Menstruation has been a viewed as mystical affair since the beginning of mankind. The very etymology of the word menstruation comes from the Greek mene for “moon”, which gave the Latin word mensis for “month”, both leading to the English words for ‘moon’ and ‘month’. But actually this lunar association has existed well before the rise of the western world across diverse pre-colonial civilizations. The universality of the belief of a connection between the moon and women evolution can be explained by the fact that human’s menstruation cycle, ranging from 28-29.5 days, corresponds to that of the moons’ synodic cycle of exactly 29.5 days. This proximity is exclusive to human females. The other mammals with overt menstruation (where there is blood flow from the vagina) are primates, notably chimpanzees or bonobos that have cycles of 36 days and 40 days, respectively. Our human number suggests that women share a unique relationship with the moon and by extension nature and the cosmos. Here is a glimpse of how this relationship has been interpreted and honored in different civilizations.
The Yurok, natives of northwestern California, believed that women were all bound to menstruate together in synchronization with the moon. According to Yurok tradition, in old village life all of a household’s fertile women who were not pregnant menstruated at the same time, a time dictated by the moon, and during which women practiced bathing rituals together in seclusion from the rest of the village. If a woman got out of synchronization with the moon and with the other women she could ‘get back in’ by sitting in the moonlight and talking to the moon, asking it to ‘balance her’. For Australian aboriginals, women who had there period harmonized with the moon were conferred spiritual powers and fertility. Andaman Islanders thought blood-red paint a powerful medicine, and painted sick people red all over in an effort to cure them.
The Cherokees of the present day US states of Oklahoma and North Carolina hold menstrual blood as a source of feminine strength that has the power to destroy enemies. A Cherokee legend tells of an invincible cannibalistic monster, Stoneclad, who wandered in the mountains eating all hunters that crossed his path. Because of his stone-like skin, no warrior could ever defeat him. His only weakness was the sight of a menstruating woman. He was destroyed in an encounter with seven menstruating virgins, who stood before him one by one, each sapping his strength, and he crumbled into dust.
The Egyptians went possibly as far as to drink menstrual blood, as it was thought that pharaohs became divine by ingesting ‘the blood of Isis,’. The hieroglyphic sign of Isis’s blood was the same as that of the vulva. Painted red, it signified the female genital and the Gate of Heaven. A special amulet called the Tjet was buried with the dead and represented Isis’s vulva. This amulet was said to carry the redeeming power of the blood of Isis. In Persia the same elixir received the name of Amrita, the ‘Milk of the Mother Goddess’, which was again associated with the moon.
The Maoris of New Zealand have called menstruation ““mate mārama” (moon sickness) and “atua”, as in “te awa atua” (the divine river). According to one of their most important ancestral legends Māui [a culture hero in Polynesian tradition] wanted to go back into the womb of the Tiwaiwaka [mother, parents] where he was certain to receive immortality. The Tiwaiwaka warned Māui about cutting across the natural laws, but Māui continued his journey. The Tiwaiwaka woke the sleeping Hine-nui-te-po-te-ao, [the Great goddess of Night and Death]. The Goddess asked Māui what he was doing heading up to her groin, and Māui told her about wanting to be like the Moon. Hine-nui-te-po-te-ao said she could grant Māui his wish but he was not to return to the womb; she then crushed him and made him the first menstruation to come into the world. As long as women menstruate, Māui will live on.