Let it Flow

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Menstruation is generally seen as an embarrassing issue; it is not exactly the best subject to bring up in a public conversation. The subject, if treated, is addressed in a technical way explaining to the girl who faces it for the first time only the physiological aspects of the changes in her body. Menstruation becomes therefore the inconvenient part of being a woman, and the price to be paid for the ability to give birth.

In our society, menstruation is treated as a medical issue and its unpleasant “symptoms” are “cured.” We have been convinced that everything we experience through our biology as women (menstruation, pregnancy and menopause) needs to be medically managed via hormones, surgery and drugs. The medical profession and the media have ingrained in us that we are defective as women because of our biology.

Recent archaeological research and new interpretations on findings have shown that, in many ancient civilizations of the Neolithic era (30,000 – 2,000 BC), the menstrual cycle and women’s bodies were central in the approach to life; they were considered sacred and the menstrual blood itself was seen as the generator and regenerator of life. “Sacer mens,” literally “sacred menstruation,” is probably the origin of the word sacrament. Menstrual blood is, in fact, the only blood that flows naturally, not due to illness or injury, and the only blood that can never coagulate. In reference to this, blood-red ocher characterized all ritual objects, statues of divinities, and walls of temples. In many ancient cosmologies, the human race was believed to be created from clay and blood by the Goddess.

The link between the female body and the concept of time passing is reflected in the ancient languages: “mens” in Latin and “men” in Greek mean moon, month and measure, which are the roots of the word “mente” (mind in English).

The connection the between menstrual cycle and time was clear to the ancients. The first calendars were lunar rather than solar; a year was therefore made of thirteen months instead of twelve. Thirteen months, as the thirteen menstrual cycles that a woman would have per year. Records of these calendars are primitive statues of naked women with a hand on their huge fertile bellies and a stick in the other hand. The stick would have 13 lines on it, to symbolize the 13 lunar months (of 28 days) of the year.

The woman was therefore associated with the moon, which has power on the sea tides, the seeding and growth cycle of plants, pregnancies, and in general with all natural cycles. This superior connection between nature and women was clear for the ancients, and was object of veneration. They considered women part of the holy mysteries of the cosmos and therefore central element of worship.  Primitive representations of the divine were often small clay statues of naked women with highlighted sexual attributes (huge bellies, generous breasts and round buttocks).

Women during their menstrual period were sacred and therefore exempt of their ordinary duties. They would spend their time meditating or leading rituals during which, by letting their blood flow to the ground, would give new fertility to earth. During menstruation, women would lead their tribes with the visions and prophecies received in their dreams.

From this background developed the cyclical model of life-death-rebirth, which was already widespread in the Paleolithic, when burial caves – because they are considered sacred wombs of the earth – were plastered with red ocher and the dead bodies were painted in red and buried in a fetal position to propitiate their rebirth.

With the advent of patriarchy and monotheism, many sacred symbols of paganism were distorted and demonized: menstruating women, capable of giving oracles, became evil witches, and menstrual blood became a symbol of a waste of life.

Demystification came to a point where the menstrual cycle in religious texts was associated with shame and degradation, and menstruating women were considered impure. The access to sacraments was denied, and menstruating women were prevented from getting in contact with fields, plants, food and their husbands. What was seen as source of fertility and life was reversed into a threat of death and sterility. Women in this condition were considered untouchable and had to go through rituals of purification before being reintegrated into the society from which they were temporarily excluded.

Traces of this vision can still be recognized in today’s popular beliefs and superstitions which allude to the fact that women in those days could not touch plants or flowers and could not take part in the preparation of wine or of certain foods in order not to spoil them. Several generations of women have grown up believing to be more vulnerable during the menstrual period, seeing menstruation a source of weakness that would not allow them to make efforts, swim, or even bathe and wash their hair.

Actually, menstruation is an effective means to prevent genital infections; with menstruation the body attacks potential intruders in two different ways: exfoliating the uterus’s lining destroys pathogens’ shelter, and moistening the area with blood, which carries the antibodies necessary to destroy microbes.

Menstruation is not a moment of weakness, it is a phase of high sensitivity; we become more permeable both to our own depths and to the world around us.

Although different cultures have regarded this phenomenon as either a period in which women are sacred or one during which they are impure, all traditions and civilizations have always considered menstruation a period where women should not be involved in their ordinary duties. When the moon blood is flowing, a woman’s attention naturally turns inward and she is able to establish closer contact with her inner self; her sensibility and creativity become sharper. She can feel the essence of the world, including pain and suffering. Menstruation is accompanied by a strong sense of imagination, and that allows women to formulate their most brilliant ideas; however they should postpone their implementation to the “productive” phase of ovulation.

In today’s society, we are required to constantly be active and productive, and no time for stillness is given. The sacred space for inner growth and self-awareness is not valued. The contemporary life style sees inactivity as a sign of weakness or illness, not as a powerful empty space that allows new ideas to manifest themselves. The menstrual cycle is asking us to honor this sacred empty space; it is designed to teach us to respect the process of life in all its phases of both rest and activity. By denying this, we raise the feelings of anger typical of PMS, and we view menstruation as a penalizing event, a disease to be silenced with pills.

If we want to use the power of the cycle we need to recognize the value of this stillness and allow ourselves to defend this space of creativity and self awareness.

Contributed by Camilla.

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