The Red Death: Menstruation as a Symbol of Renewal-Part 4

Mary Magadalene

 Mary Magdalene with Alabaster Jar by EsotericaZosimoto

Within the feminist spirituality movement, professor of religious studies, Anna Fedele describes the practices of a group of Spanish pilgrims for whom “a world-denying and body mortifying Christian attitude is at the root of most present-day evils and the principal cause of the exploitation of the planet” (Fedele 2013. p.145). The pilgrims consider themselves “heirs of an ancient pre-Christian and pre-patriarchal pagan cult of the Goddess” (ibid) and are among many groups involved in what I would describe as a ‘menstrual revival’ movement. The pilgrims believe that “women’s blood is sacred and see the menstrual cycle as a key element in the process of reversing Christianity’s systematic devaluation of the body, particularly the female body” (ibid).

In modern culture the power of menstruation and acknowledgement of the divine feminine has surfaced at various times within literature, art and philosophy- the divine feminine rises time and again despite forces that attempt to repress her. In the concluding chapter of The Golden Bough James Frazer sees menstruants as semi-divine “powers” (Knight 1991, p.381), and the anthropologist Robert Briffault says, “The person of the menstruating woman is fraught with a strange power, which is thought of in some cultures a kind of communicable disease, and in others a kind of shamanic or magical holiness leading to prophetic fits and trances” (Shuttle and Redgrove 1978, p.62). Anthropologist George Deveraux offers this controversial statement referring to menstruating women: “One does not bother to tie up a puppy with a steel cable” (Quoted in Shuttle and Redgrove, p. 61).

Blake

 ‘The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy’- William Blake. In the public domain

Demetra George considers that the rejected aspects of the feminine is the ‘Dark Goddess’ whose teachings attune women to the “trinity of feminine wholeness” (George, 1992, p.43). The Dark Goddess is not only concerned with women and reviving the exiled aspects of the feminine, she is also concerned with “divination, magic, healing, sacred sexuality, the nonphysical dimensions of being, and the mysteries of birth, death, and regeneration” (George, 1992, p.43). Rituals and knowledge involving birth, death, renewal, and regeneration are the domain of the Dark Goddess “who has come to contain the rejected aspects of feminine wholeness and, as such, she now symbolizes the feminine shadow” (George, 1992, p.44). George says that in rejecting the Dark Goddess and her teachings, not only women but the earth has suffered:

The Masque of the Four Seasons- Walter Crane

The Masque of the Four Seasons by Walter Crane

“In the attempt to deny the death bringing Dark Goddess who also holds the sexual secrets, patriarchal culture has concealed from us the knowledge of the healing and rejuvenating gifts of her sexuality. Not only has this gross misunderstanding poisoned the relationships between men and women, but the rejection of the feminine regenerative sexual power has also resulted in the stagnation and putrefaction of our bodies and the earth.”

Sylvia Brinton Perera who wrote Descent to the Goddess in 1932 says that women need to reconnect with that lost part of themselves and that the task for “unmothered daughters of patriarchy” (Perera, 1932, p.56) is to find healing:

“We need to undergo a “controlled regression” into the borderland-underworld levels of the dark goddess- back to ourselves before we had the form we know, back to the magic and archaic levels of consciousness and to the transpersonal passions and rages which both blast and nurture us there…. back to the body mind.”

Thus menstruation, both archaic and contemporary is a red thread that weaves through the ages and the mother-line… telling the story of the feminine mysteries… keeping them alive. Menstruation can provide an initiatory context for modern women to find the healing that Perera speaks of; it is an entirely feminine experience that can be rescued from patriarchal attitudes and control and may be reclaimed as an important aspect of the feminine principle.

Attempts to suppress the Dark Goddess, the feminine mysteries, and menstruation is ultimately futile, as “the more narrow and restrictive the society in which we live, the larger will be the collective shadow (George, 1992, p.48). Even although there is a possibility that menstruation may be physically eradicated, its archetypal image, its symbol and correspondences are not so easily diminished. Menstruation does not entirely become unreal by its absence… the shadow created by its rejection, I suspect, would be, is, felt at a collective level. But at this threshold in our story, where on one hand lies the road to road menstrual suppression and the other opens the gateway to a menstrual revival, it is important to create modern day rituals and ceremonies around menstruation. Eliade says “It is what happens in the sacred space, the space out of time (the tanshuman) that gives structure and consistency to the profane world.”

pompeii-mystery-frieze4

Villa of Mysteries– Women engaged in Dionysian Initiation- Fresco Pompeii

Considering what may be learned about the feminine mysteries from traditional and ancient cultures, restoring and reclaiming the creative life-enhancing ways of the feminine towards renewal and regeneration is much needed at this time: “Without the vital feminine balance to the collective patriarchal principle there is a certain barrenness to life” (Qualls-Corbett, 1988, p.16). As the feminine, female bodies and female biological functions have been particularly reviled in our modern world, the resacralization of menstruation, it seems, is a good place to start.

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