Ancestral Menstruation Rituals


In my lifelong research of the people I come from, I have been drawn to the ways my people signified important moments in a human being’s life.

For instance, the way they venerated their dead, birthed their babies, chose and committed to a partner, and (of particular curiosity for me) marked and honored their monthly moon cycle or menstrual bleed.

We live in a time where our periods are generally seen as a nuisance, an impediment to being productive members of society.

It’s messy, it’s painful, and it would be a lot better if it went away completely. I know this isn’t necessarily the case for everybody, but it certainly was for me before I took a deeper look at the complete and utter magic it was to bleed every 28(ish) days—the same cycle as the moon in the sky.

A few months back, one of the women in Hearthfire (her name is Jaclyn Wallach and she has given me permission to share this) was sharing the research she was doing into the menstruation rituals and rites of her people, who are eastern European Jews.

“This time of the month is called Niddah, one translation meaning separation or make distant—a time for no physical contact with one’s spouse (the underlying meanings vs. what patriarchy has deemed it over the centuries has been an interesting read). And then to partake in mikvah after (a ritual bath usually from rainwater) during times of transition, many women also do this do during any transitional time in life if they so choose—from marriage to menopause and some less traditional do it after graduations).”

Jaclyn’s share sparked a lot of curiosity and interest in our sisterhood. Another woman, who is of indigenous Hawaiian descent, then shared her reflections on menstrual rituals of her people:

“In the Hawaiian community before Christianity, menstruation was supposed to be the absolute most sacred time for women. And because it was already a matriarchal society where women generally were seen to have the most spiritual power, it was believed that when women were bleeding, they were so powerful that if men were around them, the menʻs mana or like soul energy would just get sucked out because they couldnʻt handle such sacred power.”

That got me researching and thinking about the ways my ancestors embraced menstruation—long before it was seen as unclean or dirty by modern day patriarchal society, long before we were socially conditioned to feel ashamed to bleed.

In Celtic Britain, to be stained with the red (presumably menstrual blood) meant you were chosen by the goddess. The Celtic word “ruadh” means both red and royal.

The eggs of Germanic Goddess Eostre (womb symbols that have evolved through to modern day Easter) were traditionally colored red and laid on graves to strengthen the dead for the afterlife. In Greece and southern Russia, graves were reddened with ochre clay for a closer resemblance to the Earth Mother’s womb from which the dead could be birthed again.

Celtic rites were often granted by elder women in the community due to the belief that being post-menopausal made you the wisest as you had permanently retained your “wisdom blood.”

When I was in Italy this spring, I met my first Black Madonna in person. She was in a church (Santa Maria Assanto) in the steep cliffside fishing town of Positano.

The reason I bring up the Black Madonna is because, in my research of ancient rituals for menstruating women, I came across several articles correlating this ancient goddess with the power and might of a menstruating woman—the dark goddess, a woman who is bleeding.

The dark goddess was both revered and feared for her power and abilities to control the weather.

It was said that her gaze could cause a flood or dry up ponds. Her glance could wither plants and trees, cause crops to fail, make cows sicken and die. Her touch could make weapons ineffective in the hunt. She could make it snow.

The tradition of secluding a bleeding woman in cultures around the world is important to understand from this frame of the dark goddess, or Black Madonna. It represents a deeper understanding of a woman needing to go inward, but also how powerful she and her blood are during that time.

Instead of our modern lens of seeing a woman as unclean during her moon time, I see now how revered and honored she was in this act of seclusion or sacred inward time.

As I’ve deepened my own reverence for my moon blood, I’ve been practicing giving it back to the earth each time it comes. There is an ancient Hopi prophecy that states, “When the women give their blood back to the earth, men will come home from war and earth shall find peace.”

When I first heard those words spoken in front of a fire from a woman with tears streaming down her face, my whole body shuddered. Could my menstrual blood be that powerful to our ancestors if they were to the Hopi people?

So I started giving my blood to my garden each month (diluted with water, blood is strong) and saw my lemon tree transform. Blood contains high nitrogen and protein composition, which is just what our plants need to grow strong.

Giving my blood to my garden is a little ritual that strengthens my connection to my moon cycle and helps me to re-program my shame into pride to be a woman who bleeds.

Curious to learn more about the ancestral menstrual rituals of your people?

  • Get to googling with terms like “menstrual rites.” “menstrual rituals,” and the name of your people (think tribal/land affiliation over nationality for better luck).
  • Not everything is online (particularly information about sacred feminine practices from marginalized peoples), so head to your local library and spend time looking for older books that have passed on this knowledge.
  • When you find it out, please share it.

Gather women in a circle at your house to talk about your moon cycles—sharing the story of your first bleed, witnessing each other’s experience of menstruation (without judgment), and share what you’ve learned about the moon blood rituals of your people.

The ripple effect is guaranteed.

I’ve shared several articles over the past few years about connecting more with your moon cycle. Take a click below if you’re interested in diving deeper:

I’d love to hear from you!

If you bleed, how do you honor your moon cycle? And if you don’t bleed, how do you honor and support the people in your life who do? Share in the comments below.

Exploring the Menstrual Rituals of Our Ancestors

Wisdom and rituals for slow & seasonal living

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