The Red Slip
In many ancient native communities, a woman's relationship to her body is regulated by menstrual law in the seclusion rites. Her relationship to sex, food, sleeping, clothing and make-up are all determined by the sacred blood right of womans menstruation. At the end of seclusion, which ends at the first light, the taboo woman is frequently carried by a group of Mothers to the nearest body of water. There, in the river, lake or stream, she is washed and cleansed. Her hair is braided and adorned with beads, cowries, gems, feathers, clay and hennas. Her body is then either painted, dyed, clayed, tattooed, powdered, oiled and smudged with herbs and incense. Once this is done, she is covered with the finest fabrics the clan could produce. Her feet are anointed and decorated with coins, hennas and other pigments, metal jewelry and wrapped in beautiful slippers. Then, emerging more dazzling and bright then the brightest star, the woman is welcomed with a week, or sometimes months of feasting, celebrating, singing and dancing. At some time afterward, being communally claimed as a full adult, the woman enters marriage and then becomes a part of the next blood rite, which is motherhood.
Part of the regulations of the menstruation ceremony involves ritual behavior. The young woman carries a scratch stick, for she is not allowed to touch or scratch her body or to comb her hair. Throughout the ceremony, she remaines in stark silence. No one is allowed to talk to her or her to anyone else. Since her very look is thought to be powerful and dangerous to men, she gazes downward and away. Her feet must not touch the earth at any time during this ritual nor should she touch water or any utensil. Her gaze must not meet the sight of light neither sun nor moon. Once the ceremony nears its end, the young woman emerges from the Eastern side of the hut. Prior, she had descended into the menstrual hut from the Western direction. Sometimes afterward, the hut and everything associated with the sacred rite is burned or buried. Some native women, however, maintained a menstrual hut that was used for generations. This hut, and the space it occupied, came to represent incredible primordial and ancestral energy. No man ventured near it or the space it occupied. All rites of passage for young women are not the same in every community, but it is certain that this is a very important part of every womans life, enhancing collective female bonding and maternal traditions.
All African women, since the very biological appearance of female bleeding perform the sacred menstrual rite, in some manner or the other. An underlining process characterizes female bleeding even before menstruation. Some of the different types of biological female bleeding include childbirth and menopause. Women consistently interact with the blood of their own bodies and the bodies of others...i.e. young women, in the cleaning and cooking of animal foods, during midwifery, illness and injury and sometimes in funerary and mourning practices. Motherhood, as such bleeding, is spiritual ritual, signified by certain typical sensual, psychic, emotional and biological indications. Menstruation is from time immemorial characterized by such markers.
- Food avoidance or restriction,
- Clothing and cosmetic markers,
- Entering in the West and emerging in the East,
- Tended by the elders (The Mothers),
- Name change and lifes purpose revealed (orientation),
- Baptism, the cleansing by the waters and the anointing of oils,
- The marking of the third eye and other biological points of significance,
- Celestial correspondences and markers, like the moon, the sun, the stars and season,
- Dreams, visions, insights and illuminations.
Today women celebrate or honor their menstrual times in various ways. Depending on the woman and her culture, the onset of menstruation can be a joyous time, a time of death and shame or just a non-event which is how it is perceived in many modern communities. But however a woman remembers her bleeding time, it is clear that cultures that are governed by a divine Mother tend to have more progressive, conspicuous and ritualized ways for women to come of age. May this be so in the future as well.
Midwives in Ethiopia
Blood, Bread and Roses - How Menstruation Created the World by Judy Grahn
The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara Walker