Menstrual taboos: why is menstrual blood seen as dangerous?

Menstrual taboos exist in most cultures (most cultures view menstrual blood as pot6a00d83451c22e69e20147e023c3d5970b-320wientially dangerous & place restrictions around it). In the past, Western (male) anthropologists held that such taboos existed because menstrual blood was seen as polluted and unclean. More recently, some female anthropologists have questioned this assumption. They argue that some cultures have menstrual prohibitions not because menstrual blood is seen as dirty but because it is seen as sacred and powerful.

In Polynesian cultures, for instance, menstrual blood is seen as “taboo” which means that it is seen as sacred, special, powerful, set apart. Things that are “taboo” have special restrictions placed on them because they are seen as powerful and potentially harmful (warriors who have killed in a battle, for instance, are also “taboo” for a while after they return home).

Regardless of whether a culture considers menstrual blood polluted or powerful/sacred, what surprises me is that menstrual blood is always seen as dangerous. Polyesian cultures have taboos on what women can do while menstruating – a menstruating woman cannot go to fishing areas (for instance) because then no fish will be caught. She also can’t go into the garden because then the vegetables won’t grow. If menstrual blood is seen as sacred and powerful, why can’t its power be viewed as beneficial to society (rather than as dangerous and primarily harmful to society, like the power of witchcraft)?

I think the reason behind this is that a lot of cultures fear powerful women – a powerful woman cannot be trusted. This fear of powerful women is present in European society as well: historically, mainly women were accused of witchcraft & killed, and women who worked medicinally with plants were quickly viewed with suspicion as ‘witches’. The idea that women have this dangerous ‘witchy’ power over men continues today. A beautiful woman is called ‘glamorous’, ‘enchanting’, ‘bewitching’ and ‘spellbinding’ (a ‘glamour’ was originally a spell cast on a man to make him believe that a woman was more attractive than she really was).

In Western society, menstruation was never viewed as powerful (only as polluted), however had it been considered powerful I think that our society would have feared it & labelled it as dangerous just like most other cultures around the world.

It seems to me that almost all cultures view menstruation as dangerous in some way (even in the cultures that also view menstrual blood as sacred/special). I would love to hear of a culture that told women “come to our fishing areas when you are menstruating, to bring us good luck!” I vaguely remember reading somewhere of a culture where menstrual blood was seen as a positive ‘lucky’ force, so I think that such cultures exist although they are in the minority.

I know that some menstrual restrictions exist because of the idea that the powerful force of menstrual blood clashes badly with other sorts of powerful forces… but what I don’t understand is why can’t the power of menstrual blood be seen as primarily neutral or beneficial to societies around the world, rather than as primarily destructive?

This entry was posted in Menstruation Restrictions, Religion and Menstruation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Menstrual taboos: why is menstrual blood seen as dangerous?

  1. kristy says:

    I found your blog while searching for information about menstruation. I thought I heard that PMS and menstrual pain was a “western” thing, that is, women in developed countries have issues with it instead of those elsewhere. I was curious if that were true…

    Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Divya says:

    (also posted on Menstruation Restriction post):

    You might be interested in researching the Tantric tradition of Hinduism. While Orthodox brahmanical Hindus believed menstruating women were polluted, this Tantric counter-culture, fueled by lower-caste, non-Aryan thought processes, and reminiscent of the female-icon worship of the Indus Valley civilization, tempered the ancient fear of powerful women and embraced her as the goddess:

    “The Goddesa is not only located at specific sites but is identified with the Earth and the landscape, so in one sense the whole of ‘India’ is the Goddess, to the ‘four corners’ of which a pilgrim can journey and receive great blessing…Here, the Goddess is worshiped in the form of a vulva and her menstrual cycle celebrated by adorning the icon with red powder.” (An Introduction to Hinduism, Flood, 2004 ed., 192-3).

    Obviously Hinduism is a complex, paradoxical religion, with thousands of different voices and texts, but my point is: don’t worry–even ancient cultures struggled with this taboo. In this case, they embraced it! The Goddess (sakti = female power; according to this women were associated with red blood, sun, action, etc. and therefore MORE POWERFUL than men ideologically–whoop whoop!) lived back then too! The pics you found online about Indian temples/restricting menstruating women comes from the orthodox Brahmanical view that women are passionate, distracting, earthly, polluted, cause attachment etc.. As a modern Hindu I reject this idea (though the Brahmin orthopraxy had some wicked cool ideas about cosomology and the like) and embrace my female body as natural and goddess-esque. :)

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  4. RaqSolid says:

    What I’ve heard is that menstruating woman were encouraged to spend time in the fields of Native American societies because the blood was good for the crops.

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  6. Lori Kerns says:

    What benefit to a potentially “yeast infected” menstrual blood would there be to a society, are there businesses geared to go home to home to collect this “material”, NO, obviously there is an air of common sense involved in that ultimately menstrual blood is considered a bodily WASTE product, people don’t come by your house to collect your shit cause it smells like roses. But wait no hold on!!! I do have a use for it…. shorter lines at the blood bank….

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  8. Menstrual blood is the cleanest blood there is. If you mix it with water and sprinkle your flowers in your garden you will get the most beautiful garden in your area. There is so many powerful things you can do with menstrual blood, that the powerful elite of the world had to create a story that “this power blood” was polluted to keep it away from ordinary people. There are powerful things they don’t want you to discover… You who wrote this blog – You are on the right track. Don’t stop. The whole world want to know.

    – Michael in Sweden
    Renegade member of Light, systems buster, available for altering system of consciousness within the free will universe.

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