Most women experience menstruation for the greater portion of their late teen and adult life, until around the age of 45 to 50. It is a completely natural phenomenon, indicating a woman’s fertility. However, many major religions are still to this day, very hush-hush about it, and surprisingly, there are still taboos about it. This article uncovers what those taboos are.
- Tribal Religions
You can only imagine, for tribal religions, what a woman’s period once looked like. All of a sudden, once a month, she bled with no explanation – no wound, accident, or cut; and usually after 7 days it mysteriously stopped. Often, it was in sync with the full moon, making it look like a supernatural occurrence. Then it stopped both when she was pregnant and reached a certain age. To top it all off, often those other teenagers and women she was around the most bled at the same time as her. It also only affected females – it was seen almost as “magic” or “witchcraft!”
There have been many menstrual taboos among tribal religions that date quite a way back, such as menstrual huts. These taboos still continue for some. In Indonesia, the Huaulu women keep menstrual huts at the border of their village. They have to stay in them during their period, however they can leave them and walk among the trees, as long as they keep their distance with regards to hunting trails. They cannot eat hunted animals, and they have to wash themselves at particular fountains just for women. These rituals “apparently” protect the men from any sort of harm.
The Dogon are a tribal group who live in the Mopti region of Mali, and believe that menstruating women have to remain within a hut especially for them. However, even though these Dogon women are bleeding, they still must work with agriculture on the land for most the day. This must be incredibly difficult. What’s more, they cannot walk on village streets or enter family compounds, and sexual intercourse, as well as making meals for a husband, is strictly prohibited.
The tribes of Papua New Guinea’s Highlands who resided in the Duna, Pangia and Hagen areas once had menstrual huts. Currently, these huts are no longer used, and ritual practices have been abolished.
New Guinea has certain cultures called the Sengseng, Enga and Kaulong that still believe if a man has sex with a woman who is having her period, it will both drain, as well as weaken him.
According to the Halakha (the Jewish code of law), it is forbidden for a couple to touch each other during the woman’s period, as well as the week after that. They cannot pass objects to each other, nor can they share a bed, or sit on a couch next to each other on one individual cushion. The husband may not eat leftovers on her plate, smell any of her perfume, stare at any of her clothing, or even listen while she sings.
An Orthodox Jewish wife (one that sticks to traditional beliefs and practices) must immerse herself in a body of clean water (a bath) called a Mikvah, after these two weeks. The time from when a woman bleeds, up to the 7th “clean” day, is known as the “Niddah” (ritually unclean) period. It is for this reason that Orthodox Jews have separate beds that are pulled apart during this time.
The reason of this is that period blood is viewed as unclean. In Leviticus 18:19, it says, “You shall not approach a woman in her time of unclean separation, to uncover her nakedness.”
These are all the “Laws of Family Purity.” However, a man may not hold hands, hug, or kiss a woman who’s had her period and not immersed herself in the Mikvah.
The Mikvah holds special significance for brides, who go into them only before their wedding. Orthodox Jewish women are not allowed to have sex before marriage, so all women who have experienced their menstrual cycles, are seen to be “ritually unclean”. They may not even cut their toenails during their periods for fear of infection to anyone who steps on them.
When married, during Niddah, a husband and a wife may not play sport together; she is forbidden to hand him objects (she must place it down and he must pick it up from the spot she has left it), and they cannot eat off the same crockery.
Back in the Middle Ages, a Jewish woman who bled was viewed as a spiritual and physical danger to every male around her. It was seen so negatively that Nachmanides (a leading medieval Jewish Sephardic rabbi) stated that a woman who bled had a harmful breath and a detrimental gaze. Women who were experiencing the end of their periods were not allowed to move between 2 men, otherwise she would create strife among these two males, and if she walked between these 2 men at the beginning of her period, one would die.
All of the above pertains to Traditional Orthodox Jews, however there are many different sects of Judaism who view menstruation differently.
Modern-Orthodox Jews (who are not as traditional as Orthodox Jews) view menstruation as an absolute blessing. In this sect of Judaism, couples believe in companionship, affection, and attention. The reason behind this is for the husband to view his partner as an equal, and not a sexual object.
As stated before, there are many different sects of Judaism, and Secular Jews don’t practice or follow the religion, although they may have spiritual beliefs of their own. They don’t make a big deal about menstruation, and view it as normal. Some even have intercourse during the woman or wife’s period.
Jewish women of all sects use different menstrual products such as sanitary pads and menstrual cups. However, Traditional Orthodox Jewish girls are encouraged not to use tampons or menstrual cups, as they may break their hymen before marriage.
Modern-Orthodox and Secular Jews use tampons, menstrual cups (which is becoming increasingly popular), as well as sanitary pads, and a range of other menstrual products too.
Christianity has a few taboos behind menstruation. Way back, Western cultures viewed women who had their periods as dangerous, and she was socially restricted. The British Medical Journal of 1878 even claimed that a woman who was having her period would make bacon putrefy.
In fact, one of the reasons women did not have many opportunities to have an authoritative voice within their Christian religion was due to menstruation itself. The Orthodox Church, don’t allow women to receive communion during menstruation. It is due to menstruation that many Catholic men will not have sex with a woman. Catholic canon law also doesn’t allow teenagers or women who are menstruating to have any semi-sacerdotal roles, like alter servers.
There are menstrual taboos among the Russian Orthodox Christians too. When a woman is experiencing her period, she must live by herself in a small hut until her period is over. She cannot go to any church services, touch or talk to men, and cannot even place a hand on raw or fresh food. The religion also believes she will repel fish and game.
They also believe that a woman who is having her period will affect a young hunter, whereby if he comes near her, he’ll be visible to all the animals, and won’t have the opportunity to hunt them. It is even believed that her gaze will have a negative impact on the weather.
Western Christian sects don’t have that many taboos when it comes to a woman’s period these days.
Muslims believe that women experiencing their periods are “impure” and not to be touched until their periods are over. Menstruating women are not allowed to be at any sort of shrine or mosque, and may not even fast or pray during Ramadan. She is also prohibited from having sex for 7 days, starting from the day she bleeds. She does not need to pray or fast either.
A menstruating Muslim woman must also have a “ritual washing,” as it is only through this that she will be “clean” once more. Once she has washed, she may pray, fast, and enter a mosque again.
Many Muslims view menstruation as something that will contaminate those around them. Often, teenagers or women who menstruate may not sit with others during breakfast, lunch or dinner, as they are seen as unclean and “najeste” (a word in Farsi referring to a person or object that will contaminate you). Some believe they will contaminate the food, cutlery and crockery.
Most Muslim women wear sanitary pads during their period, and will not use tampons or menstrual cups until they are married.
Hindus view women experiencing their period as “impure,” or even “polluted.” Some even see it being a “curse.” The impurity is only seen while the teenager or woman bleeds, and once it stops, she is no longer impure.
During her period, a Hindu woman has to leave the house she lives in, and must reside in a tiny hut outside of her village. She must relax and cannot do any work, and is prohibited from combing her hair or having a bath. She’s also prohibited from partaking in the Naulas (traditional water springs).
What is surprising, is the fact that Hindu women are denied water for private hygiene. They cannot cook food, and must have separate utensils during this time. They cannot enter the prayer room inside their home (the pooja room) and cannot enter a temple. They cannot climb on top of a horse, or other animals like an elephant or ox, and cannot drive a car.
They are also not allowed to eat certain foods, which become prohibited during menstruation, such as meat and fish. (This may be difficult, as women need iron during their period due to the loss of blood within their bodies). Most of all, menstruation needs to be completely “hush-hush.” There is an enormous taboo about letting the public know you are menstruating.
Some of the Hindu beliefs and practices have filtered their way into Buddhism.
In Taiwan, women who were menstruating were seen as polluted by Buddhists. Buddhists taught them that their periods were a vulnerability that was dangerous. The blood of menstruation was looked upon as “dirt” or “poison.” Japanese Buddhists can also be very anti-feministic.
Within the Buddhist scriptures, it is written that both men and women are not perfect and “leaking” very dirty substances. Some common taboos of women experiencing their period include not being allowed to partake in folk rituals, and being told to avoid temples. They are not supposed to meditate (although some do, as a feeling of “connection” is experienced), nor are they allowed to have any contact with priests. They also can’t attend any ceremonies, like weddings.
While they are having their period, Buddhist women are thought to lose QI (“Chi”), which is “life force,” or “spiritual energy.” The Buddhists also believe that ghosts consume blood, so a woman having her period will therefore attract ghosts and is seen as a threat to both herself and others around her.
In this religion, a woman’s period “supposedly” stops once she enters the first level of “arhatship” (stream-enterer). Arhats are people who are deemed “worthy,” – the perfect people who attain nirvana through their efforts. Many believe that they prove their abilities to master their bodies and remove the greatest barrier to enlightenment.
Most Taiwanese Buddhists agree that menstrual blood is “unclean”, “shameful”, and even “dirty.”
It is truly fascinating to find out how different religions view menstruation and the taboos behind it. No matter what religion you are born into, you will experience your period, and you will have to deal with it according to your religious beliefs.
However, there are many of those of you out there that are not religious, and follow your own spiritual path and faith. Enjoy the freedom you have of not worrying about having to follow rituals or feeling “inadequate” during your period. Not all females have this freedom.
For all those out there, religious or not, thank goodness there are so many menstrual products ready to support us when our period hits us every month. Menstrual cups happen to be especially effective, and a very modern answer to controlling your menstrual flow.
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