From the author of the classic Motherpeace–an inspiring and practical guide for awakening women's shamanic healing powers to heal ourselves and our planet.
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The Female Blood Road of Shamanism
Female Shamanism Is Based In the blood cycle. Western women have forgotten the spiritual significance of the menstrual cycle and need to reconnect in order to empower ourselves. The blood mysteries of birthing and menstruation are the core of female shamanism.
The Mapuche women shamans who live in Chile at the very southern tip of the Southern Hemisphere still practice their ancient lunar rites of healing. The Mapuche woman shaman climbs up on a seven-tiered "tree" and beats her kultrun, or drum, which she has carved herself from a tree and filled with special crystals and stones, including the amazing piedra de la cruz. She has covered the drum with leather she tanned herself and has painted the cover with special red menstrual symbols. The symbols form an equal-armed cross (like the one naturally formed in the stone), and at the end of each directional pointer she has painted a crescent moon, representing the lunar menstrual cycle that is the basis of her cosmology. The Mapuche people say that they have been living in that spot and practicing this form of healing for twenty-five thousand years.
There are many characteristics of shamanic healing that apply equally to men and women, without regard to their biological differences. All over the world there are shamans of both sexes, drumming, chanting, and healing, although in many places the tribal shamans are predominantly one sex or the other. For instance, the Huichol tribe in Mexico specializes in shamanic healing and shamanic art. For the most part the men are the healersand ceremonialists (the "shamans" and priests) and the women are the artists. (But even that has diversity, and in recent years they have developed the art form of yarn painting, which is done mainly by men.) Huichol men and women have always worked together on their parallel paths of art and healing, husbands and wives often serving their apprenticeships during the same period of years, making different offerings to the various deities who represent the paths of art and healing. Together, each one is striving to reach what is called completion, and they help each other work toward this goal.
In Chile, by contrast, the Mapuche shamans are women, as they are in Korea, and as they once were in China and Japan and India. Yet shamanism in general has been defined as if it were a male form, often connected to and concerned with power, rather than focusing on healing. Our Western approach to shamanism has been to focus on the exotic elements, elements of drama, sorcery, and the like rather than learning about the deep, transformational aspects of the healing art. This makes sense, since we don't understand transformation the way we understand power. Western observers rarely notice that shamanism has anything to do with the Feminine, and yet all shamans no matter what part of the world they are from always work in the realm of the Feminine. They either pray to the Mother of the Animals, the Mother of All Things, the Dark Mother, Grandmother Growth, the Death Goddess, or some other manifestation of the Divine Feminine in her dark, magical, healing power. In order to perform shamanic vocational tasks, the shaman must in the long run commune with the Goddess and enter into her realm.
Geoffrey Ashe, a British scholar who researched shamanism, has written that originally shamans were women, the most ancient form of the word itself meaning "female shaman." He says the Paleolithic community broke into different tribes with different dialects, and at that time the word shaman took on a male connotation in the Tungus dialect, from which the current usage is derived. Ashe links ancient female shamanism to the Great Bear constellation and to the Goddess Artemis and places it in the Paleolithic period. The images that come to us from the Paleolithic caves pregnant women dancing with animals, some headless, some with bird heads or masks, bear fetishes that contain menstrual calendar notches correspond to the signs of ritual and ceremony that accompany all the cave sites. Ashe is very clear about one thing that especially interests me: He says that ancient shamanism was not an individual phenomenon but something that was practiced by the female group. And the power of the female group is biologically rooted in menstruation and the blood mysteries of birth.
Women once bled together with the moon, as many Western women do in dormitories even today. But imagine the power of an entire community of women bleeding together each new or full moon. In order actually to begin to feel what this might mean, other than simply a synchronous group experience, we have to contemplate the nature of menstrual blood. In our present-day Western culture, menstrual blood is taboo. We are expected not to pay any particular attention to it, other than hiding it, shielding ourselves from its flow, and shielding others from any experience of it. When we bleed, we try to go about our business as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Since men have made it clear that they find us difficult at "that time of the month," we also try to perform our usual tasks without any undue expression of anger or emotion that might arise from our hormonal state. This is a tremendous pressure and undoubtedly contributes significantly to what our society calls PMS (premenstrual syndrome). In addition to these stresses, our modern refined and chemically laced food is nonnutritious and harmful to our natural biological cycle, making us more prone to the aches and pains of PMS.
In truth, menstruation is a time that is absolutely taboo in the most ancient sense of the word, which means "sacred." It is explicitly nonordinary and requires that we be set apart from the ordinary tasks at hand.
Meet the Author
Vicki Noble is a healer, teacher, artist, and author. She is the co-creator of the Motherpeace tarot deck with Karen Vogel. Her other books include Shakti Woman, Uncoiling the Snake, and Down Is Up for Aaron Eagle.
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