“The blood mysteries are the sacred rites of passage in women’s sexual life cycle. The biological and psycho-spiritual changes of menarche, menstruation, pregnancy, birth, and menopause bestow feminine wisdom, spiritual and physical health, and sexual empowerment through the body. Women healers have long honored the sacred feminine healing powers of the Blood Mysteries, as sacred and powerful life transformations.” Kara Maria Ananda
Once upon a time, our menstrual cycles were recognized as a significant rite of passage- marked with ritual, ceremony and the community acknowledgment of having passed from one stage to the next. Our bodies were seen to be lunar in nature, and thus reflective of the cycles that all of life passes through. Nowadays most women’s cycles are seen to be either a traumatic bloody ‘curse’ or a non-event that is mostly ignored. My story is no different:
Menarche- MY FIRST BLOOD
I was 12 when I bled for the first time. I had gone away for the weekend with my mom, sister and auntie to an Arabian horse show that I had been looking forward to for months. The shows were by day and there was a carnival by night and I had been eager to make the most of both.
On the way there, I felt irritable and emotionally reactive, I started cramping by lunchtime and began bleeding by mid-afternoon just a few hours after our arrival.
That first bleed was a real shock to me.
The pain was immense from the very first moment and not even the painkillers I was given did the trick- it was also heavy, heavier than normal they told me. It lasted about 7 days in total. I was too afraid to use a tampon and I bled through sanitary pads, and occasionally through my clothes, roughly every hour during the first two days of my bleed.
I also felt a deep sense of shame when I bled through my pajamas and onto the BnB’s sheets at night and tried my best to quietly ‘sort it out’ without anyone noticing (unsuccessfully I might add). I was too uncomfortable and fearful about soiling my clothes to really leave the BnB during the day and so ended up missing out on most of the event. Many tears were shed.
PLUGGED UP AND DRUGGED UP
It felt like a curse from the get-go- I had watched my grandmother die slowly from ovarian cancer for 4 years before I got my first cycle and my mother’s own struggles had resulted in her getting a voluntary hysterectomy not long after my grandmothers death.
I couldn’t believe that I was also going to have to suffer like this for the rest of my life. I also had so much shame around my bleeding time, I felt dirty and never wanted anyone at school to know – I even tried to keep it a secret from boyfriends over the years. I really just wanted to be rid of the whole thing.
After the first year, with heavy pain and bleeding so severe I even ended up in hospital on an IV of painkillers a few times- my mom took me to a gynecologist who diagnosed me with ovarian cysts. He also said that I might also have endometriosis but that the tests for that were invasive and since there were no cures for it anyway, we shouldn’t bother at this stage. He advised that I just go onto the Pill to manage the symptoms until such time as I decided to have children.
Neither my mom nor myself new any better, and so I began my 10-year journey with a contraceptive pill called, Diane. I also taught myself to use tampons which made hiding my blood and pretending my cycles weren’t happening much easier, now I could just go about business, as usual, all month long.
In the beginning, this felt like a great blessing to me, but as I grew older my interest in natural medicine and embodiment deepened, as did my awareness of the detrimental effects of what herbalist Kami McBride calls “Hostile Hygiene”.
By the time I was 16, I realized I wasn’t even having real cycles, only ‘withdrawal’ bleeds and that The Pill had a laundry list of negative long-term side effects. I tried to go off but the pain and cystic breakouts returned worse than ever before, so I fearfully went back on, again and again. I felt trapped into using The Pill.
“Our culture today systemically attacks every stage of a woman’s sexual cycle. Through PMS, toxic menstrual products, and pain-relieving medications, as well as shame-inducing corporate media and advertising young girls and women, are brainwashed to resent and hide their moon-cycles. The natural cyclical wisdom of fertility is manipulated through birth control pills, implanted contraceptives, and female sterilization. The powerful experience of childbirth is controlled through pharmaceuticals, anesthesia, and interventions in childbirth. The wisdom of the wise woman is lost due to the epidemic of hysterectomies and hormone replacement therapy.” Kara Maria Ananda
When I was 19, I began an apprenticeship with a teacher in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Taoist energetic healing practices. My teacher strongly encouraged me to get off The Pill and started giving me acupuncture and herbs to help bring my body back into balance. He also encouraged me to start occasionally adding animal products back into my diet after being vegetarian/vegan from 11 years old but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it at that time.
I underwent treatment for a few months but in the end, I went back onto the Pill because the pain and shame of my skin breakouts were just too unbearable. This happened a number of times over about 3 years, but each time I returned to The Pill feeling like a failure for being unable to stick all the way through with the full treatment from the tradition in which I was studying.
THE SLOW JOURNEY TO RECONNECTION
At 21 years old I was gifted a Mooncup for my birthday by a sensual and erotically liberated French woman who embodied a very different way of relating to her sex and her blood, and who really got me to consider another way. I was afraid of using it at first, so it stayed in its box for about 6 months but it did cause me to begin researching the toxic ingredients in tampons and sanitary pads – Shocked by my findings, I eventually worked up the courage to use it. It began a quiet revolution within me and was the first step in my long journey to a relationship with my blood.
At 23, I moved to the Peruvian Amazon jungle to begin an apprenticeship in Amazonian Curanderismo and it was there in Peru that I finally worked up the strength of intent to drop The Pill (over 10 years since I first began using it) and begin my healing journey with my womb in earnest.
My teacher started me off on a decoction of Sarsparilla root and Abuta bark and a series of intense purgatives and cleanses. During this 6 week treatment I began a true bleed, in the middle of an ayahuasca ceremony. What unfolded was a shockingly powerful and painful experience where I saw and clearly felt the connection between my pain and the pain of my maternal grandmother who had died of ovarian cancer just a few months before I had my first blood. I was also guided to stand outside, under the light of the full moon and proceeded to have a strong experience of the the moons light harmonizing my entire hormonal system.
ANCESTRAL TRAUMA AND THE WOMB AS AN EMOTIONAL RECEPTACLE
“The blood mysteries are the catalysts for evolutionary feminine transformation on multidimensional levels of being. Women experience physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, social, and spiritual changes through these rites of passage. Women are more easily able to access the spirit world through dreams, intuition, and trance during the times of menstruation, birth, and sex. This altered state of consciousness can facilitate healing, wisdom, and transformation.” Kara Maria Ananda
This was a massive shift in perception for me, it was also in that ceremony that I came to see how my womb was holding all of my own unfelt and unprocessed traumas as well as that of my ancestors- particularly along my mother line with its history of ovarian cancer, cysts, and early hysterectomy. I worked deeply on this line, am still very much in the process of doing ancestral healing with it today. It’s been a long and slow road.
It was also clear to me that my womb is deeply connected to the processes of other women in my field as well as to that of my lover and even that of the Earth itself. There were some cycles where I felt intuitively that I was releasing collective pain from this mass extinction we currently find ourselves in, or at other times that my womb was processing and releasing the unfelt pains of those around me. I came to see the womb as an energetic receptacle, which needed to be ritually cleared on a regular basis in order to remain healthy.
For the first time, I began to find meaning in my pain- I even started to receive insights during the altered states that I would sometimes go into when experiencing extreme pain. I began to feel the necessity in my monthly shedding, found beauty, magic, and connection in my cyclical nature and began to hear the very subtle wisdom that issues from that dark fertile void.
I then spent the next 5 years journeying deeply into my womb space with the help of the plants- they would often cause me to shake, vibrate and bounce my hips on the floor to help me unblock stagnant energies and frozen trauma- and then guide my hands to massage my abdomen as layers upon layers of memory fragments, emotions and stories from both this life and those of the ancestors would come into my awareness to either be held and integrated or released. I purged what felt like lifetimes worth of shadow and stuck cellular traumas- violations that I have not actually experienced in this life.
I also felt called to begin offering my blood (diluted with water) to the plants instead of flushing it down the toilet and so began another layer of relating to my blood- this time, through ritual offering.
This process slowly brought more balance to my cycle- with pain usually only present on the 1-2 days and most often at a manageable degree and the dramatic reduction in pre-menstrual cystic breakouts and other intense PMS ‘symptoms’.
I was also eating a better diet which included animal products again (mostly freshly caught river fish and eggs from the jungle chickens), practicing regular fasting, feeling deeply connected spiritually, exercising, spending a lot of time in nature and also tracking my cycle using an APP called ‘period tracker’ which brought increased awareness to the different phases within each cycle.
Curiously, while my time studying plant medicine with indigenous Shipibo curanderos in Peru was so deeply healing for my cycle- it was also when I experienced the most overt shaming of it. Menstruation is a pretty strong taboo in that culture, especially if you are working with plant medicines and there are many practices that cannot be done by the menstruating women. Historically, women were also barred from attending ayahuasca ceremonies during menstruation, although that has now changed in many places due to the influx of western women attending who kicked up a fuss at that particular rule.
Women are still required to inform the curandero so that energetic protections can be placed around her to prevent the strong energies from her menstrual blood from affecting the other participants. I can see the reason in this, because the blood time is powerful and has the potential to pull others into its vortex.
I was told by my teachers that “plants don’t like the smell of menstrual blood” and that even preparing food for others while bleeding could energetically contaminate them. This was all very confusing for me because my direct experience with the plants was quite the opposite- oftentimes my premenstrual and menstrual times where when I felt the most connected to the plants I was studying with and would often have strong dream visitations and ceremonial interactions during those phases of my cycle.
I do feel that my energy can be potentially overpowering to others at that time, so in some ways, I can understand some of the restrictions and actually prefer solitude or the company of other women during my bleeding time. I never believed that plants disliked my blood though, that is something that has never felt true to me.
Despite the taboo, I felt the plants drawing me deeper into my feminine essence and helping me to liberate enormous amounts of ancestral baggage around my cycle during those years.
“Many of the ancient Goddess-worshiping cultures understood that the menstrual time is a woman’s most powerful time of the month, a time when her psychic and spiritual energies are most highly sensitized.
It was for this reason that women retired to menstrual huts during their moon time in order that they might commune with the deities through meditation, prayer, and ritual to seek healing and truth.
With the rise of the male god cultures, women continued to be separated and isolated during their moon time. But now it was not because they were holy, but because men feared their psychic power during this time of the month.
Menstruating women became taboo and were considered impure. This tradition survives today in many cultures, where menstruating women are barred from religious ceremonies. Women no longer understand that the instinctive movement during menstruation is withdrawal in order to connect with powerful psychic energies to effect healing and insight in their lives on a monthly basis.
Instead, menstruation, as a dark moon phase, has come to be something that is painful, dirty, and embarrassing, leading to chaos, rejection, and isolation.” From “Mysteries of the Dark Moon: The Healing Power of the Dark Goddess” by Demetra George
MENSTRUAL CYCLE AS A BAROMETER OF MY WELLBEING
I left Peru in 2016, after 5 years of diving into the world of Amazonian curanderismo and briefly returned to my homeland of South Africa for 9 months before eventually immigrating to Australia with my partner- these were each such massive transitions for me on so many levels…
Filled with beauty and connection of my family and friends but also so much grief at saying goodbye to two countries I love and all the people in them (Peru and South Africa)- the death of my grandparents- fear and uncertainty for the future and so much more.
It was such a challenging time and the stress in my body was real. This caused the pain and irregularity of my cycles to return once more. And in fact, I ended up in hospital on IV painkillers once again when I had period pain so intense it felt I was being torn in half.
It became abundantly clear to me that there isn’t a onetime quick fix for this or any other imbalance- my womb is the barometer of my wellbeing, and its ‘symptoms’ are actually communications about the state of my psycho-emotional-energetic-physical health. It was demanding I listen. It was demanding that I slow down, that I give myself space to feel. To grieve.
When I am relaxed and feeling safe (when my nervous system is at ease), when I have time for deep rest and connection to the other-than-human world, when I am dropped into my feeling sense, when I am eating well, exercising, and emotionally and creatively expressed then my cycle comes into balance- yet when I am stressed, suppressing or denying aspects my emotional reality, comfort eating, not resting enough, not moving and not giving myself space to follow my joy- then my cycle expresses my disharmony.
Of course, we are not separate from the world and so there is an inevitable and unavoidable amount of stress- pollution- and disconnection just from living within the Industrial Growth Culture and in the midst of planetary emergency and mass extinction- I can only ever do my best to mitigate that with various practices and plant medicines.
My system is so exquisitely sensitive, and faithfully mirrors the condition of my psycho-emotional-physical being back to me at all times, oftentimes long before I even consciously register that something is out of balance.
MENSTRALIA- DEEPENING THE CONNECTION
For extra support during this transition and deep letting go, I bought a yoni egg (a small egg-shaped stone made from jade) and began doing energetic practices and meditations (originally derived from very old Taoist sexual qigong) to help facilitate deeper connection and clearing with both my yoni and my womb.
It’s a beautiful practice, and I especially felt the benefit with my yoni and my relationship to my sexual desire and although I’m unsure if it was any help for my menstrual difficulties- I do feel like it brought me into deeper relationship with my body and an appreciation for just how sensitive and energetically potent this part of the body is.
I also began a confronting practice of painting with my menstrual blood. A friend of mine contacted me one day and sent me photos of her menstrual paintings which she called ‘Menstralia’- she said it had been really powerful for her and felt that I would resonate with it.
I was blown away by the beauty of her work and couldn’t wait for my next cycle to try it out even though I was fearfully anticipating the pain.
This practice rocked my world!! It was such a potent way to confront what was left of the shame around my blood as being something ‘dirty- gross- disgusting’ – sharing this art with others and standing in my center as they project their disgust back at me has also been an important part of this practice.
I was also building more ritual around the offering of my blood to the plants and sometimes spent hours singing prayers into it before offering it.
I started looking into herbs and nutrition to support myself and came to fall in love with a number of plants but particularly Yarrow, Vitex, Rose and Angelica (Dong Quai), I brought more attention to the health of my digestive system, increased my intake of iron-rich foods, fiber and started taking liver cleansing herbs so that I could more efficiently break down estrogen.
Just before my flight to Australia, after months of online birth doula study- I also had the opportunity to be present at the home-birth of one of my closest sisters- which was an immensely powerful experience, an initiation that only deepened my awe and respect for the well of wisdom and power in women’s bodies, what they are capable of and stoked my fire to be of service to the blood mysteries.
CYCLES WITHIN CYCLES
“Women’s cycles are a deep source of connection to nature. The menstrual cycle is guided by the moon; the lunar cycles influence the tides of the oceans and women’s wombs. We experience the cycles of nature physically every day, the cycle of the day and night, the moon cycle, the solar cycle of the seasons, and we experience natural cycles within our bodies, the lifecycle, dream cycles, the menstrual cycle, and the birth cycle. All of nature flows in cycles.” Kara Maria Ananda
Since arriving in Australia (2017), I have come to recognize myself as a cyclical being more than ever and see those cycles reflected back to me in all of life.
My attention has shifted from its strong focus on the bleeding time to the qualities of each of the four seasons my body passes through each month and how to best support myself at each phase of this cycle.
I have also been deeply confronted by how our culture does NOT support these cycles, in fact, actively suppresses and rejects the dark-phases (PMS – bleeding time, autumn- winter, old age- death) in the hopes of achieving a perpetual growth/ summer like state. Like many women, I feel exhausted by the constant and unnatural levels of output expected from me (and that I expect from myself) throughout the month and long to be able to turn inward during my dark phase and really dedicate my energy to self-care, rest and dreaming during that time.
My return to this fast-paced industrial world has been a challenge and my cycle has been a constant reflection of that. I have felt forced into unnatural rhythms by the demands of city living and am always companioned by my longing to return to the forest. I have been challenged to keep finding new ways of taking care of myself and making space during the tender inward phases of my cycle.
It’s also been a powerful teaching into the sickness of our culture, and a reminder of just how challenging it is to listen to and follow instinct and natural rhythms with this near constant pressure and ‘noise’ from the wider culture to perform and produce.
Menstruation has now become a spiritual practice for me- one that I feel deeply connected to at certain times, but which is also a real struggle at other times. It’s still messy and in progress, there is much to unlearn- and that from within a container that is in many ways, the antithesis to my wild animal body.
I am grateful for this unfolding journey that my womb is guiding me on- for the many doors it opens into relationship with my inner being and the ways it is teaching me to listen and really pay attention.
“The moon, in her transformations, mirrors the same fluctuations of increase and decrease that take place in the human body and in the psyche. In our lives, we experience these alternations of creation and destruction, growth and decay, birth and death, light and dark, conscious and unconscious.
Unfortunately, in our society, we have been taught to fear and resist the decreasing energies represented by the dark, by decay, death, and the unconscious. Thus we have lost our knowledge of an essential part of cyclical life processes, symbolized by the dark phase of the moon.
The purpose of the dark phase of any cycle is that of transition between the death of the old and the birth of the new. The dark time is a time of retreat, of healing, and of dreaming the future. The darkness is lit with the translucent quality of transformation; and during this essential and necessary period, life is prepared to be born.
The dark prefaces the light in the same way that gestation precedes birth and sleep allows for rejuvenation.
In the human psyche, we experience dark periods when we feel turned inward and nothing seems to be happening.
However, in retrospect, we often realize that these fallow times were germinal periods preceding outbursts of creativity and growth.
Without the time to withdraw, rest, and recuperate from the demands of the outer activities of conscious waking life, our bodies and minds cannot sustain their supply of vital energy. If we correctly understand the dark, however, we can use the cover of darkness to learn the magic of our own particular secret rites, which can lead to a revitalized and replenished life.” -from “Mysteries of the Dark Moon: The Healing Power of the Dark Goddess” by Demetra George