Many cultures have attributed magical properties to the female body. Rituals associated with female nudity ensured fertility, warded off evil powers and brought curses.
"The sea calms down when it sees a woman's vulva." This old Catalan proverb refers to a magical rite functioning in that area. The wives of sailors, in order to ensure their husbands return home safely, went into the sea and lifted their skirts. To modern people, this ritual may seem ridiculous, blunt, and even vulgar. The problem is that our perception of the female body is distorted by its excessive sexualization or religious prudery . In the past, various cultures and civilizations saw them as an emanation of life-giving powers.
Since a woman's body gives life, it can also take it away, surround it with magical protection or protect against evil forces.
Daniel Moi - the second president in the history of independent Kenya - had to deal with growing public discontent in the early 1990s. At his order, many political activists were arrested at that time, advocating the abolition of the one-party system of government operating in the country. In 1992, mass protests broke out calling for the release of political dissidents. The largest demonstration took place in Uhuru Park, in the capital of the country - Nairobi. The mothers of those arrested played the main role in the manifesto. When President Moi sent an army to pacify the demonstrating women, the protesters began to undress and curse the attackers soldiers.
The female body has been credited with a whole range of fantastic properties since ancient times.
In African culture, the female body is a symbol of life-giving forces. An attack on a naked woman is an attack on a life-giving creature, so it threatens with a curse. Faced with this turn of events, the Kenyan soldiers had no choice but to refrain from acting. There have been over forty similar "naked protests" in Africa in the last twenty years. This shows that this continent is a place where there is still a strong conviction about the magic power of the female body. In the past, this belief was not limited to the African continent.
Since ancient times, the female body has been credited with a whole range of fantastic properties. This view was anchored in the cultures and religions of the oldest civilizations. We find it in Greek, Egyptian and Japanese myths. The naked woman also served a magical function in the religions of the Indian tribes, the population of the Polynesian islands and many other places in the world . For centuries, the main purpose of this type of wizarding practice has been to ensure fertility and bountiful harvests.
A magical way to get a good harvest was, for example, a naked woman walking in the field. This was done both in ancient Egypt and in medieval Europe. The Slavic women from Lusatia, taking care of the cultivation of flax, were supposed to recite a magic spell:" Len, Len, let it grow as high as my vulva". There was a saying in medieval Mecklenburg:" As a woman lifts her dresses high, so high will linen grow."
One of the most famous paintings depicting the magic power of female nudity is an engraving by Charles Eisen
Other properties were also attributed to the female body. It was supposed to protect against demons, affect the weather or scare enemies away. The Roman historian Pliny argued that a naked woman was able to silence storms and whirlwinds . It is said that Hindu women from the Indian province of Madras were proud of this power. In Russian folklore, there was a view that a way to scare a stray bear away is for a young woman to lift a dress. According to the first Europeans to come to North America, the Indians believed that the sight of a woman's vulva drives away demons during funeral ceremonies. The squat of a naked woman on the chest of a demon-possessed man was part of the exorcisms practiced in Polynesia.
One of the most famous paintings depicting the magic power of female nudity is an engraving by Charles Eisen. It is an illustration to the fairy tale of Jean de la Fontiana and shows a woman who chases away the devil by lifting her skirt in front of him. This specific act has a name and is called anasyrma.
Skirts go up!
Anasyrma is a magical ritual known since antiquity for women to show their sexual organs. He provided a blessing, brought a curse, and filled the enemy's heart with fear. We can find many examples of such practices, for example, in Greek myths.
When Bellerophon, the famous hero riding Pegasus, attacked the city of Xanatos, only women were able to "stand up to him." They lifted their dresses up, revealing themselves in all their glory. Bellerophon got ashamed and withdrew, and the city was saved . Similar examples can be found in the myths about Demeter, the Egyptian goddess Hator or the Japanese Amaterasu. This custom was also mentioned by Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, who described the feasts in honor of the goddess Bastet. The group ritual of uncovering the vulva can also be found in the chronicles of Plutarch. During the Persians' fight with the Medes, the troops of the former began to flee the battlefield. Their way was blocked, however, by Persian women who showed their nakedness to the men and started calling them cowards .
A similar story happened in early medieval Ireland, when the famous Celtic warrior Cuchulain was to face the warriors of Ulster. The Ulsterians far outnumbered Cuchulain's squad, so the young man went to certain death. Only the belligerent Irish managed to dissuade him from his suicide mission. As we read in the legend: “And they revealed their nakedness, their boldness. The boy looked away from them and placed his face on the chariot so as not to see the nakedness and the boldness of the women. "
Persian women nudged the soldiers back to the battlefield
Hundreds of years later, the act of anasyrma continued to be practiced. An Irish Times journalist in 1977 reported such an event about this:
“The deadly feud between the families of two farmers lasted for generations. One day (...) men armed with pitchforks and heavy blackthorn sticks decided to attack the hostile household. The hostess left the hut and in front of everyone she lifted her skirt so high that the petticoats rose above her head and presented her naked vulva. Terrified the enemy fled. "
In fact, it is in England that one of the most mysterious and peculiar traces of faith in the magic power of female nudity is found. The theme of the magical power of the female body has been present in English culture since ancient times. A reflection of this type of belief are mysterious sculptures called Sheela-Na-Gig scattered all over the islands . They show a woman with a disproportionately large head, holding her crotch and showing her charms unprudently. Currently, about 150 sculptures of this type have been preserved in England and Ireland. Single copies can also be found in the Scandinavian countries, France and Germany.
A reflection of this type of belief are mysterious sculptures called Sheela-Na-Gig scattered all over the islands.
In the past, these sculptures were placed on the walls of medieval churches and public institutions. Those that have survived to this day show that the crotch area was surrounded by a special cult. They are visibly wiped from being constantly touched by people who were looking for magical support. To this day, it is not known where these specific female characters actually come from and what functions they could have performed. Researchers say that the sculptures are a remnant of pagan times or are related to the beliefs of the Normans. The period of Sheela-Na-Gig worship ended with the end of the Middle Ages, as they gradually began to be chained down and destroyed.
From the sacred to the profane
It is impossible to describe all the magical properties that various civilizations ascribed to the female body. Over time, especially in the circle of Western and Middle Eastern culture, his cult gradually faded away. The two great monotheistic religions - Christianity and Islam - have produced a very different view of female nudity. According to the Fathers of the Church, it was no longer a symbol of life-giving forces, but a seat of all temptation, evil and debauchery. The female genitalia ceased to be an object of worship and became the " gates of hell" . Tertullian spoke of biblical Eve as "the Satanic gate "And St. Augustine wrote with regret that we all come into the world " inter faeces et urinam" - between faeces and urine.
- Blackledge, Vagina. The Secret Story of Female Power, London 2003.
- Diabate, Naked Agency Genital Cursing and Biopolitics in Africa , London 2020.
- Freitag, Sheela-na-gigs Unravelling an Enigma , New York 2005.
- Carr-Gomm, A Brief History of Nakedness , London 2010.