Myth, Magic and mystery
Once a month, half the adult population of the world who aren't pregnant or menopausal lose blood. In ancient times it was noticed that a woman?s monthly flow was the only time along with childbirth that blood was shed without wounding, and thus it was regarded as special .
The rituals of many traditions from Taoists to the Ancient Egyptians involved the ingestion of menstrual blood mixed with red wine to increase spiritual power. In Ancient Greece spring festivals included the spreading on the earth of corn mixed with menstrual blood to increase fertility.
So great was the belief that the power of creation existed within the blood of a woman that many myths such as the Ancient Hindu version in which all life is created from the thickened blood of the Great Mother include reference to it.
The word 'ritual' comes from 'rtu' which is Sanskrit for menses. The blood from the womb which nourished the unborn child was believed to have 'mana' or 'breath of life'.
The word menstruation comes from the Greek menus meaning both moon and power, and men meaning month .
The traditions of blood sacrifice have their origin in the 'sacrifice' of blood which poured forth from the woman when there was no new life for it to nourish. However, the menstrual blood was given freely and then used to nourish the tribe or the earth in other ways and no-one suffered, unlike later more corrupted versions.
A woman's bleeding was considered a cosmic event, relating and connecting one to the moon, the lunar cycles and the tides. She was thought to be at the height of her power at this time, and for this reason was encouraged to spend time listening to her inner voice which would often offer suggestions and wisdom which would benefit the whole tribe.
This 'Moootime' was later distorted into a perception of 'uncleanness' and women were forced to go apart, unable to participate in the preparation of food for men or ceremonies (although to be honest, the women probably still enjoyed the break, whatever the reason!) and their wisdom was denigrated, called lunacy, and forced underground.
Around 5,000 years ago the pendulum began to swing away from Goddess- centred worship and towards the patriarchal, militaristic and mechanistic position that we find ourselves in today, where women occupy a secondary place in society in many ways, and anything which interferes with linear thought, productivity and efficiency is regarded as a waste of time.
Menstruation, which can involve altered states of awareness and often the need for solitude does not fit within these parameters, and therefore we are encouraged to ignore it, and suppress with tampons and vaginal deodorants what can be the most creative and spiritual time of the month for many women.
On average that's approximately 500 weeks, or 3500 days of inspiration and guidance per lifetime flushed down the toilet!
Many women reach menopause and realise too late what they've missed. This can be a bitter awakening, and increase the feeling of 'barrenness' which is the accepted perception of menopausal women in our society.
There are also studies which support the idea that the attitude of furtiveness and shame which surrounds menstruation in our culture is at least partly responsible for the physical discomfort that many women go through each month.
There are many rituals connected with menstruation, unfortunately not all of them appropriate or possible in these days of HIV and high rise living, however one way of reconnecting with the earth is to use cloth pads, and give the soak water to a garden, pot plants or even a nature strip.
The psychological benefits are that if one takes back responsibility for and control over her flow and integrates it within her life there is no longer a 'curse' mentality surrounding menstruation. It can be more economical to use cloth also. (There is a luxury tax on 'female sanitary products' that not many people seem to be aware of. ) This giving can be an elaborate ritual or as private as the situation requires, but even if only one cloth pad once per flow can be used, we find that we are tapping into a reservoir of feminine power built up over centuries, the power to do and the power to choose, as opposed to power over, to nurture, to shed our skin and renew ourselves like the serpent and the moon, and to create, if not new life within the womb, then within our own lives and from the earth.
And what is the role of the other half of the adult population in all this? When humans lived in communities and extended families, the duties of the woman who had gone to the Moonlodge or simply away from the main living areas were taken up by other women or by older women who were past their bleeding time. Men tended to isolate themselves from the event, for whatever reasons.
However, at this dawn of a New Millennium and, according to astrological information, a new era in human consciousness, perhaps there is an opportunity to restore the balance of energies exemplified in the relationship of Goddess and God. Many of us live in nuclear families or isolated from community, but the withdrawal of a woman from certain duties to "go within" can be a chance for men to express, each in their own individual way, the loving and nurturing aspects of their nature that perhaps don't always have an outlet in our society.
A family situation can benefit from more input and if the way Dad does things is different, so much the better. Children may gain a wider view and feel good about involvement in keeping the family functioning, and men see life from a different perspective and are able to show their support in a practical way. In any relationship, the show of support in a loving way by the acceptance of the needs of a woman at this time can be a strengthening experience for both parties.
At the least, as an ongoing and important biological function moonflow deserves some thought, and at best, as an essential element of a woman's physical, mental and spiritual make-up, serious consideration as to it's place in our lives is warranted. "Curse" or "friend", it all depends on your point of view.
SPIRALDANCER lives with her family in Northern New South Wales, Australia. She has been a freelance writer for the past few years, regularly contributing to magazines such as "Witchcraft" with articles on Women's Spirituality, Wicca, Myth, Ritual and Alternative healing, in between bringing up her two daughters. But before she started writing she was for many years a student of Myth, Goddess Lore, Storytelling and Alternative healing.
She is committed to reclaiming the Women's Mysteries of Menarche, Menstruation, Motherhood and Menopause as more than just biological experiences. SPIRALDANCER has just completed her first book Moon Rites , which covers all these subjects from the viewpoint of body, mind and spirit. Watch this space for more articles on the magic and mystery inherent in menstruation!
In the Blood: the myths, magic and mystery of moonflow. By Spiraldancer