Culture and Menstruation

The relationship between culture and menstruation is expressed in many ways. A variety of menstrual-related traditions exist. One group of authors has theorized that menstruation may have played a key role in the development of symbolic culture in early human society.

Historically, a menstruating woman was considered sacred and powerful, with increased psychic abilities, and strong enough to heal the sick. According to the Cherokee, menstrual blood was a source of feminine strength and had the power to destroy enemies.

In Ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder wrote that a menstruating woman who uncovers her body can scare away hailstorms, whirlwinds and lightning. If she strips naked and walks around the field, caterpillars, worms and beetles fall off the ears of corn. Menstrual blood is viewed as especially dangerous to men’s power. In Africa, menstrual blood is used in the most powerful magic charms in order to both purify and destroy.

In Judaism and Christianity, the latter derives from the first, it is of the punishment for the disobedience of Eve who would eat of the Forbidden Fruit to know of the difference between good and evil. “For in suffering and pain she shall bring forth her children”, this would appear to be a prelude to the act of giving birth.

Most Christian denominations do not follow any specific rituals or rules related to menstruation. Some Christian denominations, including many authorities of the Eastern Orthodox Church (also known as the Russian, Ukrainian, or Greek Orthodox Church, distinct from the Roman Catholic Church), advise women not to receive communion during their menstrual period. Other denominations follow the rules laid out in the Holiness Code section of Leviticus, somewhat similar to the Jewish ritual of Niddah. Healthy women have adequate outflow during this cycle, which renders them impure for sacred devotions, even more so in public.

The traditional Islamic interpretation of the Qur’an forbids intercourse, but not physical intimacy, during a woman’s menstrual period. Judaism does likewise. During menstrual periods, women are excused from performing prayers and fasting. In the Qur’an it is considered a “harm” or a nuisance, and women should not be pestered during this time. Respect for women on their cycle is valued. They are advised to not enter the mosque without any important purpose, but are encouraged to be present at religious services such as Eid Al-Adha or Eid Al-Fitr. After the period, a spiritual bath, which is also required of both partners after sex, Ghusl, is also required before prayer and fasting may continue.

In Judaism, a ritual exclusion called niddah applies to a woman while menstruating and for about a week thereafter, until she immerses herself in a mikvah (ritual bath which is basically intended only for married women. During this time, a married couple must avoid sexual intercourse and physical intimacy. Orthodox Judaism forbids women and men from even touching or passing things to each other during this period. While Orthodox Jews follow this exclusion, many Jews in other branches of the religion do not.

Hindus in India tend to view menstruation, especially first menstruation or menarche, as a positive aspect of a girl’s life. In South India, girls who experience their menstrual period for the first time are given presents and celebrations to mark this special occasion.

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