Menstrual history: from exalted to “the curse”
“Spiritual, consecrated, wonderful, incomprehensible; said also of women at the menstrual period”. This is an American Indian definition of tabu, itself a word derived from the Polynesian, and the basic form of the more common English spelling, taboo. And its original form? Robert Briffault suggests it is closely allied to tupua, which means menstruation. Further, another Polynesian word, atus, also applied to menstruation, translated to mean God, and certainly refers to all spirits and supernatural phenomena.Ishtar, the Moon Goddess of Babylon was thought to be menstruating at the full moon. Then, the “sabuttu” was observed, the day of rest; simulating the day the moon takes when it is neither decreasing nor increasing. On the moon’s sabattu it was considered unlucky to do any work, eat cooked food or go on a journey. A full day of rest, to coincide with the moon’s rest, was obligatory. The sabuttu when the Goddess Ishtar was menstruating became the Sabbath of the Jews and Christians: the day when the Old Testament God rested from his labours, and put an obligation on everyone to do the same.
So the Saturday of the Jews, the Sunday of the Christians, and the Friday of the Moslems, when shops are shut, and various extremely patriarchal religious observances take place, as they have done for several thousand years, are directly linked with what women today still call the “curse”. This worldwide general attitude to menstruation is possibly the most fundamental example of women’s put-down in patriarchal society, one which women themselves too often accept.
~ Asphodel Long
This is just the introduction to a complete essay on menstruation taboos through history. Read more:
Photo: “‘Menstruating Goddess” Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati, India — Timeline Photos
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