Sheela Na Gig Clues to Retail of the Past

Tourists have always loved Ireland. And tourists have always needed feeding. Sat 28 May 2022

Picking up where Shop Signs of the Brothel-Keepers left off...

Sheela na gig at Aghadoe, Co. Cork, Ireland. Imaged by DH_Age and Inktober Sheela. Source

According to Roaring Water, this sheela na gig's original location and positioning are unknown. It is thought to have come from 'Aghadoe Castle'. That probably means Parkovonear Castle.

Reflecting orthodox bafflement at sheela na gigs, it adds:

The 3D image shows the... curious bumps on the wrists that defy interpretation.

Not necessarily:

Arm-guards are a wise precaution in some occupations. Source: AMI: Tour of a Pork Plant

The Aghadoe sheela na gig's arm-guards seem to be studded leather. You can just see the upper end of the arm-guard on her right arm. Slightly below her right elbow.

For even more obvious sheela na gig misinterpretations 1, try Kiltinan, Co. Tipperary:

Sheela na gig at Kiltinan, Co. Tipperary. Imaged by DH_Age. Source

From DH_Age on Kiltinan sheela na gig:

It may have once been attached to Kiltinan Church 2

It appears that the round object is a horseshoe with clear nail markings, the other is harder to identify

But not impossible:

Remnant of a pilgrim souvenir from Canterbury, Kent. Source: Blood as Food

The item in the Kiltinan sheela na gig's right hand is clearly a knife, just as it is with the Aghadoe sheela na gig.

As for the 'horseshoe', the only thing it has in common with a horseshoe is a high iron content. It looks more like hebdomos bous.

From Plakous, pelanos and other ‘cakes’ of the Hellenic Tradition:

a cake shaped like a crescent moon, given in offering

Sacrificial 'cakes' made from meat, flour, and blood plus sweeteners or spices are still sold today:

England's version of blood sausage: black pudding. Source: Black Pudding

More evidence for this analysis is presented in:

  1. Away in a Manger - Part Three
  2. Before the Digestive Biscuit Game.

Perhaps this retail signage is marketing hebdomos bous or blood sausage as a take-away snack.

Looking again at the Aghadoe sheela na gig - but with butchery in mind - we can now interpret the product offer:

  • The ribs are not signalling she's thin. They depict a rib-cage. They signal de-skinning, de-fleshing and possibly: 'ribs for sale'.

  • What seem to be breasts are misshapen. They may depict lungs but the one on her left is shortened and hanging from an assembly of short cylinders. Tubes. It indicates 'heart'. Her right 'breast' is lung or liver shaped. It looks upside down for a lung so, given we already have her heart, I'll plump for liver.

    Know your organs. Your consumers do. Source

  • Her lower abdomen is rounded where it joins her thighs, indicating she is heavily pregnant.

  • The tiny human figure clasped in her right hand signals this establishment also sold newborn babies, possibly removing them to order - a dish (conceivably called omphalos).

Butcher sign sheela na gig locations

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  1. For orthodox sheela na gig interpretations, see Heresy, Blasphemy, and Sheela na Gig, Aghadoe Sheela-na-Gig (also has images), Jack Roberts, Inktober Sheela. For imagery, see: The Sheela Na Gig Project and Inktober Sheela 

  2. Kiltinan had four known sheela-na-gigs. Their original locations are not known. In two cases, their current locations are also not publicly known. 

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