Menstruation is in the news. Okay, actually I’ve just noticed a few things recently online and decided to collect them together with a few other references that came to mind.
“In 2008 Sara Read wrote a fascinating article about early modern women’s menstrual practices. … Sara pointed out that one of the reasons why we don’t really know for certain what women did is that they didn’t talk about it either. It’s men who tell us the few things we know, and we don’t know whether women’s attitude was the same or not. We don’t even know what level of blood loss they expected – apparently this can vary with diet, and people were not as well-fed in the past as we are now – but the Hippocratic gynaecological treatises assume a ‘wombful’ of blood every month, with any less of a flow opening up the risk of being seen as ‘ill’ and hence leading to remedies like the dreaded beetle pessaries.” [via]
Then there was a new post pointing to an article from a couple years ago: “Menstrual Blood in Ancient Rome: An Unspeakable Impurity?” by Jack Lennon, Classica et Mediaevalia: Danish Journal of Philology and History, Vol.61 (2010) [via]
“This article examines the language and power associated with menstrual blood in Roman literature, focusing primarily on the issue of ritual impurity. In particular, it will highlight the importance of two phrases from Pliny’s Natural History which can offer new insights into Roman perceptions of menstruation. Using comparisons from modern anthropological theory, it seeks to refute recent suggestions that Roman society felt no anxiety about menstrual pollution, but equally it will be argued that this anxiety was not on a comparable scale to earlier Greek regulations and practices.”
“The best blood is of the moon, monthly: then the fresh blood of a child, or dropping from the host of heaven: then of enemies; then of the priest or of the worshippers: last of some beast, no matter what.” [via]
There are any number of resources at the library to go along with this. You may be interested in a site search on various terms, such as blood of the moon, to get started.
For the ritual use of menstrual blood, I cannot help but recommend The Yoni Tantra, serialized in the Scarlet Letter, the journal of Scarlet Woman OTO, which also connects to the recent publication of The Secrets of the Kaula Circle and the older Kali Kaula mentioned in other posts.
“The statements by many Western commentators that the ‘secret sadhana’ was hidden by an allusive style are completely exploded by Yoni Tantra. Kaulas were never prone to mince words and the consumption of Yoni Tattva—the mixture of menses and semen—is described in the clearest of terms in Yoni Tantra.
While ritual sexual intercourse is often alluded to in Kaula and Shri Tantras there are only a few places where the Yoni Tattva is referred to. The chief of these is Yoni Tantra, which could be described as a eulogy of the Yoni and the Yoni Tattva.” [via]
You may also be interested in Judy Grahn’s Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World, especially in conjunction, I think, with Calvert Watkins’ How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics.