a contemporary artist, inspired by an English church carving.
This Sheila-na-gig is a copy of a stone piece from a church in Hertfordshire, England.

In modern porn, the spread vulva combines a sexual invitation with a flaunting of the female sexual energy.
Photo by AllOver30
A woman spreading her labia offers a sexual invitation and flaunts female sexual energy.

This is a reproduction of a sculpture from the ancient Near East depicting Baubo, who is also sometimes associated with the Egyptian fertility goddess Isis.
Iambe or Baubo is a symbol of female sexual humor. She might be called The Mother of the Dirty Joke. This is Baubo as she presented her stand-up act, and her pussy, to Isis.
Laughter, jokes and sex
How Iambe showed the goddess her pussy
and saved the earth and human society


Contemporary nudes by FEMJOY, Pure Nudes
   Based on an ancient Greek frieze, this depiction shows Baubo lifting her skirt and baring her belly to the goddess Demeter, right. I've superimposed some contemporary nude models over the ancient image as I imagine this scene might play out today. Getting into the spirit of the moment, everybody present has gotten naked and is enjoying the view. Click to see complete galleries of these models. Placing cursor over image pauses the animation.


  This sort of Baubo-like display of the genitals is common among the young non-professional models on abbywinters.com. Click to see full-size photo.
Photo by abbywinters.com
Genital display today is identical to this well-preserved stone Sheila-na-gig from the early Middle Ages.
  A well-preserved stone Sheila-na-gig

  This sort of Baubo-like display of the genitals is common among the young non-professional models on abbywinters.com. Click to see full-size photo.
Photo by abbywinters.com
The Sheila figures invite us to think about woman's mysterious interior, representing fertility and life force.
  A Sacred
Sex Symbol

   The vulva as holy symbol of birth and life is a very ancient idea, representing the Earth Mother's life-giving and regenerative powers. Female genital images from the Paleolithic and Neolithic Ages are found all over Europe. "Passage graves" were built in the shape of the goddess, with the passage the vagina, and the tomb chamber itself representing the uterus.
   Placed over church doors, the Sheila figures define the entrance and protect sacred space. Their vulvas symbolize the doorway, their bellies the sanctuary within.
   The most exhibitionistic poses, ancient or modern, pull the viewer's gaze into the vagina itself. An obvious reminder of the pleasure this sacred orifice holds for a penis, it also speaks of females' unique life-giving power.
   Spreading the labia also exposes the clitoris, ordinarily hidden. This can be read as an affirmation of the pleasure-giving force of female sexuality.

  Fertility,
Fish, Sex
& the Sea
     The shape of the exhibited genitalia is symbolic of the vesica piscis, the "vessel of the fish." This symbol's best known religious meaning comes from the Greek acronym "ICHTHYS," which was a secret code word used by the underground of early Christians.
   But the fish symbol's origin connects with a more ancient myth. The Greek word for fish, Ichthys was also the name of a son of the ancient sea-goddess, Atargatis, whose other names include Aphrodite, Salacia or Delphine and whose name meant "womb."
   In Greek and Roman mythology, Aphrodite or Venus was clearly identified as the goddess of sex and erotic love, often depicted naked and rising from the sea.
 


  A mass-market
erotic symbol

   Mass-produced 'Baubo' figurines have been found throughout the ancient Greek world.
   They came in a number of styles but always exposed the vulva in some way.
   Among the most common was a naked headless torso with the face on the belly and the sex organs in the chin of the face.
   Other designs, all of which have analogies in modern pornography, included:
  • A figure with legs apart, pointing to her exposed vulva.
  • A naked figure, legs splayed, holding a harp and riding on the back of a boar.
  • A seated figure with an exaggerated vulva filling the space between the legs.
       A loop molded into the head of some examples suggests they may have been worn as an amulet, perhaps the way today's religious faithful may wear a crucifix as a sign of devotion.
  •   A modern nude model reimagined as a Baubo, with face and genitals -- personality and sexuality -- clearly unified.
    Photo by FEMJOY: Pure Nudes
    Moving the cursor over the photo will show this modern nude model reimagined as a Baubo. Like the Greek original, left, it shows her face and genitals -- her personality and her sexuality -- clearly unified.
     

    We're not sure why the Baubo figure is perched on a boar. We still put our sex symbols on a pedestal, though. Click to see full-size photo.
    Photo by Petter Hegre, Hegre Art
    Patriarchy be damned: We still put our sex goddesses on a pedestal.
    Hidden
    goddesses

       The sexual human body is a sacred object in pagan religions, but has been defined as sinful by monotheistic (and patriarchal) religions.
       Insisting on a male monopoly on divinity, modern religions have suppressed the older goddess figures, especially overtly sexual ones like Iambe/Baubo.
       Iconic images and legendary stories are found world-wide, in many cultures. By her blatant bodily display, she stands for women's laughter, joking, and sexual energy, and the power derived from them.


    Pagan sex goddesses honored for wisdom and experience
     
       These pagan effigies, especially the Celtic Sheilas, typically depicted an elder woman. This implies strong matriarchal figures held the secrets of sexual power.
      We're not sure why the Baubo figure is perched on a boar. We still put our sex symbols on a pedestal, though. Click to see full-size photo.
    Photo by AllOver30: Mature Women
     
       I chose these mature models to illustrate today's equivalent of the Sheila or Baubo images, precisely because age brings sexual wisdom.
      We're not sure why the Baubo figure is perched on a boar. We still put our sex symbols on a pedestal, though. Click to see full-size photo.
    Photo by AllOver30: Mature Women


      Scholars aren't sure why the the Scottish Sheila-na-gig is holding a sheep, but we like this contemporary nude with one.
    Photo by FEMJOY: Pure Nudes
    Experts aren't sure of the meaning of the sheep in this worn Sheila-na-gig (right) on a Scottish church.
        We do know the meaning of what we now call 'pussy.' It's beauty, the life force, excitement and pleasure.. Click to see full-size photo.
    Photo by AllOver30: Mature Women
    We do know the meaning of what we now call "pussy." It's beauty, the life force, excitement and pleasure.
      Next:
    Ishtar and Isis: sex goddesses of the first civilizations
    Go to Pagans Part 2

    Coming soon:
    Aphrodite, Venus and the Greco-Roman sex-goddess tradition

    Nymphs and the Graces: naked female mythological characters


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