previous next

Chapter 7

Ceremony: Let's Cook!

During my mother's menopause --- beginning when she is fifty-two and I am fifteen --- my mother becomes "ill." Her illness is characterized by extreme anxiety and mental anguish, and by social withdrawal. For one frightening year, the worst of the two or three years of her crisis, she stays home in as complete a seclusion as she can manage. She sits in the dim living room in a rocking chair or paces the floor. She stops talking or at times combing her hair, sitting for hours with staring eyes that seem not to recognize me or my father. She emerges from her haze long enough to state her food desires so we can shop for her, but she not only has stopped cooking, she has stopped eating any meat, changing from our meat, potatoes, and gravy diet to one featuring a little hot tea, dry toast, and canned red kidney beans, which she eats unheated, a few raw vegetables, primarily carrots, and some fruits. She is on no medication and is not seen by a doctor. My father mentions that the nearest psychiatrist is forty miles away and that he does not want her committed, he is afraid they will harm her, and he just trusts she will sit there until she recovers --- a man with great intuition, in an era that used lobotomy and shock treatment for depression.

Isolated from other women and with less than ten years of schooling in the rural Midwest, my mother believed that menopause could ruin a woman's life. Indeed, when a neighbor gradu- [p. 101]

ally sickened and died, my mother attributed her death to the fact that the woman "just never recovered from her change of life."

All by herself (and I was no help since her illness terrified me as well as my father, both of us believing she had lost her mind), my mother sat in her rocking chair and gathered herself unto herself, recovered her strength, returned to work for another decade. As I write, in her eighty-ninth year, she still eats toast, kidney beans, and raw carrots and still keeps house in her own apartment.

How Cooking Took a Long Time to Learn

Especially in Europe, there has been even recently an association between menstruating women and food preservation --- vinegar sauces, brines, wine making, and the like. The connection is expressed in a variety of taboos that have continued through folk traditions into modern times: "The disabilities of women in a menstrual state as regards culinary operations are a matter of common knowledge in every country of Europe, not only among the peasants, but also in the higher classes. No French woman would attempt to make a mayonnaise sauce while in that state. In England it is well known that bacon cannot be cured by a menstruating woman." [1] Rural people in Italy, Spain, Germany, and Holland believe that flowers and fruit trees wither when touched by a menstruating woman; this is a Jewish belief as well as Christian. A Jewish American woman told me, "Menstruation in my culture is not kosher, and the word for the state you are in is traif, meaning unclean. You cannot go in the cemetery because it is hallowed ground and you would pollute it; you can't touch plants, or they will die."

In Briffault's accounts, such beliefs could be found even in the early twentieth century: In the wine districts of Bordeaux and the Rhine, and the Chianti district as well, "women, when menstruating, [were] strictly forbidden to approach the vats and cellars, lest the wine should turn to vinegar." In France "they [were] excluded from sugar refineries" lest they turn the boiling sugar black, and in [p. 102]

Holstein menstruating women did not make butter lest they ruin it. As late as 1878 the British Medical Journal reiterated that menstruating women should not rub pork with pickle-brine, "a cloud of medical witnesses" testifying to the accuracy of the belief. [2] What these avoidances mean, according to my theory of the creative principle of metaform, is that menstrual consciousness --- as controlled by tapua --- created processes of fermentation, preservation, and refining, as extensions of r'tu. In short, menstruation created cooking, and the substances we cherish as food were brought into human culture as metaforms.

If r'tu is based in blood, then ceremony, with its roots in ceres, cereal, and mony --- one of those "moon" words --- is based in bread. Bread is moon-cereal. Ritual takes place in seclusion and is the creative/decreative act. Ceremony takes place in public and is a display of the effects of ritual. Ceremony is the feast of what ritual provides, the display of what it has taught us. Ritual is the dark moon; ceremony is the full moon. In the ritual, the initiates are raw, naked, and bent low; at the ceremony, they are adorned, finished, and standing. [3] The menstruants emerge, are washed, combed, dressed, and set to cooking. The village arrives, the men in their spirit masks, the women with their overflowing bowls and baskets, the musicians with their flutes, rattles, and drums --- and everybody celebrates. Bad spirits fade into the background. Good spirits dance.

To answer the question of why humans turned from simple gathering to farming I want to broaden the definition of cooking to include the cultivation of plants as well as the heating, mixing, and shaping of edible substances into dishes, recipes, potions, and the like. Women's root- and grub-gathering attention was drawn to certain plants for reasons of that distinctly human characteristic, r'tu. In considering the human mind as a menstrual mind, cooking is the preparation and provision of food as metaform. To simplify a complex subject, I have described aspects of "cooking" as follows: (1) cooking by establishing taboos regarding what can be eaten and when; (2) cooking by gathering or cultivating edible [p. 103]

metaforms; (3) cooking to alter states of mind and body; (4) cooking by washing food clean of menstrual dangers and, conversely by adding menstrual dyes; (5) cooking to "purify" with fire and salt; and (6) cooking by combining sacred metaforms.

Cooking Through Establishing Taboos

Any definition of cooking surely begins with the tabooing of certain foods, since this is what brought eating under conscious external control. We cook by saying what is and what is not appropriate to eat. In menstrual seclusion, food taboos were prominent and many were consistent across a variety of cultures. The menstruant could not eat red meat or fresh fish. In North America, she could not eat salmon. She must not eat salt, fat, or grease. In India, she should not eat hot spicy foods, as they would increase her "dragon power," her menstrual influence. At times, no one in a village could eat certain things. In particular, people often made taboo those animals who had helped create their consciousness: snakes, coyotes, lizards, jaguars, bears, wolves, eagles, oppossums.

My Judeo-Christian culture does not eat insects, and while I thought this was a matter of "taste," it is explicitly stated in Leviticus 11:41 that the children of Abraham will not eat creatures that crawl on the ground; they are "abominations." Food taboos sharply distinguish culture from culture, tribe from tribe, even in close proximity. In the Philippines, I am told, one's family either eats shark or absolutely does not. Food taboos divide cultures sharply when some people keep as pets (dogs, fish, birds, pigs) what others love to eat. Some Arab peoples hate dogs, considering them dirty, and won't eat pigs; Americans won't eat dogs, considering them "family," but do eat pigs; while some Southeast Asians adopt pigs into the family as venerated ancestors and eat dogs.

Salmon was so taboo to some tribal peoples on the northwest coast of the United States that a man could not bring the fish home to his family even if they were starving. Sockeye salmon was particularly forbidden. It has the reddest flesh of any and is red on the [p. 104]

outside as well. A school of sockeye looks like blood streaming in the river. Salmon was also a sacred fish in parts of Europe, along with the speckled trout, which also has red flesh.

A myth of how one people went about reversing the taboo on salmon is contained in the story "The Origin of Salmon," related by Mamie Offield of the Karok people, who lived in the Klamath River region in northwestern California: Once two sisters declared that no one could eat salmon, but Coyote decided to change that, so he cut some red bark from an alder tree and ate it in front of them, declaring that the red bark was salmon. When they saw this, one sister said to the other, "Let's cook," and they made an opening through a wall in the stream where they had hidden the salmon, and released them. [4]

Two sisters, we know from the myth of the Wawilak Sisters, embody "synchronous menstrual flow," and therefore these figures may reflect ancient ancestors of origination. They make the red-fleshed fish taboo until the male shaman (Coyote) introduces a metaformic substitute, the red flesh of the alder tree. The story is about a change of rite, and of world-change, when a new kind of people come into being. At the end of the story, the two sisters (along with their dog) are turned into quartz, while across the river, flowing with salmon, the new kind of people are performing the jump Dance of world renewal.

In Western mythology, the forbidden apple of conscious knowledge is a central feature of the creation story of Genesis. Fruits are particularly associated with goddess mythology; the fig and date are womb-shaped and stuffed with seeds. The pulp of the pomegranate strikingly resembles menstrual blood. The little round "Lady's apple" with its blood-red skin and moon-white flesh has a particularly evocative quality, and like the fig and date, it is connected to sexuality and pregnancy. I was taught not to eat these little "crab apples." Into recent times, barren Kara-Kirghiz women of Central Asia rolled on the ground under a solitary apple tree to gain fertility. [5] [p. 105]

In the Sumerian mythic drama "Inanna Meets the God of Wisdom," the vulva of the goddess is directly connected to the apple tree:

She went to the sheepfold, to the shepherd.
She leaned back against the apple tree.
When she leaned against the apple tree, her vulva was wondrous to

The apple tree was associated both with the star goddess Inanna and her lover/husband Dumuzi, Adamuzi, Adam --- the "red clay man," who was both shepherd and bull god in the area spilling out from the Tigris-Euphrates valleys and encompassing the region of the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis. The apple Inanna/Eve offers the man is a metaform for the knowledge of differentiation (and consequent shame) accumulated through millennia of menstrual rites. The forbidding of the fruit is an act of taboo, one that trickster Snake persuades the woman to break.

We cook by specifying not only what to eat but also when it is appropriate to eat, and when not. When menarche or menstruation is over, that is the time to eat foods tabooed during seclusion. After her emergence from seclusion, the menstruant's entire community, or at least her extended family, often participated in a feast.

In my family, we eat very little on Sunday until late afternoon, when we have the largest meal of the week, always based on a celebrated roasted meat that has to be discussed and admired in detail before, during, and after cooking. My father cooks or supervises the ceremonial meals. My mother cooks the everyday food and does the shopping and meal planning. The kitchen and most of its contents are "hers." Her recipes are simple. She specializes in five or six meals handed down to her: white boiled beans served with ketchup; bacon, and eggs; liver and onions; pork chops and brown beans with mustard and molasses; deviled eggs sprinkled with paprika; creamed tuna on toast; and the world's absolutely best, most beautiful, and most irresistible cherry pie. One way my [p. 106]

mother's food metaforms differ from my father's is in the amount of actual blood present. While my father likes his meat rare, my mother overcooks everything and then often "dresses" it in red or orange sauces.

If it was natural for the protohuman remote ancestors to eat raw vegetables, nuts and fruits, insects, eggs, and occasional rats and birds, then where did our elaborate system of food production and presentation --- my mother's fancy cherry pies --- come from? From the menstrual mind.

Cooking by Gathering and Growing Metaforms

Many researchers, for example, Evelyn Reed, believe that women began agriculture by expanding plant- and insect-gathering techniques through use of the digging stick.[7] The ancient females began transferring the roots they dug to other terrain, carrying them to their favored dwelling areas, and thus beginning a process of selective planting. The plants they chose for close attention were, as we shall see, those with ritual significance.

The heavy burden of farming and intensive gardening carried by women around the world reflects its origins as women's invention, with work traditions held in place through religious ideology centered in female history. In some cultures still, only women do the planting, tilling, and harvesting. It is not that men created farming and then somehow enslaved women to do most of the work for them, but rather that many women have not found methods (ideology) for shifting some of the burden to men, and men take advantage of women's self-containment. The rationale for continuing the imbalance of work often lies in a mutual belief that men won't "do it right" and the risk of crop failure isn't worth the experiment. Religious ideas separating "women's power" from "men's power" are at the root of this.

Early farming was not yet by seed; it was not heterosexual reproduction but parthenogenesis. Daughter plants grew from mothers through the splitting off and replanting of one root from the clump, [p. 107]

the whole new plant then growing up genetically identical to the original --- creation through separation. In keeping with the menstrual mind, women gathered plants that resembled their ideas of r'tu, and they were attracted to red and white plants in particular. Red yams, whose flesh resembles blood, for instance, or roots such as sago or potato that are more or less white when peeled, and round, the general shape of the full moon/sun. Even bananas (plantains), which in Western markets are generally long and yellow, are most frequently found in reddish colors and in short stubby curled bunches resembling a vulva or a bloody hand (though individually, the penis).

The moon has been so important to the development of agriculture that the Farmer's Alamanac still uses it as the primary guide for deciding when to plant. At one time all planting was done in accordance with the lunar calendar. Onions are so closely related to the moon that they are the only crop that is planted (in the old tradition) at the dark of the moon, rather than one of its fuller phases. Not only do onions have the perfect round shape and luminous color of the moon, they also put up a flower that is globular and stark white --- a moon above and below the earth.

Garlic subdivides its white lunar body into distinct crescents, or cloves. Both garlic and onions were considered sacred in ancient Egypt, portrayed in murals in the hands of goddesses, and used medicinally in the female wicca tradition into recent times in Europe. Midwives in villages spewed a mouthful of onion juice over the newborn to ward off disease; medieval Europeans wore and sucked garlic cloves as a defense against the bubonic plague; and in World War Two, when penicillin was in short supply, garlic was used by the ton as a "blood purifier" to protect wounded soldiers from infection.[8]

We eat what we eat based on what the cooks have found ritually appropriate to feed us. One of the primary uses of early cultigens was for red, purple, and orange dyes --- menstrual colors. Potatoes, like many other crops we think of as food, were used for purple and red dyes as well as for eating, and perhaps before they were [p. 108]

used for eating. [9] The metaformic appeal of such crops led to fabulous variety: more than eighty kinds of potatoes grow on the mountain sides of Peru; selected by precolumbian women for millennia, yams and sweet potatoes range from huge to tiny, sweet to dry, purple and red to white.

The brilliantly colored foods of South Asia and South America represent the ancient selection of plants --- cinnamon, turmeric, curry, chili, saffron, paprika, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, even potatoes --- that impart a desirable red, orange, or yellow dye as well as strong sensual flavors and smells. Many of the old, traditional cooking liquids of the world are red-toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, Caribbean cooking oils. The deeper red and orange curries of food in India and Southeast Asia are colored vividly as offerings to the deities --- food cosmetikos. In Southeast Asia, as in Japan and other places, the presentation of the food is equally important to its nutritive qualities. Its visual effect is considered part of its life-giving nourishment --- because the dieties are pleased by its esthetic presentation, an esthetic based in r'tu.

Hot peppers, ginger, and other stinging spices were used as medicinal purifiers to chase evil spirits away, and women used tingling plant substances as purifying agents at menarche and childbirth. Gums and saps were associated with menstruation not only because of their stickiness but because they were seen specifically as "the blood" of the tree or plant: "Acacia gum, which is gathered from the African desert acacia, is also known as ‘clots of menstrual blood.' It has important functions in healing and magic. Acacia itself stands for woman."[10] In America women, in particular, chew gum, and the gum is often mixed with cinnamon, peppermint or other "cleanser."

When I am eleven I do what all the girls do, I consume an amazing number of red objects: cinnamon-flavored chewing gum, strawberry ice cream and sodas, raspberry popcycles and uncooked jello, red wax that oozes sugary liquid down the chin, "red hots" --- little spicy candies that dye tongue, hands, and clothing bright red --- and [p. 109]

pomegranates, whose seeds drip from little girls' hands from one end of the southwestern town to which we have moved to the other. Perhaps in keeping with girls all over the world, we sought to drip redness with zestful appetites passed along the unspoken premenarchal tradition.

The association of red-fleshed foods and menstruation is articulated again and again in ritual traditions. Anthropologist Jane Goodale describes a Tiwi rite, performed by men but supervised by women, in which the men gather a small, poisonous red yam from a marsh near a sacred tree. The men coat themselves with the red flesh, and they sing songs about how "they have now been changed into women".[11]

Carrots, my mother's favored vegetable, and one she never served without praising it --- "I just love carrots, don't you?" were cultivated by her Celtic ancestresses. The word "carrot" is from the Celtic, meaning "red of color." The wild plant is distinguished from all similar varieties by having a striking red flower. The roots of wild carrots are woody and inedible, so the question arises of why the ancient women (it is a very ancient cultigen) would have brought the plant home and paid so much attention to it, eventually developing the red and orange flesh that makes the carrot such an important vegetable and livestock food today. Part of the answer is in the seeds, which were used as an emmenogogue, a term meaning a substance capable of bringing on menstrual bleeding. Celtic women could coordinate their collective menstruation with the seeds of plants that resembled menstrual blood enough to be named simply "reds." Parts of the plant were also useful as both orange and blue (woadlike) dyes, so carrots were used for several different aspects of cosmetikos.[12]

In the Scottish Highlands, women invoked fertility in special chants as they gathered carrots on Carrot Sunday, the week before Saint Michael's day (September 29). This high-spirited, sexual festival for the saint who was most closely identified with the pagan god of light, Lugh, featured the baking of a special all-grain cake [p. 110]

(a bannock, or struan, used for divination), horse stealing, bareback horseraces by both sexes, and the exchange of gifts, especially between the sexes. Women gave gifts of carrots in special linen sacks. They dug their carrots with special, three-pronged forks, and tied the bunches with red thread. The association with races, sacred light, and a cake makes this festival, discontinued in the early 1800s, a kind of yearly menarche, with carrots as the "earth's blood".[13]

The carrot plants, inedible in our terms when first cultivated, provided dye and an agent of menstrual synchrony and then were selected, watered, and encouraged to produce the big edible red roots horses love, and the varied tender sweet orange roots humans love. Carrot varieties now come in shapes from globular to penile, making them a metaform with some of the properties of Snake, and thoroughly suitable for a yearly festival of exchanges between the genders. That the red roots were equated with menstrual blood of the earth seems logical and congruent with other peoples who saw the red flesh of the yam as woman's blood.

How could I possibly not believe that when my mother went through her menopausal "mental breakdown," she returned along an ancestral line to the red kidney beans and carrots of her maternal heritage, stabilizing herself culturally as well as physically. By going deep within herself she found, even in her isolation in a male-centered world, a way back to the central feminine that worked for her.

Cooking by Altering States of Mind and Body

Cooking and herbology overlapped for much of human history; old grannies might serve spring greens or brandy as a "tonic" and put as much hot mustard on the outside of the body as in foods to be eaten. An astonishing number of plants have been used in the past to regulate menstruation, especially as emmenogogues. For example, in the ancient Greek rite of Thesmophoria, the women used the lygos vine to bring on menstruation.[14] Plants used as emmenogogues included carrot seed, as we have seen, but also sage, [p. 111]

myrrh, rue, saffron, mugwort, pennyroyal, myrtle flower, bayberry, tansy, motherwort, snakeroot, blessed thistle, parsley, and also ergot, which is a mold on corn or rye. Some plants, such as the berries of the laurel or cottonroot, were so cathartic as to be used for abortions as well as emmenogogues. Obviously, some of the plants that would bring about a menstrual flow would also serve as contraceptives. Many herbs, such as the madonna lily, were used for "general female conditions," which included such symptoms as swollen or clogged breasts, excessive bleeding at childbirth, and the like. But the synchronous timing of menstrual bleeding seems to have been a foremost purpose in the ritual use of herbs.

If menstrual ritual first directed women to cultivate or otherwise single out certain plants, by metaphoric extension they (and male shamans) found other conditions to heal with plants. For example, carrot seed was also used to treat jaundice, a condition characterized by a carrotlike complexion. By using such metaphoric affinities, herbal medicine developed, more or less effective at extending human life, and couched in terms of the metaforms of cosmetikos. Thus herbs gathered during a certain period of the moon were believed to hold a certain power of the moon. Witches of medieval Europe gathered herbs naked, as though to return to a primal state of ancestral power when the herbs were originally used.

Hemp, marijuana, poppy, peyote, coca leaves, chocolate, coffee, honey, datura, and tobacco are just a few of the plant products used from extremely ancient times to induce, ceremonially, altered states of mind.

Tobacco, often said to be the most sacred plant of all among Native Americans, was used primarily as a drink, then as snuff or for chewing, and finally for smoking. [15] In addition to its narcotic effects, the dark blood color must have enhanced its metaformic qualities, and the lush red-brown juice dripping down at the corners of the mouth would have been a desirable or warning look for some peoples. By using such substances metaphorically as well as physically, humans associated them with the rites of creation. The plants, like Eve's apple of knowledge, assisted in teaching. [p. 112]

Artists and others whose occupations require us to remain psychically "centered," tell me that it is true for them as it is for me that menstruation is accompanied by altered states of consciousness. Women used drugs for thousands of years to heighten the psychic effects of menstruation, and mind-altering substances were everywhere associated with menstrual rites, being given to girls at menarche and even more often to boys at puberty, in order to enhance their ability to have visions. [16] Dreams were believed to be given by the moon, and evidently also by menstruation. In many menarchal seclusion taboos, the menstruant was forbidden to sleep because she must not dream during this numinous time. In other menarchal seclusions, she was expected to tell her dreams. Dream interpretation became a primary office of lunar priestesses and shamans around the world, and remains a primary feature of divination and other forms of healing --- including modern psychological treatments. (The visionary priestesses of ancient Greece were also associated with Snake --- hence the title Pythia, "pythoness," for the divining priestess.)

Worldwide, women are recognized as the original brewers of fermented drinks from fruits, roots, leaves, bark, and grains. The brewster, or alewife, was a central figure from Africa to China, South America to northern Europe. The alewife made beer out of beer bread; she made pulque, rice wine, honey-wine, and fermented fruits of all kinds. Pineapple and many other cultigens are believed to have been used for alcoholic purposes before they were cultivated for food, and the primary use of grapes remains winemaking. Even grain may have first been cultivated for beer rather than bread. There is evidence that the fermented uses of grain preceded any other, and that beermaking preceded winemaking. [17]

Mead, an early beer, was red, as were other beers and ales, and they were used ceremonially. "Celtic kings became gods by drinking the 'red mead' dispensed by the Fairy Queen, Mab, whose name was formerly Medhbh or 'mead.' A Celtic name of this fluid was dergflaith, meaning either 'red ale' or 'red sovereignty.’” [18] In a Sumerian creation story, the goddess Inanna visits the god Enki, [p. 113]

who instructs his serving man to give her beer, not just any beer, but emmer beer, "for my lady." Emmer wheat, an early cultigen, is red. The earliest recipes and depictions of beermaking are Sumerian and are under the auspices of a beer goddess, Ninkasi. Barley bread, probably baked twice to make it storable, may have been used primarily to ferment beer used in Sumerian taverns. Metaformic elements surface continually in the process of beermaking: the barley sprouting was guarded by dogs, and the recipe of bread, wine, and honey (possibly date honey) was a warm red color. When the beer-bread dough was mixed, aromatics were added, as though to add a "good smell" to the dense menstrual "flesh" of the barley meal. References to beer in other Sumerian texts relate it to medicine, ritual, and myth. Alewives served the beer in special public houses, and men dressed formally in long skirts drank the red liquid through long straws, perhaps a continuation of the rites of separating waters that began in the menstrual huts. [19]

In ancient Greece, grapes were so closely related to menstrual blood that they were not hung overhead, lest they drip on a person's head and cause harm; and in Europe their juice was called "blood of the grape." Claret was the traditional drink of kings and also a synonym for blood; it meant, literally, "enlightenment." The saying "The man in the moon drinks claret" connects with the idea that the wine represented lunar blood. [20]

"Lunar blood," was thus a fruit transformed by cosmetic r'tu into a metaform for sacred menstrual blood, available to anyone who qualified to participate in or officiate at, ceremonial rites. In mythology, alcohol became a magical drink, the elixir of immortality, the drink of prophecy and divination, the aphrodisiac of all wisdom --- like the Soma drink that Laksmi gave Indra, which enabled him to set the stars in the heavens. [21] The Moon Hare of China grinds the "elixir of immortality" on a mortar and pestle, and the Scots still call whiskey the "water of life."

In culinary practice, wine is treated like a menstruant; it is kept cool and in the dark. Wine is wrapped in a towel when presented in formal dining and is served in special glasses, which, like the [p.114]

menstruant's utensils in the "shade," are used for nothing else and are often broken after use.

Cooking by Washing Grains: Getting the Red Out

As our ancestors gathered around them foods with the shapes and colors that embodied and extended their rituals, they took another step and began processing them. Surely one of the earliest processes was washing, begun in order to collect dyes for menstrual signaling or, conversely, to get the red out of a substance tainted by its association with menstrual blood.

Cooking by washing the red out, I would like to suggest, may be an explanation for the incorporation of grains and beans into the human diet. Cereals and legumes, now considered staples, are inedible unless soaked and heated­ --- complex processes impossible without utensils. And as we know, the menstruants had to develop utensils because they couldn't touch anything. What motive would lead early humans to soak their food in water? Menstrual colors would provide motive, and menstrual utensils would provide method.

In a very limited experiment, I filled my kitchen with cups of reddish foods from my cupboards: red and pink beans, kidney beans, black beans, coffee, hot red peppers, dark wild rices, cloves, nutmeg, ground chili peppers, and red popcorn. (The popcorn is called "Indian Red"; it is only in modern farming that so much corn is yellow in color.) I covered them all with cold water. After a few hours, the liquid in every cup except the popcorn showed a red, purple, or yellowish red-brown color. After I boiled the popcorn for half an hour, its water turned a satisfying blood red. But I had been attempting to see if cold-water washing would render a red color from foods that were fundamental to the tribal societies that first cultivated foodstuffs. If women were irresistibly drawn to red, and were trying to obtain a dye, they might wash the cereals and legumes that were too hard to be eaten, or were poisonous in their original form.

The washing of certain grains and legumes would have led to [p.115]

their softening into edibility --- the wild rice and the corn were both nicely chewy after an all-night cold water soak. They were edible with cold washing alone, before the application of heat. Thus women may have "cooked" wild grains long before fire was used in human culture. Of course, sunlight would add warmth to water in the outdoors, especially if they used the bowls and cups developed in seclusion rites.

Grain is mythically and ritually associated with menstruation. In one region of Africa, where millet was first cultivated, the grain was dedicated to Muso Koroni, earth goddess of the old religion of the Bambara people. The goddess, who we have met in her leopard form, causes women to menstruate by slashing them with her claws. [22] Threshing of grain in ancient Egypt was always a sacred rite. In old Europe, the threshing sickle was frequently horn or antler, with the inside curve of the crescent lined with chipped red, black, or blue stones. The farmers in this way cut the grain dead with the crescent moon.

The connection between grain and menstrual blood comes through explicitly in a custom of the Dogon people. [23] The Dogon cultivate eight different grains. The eighth grain, the fonio, is threshed with elaborate ceremony. Yet only select persons are willing to eat it, for it is considered identical to menstruation (the two words have the same root). The grain is treated with the same disgust as menstrual blood, so only "impure" men, a special class of persons who handle the dead, will eat it. Some women refuse even to thresh it. The holy priest, or Hogon, cannot be touched, because persons touching him might accidentally have under their nails some dust of the fonio grain and thus contaminate him.

This not very nutritional grain is grown in specially designated plots. Although in Dogon society almost any sound is forbidden at night, the cutting and threshing of fonio can be done only at night. The young people of the tribe are called out to do the threshing by the sounding of a cow horn or antelope horns. They are fined if they do not attend the fonio rite.

The young men and a few strong women stand in a circle to beat [p.116]

the grain stalks stacked on the ground. They do the flailing in a rhythm based in the number three: the flails fall in groups of three beats, with one third of the threshers coming down on each beat. The women carry the fonio grain away in goatskins. Sexual songs between the men and women mark the event. For the Dogon, the threshing of fonio is a kind of blood sacrifice, the grain falling as blood drops on the earth in payment for the blood debt acquired by the knowledge of incest (imaged in metaform as the jackal having sexual intercourse with his mother the ant mound vulva) and the whole rite enhances wellbeing of the human womb.

English folk customs recorded in the nineteenth century seem to have residues of ancient menstrual customs and their relation to breads. A number of games centered on a substance called "cocklebread," or "barley bread." In addition to its use in beermaking, perhaps at one time barley was a grain treated in a similar manner to the Dogon's fonio or was made into a special menarchal cake:

Young wenches have a wanton sport, which they call moulding of Cocklebread; viz. they gett upon a Table-board, and then gather-up their knees and their coates with their hands as high as they can, and then they wabble to and fro with their Buttocks as if they were kneading of Dowgh, and say these words, viz. : --

My Dame is sick and gonne to bed,
And I'le go mowld my cockle-bread.

In Oxfordshire the maids, when they have put themselves into the fit posture, say thus: ---

My granny is sick, and now is dead,
And wee'l goe mould some cockle-bread.
Up with my heels and down with my head,
And this is the way to mould cocklebread. [24]

In West Cornwall, it was mother who called her to make "barley bread" up with her heels, and so on. Barley bread is "Cockley bread" in other districts. The terms "Dame," from "dam," and "granny is sick" refer directly to menstruation in folk language. Dam means "blood" in Hebrew and "mother" in other Indo-European languages. [25]   "Cockles," a name for the bivalve mollusc, [p.117]

have vulval lips. According to Mrs. Grieves' Herbal, cockle is also the name for a wild plant with poisonous seeds. Perhaps in small amounts it induced menstruation and an altered state of mind, and was mixed with the barley flour.

From such examples, we can see that bread is more than "moon-cereal." Bread is "blood-cereal," and its inclusion as a cake at menarche was the weaving (or cooking) together of complex metaforms that connected the menstrual center of humanity with the plant world, seasons, light, the color red, and menstrual synchroneity.

Cooking by Purifying Meats: Getting the Blood Out

Chris Knight has suggested that using fire to dry meat and get the blood from it was part of the configuration connecting hunting with menstrual rite. Extending this idea, fire cooking thus derived from ritual "purification" of the "menstrual" meat that men brought back to the base camp. In many tribes, cooking was never done at the dark of the moon. Knight postulates a round in which half the month was "dark," with no cooking and with heavy emphasis on kinship, or blood ties; and the other half "light," centered on the full moon and on hunting, cooking, feasting, and heterosexual relations. [26]

The practice of steaming or "roasting" both menstruants and women in childbirth make it clear that fire is deeply connected to the fundamental blood metaform. Women aided the synchronization of their periods with steam baths, dancing, and massage. [27] In some South American tribes, the menstruant was wrapped in a hammock and hung over a fire to steam for long periods of time, or she might be hung near the fire hole to "fumigate." She fasted during this ordeal as well, emerging in an emaciated state, and sometimes dying of it. [28] Cooking fires were treated carefully during menstruation; in many tribes the menstruant had her own fire, which was extinguished after seclusion. In other tribes, she was not allowed to light a fire, as though its "purifying" nature would interfere with her natural flow, her power. Possibly, she was herself a threat to the vital element of fire. [p.118]

Other substances, such as salt and vinegars, were also used to remove blood from food. Many delicious recipes in the Philippines and other parts of Asia use lime juice to "cook" seafood and other meats. The European folk beliefs prohibiting menstruating cooks from making mayonnaise, sugar, wine, bacon, and other processed foods testify to how women went about creating these recipes to begin with --- as methods of "purifying" metaformic (and therefore, in menstrual logic, dangerous) substances brought into the ancestral kitchen. Because the power of menstruation is "raw" it could not be mixed with "cooked."

The making of pork sausage in rural Portugal is one such process. According to anthropologist Denise L. Lawrence, menstruating women still retain some of the older customs: they stay out of the sun, drink nothing cold, and do not eat ice cream. [29] They do not bathe or wash their hair during menses. A major event of the year is the preserving of a pig in the form of sausage, an event surrounded with taboo. A menstruating woman cannot enter the house during the procedure, lest a glance, however inadvertent, spoil the meat. Her menstrual gaze "is the means by which contamination is communicated from her body to the meat. But it is not her casual glance that is feared. Rather, it is the fixed gaze (otho fixo), or stare, that is believed to cause the pork to spoil." [30]   Since this gaze can be accidental, her menses exerting inexorable control over her, and since no one can know when during her period this power is upon her, it is safer if all menstruating women are banned from the house during the time of sausage making.

The pork itself is treated as if it were a secluded menstruant, being covered and kept in a darkened room with the windows tightly sealed against "lunar contamination," as moonlight that fell upon the meat while it is marinating would spoil it:  "Residents argue that a pig should not be killed, the meat seasoned, or sausages stuffed when the moon is changing phase lest the meat spoil." [31]

Salt was a purifying agent in the old wicca religion of Europe, and of course it is also a primary agent of food preservation, since [p.119]

it dries meat by drawing the blood out of the flesh. Salt was a sacred substance in many cultures and was sometimes used as money. In healing, salt was used to "draw" out illness --- "purifying" living flesh of "evil" --- and the mustard poultice enacted the same idea. My mother put a paste of salt on my mosquito bites to "draw out" the poison. Eating of salt was a common taboo in menstrual seclusion rites, for it, like fire, could interfere with the woman's natural flow.

Purifying techniques eliminated the volatility of the meat, which is in the blood's irresistible attraction to bacteria, mold, and insects. The ritualized practices of separating blood from meat, of separating red meat from menstruation and its parallel rites, and of using salt, spices, and fire to "purify" enabled high protein products to be kept for long periods of time. The elaborate preparation of ritual foods thus almost completely differentiated the human diet from that of the apes and the distant ancestors.

Cooking by Combining Metaforms: Bread Shaped Like the Moon

The circle is so common in our cultures, we cannot imagine not "seeing it." Nothing in nature emphasizes it --- except the full moon and the sun at sunset, when its shape can be seen. As I argued earlier, ancestral people at first could not see the moon as an integrated object. They had to learn its shapes one at a time, through studying round, crescent, and half-moon metaforms, repeated through millions of lifetimes. Shaping the meal of grains and seeds into a full moon or sun shape would have been a logical ceremonial practice. Then everyone would eat the metaform together, studying the shape of wholeness.

A few breads are shaped like the crescent moon: the croissant, fortune cookies, and turnovers. Round breads appear everywhere: dark European loaves, fruit, meat, and nut pies, tarts, pizza, Navajo corn cakes, tortillas, Scandinavian and Native American pancakes, fry bread, johnnycakes, waffles, Middle Eastern pita [p.120]

bread, Scots scones, African millet bread, Norwegian and Iraqi flat breads, East Indian chapatis, Chinese moon cakes, rice cakes, bean cakes, cookies, corn bread, rolls, bisquits, hamburger buns, sweet buns, hot-cross buns, Italian sweet buns --- and my mother's cherry pie, which was red as well as round.

The rhyme that accompanied my mother's presentation of the pie, sung in her quavery, off-key voice, was "Can she bake a cherry pie, Billie Boy, Billie Boy, can she bake a cherry pie, charmin' Billie?" This courtship song implies that what makes a woman marriageable, in menarchal terms, is her ability to present an appropriate metaform of her initiation into adulthood. Apple pie, cherry pie, strawberry rhubarb pie --- round shapes with metaformic red interiors, served on special occasions --- a gift women present to the family, a sacred pie. (That isn't how I approached my mother's pie, however; I greedily sneaked in when no one was looking and stole cherries from under the beautifully latticed crust. And I was always caught, and chastized in such a manner as to tell me she was pleased I loved her pie so much.)

Western mythology and customs give clues that the making of round bread was at first highly ceremonial, and that it became especially vested with the royal classes and court priestesses. The word "lady" is associated with aristocracy and with disciplined, studied manners; its original meaning was "loafmaker," from Anglosaxon laef-dig. A Sumerian creation story begins, "In the first days, in the very first days . . . when bread was baked in the shrines . . ." [32]   In the theocratic city-states of antiquity, grain was stored for redistribution in the temples. Archaeology has unearthed large ovens in early temple compounds dedicated to the goddess of the moon. Perhaps round bread, at first, was primarily eaten at ceremonies honoring the tradition of the lunar "Mother." [33]

Round cakes were also made by people who did not necessarily cultivate grain. Acorn gatherers on the California coast and other places made circular cakes of acorn meal. The women mounded sea or riverside sand into a round well with steep walls to hold [p.121]

the meal inside. Once the white meal was spread in this form, it exactly resembled the full moon or the setting sun. The meal was then often mixed with clay, dyeing it red. Menstrual customs among many acorn-gathering tribes forbade the menstruant to pound acorn meal.[34]

Making a cake that everyone shares is part of Kinaaldá, the Navajo menstrual ceremony. In this central ritual of Navajo life, a major part of Blessingway, the menstruant's whole family, men as well as women, participate in the making of a round corn cake, several feet in diameter, that is cooked in the ground. They use a string-and-stake compass to make the circle exact, and the men dig the hole with careful attention to symmetry. The ingredients are cornmeal, egg, oil, sweetener. [35]   When finished, the cake resembles the sun, come down to earth. Like the Kinaaldá cake, the European ceremonial cake is a compilation of metaforms developed over the ages. The flour or meal is ground very finely, and only the best (freshest and most valued) ingredients are used. The European cake is often built into a mountain shape by stacking succeedingly smaller rounds upon each other; four layers are typical, though many more are not unusual. Typically the wedding cake is iced with white frosting into which are embedded metaformic emblems: pearls like the moon, roses the color of blood, and white doves.

Surely we eat our histories, our mythologies, and our moral values; we eat our security and our desires; we eat our metaformic minds and our divinities. In these traditions we maintain a slender thread of connection to our ancestral mothers, and we continue the cultural world they, and women everywhere, created. [p. 122]

>>> Continue to Chapter 8 >>