This posts takes a look at the traditional indigenous teachings around the moon time [menstruation]. I used to share moon time teachings with women’s groups, but I’ve decided that men need this information, too.
For my women readers, this is information that has been lost in our society, but it can help us in achieving the life balance we all seek.
To my male readers, please read this in the spirit of gaining a better understanding of female mysteries! Learn to appreciate the women in your life as energetic beings in tune with the cycles of nature.
When I started attending Native American ceremony 30+ years ago, there was one guideline that caused me considerable confusion:
Women were not permitted to participate in most Native American ceremonies if they were on their moon time [that is, menstruating].
No other explanation was given other than that women were “sacred” at this time.
This taboo was a great mystery to me. My first reaction was the same as that of most women: anger, suspicion and indignation. — it was hard for us to see this prohibition as anything other than one more example of men excluding women from the cool stuff.
But wait! What if there were more to it than that?I’m a researcher at heart and I like to know the why, what and how of things. I’m like a cat that way – always curious.
So I undertook the task of learning everything I could about moon time teachings and what I found surprised, enlightened and transformed me.
It was life-changing, really – a glimpse into the world beyond the mundane. A look into the magical realms of the energy of the natural world.
“Part of aligning with Divine Order is aligning with the natural cycles of the earth and the cosmos.” Christiane Northrup, M.D. in Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being
Why nothing is what it seems
The first thing to understand is that, in the Native American way, there is a reason for everything, and that reason always goes back to our relationship to Spirit.
Seen through Western eyes, the role of native women seems grounded in sexism.
Seen through Native eyes, women are honored and revered.
I once participated in a ceremony in Australia performed by the Maori [the indigenous people of New Zealand] in which the men either stood or sat on chairs and the women sat on the ground.
I can guess what you’re thinking, because I know what I thought at the time: “They don’t think women deserve to sit in chairs.”
But the real reason was something that my Western mind would never have come up with on my own: the Maori are a warrior people — the men might start throwing daggers at one another and getting into a fight with little notice. By being on the ground out of the range of swords and daggers, the women were kept safe.
Women are sacred in the Maori culture, as they are in most indigenous cultures, because they bear and raise children, which is the most honored role in the tribe. By keeping up the tradition of the women staying safe on the ground, it serves as a constant reminder to the tribe of how cherished the women are.
What Western world mothers don’t know
When I had my first menstrual period, my mother passed on the teaching she received from her mother: it’s known as “the curse,” a major inconvenience in our lives and something women just have to learn to put up with.
In the view of traditional indigenous people, a woman’s moon time is a ceremony in and of itself. It is when she is the most sensitive, creative and intuitive.
To understand why this is, we need to understand the cycles of the moon.
While the sun has been viewed by ancient societies as male energy, the moon has almost always been female. The moon rules the flow of liquids on earth [think of the ocean tides] and in women’s bodies.
The time of the full moon is one of energy and outward activity. Walk in the country on the night of the full moon and you can see everything you need to see, but it’s as though the landscape is lit by magic.
At the new moon, called the dark of the moon, it’s said that the veil between the physical plane and the Great Mystery is the thinnest. It’s a more spiritual, introspective time – there’s less light and, therefore, less activity.
Women who lived traditionally, in nature without artificial light, almost always had their menses at the time of the new moon. Hence the term, “moon time.”
To have our bodies’ cycles synchronized with the moon, we have to be able to see it. In the modern world of artificial light, we tend to be indoors and not noticing where the moon is. This makes it more difficult for us to perceive the natural cycles.
This is also the reason why many women have irregular menstrual cycles – their bodies are no longer in sync with the energetic rhythms of the natural world and the moon.
A woman’s moon time is a time for retreat and vision and quiet reflection. In some tribes, a traditional woman on her moon time would go to a Moon Lodge, a place of quiet and beauty separate from the activity of daily life. It was a kind of vision quest. Food was brought to her. She was considered on retreat and had no responsibilities other than to pray, dream, to call for vision on behalf of her people and do her creative work.
The visions and dreams women received in the moon lodge were often passed on to the tribe as messages from the Great Spirit. It could be something as simple as a recipe, a rug design or a larger scale project.
But some of the most amazing prophecies about modern times were made by women in their moon lodges: prophecies of giant silver birds and great spider webs covering the land [planes and power lines] are said to have come from the moon lodge visions.
This heightened sensitivity which Native people acknowledge and honor during the moon time is the same sensitivity that creates what our society calls PMS.
Unfortunately, because we keep up a normal schedule at that time, we often get stressed and misunderstood. Taking at least one day during our moon times to nurture ourselves, meditate and rest is indescribably beneficial. The moon time cleanses our bodies and our time in solitude nurtures our spirits.
As the moon becomes full again, the women work to manifest their visions. The full moon is a time of outward contact and connection. Also the time of ovulation if we are in cycle with the moon.
A week or so after the full moon, we might start feeling our energy draining, impatience, restlessness or cramps. This is the signal it’s time to start withdrawing and doing less outward activity. Carefully choose what you do and who you spend time with.
I’ve heard of new moon drumming circles but that may be what the men did. Traditional women would not have drumming circles on the new moon; first, they were probably in the moon lodge; the new moon is a time of quiet and retreat and drumming is too much activity. The full moon is the time for drumming circles for women.
While the moon time is viewed as a ceremony, it works with a very different energy than most other ceremonies. In the view of many Native American tribes, energy, and most of life, is seen as moving clockwise, or “sun wise.”
When a medicine person is conducting a ceremony and needs to communicate with spirits or animals in the area, he or she does so by psychically traveling on that sun wise energy.
I once vision quested in an area that had a lot of rattle snakes. In fact, I knew there was a rattlesnake near the site I had selected because I almost stepped on it. I could have chosen another site, but I felt I was supposed to be there.
I told Bear Heart, the elder who was putting me on the vision quest, about the snake, and trusted he would take care of it. And he did — I never saw that snake again.
The way Bear Heart took care of it was by communicating with that snake, asking that, for the protection of both the snake and me, it stay away. That communication took place by his psychically traveling on sun wise [clockwise] energy.
The energy of a woman on her moon time is a counterclockwise energy because it is an undoing energy. After the body has built it’s monthly nest, to be ready for the possibility of new life, the nest is discarded to make room for a new one.
That discarding and undoing process is our menses, which creates a counterclockwise energy in and around the woman’s body. Since most other ceremonies utilize clockwise energy, there is an incompatibility.
The moon time energy is so powerful that it can get in the way of a medicine person communicating with the spiritual realm during a ceremony. [A very in-tune woman friend of mine once wanted to test this out at a very large gathering for a Sun Dance ceremony on a reservation in South Dakota. Although she was not menstruating at the time, she concentrated on creating a counterclockwise energy in her body. Within 5 minutes an announcement was made over the loudspeaker reminding any women on their moon time to please leave the area. So the medicine people truly can tell.]
Another Native view of the moon time is that it is the body’s natural purification process. Not only are we releasing blood, but also the toxins we have accumulated over the course of the month. A little known fact is that the purification [sweat] lodge ceremony originated many generations ago to allow men an opportunity to purify their bodies the way women naturally do on a monthly basis.
It’s only been in recent times, due to the extreme pollution and toxicity in our world, that women even started going into the purification lodge.
Women who have achieved menopause are considered the elders, whose wisdom is held inside their bodies. It’s sad that in “civilized” society, older women are not revered, but in traditional societies, they are – very much so.
Things to do to honor the moon time and your body:
- Spend more time in moonlight where artificial light is not hitting your eyes at the same time. Sleep where the moonlight will be on you. Pay attention to where Grandmother Moon is in her cycle. Offer her gifts such as small stones and corn meal and ask her to bring you into balance with her.
- Have your family cook their own meals for 1-3 of the days you’re on your moon.
- Take the first day of your menses off from work, if possible. If you have to go to work, at least spend your non-working hours at home, resting.
- Nurture yourself for four days. Don’t have intercourse during the menstrual flow – too much expenditure of energy.
The tampon and sanitary napkin commercials telling women they can maintain their level of activity during their flow are doing a great disservice to women.
In her book, Mother-Daughter Wisdom: Understanding the Crucial Link Between Mothers, Daughters, and Health, Christiane Northrup, M.D. at p. 533, comments on the reason for menstrual cramps:
“The fact that so many girls have cramps speaks volumes about our culture’s love affair with incessant productivity and activity at the expense of adequate periods of rest. Menstrual cramps are a sure sign that the sympathetic nervous system stress hormones associated with “fight or flight” are out of balance with the parasympathetic chemicals of “rest and restore.” That’s why cramps are often relieved by simply resting with a hot water bottle on the lower abdomen, or taking a relaxing hot bath.”
- Create a beautiful place of retreat to be in during your moon time.
- Do your art work and crafts during your moon time; you’re at your most creative then.
- Use cloth pads, not tampons. We’ve all heard stories of girls dying of toxic shock from using tampons. The menstrual flow is a detoxification; why would we want to hold the toxins released in the menstrual flow in our bodies?
- The new moon is also a time of new beginnings; a teaching I received from my elders was: when you see the new moon, acknowledge her and bless yourself by reaching up toward her and pulling her energy and light down over your body. It’s also a good time to start new projects in a meditative, relaxed way, particularly artistic projects.
So why not give this a try for a month or two and see how you feel. After all, as caretakers of the earth for millennia before we came along, the Native elders must have known what they were talking about when it comes to the energies of Mother Earth.
It’s a shame that the European conquerors, in rejecting Native American societies, also rejected some of the most profound teachings about how to live a balanced life on Mother Earth.
“When you take care of yourself, you take care of more than just yourself.” Matthew McConaughey, Buick commercial
Molly Larkin is the co-author of the international best-seller “The Wind Is My Mother; The Life and Teachings of a Native American Shaman.” She is passionate about helping people live life to their fullest potential through her classes and blog at www.MollyLarkin.com