On the new
moon of each month, EVE women gathered to explore the
planetary healing power of womens primordial
menstrual wisdom. The essay below, written in 1992,
captures that experience.
By Cathleen and Colleen McGuire
If one were to examine misogyny at its core, the hatred
and fear of menstruation would figure prominently. For
centuries women's monthly blood has been perceived as ugly,
evil, shameful, and taboo. Yet society has forgotten that for
thousands and thousands of centuries the menstrual act was
sacred and revered.
As with other mammals, at one time humans also experienced
estrus, copulating only during specific sexual seasons.
Revolutionary changes in women's bodies--most significantly
the development of menstruation--irrevocably changed the
nature of our species. Sexual intercourse could now take
place at any time, not just during estrus.
By even the most conservative estimate, women have been
menstruating for at least 300,000 years, (i.e., the
approximate time frame our species evolved into Homo
sapiens). From studies of prehistory, numerous
anthropologists maintain that menstruation was once highly
esteemed. It was considered awesome and miraculous that women
could produce new life from our wombs and food from our
breasts, as well as bleed without dying. These qualities help
explain the matrilineal and matrifocal character of ancient
Just as modern women tend to cycle in unison if they are
together over stretches of time, ancient women probably also
bled at the same time. Bleeding women separated themselves in
menstrual huts and menstrual time was one of intense
creativity. With pieces of wood, women notated their blood
cycles in concert with the rhythms of the moon. These
"calendar sticks" were one of the first means by
which humans began to conceptualize chronological time.
Scholars speculate that counting, mathematics, and astronomy
are descendants of women's lunar observations. It seems quite
plausible that menstruation was pivotal to the formation of
It is believed that for millennia humans lived in relative
harmony with the earth and each other. Patriarchy--the rule
by men--did not arise until a mere 5,000 or so years ago (at
least in Western culture). With patriarchy came the mindset
of hierarchy and domination resulting in sexism, classes, and
eventually racism and other forms of oppression. Concomitant
with the rise of patriarchy was the debasement and
vilification of menstruation, both in myth and in social
It was only about 20,000 years ago with the introduction
of animal breeding that humans discovered males also had a
role in the procreative process. Some feminists assert that
men suffer from womb envy. Unable to give birth or bleed in
cycles, perhaps men became experts at death, with bloody wars
epitomizing menstruation envy.
In early patriarchal societies
bleeding women continued to be separated from the group, but
no longer from a position of power. Rather they were isolated
through defilement and shame. There are still areas in the
world today where bleeding women congregate in menstrual
huts, although rarely out of honor and empowerment.
Under patriarchy menstruation is marked by pain and
disgrace. Bleeding in psychic solitude, contemporary women
fall prey to "illnesses" such as PMS, cramps, toxic
shock, and endometriosis. Locked in nine-to-five schedules,
we are divorced from the instincts of our bodies' natural
cycles. Holistic gynecology has been replaced by poisonous,
body-altering pharmaceuticals, and even surgery. It is tragic
that a function so natural to the female body has been
labeled and treated as a curse.
In an effort to be equal to men, feminists often distance
themselves from "essential" female capabilities
such as birthing, lactation, and menstruation. Many
ecofeminists are proud of women's unique biology, and believe
that equality with men should not come at the expense of
sacrificing our special differences. In this regard, women of
EVE organized a monthly gathering called Selene Circle to
explore and celebrate the ancient primordial wisdom of
women's ability to bleed.
Selene Circle was named for one of the Greek goddesses of
the moon, and women met on the new moon of each month. EVE
women felt that we can directly contribute to deep planetary
and personal healing by re-honoring the menstrual act. As
many ecofeminists believe, all things in life--the moon, our
blood, the oceans, pollution, starvation--are interconnected.
Healing one part of our ecology helps heal other parts.
People were intrigued when we mentioned our menstrual
circle. "So what do you do at this Selene
thing?" they invariably asked. We often responded with
the words of Merlin Stone, the author of When God Was A
Woman. A befuddled woman once asked her at a conference,
"How do I go about doing a ritual?" Stone replied,
"The same way women and men did for thousands of years:
you make it up as you go along." Thus encouraged, we
confidently plunged into a spiritual realm new to most of us.
Each circle was different and its uniqueness depended on
the women present. We rotated meeting in our homes, but in
summer months convened in a secluded area of Central Park.
Our circle usually consisted of four to ten women with one of
us acting as a facilitator. We opened with a call to the
seven directions (north, south, east, west, above, below, and
center), asking the elements of each cardinal
direction--fire, water, air and earth--to share their energy
After calling a circle, we sat around an altar (a cloth on
the ground) on which women had placed objects special to
them. Each woman described her offering, what it meant to
her, and then passed it around. Earth objects such as shells,
stones, leaves, or feathers were popular. One woman, a
botanist, once brought a book that had her plant drawings
published in it. Candles adorn the altar, preferably red
ones. We always inquired, "Who's bleeding
tonight?" At least one woman was usually having her
period. We fantasized for the day all of us would
simultaneously bleed on the new moon.
We would then proceed to more magical activities. We often
sang and chanted, but we especially looked forward to the
guided meditations. Once we took a journey into our wombs.
Our facilitator led us through our vaginas, up into our
fallopian tubes where we were slipping and sliding off the
walls like some amusement park ride, and finally deep inward
back to the warmth of our uterus. It was a very vivid and
novel adventure. After each journey we shared our feelings.
At this particular session, one woman revealed that after
having undergone a full hysterectomy she had not bled in
years. The journey for her emphasized the pain of surgical
castration, and helped her re-connect with her missing
organs. Women don't have to be menstrually active to
participate in Selene Circle; biological crones and young
girls were welcome, too.
A common destination of our guided meditations was the
menstrual hut. The facilitator slowly, methodically,
descriptively lead us into the hut. Once there, we took turns
voicing our visions. Some menstrual hut images we conjured
- frenetic drumming
- smooth beds perfectly contoured like Birkenstocks to
each woman's body
- holes in the dirt floor for bleeding directly into
- an outdoor garden with herbs to aid discomforts
- a fence to keep out predatory animals who smell our
blood and want to be with us.
On another occasion we journeyed to a menstrual cave.
Those images included: a skylight to commune with the stars,
a stream running through the cave allowing us to flow
directly into its water, stone walls wildly painted with our
blood, sanitary pads made of soft moss. Sometimes solemn,
sometimes giddy, our fertile imaginations always surprised
us. We cherished those supernatural and visceral communions
with our ancient bloodsisters. Through these inner visions we
also connected with all women who have been wrongfully shamed
by their life-affirming blood.
After our minds finished wandering, we would come back to
earth and converse on a selected theme. At one session we
shared our stories of menarche--a young woman's first period.
The "normal" memories ranged from embarrassment to
humiliation to dread. One woman was mortified when her mother
proudly announced the news to her father at the breakfast
table. A few fortunate women encountered a joyous welcome to
Another Selene session addressed anger. We talked
about our menstrual moods and our yearning to have private
space at those times. We half-joked about demanding menstrual
leave from employers. Other Selene discussions have dealt
with sex during menstruation, crones and menopause, hilarious
menstrual escapades, and successful herbal remedies.
After we closed each circle, we would spend the rest of
the evening socializing and eating. The menu by choice was
always vegetarian, if not vegan. Someone usually brought
beets or beet juice to induce mock periods. For several days
thereafter all of us would be peeing red!
Selene Circle was truly empowering. We left each gathering
feeling utterly connected to one another, to our bloodsisters
past and present, to the earth, to the moon, and to the
wonders and mysteries of life. Our menstrual circle provided
sorority and self-respect at a time when women have few
opportunities to honor our blood and ourselves.
EVE Essay: Menstruation
Reclaiming the Menstrual Matrix, Evolving Feminine
Wisdom: A Workbook, The Menstrual
Health Foundation, 104 Petaluma Avenue, Sebastopol, CA
95472, (707) 829-2744.
Musawa, 37010 SE Snuffin Road, Estacada, OR 97023, (503)
630-7848. An astrological moon calendar, appointment book,
and daily guide to women's natural rhythms.
"From Sacred Blood to the Curse and Beyond,"
Judy Grahn, from The Politics of Women's Spirituality,
edited by Charlene Spretnak, Anchor Press, 1982.
Dragontime: Magic and Mystery of Menstruation,
Luisa Francia, Ash Tree Publishing, P.O. Box 64, Woodstock,
NY 12498, 1991.
The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation,
Janice Delaney, Mary Jane Lupton & Emily Toth, University
of Illinois Press, 1988.
The Politics of Reproductive Ritual, Karen Ericksen
Paige & Jeffrey M. Paige, University of California Press,
The Wise Wound: Myths, Realities, and Meanings of
Menstruation, Penelope Shuttle & Peter Redgrove,
Bantam Books, 1990.
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