Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Magic of the Menstrual Cycle

The Magic of the Menstrual Cycle
Female Shamanism and Spirituality.by Cat Stone (Hawkins)

Published in Indie Shaman Magazine Jan 2012 www.indieshaman.co.uk.

Woman is by nature a shaman – Chukchee Proverb

For many years it has been believed that shamans were male.  Along with many other faiths, it has been the male that takes on the more 'powerful' role.  An uprising in Goddess faiths over the past 50 years has been trying to re-claim the feminine as an equal and valid energy.
I was always drawn to the Goddess faiths.  Paganism and witchcraft in particular.  The identification with The Goddess was for me, more natural than a male deity.  In witchcraft, a woman can strive to become a High Priestess, equal to that of the male High Priest, or as a hedge-witch, on a more solitary path, she is encouraged to develop her own strength and power, and to really learn about herself and how to tune into the natural energies around us. 

Fifty years ago, in the Czech Republic, ancient remains were found (c 30,000 bc) in the Pavlov hills.  Along with the skeleton, the archaeologists found a spear head, placed near the head of the body, traces of red ochre and a fox skeleton, held in the hand of the human remains.  The body had been buried beneath two mammoth shoulder blades, pitched together to form a roof.  It was established this was a shaman grave.  The bones were then analysed and to everybody's surprise, it was revealed to be a woman.  This began to question the long held belief that all shamans were male.

A later excavation of the site, uncovered a clay oven, full of thousands of tiny hands, feet and body parts.  Broken remnants of animal figurines were also found.  This shaman woman was an artisan, creating talismans and trinkets rather than household items.  These were the oldest forms of ceramic creations the archaeologists had ever found, and probably one of the first ever kilns.

So, the oldest shaman burial site ever found, contained the remains of a female shaman.

There are many myths surrounding women in ancient societies.  One of the biggest and most degrading is that when the tribal women menstruated, they were banished to a 'Moon Lodge' and were not allowed back to until bleeding had finished.  The idea that bleeding was dirty and needed to be kept away from the rest of the group has long been the reasoning for this. 
This is far from the reality.

Ancient societies saw the power in a menstruating woman.  Women were far more in tune with their bodies and surroundings.  They would feel the changes inside them, they would use these energies  and a woman's cycle was to be honoured.  When women left their men and children behind to menstruate with others in a safe and secluded space, they left because their energies were no longer about the outside 'normal' world.  Cooking, cleaning, and general activities were put on hold, and the women went to be alone, or to congregate together with other women during their bleed.  What mattered during this time was the inside world.  Messages, signals, voices would come to these women during their menstruation.  They would vision, journey, sleep and dream.  They would spend time contemplating and unravelling the messages.

The access to other realms becomes easier at this time.  Senses are heightened.  Sensitivity to sound, smell and light would allow a woman to become more aware.  The natural tendency to withdraw at this time of the month, allows a woman to become quiet, in tune and open to listen and feel.

Menstruation could sometimes lead to great insights for the rest of the community.  Answers were found and decisions were made based on the women's insights during menstruation.  Women were honoured and respected.  Their bodies naturally went through a cycle of death and re-birth every month in sync with the Moon, they obtained an altered state every month, without even trying.  Women bled, but did not die.  Women could provide sacrificial blood, without anything having to lose life.  Blood, life force, ancestral power... Women held it all within their cycles.

Barbara Walker, in her book Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets says:
Most words for menstruation also meant such things as incomprehensible, supernatural, sacred, spirit, deity. Like the Latin sacer, old Arabian words for "pure" and "impure" both applied to menstrual blood and to that only. The Maoris stated explicitly that human souls are made of menstrual blood, which when retained in the womb "assumes human form and grows into a man". Africans said menstrual blood is "congealed to fashion a man". Aristotle said the same: human life is made of a "coagulum" of menstrual blood. Pliny called menstrual blood "the material substance of generation," capable of forming "a curd, which afterwards in process of time quickenth and groweth to the form of a body". This primitive notion of the prenatal function of menstrual blood was still taught in European medical schools up to the 18th century.

In modern society, women are so disconnected from their menstrual cycles.  Our period has become a taboo subject, something to remain private and unspoken, or make us feel embarrassed and ashamed.  Modern women try their hardest to ignore this natural rhythm, cursing their bleed and hating their cycle.  The changes in hormones within our body can have dramatic effects on our internal energy, which in turn, needs changes to be made on the outside to compensate.

To be able to use the energies of the menstrual cycle effectively, you first need to understand the 4 main phases of the cycle.  In pagan terms, visualise a wheel of the year and the 4 quarter points, Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox.  In general terms, think of the seasons of the year.  The menstrual cycle is a cycle of creativity, and so the following principles can be applied to any creative venture.  Why is the menstrual cycle a cycle of creativity?  Because it's sole purpose is to create, to manifest.  From spark, to flame, to fire, to ashes, to spark again... it is a symbolic creative process that can be applied to many aspects of life.

The cycle comes in 4 phases:
Menstruation (days 1-7)  - Winter – Dark/New Moon - Crone
Pre-Ovulation (days 7-14)  - Spring – Waxing Moon - Maiden
Ovulation (days 14-21)  - Summer - Full Moon - Mother
Pre-Menstruation (days 21-28)   - Autumn – Waning Moon – Mother/Crone

This is based on a 28 day cycle, which is the average.  However, every cycle varies in length, so these 'brackets' may be slightly different for each woman.  The one constant is that you will always ovulate 14 days before menstruation.

By applying what we know of the seasons, we can look at the menstrual cycle in a whole different way.

The Spring (Pre-Ovulation) is a time of new growth.  It is a time of innocence and playfulness.  Light and warmth are coming back to a dark earth.  Buds are opening, the daylight is growing.  The Spring Equinox bring us promise and animals pro-creating.  The Earth is waking up.  Everything is fertile and the energy is to nurture new growth, feed it and begin to wake up from the winter's sleep.  We stretch and move again.  Test the water.  It is in this phase of the menstrual cycle we will find the energy to begin projects, to develop ideas and plan ahead.

The Summer (Ovulation) is a time to manifest.  The body is open and ready to create.  It is highly fertile and flirty.  The Sun has returned to the earth, and it's time to enjoy the sunny days.  Get out and socialise, work on projects, finish projects...  Like the Summer Solstice, we rejoice and worship the Sun.  This is the time in our cycle we need to be connecting to people and relaxing in our outside world.  It can also be a time of vulnerability, and it is important that we keep ourselves grounded.  It is all to make risky decisions or get carried away in the moment at this time.

The Autumn (Pre-Menstruation) is a time of harvest and withdrawal.  This energy can be really tough for some women.  During this phase, our focus begins to turn inwards in preparation for menstruation.  We can feel disconnected from life and our mind can become negative and critical.  We harvest and complete projects and tasks, ready to withdraw from the outside world all together, like the Autumn Equinox, we remember the past.  If the pressure is on to remain in the outside world, we can become even more confused and irritable.  This phase slows us down and brings our attention back to our own needs.  It is during this phase that women can feel out of control, and suffer from PMS or PMDD.

The Winter (Menstruation) brings our focus deep within ourselves.  We are no longer interested in the outside world.  Our mind may be busy with thoughts from the past, negative experiences or trauma.  Winter solstice is the darkest point in our year, and a time to study and learn, to keep safe and warm.  Women may experience difficult physical symptoms during this phase.  Cramps, tiredness and irritability are all signs that you need to relax into the darkness and look after yourself.  It is essential that you honour this part of the cycle.  You are in the most sacred time of the month.  Pay attention to your dreams and visions.  Sleep lots.  When we look after ourselves during our cycle, especially during this winter phase, we have a better chance of a great Spring and Summer.

When you realise the process of menstruation is so deeply connected to our spiritual energies, it opens up brand new pathways for healing and living life in sync with nature.  Unfortunately, many women still opt for the Pill or other hormonal treatments to 'cure' the mood swings, to stop the pain, or regulate the cycle.  This disconnects us from our natural healing and cycle.  It stops us from accessing our inner well of power.

Women are trying to be good wives, mothers, lovers, friends and employees, but we are also in a constant cycle.  Our energy ebbs and flows, it is powerful and won't be denied or ignored  It is where it draws our attention that is critical.  If our natural energy wants to retreat during pre-menstruation, but we ignore that and force ourselves to work against that, we will almost certainly end up more stressed.  Life will feel difficult, and you will feel more tired and angry.  I believe women with PMS and the more extreme form PMDD are suffering from disconnection from their cycles.  They are working against the body's natural rhythm and the knock on effects can be devastating.

It is easy to begin working with the cycle.  Observe, listen and feel the energies.  If you need more information, I would recommend reading The Women's Quest Workbook by Alexandra Pope www.womensquest.org.  It was this book that has really helped me to realise how to work with my cycle in a spiritual way, and it kick started my own healing and understanding.
I have recently attended a Creating Menstrual Health workshop with Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer in London.  It was so reassuring to hear other women's stories and experiences with their cycles.  It has opened me up further to the world of possibilities that lie in working with the menstrual cycle and I get to practice a full cycle every month!  I would highly recommend the workshop if you want to go deeper into your own cycle.  You can read more about my day at the workshop here, http://naturalshaman.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/creating-menstrual-health-workshop-with.html

There are also many groups popping up online and all around the globe.  In America, many women are starting up Red Tent Temple's.  A space for women to gather and talk and learn from each other.  Some good places to start are:


or just simple Google Red Tent Temple and your country/city to see what's going on where you live.

The cycle does not stop during and after menopause.  Although the body may stop a physical cycle, the spiritual aspect continues,  often syncing with the moon cycle, and in this Crone phase of life, the energies are even more powerful and deep.

Women do not learn magic, women are magic.  It is nature, it is our birthright, and we should be forever thankful for the opportunities our menstrual cycles bring us.  Women are Natural Shamans, they just need to understand and use the power they hold within.

About Cat Stone

I am an artist living in the beautiful Hampshire countryside.  I have two wonderful children (both girls) and a dog called Ember.  Over the past 15 years I have been involved in witchcraft, paganism, tarot, healing, astrology,mandalas, sacred geometry, aromatherapy, colour therapy and crystals.  I am a qualified aromatherapist and have studied the tarot.  My journey has always been made difficult as I have had Pre Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder since I began my periods age 13.  After years of suffering from this severe mood disorder and every medication making the problem worse, I have decided to walk my own path to healing.  I am medication and birth control free for the first time ever and have never felt better in my life.  If I can turn my life around by making friends with my cycle and learn from it, love it rather than hate it, then anyone can!

I have created a unique poster to illustrate the energy of the menstrual cycle, and am hoping to go further with my studies in working with and understanding menstruation.  I believe that women need to re-claim and re-connect with their cycle and I hope my poster will help to plant the seeds...

The A3 poster and further information is available from http://naturalshaman.blogspot.co.uk/p/energy-cycle-poster.html

© Cat Stone 2012

Facts about Menstruation:
  • Scholars suggest that pre-modern men and women learned to think numerically by recognizing relationships between groups of numbers that were also units of time measured through menstrual rites.
  • Menstruation may have led to humanity’s sense of time as most early lunar calendars were based on the length of a women’s menstrual cycle.
  • The term “ritual” is derived from the Sanskrit word R’tu, which means “menstrual.” This etymology suggests that ritual in a general sense and menstrual acts have a common origin.
  • At one point in history, women who complained of menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) were sent to psychiatrists because menstrual cramps were seen as a rejection of one’s femininity.
  • Menstruating blood was often seen as sacred. Sacred means both “set apart” and “cursed.
  • The word taboo comes from the Polyneisain tapua, meaning both “sacred” and “menstruation
  • Scholars suggest that as matriarchy gave way to patriarchy, menstrual blood taboos were used by men to control women and, consequently, menstrual blood was interpreted away from something powerful to a “disgusting” waste product that had no role in the reproductive process.