At this time of year, I am drawn to contemplation of the cycles of fertility and in particular the time of menstruation. It is evocative of the cycle of decline, when we shed the lining of our uterus. Much like loam under snow, our bodies embrace the purge of infertility to prepare for the next course around the wheel. It is during this time that we may begin to delve into a kind of blood magick, one that has been burdened with notions of evil and uncleanliness.
Menstruating bodies have historically been vilified and the magick they contain suppressed by the fear of its power. Many of us strive to write new stories into our cycles, sometimes by connecting to our past and sometimes by looking for new ways of seeing ourselves. By attempting to address all aspects of our cycle, so too may we sink into ourselves like trees shedding leaves, to embrace the cycles of change and renewal, life and death. As the cycles move towards winter and the darkest time of the year approaches, many of us move our thoughts towards the inner dimension. We shut ourselves away from the cold, and in the stillness we draw closer to the shadow parts of ourselves. As our contemplations venture into the vistas of a cold winter’s night, so too do our spirits dwell in the darkness. There is a latent fertility to the winter months. As the world decays, so too do we prepare for the coming of the spring.
Due to the special circumstances of menstruation in our lives, we have the potential to use the stillness, sensitivity, and slowness of these times as a means of accessing parts of the shadow, both in ourselves, our relationships, and communities. The heightened sensitivity that many people feel during their periods can lead to a greater access the reflective powers and give insight into the previously hidden parts of our worlds.
As a modern western person who experiences a monthly flow, I would like to reclaim my monthly time as part of my body and thus my power. That being said, this particular journey has been my own, and I believe it is a valid expression of a person’s bodily autonomy to deal with their period whatever way is best for them. This could mean suppressing it entirely, managing it discreetly, or celebrating it. It is very important that we create space to encounter our bodies in ways that empower us, however that might look and evolve over time. There is no one right way to experience menstruation or to understand it.
Segregation and menstrual taboo
Historically, menstruation has been closely tied with cultural ideas about womanhood, and feared as a result. Pliny the Elder states that, “…hailstorms, they say, whirlwinds, and lightning even, will be scared away by a woman uncovering her body while her monthly courses are upon her. The same, too, with all other kinds of tempestuous weather; and out at sea, a storm may be lulled by a woman uncovering her body merely, even though not menstruating at the time.”1 The body during menstruation was believed to have innate mystical powers. He states, “bees, it is a well-known fact, will forsake their hives if touched by a menstruous woman; that linen boiling in the cauldron will turn black, that the edge of a razor will become blunted, and that copper vessels will contract a fetid smell and become covered with verdigris, on coming in contact with her.” He believed that our bodies had the potential to make physical changes in the natural world, merely through touch or presence. It was believed that we contained a power, mysterious and perhaps dangerous.
Many of our western cultural traditions have been deeply influenced by the Bible. Even as we move into a more secular society with a multiplicity of spiritual beliefs, we still maintain many elements of settler culture and its Christian roots. In Leviticus, we are told that, “When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean. Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening.”2 Many, if not most, cultures and religions around the world have menstrual taboos.3 The dark consequences of these fears has meant that those who menstruate can be made to feel dirty and less-than.
Seclusion is still a practice in some cultures, such as in Nepal where they have just recently outlawed the seven day seclusion during menses, due to findings that women and young girls were kept in unsafe conditions that could occasionally result in death.4 When these forms of segregation and taboo are imposed within patriarchal systems, they often take the form of punishment, as a means of othering menstruation and those who experience it as unclean, undesirable, and even dangerous.
Menstrual release and communal purpose
In some Indigenous societies, menstrual segregation is treated more from the perspective of keeping separate in places of power. In Kim Anderson’s book, A Recognition of Being, she attempts to document and reconstruct notions of Indigenous femininity. She states, “…the menstrual period was understood as a time in which women exerted a phenomenal amount of power that precluded them from taking part in certain ceremonies.” Cree Elder George Kehewin described a menstruating body as being “..like Mother Earth, who once a year in the spring, washes herself down the river to the ocean. Everything … all the debris is washed away. Same thing with a woman, except it’s every month. It’s that power you have. You cannot enter a lodge or a spiritual gathering because you will kill all the prayers and offerings in there. You are more powerful than all of it, and if you come in you can’t fool the spirits.” Recognizing the power of the body’s capacity to create life can engender a reverence and respect for the feminine. Therefore, aspects of menstrual segregation in some traditional societies would be arranged in a latticework of meaning that held these processes in a much higher regard.
Times of reflection and privacy in these societies could also serve a communal function in that “…women who were ‘on their time’ to go to the lodge and pray that any negativity could be filtered through their blood and back into the ground so that it could be neutralized through Mother Earth. This was an affirmation of women’s power during the menstrual period.”5 Just as any other part of our lives, the stories we attach to menstruation can imbue us with both shame or pride depending on how we tell them. Menses can be a point of distinction and just like anything else, it can offer possibilities for magick that we would not otherwise have access to.
In western culture, discharge of any sort gets caught up in the bifurcation of the body and spirit into the divine and profane. All things that are associated closely with bodily functions are lumped together in the category of the “gross”, and many of us have been culturally trained to see the body as a less-than-divine object. Thus, our secretions become objects of revulsion. Menstruation also carries with it the cultural association of being a “woman’s problem” and thus attaching to itself a special kind of shame.
Related: Adding movement and energy to your magical practice by Chrysanthemum White Alder
Modern approaches to embracing menstruation
There have been a number of modern approaches to embracing menstruation, even going so far as to celebrate menses as a time of great significance. The first period can be a rite of passage for young people entering into a new level of maturity. Such times can be marked with a period party, to celebrate a body coming into fruition. Understanding our bodies as we grow and being celebrated for their specialness can be an especially powerful marker in our lives. I can see this in my own life: I got my first period in a Zellers changing room without even knowing what it was, which was a less-than-stellar initiation into maturity. I might have liked to be comforted by loved ones who understood what was happening to me, even taught about the sacredness of my body. I intend to share this learning with young people that I nurture in the future.
Another modern movement around embracing menstruation is called Free Bleeding.6 Some people believe that allowing their bodies to freely express their menstrual blood may lead to a greater freedom and acceptance of the process. It was started in the 1970s as a response to an increase in toxic shock syndrome,7 which was caused mainly by the use of overly-absorbent tampons, but also by menstrual sponges, diaphragms, and cervical caps, and can lead to loss of limbs and even death if left untreated.
Connecting to the visceral flow of the menstrual blood as it makes its way out of the body is an approach to connecting back with the body in a direct way. Allowing our bodies to express themselves can be a means of centering and grounding ourselves within our embodied experience of life. This particular style may not be suitable to many modern lifestyles, and may create mess and stains unless you use other means of collecting the flow, such as period panties. It might be something to try if you are ever in a situation where you have freedom to be a bit messy, like Kiran Gandhi during the London marathon.8
You don’t need to make a permanent lifestyle change in order to try this out. I tried free bleeding back in the early 2000s as a means of reconnecting with my bodily processes. As a person on the margins of society, I didn’t have too many friends who would judge me for my hygienic practices. I had a period skirt that was dark-coloured corduroy and went down to the floor. My blood would run down my legs and I would sometimes wipe them with the skirt. I could never sit on anything light-coloured or that would stain. This process wouldn’t necessarily be safe or hygienic for someone who lacks access to clean water, or who lives in a rural area, as there may be complications when it comes to blood and wild nature.
Uses for menstrual blood
Another fairly accessible way of connecting to your period might be to collect menstrual blood for use in art or writing. Using a menstrual cup can easily facilitate this process, but you can also collect the blood manually. This can add to spellwork, as menstrual blood, much like other bodily fluids, is an easy connector to the body. It can establish a strong energetic connection and can be great for making totems, healing, or protection spells. You could use it to write magical verse or for making inscriptions on magical objects. If you use you use your blood for this purpose, you might want to take extra steps to keep these objects safe and out of the way of outside interference. They are connected to you, so you may still be affected by what happens to them if you lose control of them.
Another interesting form of spellwork that can utilize menstrual blood is a witches bottle. These objects can be used to ward off outside influences from a special place, usually your home. You can use menstrual blood collected through a cup or even a used tampon. You can also use regular blood or urine for these purposes. Inside of the bottle, you include things such as sharp objects, nails, glass, etc. Infusing your personal energy with things that put off a pointy vibe will help to make sure that only those energies that are in alignment with your personal energy can pass through the barrier created by the bottle. You can either hide the bottle in a place where it won’t easily be discovered, or you can bury it if you have access to soil in your chosen location.
Menstrual blood can also be used as a means of protection, or blessing yourself or someone you love with your personal essence. You can dip your finger into your blood, either directly at the source or previously collected, and then press the blood onto your skin as a mark. This can be wherever you feel that it would be the most significant, perhaps over your heart on on your third eye. You might not want to go outside with period blood on your face (or you might), but you can easily do this within a private space or during a private ritual in order to bring your awareness to your own sacred powers and to both display and celebrate yourself.
Sharing your blood with a lover within a safe and consensual space can be an incredibly bonding and powerful experience. If you and your partner have been tested and have a trusting bond with one another, you may share yourself during your time. In the past, I have found that experiencing sensual pleasure during my time has allowed me to be open with a partner, and to heal some of the stigma and shame that I have stored in my body. If you are not comfortable diving into to this kind of experience, you can also place a blood mark on your partner’s body, and this can have the same quality of catharsis.
Period blood is also incredibly nourishing for plants, and can be added to the soil both inside and out to feed your green friends. Perhaps you could add your own personal energy to edible plants that you grow, allowing their healing energies to attune to your unique essence.
Just as spring turns to summer, fall, and winter, so too do our bodies have their own cycles. Menstruation is just one of these cyclical processes, and just as we embrace the seasons as part of our work, so too may we begin to process the cycles of our bodies, to celebrate them for the truly miraculous works that they are.
Weaving new stories is part of the craft that we make of our lives. Our bodies play a central role in these stories, and embracing menstruation can unleash the potential energy trapped inside of us by culturally-imposed shame and disgust. We have the potential to free ourselves from stigma and begin to reinvent our ideas of both femininity and menstruation as a guidepost in our development. Justice for the uterus must include the potential for embracing all aspects and shades of its processes.
While our approaches may vary, it is clear that the need to reclaim the power of our cycles, both of generation but also of decay, allows us to harness and embrace the fullness of our powers. Menstruation is only a curse if our stories cast it in that light. Our pain is only a burden if it doesn’t have a place within our stories. Our bodies are not burdens, and our needs and vulnerabilities can also be our greatest strengths.
- Pliny the Elder. The Natural History. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855. [↩]
- Leviticus 15:19-23 [↩]
- “Menstrual taboo” Wikipedia. wikipedia.org [↩]
- Reeti K.C. “In Nepal, Menstruation Can Mean Days in Isolation” We.news. womensnews.org [↩]
- Anderson, Kim. A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. Sumacs Press. Toronto, Ontario: 2008. [↩]
- “Free Bleeding Movement” Wikipedia. wikipedia.org [↩]
- “Understanding Toxic Shock Syndrome — The Basics“. WebMd. webmd.com [↩]
- Maloney, Alli “Kiran Gandhi discusses free-bleeding while running the London Marathon, and using the period as protest” Women in the World. nytimes.com [↩]