Part of me felt like it’s something I should have gotten over by now…something I should have dealt with and integrated. After all, I turn 40 this year. You would think that after 28 years of monthly cycles, I would be a pro at dealing with all things menstrual.
But how can any woman be totally comfortable with something to which she has never been properly and lovingly introduced? Where was the Red Tent when I was 12 and shackled to a religion that still believes wholeheartedly in Eve’s curse?
I really wanted to make peace with my womb after all this time, so I found a wonderful companion for the journey: The Moon and You: A Woman’s Guide to an Easier Monthly Cycle by Barbara Hanneloré.
Having practiced Wicca for many years, I am always aware of whether the moon is waxing, full, or waning. I usually note the Zodiac sign she’s traveling through as well, but I wasn’t charting my own cycle. I had sort of pushed that aside while I dealt with other matters, but I missed being more connected with Luna and flowing with her each month. I wanted to approach my cycle with more awareness, instead of just getting through it and feeling annoyed at the “intrusion” on my life. Fortunately, The Moon and You provides monthly and annual calendar pages for easy charting. I’ve use the annual calendar for the last seven months, and the insights, both physical and emotional, have been profound.
One of those revelations is that the natural rhythms of my body run parallel with my creative life. The author compares the phases of a woman’s cycle to four seasons, each having its own unique energies and contributions. I began to see a pattern with having lots of new ideas, plans, and accomplishments in the first half of my cycle. Any writing project I attempted just seemed to move along with no resistance. Then I would retreat into a more reflective mode after ovulation. I wasn’t inspired as much. I would spend more time thinking or evaluating and less time doing, but I’m learning to value stillness just as much as activity.
Simply acknowledging where I am in my cycle and what I need at that time has been the greatest step toward feeling balanced and at ease with these ever-changing rhythms. As Hanneloré notes, “The pre-menstrual time is a powerful personal time: visionary, creative, and inwardly focused. This is in direct conflict, of course, with the expectations of modern culture for constant accomplishment, and for women to be always available and accommodating of others” (22).
Whenever I’ve ignored the need to slow down a little, or when I’ve said “yes” to a social engagement against my better judgment, I’ve paid for it with all the classic symptoms of PMS. (I detest that acronym, by the way, and I don’t think of it as a syndrome. It’s simply a reminder to treat myself better).
It’s easy to fool the mind, but never the body and certainly never the womb and second chakra. What we can’t or won’t acknowledge on an emotional level will inevitably find its way to the physical level—until we finally pay attention. Hanneloré’s gentle guidance through this often overlooked aspect of menstruation helps women shine some much-needed light on caring for our inner selves as much as our outer lives.
Part Three of the book addresses nutritional needs, vitamins, supplements, exercise, and alternative therapies. Engines don’t run very well on the wrong type of fuel, and bodies don’t function well on suboptimal diets. Sometimes, having a better cycle may just be a matter of getting a little more of whatever is lacking nutritionally. We really are products of what we eat and how well we maintain ourselves.
Many of my friends are massage therapists, and most do Reiki or some other form of energy balancing as well. All of them will attest to the fact that women are great at talking themselves out of getting the care they need. They will either put everyone and everything else in their lives first, or they feel like they don’t deserve a massage to relax and alleviate pain. I don’t know where we got the idea that suffering is noble. We’re not going to earn a trophy for holding on to whatever is hurting us, and I’m quite certain the world won’t end if we lock the door and soak in the tub for an hour.
That brings me to the next topic in the book, which delves into modern views and attitudes toward menstruation. We have drifted very, very far from how our ancient ancestors thought and felt about a woman’s sacred ability to bring forth new life. Hanneloré points to the way industrialized nations tend to glorify a 24/7 lifestyle in the name of progress and how this impacts the way women are valued: “Since menstruation is not ‘useful’ in the practical sense, what good is it in a culture like this? It slows us down; it’s messy; it can be painful and unpredictable; and modern culture jokes about it, tries to fix it, or ignores it altogether” (115).
Consider some of the slang words used for menstruation: the curse, Aunt Flo, crimson tide, riding the cotton pony, bitch time, the red river, shark week, on the blob, opening the flood gates, etc. All of these derogatory words and phrases (and even the cutesy ones) just illustrate one more way that women have given away power. We don’t have to take this, and we shouldn’t perpetuate it, either. We can reclaim what was lost and set better examples for future generations.
One great way to start is with ceremony. I could write pages on the absence of meaningful ritual in our culture, but I think I’ll save that for another blog post. The final chapter of The Moon and You is about your own initiation into womanhood—how it was handled (or perhaps not even acknowledged) and how you would have preferred to cross that threshold from girl to woman if given a choice in the matter.
Personally, I would have wanted a circle of women around me—strong, wise women all dressed in red who would welcome me with open arms into this new life passage. We would drum and dance around a bonfire. They would anoint me with sacred oil and paint symbols of the Goddess on my forehead and my belly. We would chant songs of power and creation until dawn. They would tell me stories only women know, stories that would become my anchor and my backbone, stories that would carry me through all the births and deaths to come. I would walk into my destiny with a new name and a new song, sure of myself and supported by my tribe.
It’s no mystery to me that girls struggle so much with self-esteem from puberty onward. Without a distinct rite of passage that initiates them into female selfhood and the positive aspects of menstruation, they are left with the media and the dominant views of our culture as teachers—and we know how much damage that has already done. Along with The Moon and You, Hanneloré has also written How to Celebrate Your Daughter’s Coming of Age to help mothers and mentors everywhere. I think we need even more books like this, more open dialogue, and more honest and genuine treatment of all the cycles of a woman’s life.
Looking forward, it’s up to all of us to build a better foundation. We have to heal the wounds within ourselves first, which will have a ripple effect on every generation that follows. Women can begin to support each other through Red Tent circles. We can teach girls to honor and embrace the power in womanhood. We can create new traditions and initiation ceremonies. We can, at last, be the change we wish to see.
Hanneloré, Barbara. The Moon and You: A Woman’s Guide to an Easier Monthly Cycle. Goleta, CA: Bell House, 2013. Print.