Culture

Native American Menstruation Rituals Provided Support To Women That The Modern Day Sadly Lacks

By Andrea Mew··  6 min read
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For many of us, our “monthly gift” is anything but a gift, but historically, societies have not always treated menstruation like it’s the end of the world.

There are a lot of conflicting beliefs out there about periods. Traditional wisdom assigned deep spiritual or cultural meanings to menstruation while modern, Westernized mentalities either treat it like a biological function or stigmatize any public discussion. 

With some Native American tribes revitalizing their female-centered cultural practices, word is getting out to Westernized cultures that our perspectives on menstruation and the female body are unsupportive at best and disrespectful at worst. So, what’s the deal with “moon time” and how does it differ from our “Aunt Flo”?

The Traditional Native American Perspective

Many Native American cultures traditionally honor women while they menstruate. Historically, the reasoning and beliefs varied from tribe to tribe, but for the most part, menstruating women were given deep respect. After all, if everyone could bleed (sometimes profusely) without dying for days on end, you’d probably start to wonder if they’re tapping into otherworldly powers.

What else did a woman’s period indicate?

  • She was holy.

  • She was purifying herself.

  • She was spiritually powerful.

Because of these beliefs, tribe members often looked to menstruating women as spiritual leaders who could aid tribes with unique guidance and advice.

A Set Apart Time and Place Just for Women

Some Native American communities embraced menstrual huts, moon lodges, or secluded wigwams for menstruating women to escape to during their period. They would sleep away from their family and refrain from even touching them. They would also not prepare food or partake in ceremonies. Fellow female friends or relatives would take over their responsibilities and take care of them. 

During this time, the menstruating woman could take a healthy amount of rest and reflect on her unique role as a giver of life. She would also be able to have uninterrupted personal reflection and gain knowledge from female elders.

The menstruating woman could rest and reflect on her unique role as a giver of life.

As you’ve probably noticed if you live with women in your household or are part of a sorority, women in close proximity often end up menstruating at the same time. Thus, moon lodges were bustling with feminine energy, where many women menstruating at the same time could express themselves freely, and pursue storytelling, crafts, and other forms of art.

Elaborate Coming-of-Age Rituals

Supportive practices were often coupled with celebratory events as a girl experienced her rite of passage into womanhood.

The Hupa had menstrual ceremonies with intricate dance rituals which were meant to renew the entire tribe and keep the world in balance. The lead-up to the Flower Dance ceremony was months of collecting sacred items, with the young woman who was coming of age taking part in ceremonial runs and bathing rituals. Even more, those bathing sites would then be a place for men to go strengthen their power and vitality.

The Ojibwe had end-of-the-year feasts to celebrate a girl’s transition into a woman where gifts were exchanged and young women ate berries to end a traditional berry fast ritual. For a year before she came of age, the young girl was expected not to eat a single strawberry.

The Sunrise Ceremony showered ladies coming of age with attention, prayer, and dance for four days. 

The Apache proudly announced a woman’s first period to their entire tribe with a Sunrise Ceremony. The Sunrise Ceremony showered young ladies coming of age with attention, prayer, song, and dance for four days straight. What a way to be sent into your adult life!

This heightened level of support and celebration surrounding puberty feels at odds with the secrecy and shame that many women feel today when first getting their period.

Let’s Compare That To Our Practices

In America, we’ve come a long way. During the early days, some fundamentalist sects actually felt that a woman wasn’t in her natural state if she wasn’t pregnant. When women began to become integral parts of our workforce, some people voiced concerns that females were ill-suited for leadership roles because of our hormones.

Nowadays, we get major media corporations like Disney/Pixar making an entire film that serves as a somewhat distasteful and disjointed allegory for menstruation and puberty, Turning Red

We still have deep-rooted taboos and misconceptions about female menstrual cycles, but we run the risk of many generations not understanding how their bodies function and how to best manage their hormones and fertility because of shame.

Oftentimes, our bodies feel like something we’re always trying to treat rather than cherish. Dealing with periods can feel like you’re experiencing an impure medical crisis. The sanitary products that we’re told to use can cause extra pain and potentially life-threatening complications down the road if not used properly. 

Yet, many doctors now refer to our menstrual cycles as our fifth vital sign, meaning that it gives just as much insight as signs like body temperature, breathing and pulse rate, and blood pressure into how well the basic functions of our body are running. 

We Could Learn a Thing or Two from Ancient Wisdom

There are modern revivals of Native American menstrual rituals, like in the Ojibwe tribe. After many of their rituals were deemed illegal by the American and Canadian governments, many tribes are publicly revitalizing their ceremonies and traditions. 

Our takeaway from Native American menstrual rituals is that we should treat our cycles with honor and respect.

Female-centered cultural practices are now having a re-awakening. The menstruating Ojibwe women aren’t living in separate houses necessarily anymore, but they still practice seclusion from chores and focus on personal and spiritual growth.

“This revitalization is exploding into something beautiful; we are grasping our culture,” said one woman from the Ojibwe tribe, Cleora White.

To many Native Americans in tune with their ancestral cultures, observing and showing honor for their period is actually a way to celebrate womanhood and feel pride in their identity.

Closing Thoughts

Look, it’s not necessarily practical for the modern woman to stop everything she’s doing and seclude herself for up to a week each month. Many of us work multiple jobs or are primary caretakers for loved ones without extra hands from extended family. 

In a similar vein, it's not realistic to throw long celebratory events for each young woman we know who begins her first period. But our takeaway from Native American menstrual rituals is that we should treat our cycles with honor and respect nonetheless.

We don’t need to wear our period blood as a badge of pride, and we’re certaining not endorsing making art out of it, but on the flip side, we also shouldn’t let the word period be unspeakable or make women feel ashamed about the things that make them uniquely feminine.

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