Are there any *traditional* positive menstruation myths or customs?
November 9, 2008 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Are there any *traditional* positive menstruation myths or customs?

Traditionally, menstruation was the 'curse" and menstruating women were unclean. Jewish women have to go to a mikveh and having sex with a menstruating women is unclean in both Judaism and Islam. I really can't think of a positive ritual or myth about it.

Are there any traditional myths or customs regarding menstruation that are positive? Sort of like;

'the so-and-so tribe recruit menstruating women to go into the fields and squat so that their fertility is imparted to the crops.' or

' the clan leader of the yadda-yaddas, upon learning of their daughters menarche, slaughter a goat and invite the entire village to a feast.'

I realize that many modern and progressive people have instituted positive rituals. This is great and while not disparaging them, I am more interested in traditional folk, or religious myths and rituals, from any culture and any religion.

Can't seem to Google up anything, but perhaps some anthropologists can help?
posted by xetere to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wikipedia suggest that it exists:
One example given is Khoisan women in the Kalahari, who are ritually most powerful when menstruating. In her special hut, the 'New Maiden' is thought to be inviolable – having only to snap her fingers to bring down lightning on any disrespectful male.
posted by bjrn at 7:44 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't know if it's true -- or if it ever was -- but I was told that Romany customs don't allow women having their periods to prepare food or clean up in the kitchen in any way. Now you may not consider this a "positive" custom, but I'm thinking that most women, especially with large families, might disagree.
posted by kestralwing at 7:57 AM on November 9, 2008


Wikipedia suggest that it exists:

One example given is Khoisan women in the Kalahari, who are ritually most powerful when menstruating. In her special hut, the 'New Maiden' is thought to be inviolable – having only to snap her fingers to bring down lightning on any disrespectful male.


Thanks bjrn for that. I knew that there were myths that had to do with the supposed power of menstruating women but it was wrapped up in their being dangerous - hence their being relegated to special huts. Very interesting.
posted by xetere at 8:08 AM on November 9, 2008


Jewish women who are menstruating are not considered unclean per se. Niddah does not mean dirty, it means separate. It is not as simple as simply being unclean; the law is complex in both practice and interpretation, and exceptions can be made by Rabbis under specific circumstances. I think most Orthodox women see it as a very positive thing and not any kind of shunning.

The Red Tent is fiction but if you're interested in positive historical rituals associated with menstruation, you would probably find it fascinating if you've not read it.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:14 AM on November 9, 2008


Although it's controversial, some scholars suggest that ingesting menstrual blood is one of the focal points of Vaishnav Baul ideology (Bauls are mystic minstrels from Bengal, India and Bangladesh).

MeFiMail if you'd like more of what I know on this topic (which is, admittedly, not very much).
posted by BugsPotter at 8:18 AM on November 9, 2008


Can't remember where I read about it, but in 18th century France menstrual odor was considered seductive, and often compared to the scent of a flower.
posted by susanvance at 8:22 AM on November 9, 2008


Ethnology (journal) has a special issue on "Blood Mysteries: Beyond Menstruation as Pollution" (Vol. XLI, Num. 4, Fall 2002) which may be relevant. Table of contents available here.
posted by BugsPotter at 8:25 AM on November 9, 2008


I don't know if it's true -- or if it ever was -- but I was told that Romany customs don't allow women having their periods to prepare food or clean up in the kitchen in any way. Now you may not consider this a "positive" custom, but I'm thinking that most women, especially with large families, might disagree.

Well, that's a pretty optimistic way of looking at it, but it doesn't really get the women out of about a billion other chores, many of which may be worse.

But more to the point, in some Rroma subcultures, and contact with menstruating women is forbidden, so the "threat" of such contact from the women can be used to snap a lot of guys into line. (I'm paraphrasing what Isabel Fonseca wrote in "Bury Me Standing.")
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:48 AM on November 9, 2008


In Native American communities, before and at the time of European arrival, women practiced menstrual seclusion. From what I've read menstruation was associated with childbrith and like childbirth possessed the power to bring change, whether good or bad. In many Native American origin stories it is from the blood of a woman that crops such as corn are brought to the earth. In her article "Where Have All The Menstrual Huts Gone" Patricia Galloway suggests that menstrual seclusion of Native American women had ritual activities connected to spiritual power. This article is in Women in Prehistory: North America and Mesoamerica which is available on Google Books. Galloway's article begins on page 47.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 9:30 AM on November 9, 2008


menstrual seclusion

I have read feminist interpretations of seclusion customs, which point out that if you're cramping and irritable, retreating to a quiet place and being exempt from physical labour and being in a state where men can't bother you is a good thing.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:26 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not entirely on the subject, but mikveh rituals also protect women against abuse, as they can reveal injuries.
posted by nax at 4:41 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've worked with Native American ethnographic collections for many years and tribal representatives usually talked about the power of a woman on her moon. We were told by one visitor that women are restricted from certain activities or touching certain things because she has the power of life and it may be something she can't necessarily control. He described it as an energy that bounces so the woman is protected but those around her may not be. A woman past menopause also has a special status and may have priveleges that even other men may not have.
posted by krikany at 4:48 PM on November 9, 2008


This book is a good overview of positive menstrual practices & customs. It's a bit dated, but discusses some traditional practices. The Amazon page also has some other book results that might be interesting to you.
posted by judith at 12:30 AM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


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