On this day, the ancient Romans honoured Liber and Libera as spring fertility deities.Liber was another named for Bacchus/Dionysus, while Libera was another name for the goddess Ariadne (see 4 March). The statues of the gods were garlanded with ivy, and it was a day of liberty and license, when slaves were permitted to speak freely. Old women called Sacerdotes Liberi (priestesses of Liber and Libera), crowned with ivy, tended portable altars along the streets and charged a small fee to sacrifice oily honey cakes called liba. [1]

In Russian myth, the spring fertility god and goddess Lado and Lada were worshipped along with the springtime cult of the rusalki, nymphs who brought fertility to the land.  [2] They are spring fertility deities, corresponding to the Norse Freyr and Freya, and the Roman Liber and Libera. [3]

In the Christian calendar 17 March is St Patrick’s Day. Patrick was born in Britain, but was carried off by raiders to serve as a slave in Ireland. After escaping he became a Christian priest, gaining the reputation of battling Paganism in all its forms, banishing the ‘snakes’ from Ireland – since there were never any actual snakes in Ireland, this probably referred to Pagans.  In the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, his feast is considered the real first day of spring: On the high day of Patrick/ Every fold will have a cow-calf/ And every pool a salmon. [4]

Curiously, St Patrick also has a partner. The day after St Patrick’s Day was called Sheela’s Day in rural Ireland, bringing the festivities of St Patrick’s Day to an end with dropping the shamrock worn all day into the final glass of drink. No one knows who Sheela was. Some say she was a relative of St Patrick, perhaps his mother or even his wife. [5] Others make a connection with the Sheela-na-Gigs, the grinning images of naked old women with open vulvas carved on churches throughout Ireland, England, France and Spain from the eleventh to the sixteenth century CE. [6] The name ‘Sheela’ in connection with these figures is a mystery. It is generally thought to be the Irish form of the Anglo-Norman name Cecile or Cecilia, since most of the images in Ireland are found in areas where the Normans invaded. ‘Gig’ is an old English slang term for a woman’s private parts. [7] In Ireland though, sheelah was a term applied to elderly women.  [8] It is not known what these figures represent. They may be grotesque representations of female wantonness to warn people against the sin of lust. Alternatively, since they generally appear above doorways, they may be protective figures. They could be fertility symbols, since in some places, brides were required to look at and perhaps touch the sheela before weddings. [9] [10] Modern Pagans often choose to see them as pre-Christian representations of an Earth or hag goddess similar to the Scottish Cailleach who rules the winter and changes place with the maiden Bride (Brighid) in spring. I have a little Sheela-na-gig figurine made for me by a friend, which sits on one of my altars.

[1] Carol Field, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990

[2] Joanna Hubbs, Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1988

[3] Joanna Hubbs, Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1988

[4] Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987

[5], accessed 27.2.19

[6] Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

[7], accessed 26.2.19

[8], accessed 27.2.19

[9] Georgia Rhoades, Decoding the Sheela-na-gig, Feminist Formations 22.2 (2010): 167-196.

[10] Georgia Rhoades, Decoding the Sheela-na-gig, Feminist Formations 22.2 (2010): 167-196


Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.


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