I will lift up my skirt
Tonight I watched a recording of a lecture titled "The Vulva's Pilgrimage: Understanding Medieval Genitalia Badges." I bought a ticket to hear this lecture from The London Drawing Group, so in lieu of listening live at some ungodly hour, I received the recorded version and watched it tonight after dinner. The pandemic has made possible a number of things for me, and, no, I'm not going mad. While I've begun a number of crafts and even dabbled in art for the first time in my life, I'm not yet casting vulvas. Yet might be an operative word there.
Reader, are you aware of medieval genitalia badges? I was not, but now I am, and they are fantastic. You can read a little bit about them at this link, as I don't feel like typing all the details. Suffice it to say that what appeals to me most about the vulva badge is not just its rude and bawdy rebuke of or play on something sacred but that wearing one could dispel The Evil Eye. Scroll down for a photo of a vulva dressed as pilgrim, complete with rosary beads and a walking stick that is, obviously, phallic. It was found in the Netherlands and dates from the late 14th to early 15th centuries. I learned tonight that these medieval genitalia badges were mass-produced, and many hundreds, if not thousands of them, have been found along waterways and in silt and mud.
The instructor also spoke about the plague which made me even more fascinated because -- well -- obviously. I've just finished reading Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague and pretty much entered into the world she wrote as if I were eleven years old again, reading Jane Eyre or Half Magic. Meaning, I was immersed, in it and out of it. Out of it until I finished it and came back into our own plague. All this leads me to tell you that I have also been depressed of late -- depressed beyond the usual malaise and melancholy I periodically court and nurture. It's not about the pandemic, although what I can only say is #weirdworld certainly doesn't divert me from an overwhelming sadness due to this prolonged issue with my now five-year old ex-husband. I'm not nurturing this sadness, though. It just is, and it's stretching onward in and by a legal system that is, if not medieval, than certainly -- well -- Monty Pythonesque (without the funny). One day I'll write about it, if I'm still alive.
I did a little delving into the worldwide webs tonight after the lecture and found this:
Anasyrma is literally "the exposing of the genitals." This is a form of exhibitionism found in religion or artwork, rather than a display for arousal, and it refers always to the act of a woman exposing herself. The act of lifting up one's skirt to display the genitals can be an apotropaic device. (A type of magic intended to turn away harm or evil influences). It can, in circumstances of war, evoke the fear of the enemy. It can also be an act which evokes surprise and subsequent laughter and a letting go of sadness.
I must learn to lift my skirt.
I'm getting The Vaccine on Wednesday night. This will not be a performative action. I will not announce it on social media or take a snapshot of the identification card. I will not feel cheerful about it nor even relieved. I will feel thankful for all the good people who worked on it and thankful to live in a country where access to it is relatively easy. I will be glad to be a part of something that will hopefully help others. I will be nervous, perhaps exceptionally so. I am getting it now, as opposed to later with others my age, because I am the primary caregiver to Sophie and therefore entitled to get it. Entitlement. I will not be vaccinating Sophie with the Covid vaccine because I'm afraid that it would provoke more intense seizures or kill her. You may gently suggest that that is probably not going to happen and that the chances of Sophie getting Covid and dying are perhaps greater, and I will allow your words to join the others in my tiny little mother mind™ where they will float about, hither and thither. Next time a person who is of otherwise sound mind and disposition tells you that they are afraid of vaccines because they are certain that the vaccines that they gave their baby or toddler caused or contributed to their baby or toddler's lifetime of suffering, believe their fear and go gentle. Try not to label them (you know the label) or tell them that they are immoral, stupid, anti-Science or crazy. Above all, do not talk to them of statistics and chances.
In the Homeric hymn to Demeter (8th-6th centuries BCE), the goddess of grain, Demeter, is grieving for her daughter Persephone, who has been carried off by the underworld god, Hades. The old woman, Iambe, is vocally erotic or "obscene," telling jokes to make the grieving Demeter laugh. She has been compared by many scholars to the physically obscene Baubo, who makes the goddess laugh by lifting up her skirt.
Along with all the rest of it -- the sadness and the vulvas, the medieval badges and the Evil Eye, the anasyrma, Demeter, Persephone, the plagues and vaccinations -- I found peace today in these words that came to me in a guided meditation this morning:
I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
What a great post! I love your tiny little mother mind! I did not know about vulva badges or (Volvo badges as my phone would prefer me to use)
but in Ireland many castles are carved with something similar called a Sheel Na Gig, Sheila being Irish for woman. They’re very aggressive looking and were used to ward off danger. Glad you are getting the vaccine and I would not mess with precious Sophie and her delicate system either. Much love to you both!
Oh Elizabeth, this is such rich territory for poetry, essays, life! Thank you for sharing it, I had now idea about apotraic amulets. I know you are holding fast to your life and to Sophie's and I applaud all that you do to keep us, your friends and admirers, in the loop. Miss you and wish we lived closer. Big hugs, Suzanne