Women usually see menstruation as inevitable evil. It is a source of discomfort and annoyance but there is nothing one can do about it. It is a matter of physiology. By the way, the attitude toward menstruation was completely different some hundred years from now. The woman in her period was considered an unclean and dangerous creature, and menstrual blood was used in magic rituals.
“Menstruating women were thought to be capable of putting the evil eye, and therefore they tried not to look at the newborns in that time.”
Has anybody heard of a drop of menstrual blood mixed with red wine to bewitch a man? Female students of a medical school still discuss the old philter’s recipe in whispers. A regular girl is likely to frown on the idea. Just a few girls will dare carry out such experiments these days.
However, some rumors and superstitions related to the menses are still circulating around. To some extent, they are worth talking about though all of them should be taken with a grain of salt.
A motherly smack on the cheek does the trick
According to Russian cultural traditions, a woman in menstruation was regarded an unclean creature that should be kept isolated from society. That is why strict rules and instructions applied to a woman’s behavior during her period.
The uncleanness of a woman could inflict damage mostly to other people, while the magic rituals associated with the first menses were designed to protect a girl from harm.
A girl’s mother was normally in charge of performing the rituals associated with the first menses. The mother would wash her daughter’s bloodstained underwear so that the menstruation might last not longer than three days. After washing was done, she would empty the bucket into the bottom rows of logs of a cabin. It was thought that a small number of bottom logs covered with water would indicate a short period of menstruation.
The mother was also supposed to keep her daughter’s cheeks rosy during the first menses. The flush on the face was thought to be the sign of a girl’s health. Once the mother learned of her daughter’s first period, she would slap her offspring across the face pretty hard so that the face might redden. Up to now, some girls in rural and urban areas alike still believe in the magic power of a motherly smack allegedly capable of making a girl’s face glow. It was also thought that a girl was doomed to lose her healthy glowing if her mother happened to die during the days of the daughter’s first menstruation. According to a popular belief, a dead mother could ruin her daughter’s flush by taking it right into the grave.
The girls made an effort trying to keep their first menses to themselves. In fact, they tried to keep in secret all of their subsequent menses too. According to a superstition, a girl who let the cast out of the bag will be in trouble on the day of her wedding i.e. the menses will come earlier than expected, and a wedding ceremony in church will have to be postponed because no female is allowed to go to church if she is on her period.
Bans and prohibitions
The adults were supposed to inform a girl of certain precautions and rules she must follow during her time of menstruation. The rules are many and they look exceedingly strict. Some of them are still observed to this day.
Some women still refrain from going to church when they have menstruation. Aside from the traditional motive having to do with a woman’s “uncleanness”, which is believed to be an insult to the place for the worship of a deity, there is yet another reason behind this ban. It is thought that a violator will grow a beard.
Menstruating women were also banned from visiting the cemetery or taking part in a burial ceremony because the deceased may absorb part of a woman’s “uncleanness” and thus be forbidden from going to heaven.
During their menses women were also banned from lighting a lamp icon or candle in front of an icon. Besides, they were not allowed to eat communion bread or drink holy water. It was thought that holy water would lose its power and a candle lit up before the icon would burn for the benefit of the Devil.
The other category of bans refers to the implementation of a woman’s social functions. A menstruating woman was banned from taking part in plowing the soil and sowing the seeds because she was capable of extracting vital strength from the soil and plants. Other prohibitions applied to baking of pies, pickling of cabbage, and slicing of bread because the flour will go sour, cabbage will rot away, and bread will either upend (a portent of the deceased) or crumble
(a portent of poverty).
A menstruating woman was not allowed to weave because the fabric will tear up and threads will get tangled. In other words, any job done by a woman on a period was deemed useless. At times it could even pose a threat to health and life.
Menstruating women were thought to be capable of putting the evil eye on the newborns, and therefore they tried to look away.
Popular menstrual sorcery
Apart from the bans associated with menstruation, there were a number of magic practices relating to the use of menstrual blood. To inspire love in a young man, a girl was supposed to bake flat bread using some water left after washing her underwear stained with menstrual blood.
Menstrual blood was also used for inflicting damage to another woman. The blood should be gathered in a vial and secretly spilled on the road so that the targeted woman might step on it. It was believed that a “woman will start to bleed herself and there will be no stopping it” after she steps on the blood stains. The fear of being harmed by an evil spell can explain the ban imposed on visits to a bathhouse during menstruation because a “woman will wither away if she catches a glimpse of that blood.”
Menstrual blood was also used as a means of preventing pregnancy. A woman would take another’s woman underwear stained with menstrual blood and wash it. Then she would carry a bucketful of dirty water to a bathhouse and spill it over the stove. The procedure was thought to capable of causing a miscarriage.
No loans during menstruation
A number of female residents in Moscow , St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg were recently polled on their attitudes toward bans and prohibitions associated with menstruation. The poll shows that the list of bans is a mixture of traditional superstitions plus some fairly ones including the following:
- A woman should not have surgery (or pull out her teeth) during her menses. In fact, this piece of advice makes sense since the blood of a menstruating woman coagulates slower than it normally does, and therefore even minor surgery could result in a bad case of hemorrhage.
Avoid using bleach because it will cause great damage to laundry;
Avoid having heel taps placed on your shoes because they will fall off soon;
Avoid having your teeth filled because the fillings will not last;
Avoid borrowing money because you will be unable to pay it back;
Avoid buying shares or securities because you will lose in the end;
Avoid having your hair cut, dyed or permed because a hairdresser will foul it up;
Avoid visiting a fish restaurant because you will have food poisoning;
Avoid introducing your boyfriend to your female companion because she will seduce him;
Avoid passing exams because you will fail.
Translated by Guerman Grachev