One of my favorite things about starting this series is diving into the psyche of people across the globe and learning what they infer as NSFW or erotic. Not only do I get to travel across the world, but even through time.
This postcard is of an 18th-century illustration by Charles Eisen. The original image was for the poem The Devil of Pope-Fig Island by Jean de la Fontaine, published in the novel Tales and Novels in Verse, Volume 2, printed in 1896. It depicts a woman flashing her lady bits to what appears to be a demon.
You can read the full poem here: The Devil of Pope-Fig Island, but before you do, check out a snippet of the poem that renders Perretta, the protagonist’s wife, as being such a badass that her vajayjay chases the devil away.
Just now I heard the savage fellow say,
He’d with his claws your lordship tear and slash:
See, only see, my lord, he made this gash;
On which she showed:—what you will guess, no doubt,
And put the demon presently to rout,
Who crossed himself and trembled with affright:
He’d never seen nor heard of such a sight,
Where scratch from claws or nails had so appeared;
His fears prevailed, and off he quickly steered;
Just as Alice did, I fell down a rabbit hole looking for details about this piece and any information regarding the proclamation that a woman’s genitalia could spur the devil. My research led to me an article called Is there a Sheela-na-gig in St Saviour’s Church? by Rosalind Le Quesne, a Bioarchaeologist and Doctorate student. In the article, she discusses Sheela-na-gigs and the possibility of the carved granite figure in the north aisle of St Saviour’s church in Jersey, Channel Islands, being one.
Sheela-na-gigs are archeological grotesques of naked women, though sometimes together with men, found throughout European cathedrals and castles. These carvings depict a woman with an exaggerated vulva. They were said to be used as protection from death, evil, and demons.
Hold up! Wait a minute!
How badass is it that there are carvings across a whole continent with women like ‘BAM! Here’s my shit! Deal with it!’, but to also giggle that while these statues may be viewed as ‘grotesque’ because of their erotic nature, the aforementioned ‘grotesques’ is the term in archeology meaning carved stone figure. Go figure…
Also, can we just revel in the fact that a woman’s vulva was a symbol of ward off evil!?
Le Quesne, after seeing the carving in 2017 and doing research on it, reported to Bailiwick Express that she thought this could possibly be the feminine symbol to ward off evil. While complete certainty isn’t possible, The Sheela Na Gig Project, a UK-based collection of the Sheela-na-gigs across the sovereign country, has accepted the Jersey carving as one.
In her article, she also describes the historical phenomenon of women flashing their bits to ward off evil and refers to the illustration by Charles Eisen.
The custom of women flashing their genitalia as an apotropaic function in warding off evil is known as anasyrma and has been traced back as far as the Neolithic but has a strong Medieval and Post Medieval tradition. ‘The raising of skirts is known from various ages… as a sign of contempt and is probably deeply rooted in beliefs concerned with a power of display… as a means of scaring away the devil himself’.
Blogger and Doctor of Philosophy in Art History, Magdalena Łanuszka, writes Posztukiwania: Searching for Curiosities in Art which also discusses the effects of a woman’s nookie on demons and the devil himself. Her article, A Way to Scare Away the Devil, touches on various European folklore depicting these courageous acts!
Thank you to the beautiful person who sent me this Charles Eisen postcard, and don’t forget that
“Where the devil can’t succeed, he’ll send a woman.”