Sacred Confluence of Fertility
Goddess worship, the center of Neolithic and Bronze Age clan spiritual life, realized the sacred confluence of fertility — women’s bodies, their sexuality and their menstrual cycles. Reverence for woman’s natural rhythms and monthly flow was at the very heart of Goddess worship. Woman’s sexuality, the sacred mystery of her menstruation and her ability to bless the clan with new life from her very body were considered magical.
The central role that women’s mysteriously, non-fatal monthly blood flow played in the rituals of Goddess worship cannot be over stated. At archeological digs throughout Europe, the Mid East and Central Asia, researchers have found remnant stains of red ochre. The red markings symbolized the sacred monthly menstrual cycle. It was used to venerate holy places as well as the sacred gravesites of priestesses and wise women. To many researchers and experts in the Goddess religions, the use of red ochre, also known as “haematite (from the same root word as haematology— the study of blood) draws an obvious corollary between the symbolic use of red ochre and a woman moon-gift of blood. Red ochre figured prominently in the solemn ceremonies for the dead. Its use symbolized the portal of creation — the powerful mystery of menstruation and childbirth and the replenishment of life to the clan.
The reverence for menstrual blood was literal as well as symbolic. Numerous ancient civilizations mixed the seeds for the first planting with menstrual blood to assure the blessings of the Goddess and continued bounty from mother earth.
Before the process of human procreation was understood, babies were a woman’s gift to the tribe. Primordial peoples had yet to make the connection between sex and pregnancy. In this paradigm, men had no contribution to the miracle of propagation. Women were revered as the producers of life. The life brought forth from her body was integrally connected to the ‘birth’ of the crops from the body of mother earth.
Women held primacy with little distinction between her sacred and secular power. When the Goddess was revered, women were the sisters and daughters of divinity. Creators of life and sustenance they and all aspects of the feminine were respected and valued. The power and blessings of the Goddess passed from mother to daughter in a matriarchal line. The adulation of a woman’s sacred fertility rhythm, represented by her menstrual blood, was often expressed in Tantric art. Surviving feminine talismans show exaggerated breasts and belly. Representations of the Great Mother have been dated to 27,000 years ago, to the Aurignacian Cro-Magnon peoples. These images have been found all over continental Eurasia from Spain to Siberia These earliest images of woman (erroneously identified as “Venuses” by nineteenth and early twentieth century ‘male’ researchers) evoke a reverence for the miracle of birth and the ability to nurture life.
In their thought-provoking book about menstruation, The Wise Wound, Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove contend that Paleolithic clans instinctively accepted a woman’s monthly menstrual periods were influenced by the moon’s complex and powerful celestial cycles. Shuttle and Redgrove concurred with Alexander Marshack’s hypothesis that primitive woman, from necessity, developed the capacity to recognize abstracts and symbolic thought processes.
This view was reinforced by Professor Emerita of Sociology, Elise Boulding in her book, The Underside of History: A View of Women through Time. Boulding proposes that primordial woman mastered the basics of counting, in addition to the tracking and recording of time through rudimentary lunar calendars. “Every woman had a ‘body calendar’…her monthly menstrual cycle. She would be the first to notice the relationship between her own body cycle and the lunar cycle.”
Excerpted with permission:
Goddess of Wonder, Goddess of Light, by Leslie C. Botha and H. Sandra Chevalier-Batik, 2004 Pleiades Publishing, ISBN 0-9716968-1-0