Wide open – and witnessed

As little girls we are told to keep our legs together. For a woman, “she spreads her legs for anyone” is an insult of the highest order. The power of the wide open vulva is deeply threatening to the very fabric of civilisation.

My four-year-old daughter loves to show us her vulva. Spreading it wide. “Your yoni’s smiling and talking to us!” I say. So proud that she’s proud and comfortable in her body. Her seven-year-old brother says “yueuch, that’s disgusting!”

And that’s pretty much how it continues. We learn to feel shame for this part of ourselves. To shut it away, not show it off. Whereas boys take great pride in pulling their penises out in public and drawing them on schoolbooks and road signs.

Wide open. It is a feeling of vulnerability. And power. Both together. Flashing our genital essence to the world. Look, this is what I am. This is what I can do.

For most women the first time they experience being wide open – and witnessed – is in the process of birth. At this time there is no room for prudity, shame or secrecy. Suddenly this hidden recess, deep, dark and private, stretched wide open to become a portal between two worlds. As a woman’s whole yoni opens so do her eyes, her throat, her heart, her whole soul to allow the birthing process to happen.

sheela na gig

Sila na Gig on a church in Kilpeck, Herefordshire

The only exception to this taboo, in the whole of Western art, that I know of, is the Síla na Gig, (pronounced Shee-la na gig). Found in the eaves of British and Irish churches, I first learned about them from Ina May Gaskin (check out her interview, here, where she discusses their function and purpose.) There she stands, vulva wide open and proud.

My greatest hope for women is that we be safe enough, feel safe enough, to be wide open and witnessed: lovingly held, tenderly treated, standing in our power and vulnerability.

I loved this poem by Brid Wildearth, which she posted recently and wanted to share it, and her artwork, with you all.


An ancient woman squats
above an old church door.
She holds her vulva open,
impossible to ignore.

Weird witch Síla na Gig,
powerful, daring and rude,
I wish I dared sit on a church wall
wicked and wanton and nude!

Eerie faerie Síla na Gig,
bathing your quim in the sun,
your holy hole outrageously obvious,
your mouth fixed in a mocking grin,

you might as well be shouting
to pilgrims rich and poor:
“I am your mother, your sister, your wife,
your daughter, your lover, your whore.”

Orgasmic dancing Síla na Gig,
are you just prehistoric pornography?
Or do you have something to say
to the twenty first century?

“I will not collude in your big cover up.
I will not clothe myself in your shame.
Uncensored and open and honest and proud,
I show the world who I am and why I came.”

Why do you sit on a church wall?
Why do you show us your cunt?
Why did the stonemason carve you?
And what exactly is it that you want?

“I was here before the church was
and I’ll be here long after it’s gone.
I honour the place of original magic
the place from which we all come

I open the gate between worlds
the doorway to life and to death
this gesture is just as important
as any gesture to pray or to bless

I am your ancestral goddess.
I am swollen and violated and raped.
This is the result of your violence.
I will not disappear without trace.

By Brid Wildearth

By Brid Wildearth

When you seek to disempower me,
you invade me against my will
you build churches over my temples and groves
and convince my children that I am evil.

Remember where you originate.
Remember your spiritual roots.
Remember that god is a woman as well.
Remember deep, radical truths.

Womanhood is as sacred

as any church or holy place.
We give birth, we give pleasure and we give love,
we give comfort and healing and peace.”

sheela na gig earthenware



Brid Wildearth blogs at www.moondrummer.blogspot.com, where this post first appeared. She says:

I identify as a witch in solidarity with the nine million wimmin accused of witchcraft during the burning times. I have been moon drumming for two years with wimmin all over the world. We channel moonlight to heal ourselves, our loved ones and the earth. I was drawn on to study Síla na Gigs, goddess figurines found on medieval churches who display their genitalia.I felt addicted to painting and sculpting them. I did not fully understand why. Women in pottery classes who saw me sculpting their open vulvas would giggle uncontrollably. I felt their discomfort and I allowed myself to be silenced yet again…. And later I noticed that displaying an open vulva is the exact opposite to sewing one up [as is done in female genital mutilation]. I invoke this ancient goddess to help me in my desire to help end this subjugation of women, within the context of world wide misogyny and rape. After years of copying ancient sculptures, my hands created my own original Síla na Gig.”


5 thoughts on “Wide open – and witnessed

  1. Jaine Rose

    Hi Lucy,

    Lovely blog, would it be ok to post a link to it on our Earth Pathways facebook page this week – seems a good follow up to One Billion Rising.

    Jaine xx

  2. Genine

    But do you really think it is as simple as that? I understand the symbolism and what it makes it yearn for. Do you really think we ever had it though – the respect of ourselves and others for our sexuality, and the authority over it? We cover ourselves, all of us to remind ourselves that we are also other than our sexuality. I imagine that in the days when we did not, coupling would be brutal sudden and forcibly so, whenever the male of the species liked. If we lived in total familiarity with our siblings that discouraged the barriers and taboos that we now have – for good reason. Incest and rape is still common among certain peoples and I don’t think hiding our genitalia makes it worse, rather I think it puts other things that women can do on the agenda. You can of course go too far and of course our sexuality and our right to femaleness has been smothered but displaying our genitals has little to do with this. I would be concerned that your son is knowing too much and seeing too much that is private of his sister. I wonder too how your daughter will feel. The fact that he is repulsed makes it even more worrying. The old days and ways were savage there is no doubt about it. We may look wistfully at carvings etc and make them mean something freeing to us, but women have always been ultimately subdued by men. It is biology and we should be thinking ourselves fortunate that with subverting our sexuality – male and female – came the ability to free ourselves for much more. Thinking of ourselves as sacred vulva – gaping holes that we think exposing gives some kind of power to, when in actual fact it takes away from it it wishful thinking. There are many women of all ages, splaying their legs on-line and it certainly isn’t empowering them. It’s actually tragic.

  3. admin Post author

    You make some very fair point Genine, and you hit on the bits that I left unsaid, in my rush to write and publish. No, nothing is as simple as anyone makes out in writing – that is the beauty of writing – that we can focus in on an aspect of an issue, and it is also its limitations. I don’t claim to have solved womankind’s history by one blog post…. consider it food for thought, musings on a theme/1

    To clarify, I do not think women should go round exposing themselves in public, especially not online, just for the sake of it, no, absolutely not, BUT the DISGUST at a body part, when this is not the case for boys and men, that is what I am getting at. When a four year old girl is discovering her body there is nothing wrong or disgusting with that. there really isn’t. If her brother is in the same room when she is doing this, then he needs to respect that that is her body, and it is not disgusting. the same goes with childbirth, which is what the Sile na Gigs were used for. Women were unaware of how far their vagina could open, and this was a valid teaching aid. And again is not shameful in any way.

    I am not sure I either get your point fully about subverting our sexuality and women being subdued to men. I think we may need to agree to disagree there.


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