Interference with natural hormonal activity could have huge impact on the female psyche – hormones, according to Vicki Noble, writer of Shaki Woman plays a vital part in facilitating and accessing female power: “Just before and during menstruation, women experience their strongest healing and oracular powers” (Noble, 1991, p.173). Birth control and interfering with hormones have been known to cause mental health problems in women – a recently published study sheds light on the alarming relationship between hormonal birth control and depression; the findings according to the study are “Only the latest in a long line of battles between women and their doctors over accurate information” (Broadly, 2017).
In the subtle interplay between hormones and emotional well-being there is also the spiritual connection to consider. Research in neuroscience has made a link between menstruation and the pineal gland: “Consideration of pineal melatonin functions provides a new dimension into the understanding of the neuroendocrine mechanisms governing the cyclical phenomena of the female reproductive system” (Sanyk 1992). This is corroborated in Clinical Reproductive Medicine and Surgery: Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian Axis and Control of the Menstrual Cycle by scientists Beshay and Carr, who say:
“The menstrual cycle is the result of an orchestra of hormones…. it involves the interaction of many endocrine glands as well as a responsive uterus. The menstrual cycle remains a complex process where many aspects are still not well understood” (Beshay and Carr, p.31).
The pineal gland, according to the 17th century Philosopher, Descartes is “The principal seat of the soul and the place in which all our thoughts are formed” (Descartes, quoted in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2005). While Descartes, from his materialist perspective ascribes the soul to a physical part of the brain, the spiritual aspects and functions of the pineal gland have been well documented in eastern religions such as Tantra, and more recently in the West by Dr. Rick Strassman, M.D., author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule. Strassman, who has dedicated years of research to the pineal gland, suggests that it is the “factory for a powerful brain chemical called DMT (Di-Methyl Tryptamine) which when produced induces a person into a psychedelic and mystical experience” (Collective evolution, 2017). Of the curious nature of the pineal gland, Strassman says,
“All other brain sites are paired, meaning that they have left and right counterparts; for example, there are left and right frontal lobes and left and right temporal lobes. As the only unpaired organ deep within the brain, the pineal gland remained an anatomical curiosity for nearly two thousand years. No one in the West had any idea what its function was” (Strassman, quoted in collective evolution, 2017).
In The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist says that there are –
“Two fundamentally opposed realities rooted in the bihemispheric structure of the brain- the left and right hemispheres, and that particularly over the last five hundred years, the cerebral hemispheres that should cooperate, have been in a state of conflict” (McGilchrist, 2010, pp. 2-3). This is due to an over dominance of the left brain.
McGilchrist says, “If I had to characterise the left hemisphere by reference to one governing principle it would be that of division” (McGilchrist, 2010, p.137). He continues:
“Features of the left brain are verbal and analytic, requiring abstracted, decontextualized, disembodied thinking, dealing in categories…. concerning itself with the nature of the general rather than the particular. The right brain however is unified: concepts are not separate from experience, and the grounding role of “betweeness” in constituting reality is apparent” (ibid).
Is the divided brain that McGilchrist talks about the apparatus of “Western reason”, “logic” and “duality” so rejected by feminist critics like Vandana Shiva and Val Plumwood? Based on McGilchrist’s and Strassman’s research, is it likely that the pineal gland, the unified part of the brain, can resolve the split between spirit and matter and transcend duality, even only for temporary periods of time? If so, menstruation as an organic biological function, connected to the pineal gland, may indeed provide a gateway for women to make the transition into what today we would call an altered state of consciousness. For many traditional and ancient cultures this shift was considered initiatory states of consciousness, non-ordinary reality, or even what scholars of pre-modern cultures have referred to as “participation mystique”. The Philosopher and Ethnographer Lévy-Bruhl says that participation mystique:
“Denotes a peculiar kind of psychological connection with objects, and consists in the fact that the subject cannot clearly distinguish himself from the object but is bound to it by a direct relationship which amounts to partial identity” (Jung,  1971: paragraph 781).
Anthropologist Barbara Tedlock describes the shamanic experience as “complex, mystical, and awe-inspiring, as befits the integration of the physical and spiritual worlds- two diverse and powerful realms where the shaman practices her calling” (Tedlock, 2005, p.13). In this way, the menstruating woman, with possible access to mystical states, facilitated by the release of DMT, becomes both one in her body… bleeding and present in the physical world and at the same time connected to the spirit world. This state does sound similar, if not the same, to Bruhl’s “participation mystique”, in which the menstruating could experience herself as connected to the cycles of nature and the cosmos. Based on anthropological reports of mystical and magical states of menstruating women, and the recent findings on the connection between menstruation and the pineal gland, it seems likely that menstruation is indeed “the medium of a spiritual-communal bond” (Sjoo and Mor, quoted in Noble, 1991, p.27).
If menstruation is to be resacralized as a magical gateway, as with any altered state of consciousness, is best accompanied by ritual and ceremony. Ethnographer and folklorist, Arnold Van Gennep sees society as:
“A house with rooms and corridors in which passages from one to another is dangerous…. danger lies in transitional states, simply because transition is neither one state nor the next, it is undefinable…. the person who must pass from one to another is himself in danger and emanates danger to others. The danger is controlled by ritual which precisely separates him from his old status, segregates him for a time and then publicly declares his new entry to his new status” (Mary Douglas, 1966. P.97).
This may explain then, why menstruating women are considered taboo… there is danger in the transition from one state of consciousness to another… more likely though the danger to the church and other androcentric establishments is that women’s connections with the divine under these circumstances are neither regulated nor controllable. For a desacralized culture, eradicating menstruation, and therefore the possibility of ‘menstrual initiations’ may be an easier option that dealing with the consequences of women’s empowering journeys to the spirit world. In this light, it easy to agree with the opinions of Vandana Shiva, Carol Christ, Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove, et al, who say that the control of women is really about the control of knowledge and power.
There is a well known Chukchi proverb which states:
“Woman is by Nature a Shaman”
While the correlation between menstruation and the pineal gland is only being realised now, the connection with the magical aspects of blood have been known throughout history in various cultures and times. In Sex from Plato to Paglia the philosopher Alan Soble includes a chapter on the Gnostics which describes how menstrual blood is considered a sacred substance: Epiphanius of Salamis, a 4th century monk claims that “certain Gnostic sects worked with menstrual blood in magical rites that imitated the Eucharist, to ‘’collect from out of the power within bodies” (Soble, 2006, p.409). And according to Jungian, Nancy Qualls-Corbett, “the Christian Holy Eucharist is built on a human sacrifice- the symbolic libation of blood for the strengthening of life” (Qualls- Corbett, 1988, p.24n).