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Chapter 4

Wilderness Metaform

THE ancestral sisters stepped out of the dense animal matrix of primate consciousness on a bridge of creature metaforms --- living beings that embodied ideas developed through seclusion rites. The menstruant's inner connection to lunar cycles pulled her mind outside itself, and she cast it onto other natural beings, entraining her blood imagery with their shapes and habits. Metaform, the middle form between menstruation and an idea, was applied to the wilderness, with certain plants, animals, and other creatures singled out to embody instructive and connective principles. Based in physical life, in earthly experience and observation, the metaforms of creatures and landscape became an external expression of thought, allowing us to externally communicate ideas of measurement, origination, and deity.

The designation of certain creatures as metaforms was sometimes based on their attraction to women's blood, as with certain predators. With other creatures, the metaphoric connection was in the suggestive qualities of their shapes: the serpent is the prime example. The entrainment of menstruation to the moon drew special attention to the crescent-shaped horns of certain animals, which in Africa, Asia, and Europe became metaforms for the new moon.

Of all the thousands of species on earth, only a few dozen became metaforms, some being very local, for example, a particular white tree sloth hunted for ceremonial reasons or a blood-red drag- [p. 51]

onfly featured in a creation story. Other metaformic creatures occur in myth in large areas of a single continent, particularly the jaguar of South America, the leopard, lion, and antelope of Africa, and the octopus of Hawaii. And some, especially the snake, the red ant, and the animals of the wild dog family, seem to have gone nearly everywhere humans went in their many migrations out of the mother continent of Africa.

Women's Blood and the Wild Dogs

Why did our ancestral mother separate from others during her bleeding? Perhaps the answer lies with one of the primary deities of tribal peoples, found on the continents of Africa, Eurasia, and North and South America: the wild dog family. Its members, the jackal, coyote, wolf, fox, and ancestors of the domesticated dog are all associated with creation, with trickery and teaching, with menstruation, and with death or other catastrophes in many cultures.

It is easy enough to imagine a material connection between wild dogs and menstruation. In remote times of human history, jackals and other predators, drawn to the smell of blood, must have sent ancestral females up the nearest tall tree or into the nearest thicket, drawing lines of special attention between the habits of predators, the blood flow of women, and danger or death.

Once when I was living in an all-female collective, some visiting dogs "went wild" for a few hours one afternoon while we were out. They broke into laundry baskets and ate the crotches out of half a dozen pairs of levis and dress pants! I had a number of feelings over this event: it was extremely funny, it was a big financial loss, and it was eerie. That was the day I began to imagine the hazards of being a menstruating human in the vicinity of fierce blood-smelling predators, in those long eras before we learned to use fire, weapons, or houses. How cautious one would need to be. How silent. What to do? Hide, bury yourself in sand, climb a tall tree.

As I have said earlier, many menstrual seclusion rites used a pit [p. 53]

of some kind to bury the menstruant to her waist or neck: "Among the Uiyumkwi tribe in Red Island the girl lies at full length in a shallow trench dug in the foreshore, and sand is thrown lightly over her legs and body up to the breasts, which appear not to be covered. A rough shelter of boughs is then built over her, and thus she remains lying for a few hours." [1] Some tribes required her to stay in the pit only during the day; at night she was permitted to come out, though she had to remain in the shelter. The construction of a shelter of tree limbs or brush was typical and may have recalled the original retreat to the trees or an earlier rite that took place in a tree. [2] Menstruating women wrapped tree branches around their midsections to prevent men from seeing their blood, and some Asian and South American seclusion rites included hanging the menstruant off the ground in a hammock or suspending her in a cage several feet off the ground, perhaps in imitation of being in a tree. Folk tradition is full of fears of walking under certain trees or under ladders or under houses raised on stilts, all of which refer to men's need to be careful lest menstrual blood fall on them[4] I wonder if children's tree houses aren't remnants of what at one time were seclusion huts located in trees, high above wild dogs.

Chris Knight theorizes that in the Pleistocene, among bands of protohumans living on the coast of East Africa, the females had periods well-synchronized, not only with each other, but with the repetitive cycle of the moon and the tides. [5] I think of this seaside band, and imagine that when wild dogs came sniffing around, the protopeople must have run up trees or into the sea. Females who had made the connection between their menstrual blood and the attention of predators, and who ran up into a tree alone while the rest gathered food, or who buried themselves and the smell of their blood in the sand, prevented the loss of members of the band. They could spend less energy running from wild dogs, more time gathering food, have less risk of babies washed away by waves. The menstruant's seclusion was thus a kind of sacrifice, for the farther the band distanced themselves from her while she bled, the safer they were. But the more the females were synchronized with each [p. 53]

other, the more likely they were to go into menstrual seclusion several at a time, with older female caretakers whose cooperation would enhance their survival as well, and their ability to find the band again.

Other predators appear in myths playing the same part as members of the wild dog family. In South and Central America, the jaguar is sometimes mythically identified as a dog and as having the same metaphoric function as the dog. [6] The Bambara people say that a creative female spirit, Muso Koroni, takes the form of a black leopard; she causes menstruation by slashing women with her claws. [7] Other great cats appear in these ancient stories, and beliefs about the domesticated cat --- that it lives nine lives and has twenty-eight kittens --- are also woven into menstrual mythology. The cat has a long association with the wisewoman or sorceress in European folklore and religious history. During centuries of persecution of witches, huge numbers of domestic cats were sacrificed as well.

Some menstrual taboos included dogs --- the menstruant could not eat food touched by a dog or touch the dog itself. The Kogi people of Columbia specify that during her seven-day menarchal seclusion in a dark part of her parent's house, the girt may not look at a dog. Dogs are believed to have been the first domesticated animal, and hunting dogs were used by women as well as male hunters among the Tiwi people of the South Pacific and the Patagomans at the southern tip of South America, as well as in the tribes of the far north.

Members of the wild dog family are widespread over the earth, and some peoples' mythology connects them to menstruation and the teaching of primary knowledge to humans. In one Navajo creation story, the First World contained only Man, Woman, and Coyote. According to the Miwok people of North America, Coyote created menstruation, and it is reasonable to suppose that, quite literally, by drawing the severest attention to the women's condition, the coyote family and other wild dog species, named menstruation for the human family. [8] [p. 54]

Dogs are associated with women in many mythic traditions and firmly connected to death in Western mythology. Hecate, the Greek goddess of death, has a black dog, and the underworld is guarded by Cerebus, the three-headed dog. The folk belief that a dog's howl signals death is still prevalent in rural areas in the Northern Hemisphere. Wolves of Europe were mythic creatures of death, netherworlds, and origin: Rome was founded by a She-wolf.

The wild dog family is also connected mythically to the moon. The Moon card in the Rider Tarot deck depicts a howling black dog, and in the Medicine Tarot deck, a wolf. The bloody mouths of coyotes, wolves, and dogs after a kill and their howling during the full moon must have been noticed by our early ancestors. Coyote is a trickster god/spirit/brother in tribal traditions of hundreds of tribes of the American continent. Women in particular, treasured Coyote, continuing to emphasize his religion even after the men had moved the focus of their religious activities to Sky. For the Miwok of California, Coyote created death as well as menstruation, and for many others, he is part of a flood or other creation myth. The menstrual mind, reflected through its metaform Coyote, thus created the consciousness of death and the distinctly human approach to dying.

In Africa, the jackal was a major teaching metaform, about menstruation, death, and much more. The jackal evolved in the complexity of the ancient Egyptian pantheons into one of the greatest of the gods --- Anubis, guardian of the dead and messenger of Osiris. In painting and sculpture, Anubis is represented as a tall figure with a jackal head.

The Jackal and the Red Ant Mound

According to Ogotemmeli, a philosopher of the Dogon, the jackal was the first son of the earth mother, whose vulva was the red ant mound.[9] As he mated incestuously with his mother, the jackal created menstruation. The Dogon people credit their first comprehension of death to the red ant mound, the menstruating vulva of the [p. 55]

earth. In the beginning, according to the Dogon philosopher, a person who died was carried into the underworld by the red ants, and stayed living down there. This metaform, then, posits menstrual blood as a life force similar to the vigorous, continually moving line of large red ants. And like menstrual powers of decomposition and the unraveling of consciousness, the line of ants made the dead disappear, swallowed them into the womb of mother earth. Thus, a natural event was singled out for special attention because it could be connected to menstruation and turned into a metaform, extending the mental parameters of the menstrual origin story.

It is not only in Africa that red ants are associated with menstruation. Stinging by red ants is part of a menarchal rite from South America, and in North America, women of the Kitanemuk people used red ants as a treatment for complications with menstruation or childbirth --- the ants were allowed to bite the body or were swallowed. Among these desert mountain people who once lived in the Tehachapi Mountains at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley of California, boys underwent a puberty rite that encouraged them to have visions, fasting and drinking the juice of tobacco or datura. A boy "who wished additional power could acquire it by taking ants. After a three-day fast, a boy consulted an older man, who took him to a secluded spot in the hills. The boy would lie down and the other men would drop ants into his mouth for him to ingest. The boy went into a coma for several hours. After he awoke, the old man prayed, describing what the boy had seen and referring to mythological figures."[10] One Navajo creation story says that the First World consisted only of ants. Some South American tribes use ants and bees to sting young people at puberty to make them industrious, to "wake them up." In European folklore, too, the ant is remembered as a model for industry and cooperative effort.

The Hopi credit the ant with teaching people how to live underground, and how to store food; the Dogon credit the red ant with teaching them how to build their houses above ground. Although [p. 56]

there are hundreds of varieties of ants, it is the red ant, aggressive and venomous, that has attracted most human attention. What may initially have attracted the human eye to the red ant was the mound of its home, a line of red streaming from the opening, imagined as the earth's vagina of life and death. This image could have been used as one of the very earliest communications of menstrual knowledge --- long before speech, dance, or drawing aided the task. By gesture alone, people could have pointed to the busy red ant mound as a metaform for the life and death principle of menstruation. Ogotemmêli's account says just that: the ant mound and jackal stories occurred before human speech began, when gesture and enactment, perhaps including the wearing of a jackal skin and skull, conveyed the menstrual meanings of early human philosophy.

The Snake Is Synchronous Menstruation

Of all the creatures used as metaform, the richest and most versatile, the most widespread over the earth, the most often described in drawing and story, perhaps the most meaning-filled for the emerging human mind, is the one we met earlier in the story of the Wawilak Sisters: Snake.

"Blood from both women was now flowing simultaneously, and it was precisely at this moment that‘the Snake’ also flowed from its own womblike 'waterhole' and coiled around the Two Sisters and their child." Snake is an embodiment of women's synchronous menstruation.[11] This is expressed in myth when Snake "swallows" the menstruating women. The inside of Snake is in this way the womb of the Mother. Entire groups of women are swallowed by the Snake. The myth, among other things, articulates the moment of recognition between women that all their blood is the same, that all blood is menstrual blood. The story of the Wawilak Sisters with their Snake unites into one image both menstrual flow and lochial blood (the younger sister began her own flow when she noticed the birth blood flowing from her sister), so that all of women's natural [p.57]

blood is synchronized with the appearance and habits of a live creature, the one creature on earth that most looks like a disembodied vagina.

Western minds have been taught to see the snake as penile, but I came to understand how it could be seen as the vagina when I kept a little milk snake (named Madame) for several years and observed how she stretched her mouth when she ate. Like the walls of the yoni in sexual intercourse or childbirth, the snake's mouth swells to giant proportions around mouse, rabbit, fish, or even (for the anaconda) whole deer. Snake in Australian mythology swallows menstruating women and is itself sometimes said to have inner pains and to be menstruating. As the collective female vagina, Snake defines and displays the metaphoric relationship between the younger sister's menstrual flow and the older sister's lochial blood.

The primal vaginal snake image extends several more steps in this complex and well-developed myth of origin. Snake lives in a particular place, a waterhole, river, lake, or other body of water. Natural bodies of water are, as I have mentioned, equated with menstrual blood, possessing the same life- and death-giving capacities. In the Australian myth, Snake emerges from the waterhole womb to consume but also to wrap protectively around the two sisters. In other myths, Snake "swallows" a woman into the water and keeps her there forever. The collective flow is both protective and dangerous: the great menstrual paradox of life and death.

The snake has been associated with menstruation through the shedding of its skin, a metamorphosis long connected to spiritual rebirth and the transformation of the soul --- a lunar connection. [12] The word "shed" itself captures some of these rich associations. In verb form it means "to slough," and in noun form, "a crude shelter." Webster's Collegiate Dictionary traces shed to two different sources. One is Middle English sheden, "to separate, divide," from a Latin word meaning to cut apart or to bleed or otherwise leak fluids. Shed in the sense of crude shelter is also Middle English, from "shade"; the archaic meaning was "hut." Before the twelfth century, shed also meant "different," and it is this sense that comes [p.58]

through in the "shedding" of a snake's skin. Shed also once meant "a divide of land," and we still use the term in "watershed" to indicate a point of departure as well as land bounded by water courses. Thus the same word came to refer to bleeding, to separating, to a hut, to watercourses, and to a snake's recurrent renewal of its skin, a kind of subconscious lingual/menstrual configuration.

Snake's watery home is the earth's menstruation. This extremely important idea enabled humans to categorize natural phenomena, and to classify and define their origins and qualities. Snake allowed people to define cyclicity itself and apply it to all wilderness. In addition to its association with the primal waters of the earth, Rainbow Snake lives in the water of the sky. The band of the rain­bow, especially its red band, is the snake in the sky, a reminder of the "blood flow" of rain from clouds. The rainbow is thus a meta­form for Snake, itself a metaform for synchronized blood flow. So four kinds of fluid are now included in the metaform: menstrual blood, lochial blood, bodies of water, and rain.

Snake created the landscape, according to Australian myth. Af­ter their long sleep, "each of the many giant spirits, called Wand­jinda, created the topography in a local area and then transformed into a mythical serpent and entered a waterhole. Before leaving he left his image in the form of a cave painting with instructions that the aborigines must renovate the cave painting in order to cause the monsoons to arrive." [13] The Snake of synchroneity and conscious­ness made the features of the earth and enabled the menstrual power of rainmaking.

That people around the world and in the past have primarily thought of the snake as female, as the yoni, is evident from draw­ings and statues. The snake goddesses of prehistoric Eastern Eu­rope unearthed by Marija Gimbutas characteristically have lips, unlike actual snakes, but very much like the vulva. A statue of a goddess from India portrays her vulva extending a foot or two in a startling serpent head with twisting neck and wide open mouth. [14]

The prominent Hawaiian goddess Haumea sometimes takes the form of a traveling vagina; she is also sometimes known as Red Eel [p.59]

Woman. A related Maori word, haumia, refers both to an ogress and to ceremonial uncleanness associated with menstruation. [15]  Haumea's two brothers are gods who appear in the form of a rope and an octopus --- as though metaforms for the umbilical cord, "born" of Haumea, the externalized vagina.

The (umbilical) cord --- as we shall see, closely associated with trees as well as women in creation stories --- is also connected to snakes. Many people speak of a pregnant woman having a snake in her belly, or of giving birth to a snake. The twisting umbilical cord makes this comparison almost inescapable and this is what may first have drawn women's attention to the snake: in the Wawilak Sisters' myth, it is after the babe has emerged and while they are waiting for the afterbirth that the younger sister begins to bleed and Snake appears. The upper umbilicus would have still been submerged in the older sister's womb, connecting to her placenta on the inside, while the lower part twisted snakelike to the belly of the infant on the outside. It seems likely that the shape of the umbilicus helped peoples, such as the Cokwe in Africa, to imagine the life force of a pregnant woman as an ancestral spirit snake in her belly who helps the baby grow. [16]

There are several more aspects of snakes that lent themselves to menstrual imagery. From the snake's yoni-shaped, often triangular head slides a tongue that is a rippling flow, like menstrual blood. In modern folk icons of the snake made of wood, glass, rubber, and ceramic from around the world, the protruding tongue is portrayed as red, despite the fact that few, if any, real snakes have red tongues. The species of snakes that have most often been incorporated into ceremonies and used in iconographic art are those with specific traits that relate them to menstruation, death, and the moon; poisonous snakes, red snakes, hooded snakes, and fanged snakes. The fangs of a venomous snake about to strike pull forward into two unmistakable crescent moons, white and gleaming. The eggs of those snakes that lay eggs are generally stark white and as round as the full moon. In myth the snake swallows or, alternatively, lays, the world egg, the egg of the shape of being, a lunar [p.60]

shape. In India today as part of a three-day public Hindu festival women sprinkle red powder on the hood of a cobra in its arched upright position. With red outer lips, liquid streaking tongue, at crescent fangs, it strikingly resembles the menstruating moon/vulva.  Snake thus embodies the power of sexuality and ecstasy, terror and joy --- beautiful, dangerous, and vulnerable, necessary. Snake is flow, of blood force, of energy, of sexuality, of life --- and above all, of menstruation. [17]

The male body was incorporated into the Snake metaform by the coincidence of the snake's resemblance to the penis as well the vagina. When men tell a male origin story, they call the snake "he," so Rainbow Snake, who lives in the water and devours women, is sometimes called "he," despite the fact that it is also described as having breasts and other female characteristics and is known as the Mother. [18] By calling Snake "he" and recognizing its shape as their own, men were able to include themselves in the origin story.

Among the Wanyamwesi, in what is now Tanzania, there we both men's and women's Snake societies, whose members were highly respected specialists in handling the many serpents in their environment. The male Snake societies spent much of their time catching the snakes, which included poisonous vipers and huge pythons; often the men slid their bodies into the narrow network tunnels where the serpents lived; this dangerous activity could lead to smothering if the tunnel collapsed, not to mention the dangers of being bitten by a snake or some other creature. Initiation included inoculation with snake venom and also a rite that was sun menstrual mimicry: the initiate wrapped his waist in a six-inch belt of thorns and sat up all night in the dark, blood running down over his lower body from the wounds. [19]

Snake Is the Oldest Deity

The moment the menstruating prehuman picked up a snake and fed it or painted it with her blood, she entered human mind. When [p.61]

her sisters and daughters imitated her behavior, reveling (as one supposes) in their common purpose, they created distinctly human speech, based not in sound but in blood imagery. And over the millions of years of human development, as the metaform of Rainbow Snake accrued more and more patterns, it became such a heavily endowed external expression, holding in its parameters so much creative power, so much destructive power, and so much protective power, that it became what we now call a god. This kind of power attended all the metaforms discussed so far --- Jackal became a god in Egypt and remained an ancestral spirit in other places; Coyote is a trickster and also a creator spirit deity for many tribes of native America; Jaguar and Snake were both deities for the Mayan, and the Aztec creator goddess is Snake; the Greek earth goddess, Gaia, was a serpent, and in Egyptian writing the glyph for "goddess" was a hooded serpent. Where I am using the word "metaform," others would have said spirit, creator, ancestral originator, god, or goddess.

Metaforms held ideas, not only related to religion, the web of cosmological understanding, but also to the ancestral people's science. By using metaformic imagery, people could describe the nature of the world around them, not as singular events but as parts of recognizable patterns, operating through cause and effect. By seeing the rainbow in the sky as the regulator of cyclical moisture, they could interact with it to help order the coming and going of rain --- as some peoples in historic memory credited the menstruant, as she emerged from her seclusion, with rainmaking power. From richly layered metaforms people acquired the ability to predict, and to influence, the outcome of natural phenomena through ritual and other forms of prayer. In effect they catapulted menstrual connection outside of themselves, called it Snake, endowed it with creative/destructive powers, studied the creature's habits in relation to themselves, and used the information as ordering principles to replace much of instinct, raw emotion, and the inner reasoning peculiar to animals.

The Ronga people of Mozambique in the late nineteenth century [p.62]

brought food gifts and prayed for permission from Snake, the ancestral  god of the forest, before cutting trees. Ancestors appear in the form of snakes to the Swazi people, among others. In Mexico the great earth goddess Coatlicue, "Lady of the Serpent Skirts," is portrayed in one well-known statue as two fanged snakes facing each other.[20] 

The serpent metaform grew in size until it circled the earth's parameter as the World Snake, the Creator Mother who laid the egg of the world. It also became the many-headed Hydra and the Python of the oracular mysteries of ancient Greece. The constellations Hydra and Draco were named for the serpent, and the Milky Way itself was often identified as the tail or body of a serpentine giant.

The metaformic nature of the serpent in the Garden of Eden is clear from the gnostic Gospels, buried in the Arabian desert about 450 A.D., in which Snake is called "the Female Spiritual Principle," “the Instructor," and "the Female Instructing Principle." This power of instruction comes "into" Snake, who persuades Eve that f she eats the forbidden fruit she will not die, but rather her eyes will open and she will "come to be like the gods, recognizing evil and good. And the Female Instructing Principle was taken away from the Snake, and she left it behind, merely a thing of the earth." [21]  But the knowledge imparted by Snake separated good from evil. Snake is thus a description of how menstrual consciousness taught us to recognize, recall, anticipate, and fear disease, disaster, death, and to understand that our actions have consequences.

Dragons and Dragonfire: Compound Metaforms

Elaborations of the metaform of the sacred serpent metamorphosized it into a dragon. I call these embellishments or compilations compound metaforms. The dragon is a menstrual serpent grown to mythic proportions, acquiring horns, sometimes depicted as crescent-shaped, and enormous and very piercing eyes. Just as the [p.63]

four directions came to define the parameters and geometry of the plane of the earth, the dragon grew four sturdy, earth-standing legs, though never losing the energetic form it received from its snake mother.

The flaming mouth of the dragon in all probability marks the uneasy taming of fire and its association with the earth beneath the crust. Fire boils out in raging volcanoes all over China, Japan, and the Malay Peninsula, where dragons became a primary symbol. (Some Asian countries call themselves "little dragons.") Wings sprouted on the back of the dragon, probably assimilations from the great bird metaforms. Besides earth energy and menstrual energy, the dragon has been associated with weather, or air energy, and said to possess --- like the menstruant --- the power of storms, especially tornadoes, hurricanes, and anything causing floods. Dragons were also believed to bring famine and drought, for example, the African cave monster who "eats the river." [22]

In China, India, and other areas in the Asian region, the compound metaform "dragon" remained a natural power to be worked with in cooperation and respect. The dragon of China --- depicted in brilliant colors, especially red --- became a central religious and scientific principle for the many dynasties who ruled China until the first third of the twentieth century. Among other things, the dragon came to symbolize the known world of earthly domain, under the dominion of the emperor, whose robes were embroidered with dragons of crimson and gold, standing at the four corners of his garment as they stood at the four corners of his world. [23] Telling stories about the dragon under the earth helped the Chinese develop the science of geomancy, the understanding of the spirals of magnetic energy under the earth's skin. The Mayan people also considered the energy within the earth as a dragon.

In India, women still understand menstrual cycles in terms of the "fire of the dragon," a description of the accumulation of excess energy within the body. The time between ovulation and menstruation is the most suffused with "dragonfire," and discipline (taboo) is required to control the wild energy: don't eat spicy foods, don't [p.64]

have sex or get overly excited, stay calm and do cool things. Menstruation then drains away the built-up energy until the next ovular cycle.

According to the Babylonian creation myth, Tiamat, "Mother of the Deep," made monster serpents "sharp of tooth, and unsparing of fang," who were filled with poison instead of blood. She made monster vipers, fierce and clothed with terror, and she "decked them with awful splendour, and made them high of stature that their aspect might inject terror and arouse horror." [24]  None of the viper monsters was described in more detail than the dragon, the snake whose size and ferocity were often ascribed to Tiamat herself. In the myth the hero Marduk went to war against Tiamat. [25] Victorious, he cut her in half; he flung her tail into the sky to form the Milky Way and the constellations, heaped dirt over her great breasts to make the mountains, and pierced her eyes to make them run with the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Marduk, in a combined act of matricide and castration, formed the universe, the stars, sun, and moon.

This classic story of the menstrual mind passing over to men through rites of parallel menstruation, including sacrifice, has been interpreted as marking the death of female power, the overthrow of women by irrational male violence. But I read it as a necessary crossover of blood power, an assimilation of the male to older female traditions. Around the world, the ancient blood forms became ogres and monsters as they were replaced by more objectified understandings of the fundamentals. Marduk --- a name for the planet Jupiter --- perhaps stood for a new level of male warrior/scientist. He was able to set the universe in place as a direct result of the accumulated acts of "cutting Tiamat." The sacrifice/castration of the creator Mother could have been represented by the ritual killing of a designated female, by a priestess overseeing ceremonies in which a penis was ritually cut or a living snake chopped in half, or perhaps by a yearly skirmish between warriors in the river --- all such acts of r'tu taught the same principles, passing blood knowledge from the female to the male realm. [p.65]

Long before Eve's Snake fell on the ground a simple creature again, no longer a metaform, it had contributed everything to human envisioning of synchroneity and of "the World." And the underground habits of the snake, as well as of the red ant, must also have contributed to human envisioning of "the underworld." As the earth formed on the human mental plane, it acquired a rocky surface and an underworld, imagined not only as a place of death, but as a womb, entered through a vulva of some kind --- a snake tunnel, an ant mound, a cave or chasm. For many millennia the map of earth imagined by human beings consisted of a canopy of sky, either solid or made of water, a strip of earth that floated in an eternal sea, and beneath the earth, the womb of creation and death.

The Menstrual World Tree

Perhaps because menstruating women sought high trees for safety from predators drawn by the smell of blood, trees are connected to women, to the development of consciousness, and to menstruation. [26] Along the Amazon River, the Tucuna people hold a celebration timed for the emergence of menstruants from a seclusion of several weeks. People dress as spirits for this occasion, one of the highlights of which is the appearance of a man dressed as a tree, whose presence blesses the proceedings. Yet Tree is also seen as the enemy of the girls, who do not attain womanhood until they throw a fiery stick at a nearby tree. In this case, it seems Tree is knowledge of evil spirits, from which the young women must consciously protect themselves. [27]

The association of creation and trees is also a strong thread of thought in world mythology. The Maasai people say they were created by a tree; many recent goddesses have been trees, including the Hebrew goddess Asherah. Helen was worshiped as a tree on the Greek island of Rhodes into the nineteenth century. Yggdrasil, World Ash, is goddess of the underworld in Scandinavia. [p.66]

In the forest of the primeval era, having recognized and established through seclusion rites the difference between light and dark, women followed the light up into the trees, where, I am sure, they thought it lived, sparkling and moving in the leaves. There our ancestress made another discovery: The light was gathered into a single form, the moon (the protomoon), and it lived above the top of the trees. The moment she perceived that reality, the sky began to lift away from the earth. The women, in their mental development, began to "live" in the sky, and the sky to exist as a place in human consciousness.

Women used animal metaforms to help teach the idea of the moon as a separate entity, either white birds or tree climbers with round backs, like opossum or porcupine. Some people specify that in their stories opossum is, because of its shape, a half moon. In the following Arapahoe story, it is the porcupine who helps the woman reach the sky:

When porcupine had reached the top of the tree the woman was still climbing, although the cottonwood was dangerous and the branches were waving to and fro; but as she approached the top and was about to lay hands upon the porcupine, the tree suddenly lengthened, when the porcupine resumed his climbing. Looking down, she saw her friends looking up at her, and beckoning her to come down; but having passed under the influence of the porcupine and fearful for the great distance between herself and the ground, she continued to climb, until she became the merest speck to those looking up from below, and with the porcupine she finally reached the sky. [28]

Cords and strings often appear in stories of women and trees. The woman who reaches the sky nearly always returns by means of a rope or cord. The original physical cord is of course the umbilicus, and all aspects of human fertility are connected specifically to Tree. Women returned to the seat of their comprehension of the moon with prayers and fetishes, ribbons and cords, candles and incantations, imploring specific things about childbirth: gender of the child, time of delivery, special qualities of the child. To protect [p.67]

their children they hung their umbilical cords in significant trees or buried them underneath the branches. [29] This helped establish our understanding of place, home.

Wilderness metaforms must have developed the human mind through its first several million years, and in the absence of speech, fire, and most of the handicrafts we think of as our culture. Wilderness peoples remain tightly interconnected with the animal minds around them and think of other creatures as having culture too, as they certainly do, if we acknowledge the inner mind. By making metaphoric connections, the ancestral peoples made certain creatures into aspects of the externalized human mind. In this way, they were able to teach each other certain ideas about controlling their own behavior and comprehending the nature of the world around them.

But none of this explains the mystery of the box of cosmetics as my mind's eye still recalls it, balanced on my father's outstretched hand, his expression hurt and tender; my mother's puzzled face just over his shoulder. What was in that box that could possibly have had the measurement tools, the access to intelligence, to science and the world, that I wanted so fiercely? And that I thought I could attain only by rejecting it?

For some answers we go to the next set of metaforms that make up the menstrual mind --- those based in manipulations of our own bodies into living expressions of ideas and world organizational principles: cosmetikos. [p.68]

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