“And down came the menstrual fairy, EVERY SINGLE MONTH, to visit the princess while she slept. And the princess was thankful…”
It seems there’s no easy way to tout the positives of menstruation.
There’s no easy way to discuss it, either. I once broached the subject of my monthly cycle with a family member. I said, “You know that weird time right before you get your period when you feel kind of forgetful and spacey? Then you get your period and you are yourself again?”
This line of thought was met with silence. She seriously had no clue what I was talking about. I started thinking, was it me? Don’t most women feel different at various points in their cycle? It was all so mysterious.
Then I found a book called The Wise Wound. In it, Margaret Drabble addressed my feelings:
“We fear the curse and therefore it curses us. But most women agree menstruation has a deeper meaning than pain and inconvenience. It colors our dreams and patterns our waking lives. It is familiar and unmentionable, the known and the unknown.”
The Wise Wound contends that the menstrual cycle is an evolutionary force. But at the very least, menstruation has been demonized, by which the accusers justified the degradation and abuse of women while instigating fear and shame. We know the kind of stuff that’s been hurled at us about our periods. We didn’t come to these feelings about the red tide with cramps alone. It seems some folks have had negative business about our genitalia going back thousands of years.
Pliny the Elder instilled fear with his pen: “The monthly flux (of women) causes wine to sour, crops to dry up and the edge of steel to dull.”
As cultures continued their shift away from matrifocal society the fear of menstrual blood increased. Many religious writings are blatant in their opinions of women’s body functions. The Talmud says if a menstruating woman walked between two men, one would surely die. St. Jerome opined, ‘Nothing is so unclean as a woman in her period.”
As we moved to God the Father, we moved to a more abstract version of creation. The blood of Christ in Christianity (as seen in literature represented by the Holy Grail) has its lineage in goddess thought when the ancients revered menstruation: bleeding by women was not associated with death or dying. It was the link to life. Menstruation is the known component of the life force, magically disappearing when children are expected.
Even in the last hundred or so years there’s been ridiculous misconceptions of what menstruation really is. In Victorian England there was a belief that bathing, or going swimming during menses might stop the flow of blood and cause insanity or stroke. Up until the 1950’s, psychological and gynecological literature dismissed menstrual cramps as “all in their heads.” Yeesh.
But it didn’t start out that way.
Charles Darwin’s theorizes that the menstrual cycle originated as an echo of the cycling tides when life forms advanced to dry land billions of years ago. The ocean was the original mother, where all life floated in a protective and nourishing space rocked by lunar rhythms. When the life forms left, they (we) took a miniature ocean environment with them in their bellies; otherwise we would have never left the amphibian stage keeping our moist, fertilized eggs in watery places to develop and hatch. The nurturing and protective qualities of the ocean environment were transferred to the uterus and moved by the same lunar tide that pulls the ocean, but instead of ocean it became amniotic fluid, in a sac, in the uterus. In that light it seems our monthly cycles do indeed have relativity to the moon. And there is plenty of evidence to show that our ancestors took notice.
Cave paintings, female figurines and gravesites have been found across Europe with many purposely covered in red ochre, a symbol for the blood of life. Early humanity understood the immensely powerful notion that a woman’s body reflected the cycles of heaven and nature. In one of the earliest reliefs found in southern France, circa 27,000 BCE, a woman holds a horned crescent etched with 13 lines in one hand and points to her belly with her other hand. This is no accident. The 13 lines are the number of months in a lunar year and the number of nights (generally) from menstruation to ovulation.
Cultures the world over knew the power of menstruation. Before the hard edge of Confuscianism came along, Taoist China believed that a man could become immortal by absorbing menstrual blood, called red yin juice, given by the goddess in the Grotto of the White Tigress. Red became the color of China because of its sacred association with women and their power to give life. Happy Chinese New Year, by the way.
Menstruation today is treated like a sickness. Thankfully, people like OB-GYN Christiane Northrop have helped us to see that menstruation carries a wealth of information about ourselves. Northrop says cultural attitudes have had negative effects on our psyche and could be contributors to the painful and difficult symptoms of our monthlies. Our menstrual cycles, for all their crazy upheaval and inconvenience, need to be honored and not medicated to oblivion. There is now so much scientific data available for what bio-chemically causes our symptoms (low-fat diet and increased consumption of essential fatty acids for PMS; reduce dairy and red meat for cramps; okay, just buy her book…).
Northrop argues that diet, exercise, homeopathy, and other alternative methods all feed into our monthly health. And when the need to medicate does arise, let’s look at all of the contributors of cramps and PMS when handing out meds.
Someone once told me that our periods are moments of truth, when women can’t stand to pretend about anything anymore. Here’s to all the truth tellers.
Shuttle, Penelope. The Wise Wound. New York: Grove Press, 1988.
Northrop, Christiane. Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing. New York: Bantam, 1998.
Sjoo, Monica and Mor, Barbara. The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.
Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. New York: Harper & Row, 1983.