By: Julie (Sanatani) McCord
In many cultures special taboos appear around menstruation and childbirth. Because a woman’s cycle is often about the same length as the lunar cycle, special ties are acknowledged between women and the Moon. Because women bleed each month without taking harm, they are believed to have special powers during the bleeding, and the blood itself is powerfully magical. However, this is taken as either a positive or a negative depending on the culture. One of our objectives in working with the Mysteries is to move toward the positive viewpoint, in order to make this a time of increased power and self-healing.
Menstruation and childbirth are sometimes used to define the triple aspect of Goddess and woman as follows:
- The Maiden is the girl who has just had her first period;
- The Mother is the bleeding woman who has given birth and/or achieved fulfillment in her chosen career; and
- The Crone is the woman who has reached menopause.
A typical menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. We usually start counting from the first day of the period. During the first half of the cycle, the body produces estrogen. Then an egg is released from one of the ovaries; it travels through the fallopian tube for somewhere between 12 and 36 hours, and it is during this time that we are fertile. The empty egg sac releases progesterone, and the change in hormones signals the uterus to build up a lining called the endometrium. If the egg is not fertilized, then the hormone levels drop and the lining starts to break down; and 12-14 days after ovulation, the period starts, purging the unused lining from the body.
Our Cycle and the Moon
Some writers theorize that ideally, we should ovulate at the Full Moon and bleed during the Waning Moon before the Dark Moon. However, if we look at the biology and see that there is always 12-14 days between ovulation and menstruation, we see that this doesn’t quite work. Still, the comparison of cycles is informative, and some women do find it desirable to attune their cycles to those of the Moon as closely as possible. Women who do feel this attunement are either ovulating at Full and bleeding at Dark, or ovulating at Waxing and bleeding at Waning.
According to Luisa Francia in Dragontime, periods in different lunar phases have different characters. Here are her thoughts:
|Waning||World||create, develop, deepen||bear|
|Dark||Self||healing, looking back||toad|
According to Kisma Stepanich, if you want to try to attune your cycle to that of the Moon, you should work with herbs that decrease flow during the Waxing Moon (herbs will be discussed later), expose yourself to moonlight regularly and even sleep with a nightlight during the Full Moon, and work with herbs that increase flow during the Waning Moon. She also offers the following thoughts comparing the parts of a woman’s cycle to the lunar cycle, and working to honor those cycles. They are offered as a beginning point for experimentation.
- Waxing Moon/After Period: this is a time when the body shows the fewest hormonally-induced symptoms; the feeling is youthful and active, like the Maiden. Favored colors are light; clothes are form-fitting and comfortable, or practical; makeup and jewelry are minimal and hair is tied back if long; scents are airy, like lavender, lemon, sandalwood, or mint.
- Full Moon/Ovulation to early PMS: the mood is sensual and empowered, but physically there is a feeling of fullness from possible swelling or water retention. Favored colors are watery and romantic; clothes are feminine and seductive; makeup tends to roses and shimmer; jewelry is seductive, like anklets; hair is down but ‘done’; scents are fiery or sexual, like carnation, cinnamon, clove, rosemary, or vanilla.
- Waning Moon/PMS and Start of Period: the mood turns inward, and there is an emphasis on psychic impressions and on banishing unwanted things. Favored colors are reds and other deep colors; clothes are layered, flowing and comfortable; makeup becomes more dramatic or tends toward plum; lots of jewelry, especially spiritual kinds; perfumes include gardenia, heather, myrrh, orange, orris, rose, and violet.
- Dark Moon/End of Period to Slightly After: This is the deep, still point between cycles, the point of the Dark Goddess. Favored colors are black and nature colors; clothes are dramatic styles; makeup is dark; jewelry tends to pieces with special significance; hair is down and unadorned; perfumes are earthy, like musk, patchouli, cedar, honeysuckle, jasmine, or sage.
Spiritual and Magical Concerns
First of all, the menstrual blood itself is considered to be magical. In some cultures its power is considered to be so strong that it gives great power to any spell; or so strong, on the other hand, that it negates all other powers.
The journey through the menstrual cycle can be compared to a journey through the Three Worlds: the waxing phase is Celestial, the ovulation phase is Terrestrial, and the bleeding is a trip to the Underworld.
Women are considered to be unusually psychically open during menstruation, which on one hand lends them power but also means that they benefit by taking more time to themselves, giving extra attention to self-nurturing and purification. (This is not because they are ‘unclean,’ as it has been interpreted in some cultures, but because so much energy is drawn to them at this time and is grounded through them.) This is a good time to pay attention to dreams and perform other kinds of divination.
Some women find it helpful to create a special space they can go to during this time, including a blood altar. Here they can keep any special tools, including a jar of diluted blood, a charm bag of special amulets and herbs, and other items honoring the blood: animal totems, red candles, Goddess images, seashells, red stones. Spending extra alone time now to create, read, or meditate helps women feel more balanced throughout the cycle. Gentle forms of movement, like belly dancing and yoga, are also considered to be helpful to both the spirit and the body.
The blood power is not lost after menopause. In fact, in Native American cultures, menopausal women are considered to be even more powerful because they are holding this energy within themselves rather than releasing it. Elsewhere, the hot flashes that come during menopause are compared to the awakening of the Kundalini, and seen as an opportunity to work with and cultivate this power naturally.
Other cultures have honored the first menstruation and the coming of menopause as special times of power honoring women. It is never too late to celebrate these.
Most women, if they know much about their cycles at all, only know the ‘rhythm method’ of counting days between periods. This is NOT adequate! The following discussion of ovulation symptoms is meant to improve your awareness of your body, but while it is better than the rhythm method, it should not replace your other measures for birth and disease control.
Ovulation occurs 12-14 days before the beginning of the period. This time frame does not change: what does change is the amount of time between the beginning of the period and the next ovulation. So counting days from the beginning of the period is useless in terms of tracking fertility. Here is a list of symptoms that can accompany ovulation:
- a small, sharp twinge low and to one side (“mittelschmerz”)
- breast tenderness or fullness
- increased sexual desire
- lower back pain
- mood changes
- food cravings
- more acute senses
- oily hair and skin
- elevated temperature
- fertile mucus pattern
Of these, the last two are the most reliable indicators. Unfortunately it can be hard to track the elevated temperature, which can happen for so many other reasons. Also, temperature has to be taken first thing in the morning without rising from bed; and although higher temperature correlates to ovulation, it can be just before or just after.
Vaginal secretions change just before ovulation. Usually, it is more acidic, to protect this opening into your body from germs. This also makes it inhospitable for sperm. However, before and during ovulation, this changes to help the sperm survive. During this time, there is more secretion, and it is thicker; it will be sticky or stretchy when pinched between the fingers.
Herbs for the Blood Mysteries
I will not be giving specific herbal treatments here, because I am not qualified to do so. However, you can investigate the books in the bibliography to start learning more about herbal treatments for various issues relating to menstruation, fertility, and so on. Two good general tonics for the female reproductive system are dong quai and raspberry leaf. (Many are the cramps I’ve chased off with raspberry leaf tea!) These are both easily available at health food stores, as is blue cohosh, which is currently very popular for use during perimenopause.
Here are magical uses of some herbs that you can include in incense, on your altar, in dream pillows, and so on:
- Apple (for Goddess energy)
- Cayenne pepper (to control fertility)
- Chamomile (to make peace with your cycle)
- Ginger (for the “spirit of the blood”)
- Lipped flowers, like orchids (represent the sexual organs)
- Mistletoe (to claim power; also decreases flow)
- Mugwort (for “woman power” and visions; also works for Crones)
- Parsley (to strengthen blood)
- Pomegranate (for Goddess and Underworld energy)
- Raspberry (to control the cycle)
- Sage (for sacredness)
Francia, Luisa. Dragontime
Hoffman, David. The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal
McIntyre, Anne. The Complete Woman’s Herbal
Stepanich, Kisma. Sister Moon Lodge
Weed, Susun. Healing Wise
* NOTE: Basic biological information has been vetted by my husband, Dr. Timothy McCord, a professor of anatomy and physiology.