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Chapter 16

The Way and the Way Back

After my father died, my mother gave away almost every­thing that was his -- all his tools and his woodcarvings of pirates and sea captains, his crafts, his letters and clothes, some of the furniture he had made, and of course all his rifles and pistols. She hadn't liked her marriage, she said -- which hurt me at first, until I tried to see it from her point of view. I remembered his know-it-all attitudes and his browbeating. But, she told me secretly, he "comes to visit" her sometimes, sitting in the overstuffed chair across from hers. From this I know she loved some essence of the man, if not the relationship they enacted in sixty years of sharing the same bed.

To replace his stuff, which like his stories had dominated their space, she has gathered around her all kinds of handicrafts, made primarily by women -- her friends and relatives, her daughter (my sister) and granddaughters. Most of these objects are fabric weavings -- shawls, wooly wall hangings, doilies, a blue sunbonnet. Her new things are colorful, cheerful, friendly.

As I prepare to visit her for Christmas, she writes that she wants roses, long-stemmed white silk roses with one or two green leaves. I understand immediately why she wants white roses. She wants innocence, as she prepares for death. When I arrive with the roses, I find she is no longer angry with my father. "Did you like him?" she asks, and I tell her, "We were very close." Recently, she confides, as she stared at a landscape picture on the wall, it began to glow and delivered a message to her, a single word: "Clean." [p.272]

Menstrual Creation Principles

I think of the ancestress once again, sitting still in her shed, holding back the Flood with her bowls and straws. I recall how she entrained her consciousness with her sisters' bleeding, with the proto-moon, with dogs, jackal, and the black leopard; with the red ant mound and with Snake; with Great Tiamat the sea and with earth's fresh waterways; with the "blood" of red meat and with red fire; with plant sap, roots, fruits, grains, and flowers; with the bloody geometric strings of cat's cradle and the veins of precious minerals; and with the sun and planets and the razor Pleiades. When we sit on a chair, lift a fork, cook a meal, work a mathematical formula, use a triangle, name a planet, we are using products of menstrual origin. The menstrual mind underlies all that we are. It is the matrix, and it is always with us, no matter how we hide ourselves away from it.

Modern women are reemerging into public life from a long seclusion. Menstruation, too, is emerging as a subject "cleansed" of its former stigmas and powers. Absolved of its earlier connection to sin and danger, its old taboos are dismissed as superstitions or cataloged in anthropological terms. Menstruation is now described medically, a part of feminine hygiene (from Hygiea, another name for Athena the wise). Science understands menstruation as a hormonally controlled cycle with a well-defined place in reproduction. In addition, and congruently, the twentieth century has absorbed fully the biological comprehension of conception, from the gathering of racing sperms in their testicular sac to the arrival of the singular hero in the fallopian tube after a journey rivaling that of Odysseus. The winning bridegroom burrows into the wall of egg to join his spiral of coded information with hers. Paternity can now be established by technology, and has thus fulfilled its long journey to establish its place in creation.

It is time to move into the next cycle. Materialism is not the last Word. In menstrual theory, interactions among body, mind, spirit, and culture create "the human mind." The creation principles of menstrual theory seem to me to fall into two groups of triads: [p.273]

(1) Separation is elemental, splitting off as a method of differentiating from the mass, and using taboos to regulate boundaries of behavior and establish categories. The natural phenomenon of entrainment of the inner menstrual cycle with the outer lunar cycle is a gift of nature that allowed ancestral females to comprehend patterns of synchrony, beginning with the idea that all blood is menstrual blood. From the equating of one kind of blood with another, the ancestors developed metaforms, the second principle of creation. (2) Metaforms are the external menstrual measurements with which humans extended their idea of synchrony to such natural forms as red ochre and blood-smeared predatory animals and vaginal snakes. By using metaform, the women could return from separation and instruct others, the third principle of creation. (3) Instruction taught and displayed ideas to the nonmenstruating members of their families, who also used metaforms to reflect their comprehensions.

Upon these three rest another triad, which greatly extend them. Derived from the course of the menstruant as she imitated the cycles of the moon, sacred story, or hieros logos, gave us menstrual logic. (4) Menstrual logic is the narrative plot that extended the human mind out in a net that encompassed all manner of cycles, and that continues to do so as scientists find patterns in biorhythms, geology, economic cycles, and radiowaves from distant galaxies.

The first four creation principles alone would have produced a static, small world without the effects of the last two, substitution and crossing, which have enabled huge social shifts. (5) The substitution of one metaform for another is represented in the Karok myth of how salmon was brought to the people. The two sisters break the salmon taboo they have placed on their people, and usher in a new age for their tribe, after Coyote eats red alder wood and calls it "salmon." The substitution of one metaform for another (wood for fish) effects a social change. The carpenters of village India substituted wooden figures for human victims, as did the craftsmen of gold and clay figurines. And this substitution -- which [p.274]

has to be a metaformic transformation deeply believed by the people -- enabled their societies to change. The pretend murder of carefully tended and well-loved statues took the place of religious ritual murder. The carpenters, smiths, and other craftspeople successfully "tricked" the deep fear of drought, flood, and famine that everywhere has haunted farming people, redirecting this powerful emotion along a more benign path. This "tricking of the gods" is psychologically the way we face the fearful recesses of our collective menstrual mind, which believes we will perish if we don't perform certain rites of "tradition." By substituting metaforms, we successfully outrun not only our own habits but the "jackal" of our consciousness of what causes death and the legacy of traumatic blood that so closely accompanies human culture. Induced, or wound-caused, blood was itself a substitution -- of men's blood transformed ritually into "menstrual" blood through parallel rites. This trickster principle of craft, this "craftiness," is one of the most creative in the human bag of menstrual logos, one we need more than ever.

Finally, we come to the sixth principle, crossing. (6) Crossing marks the great shifts of power between women's r'tu and men's parallel rites. Crossing takes advantage of the fact that the genders have different relationships to the central menstrual entrainment and therefore can trade leadership back and forth -- like a shuttle on a loom. Because archaeology is unearthing the feminine past, origin story is crossing from males-only to a balanced, inclusive view that reintegrates the feminine and promises to incorporate the stories of everyone on earth.

The phrase "bread and roses" is from the early twentieth-century labor movement, in which women participated. I understand their demand for "bread and roses" to mean that sustenance -- though fundamental and often hard to get -- isn't enough for the harsh reality of life in the modern world. "Roses" are needed as well as "bread," enough income for some beauty and grace, some leisure and art, some vitality and fun, and for cosmetikos -- that is hardly too much to expect in exchange for one's [p.275]

labor. To these two I have added "blood," meaning recognition of female origin stories. The three vital elements are linked by the connective and, our contribution to the logos of science and religion.

The Way and the Way Back

The male tradition has "the way" to sally forth in a straight line, and women (led to great extent by feminists) have successfully followed men out of the strangling subjective matrix of the past. But men's undeviating path has also led us away from old truths and over a cliff, without "the way back." It is the women's tradition that holds the memory of the way back. The image of the arrow has dominated science and politics, but an arrow's path is only one direction. The "ascent of man" cannot be the whole story, for it omits the lessons of descent, of humility and renewal, and appreciation of the body's wisdom, nature's cycles, and the restrictions and celebrations of r'tu.

We need all the tools of humankind: arrow and loom, hierarchy and consensus, competition and cooperation, tenderness and ferocity, leisure and discipline. Men and women are not in deadly opposition. They are dancing the steps that give us human culture, that allow us to abstract "concepts" from our metaforms -- nonsexual unions of the gender-minds. I believe the emergence of Gay movements in the twentieth century also signals a crossing, especially with the connection of lesbianism to female centrality and "flow."

The necroforms that hold in place racial, sexual, and other caste systems should be considered social and psychological pathologies that our scientists, linguists, poets, theologians, artists, historians, and healers can and should unravel as rapidly as possible. We need to substitute living metaforms for these destructive emblems. We need imagery and language, rites and emotional expressions that can "switch" our minds and return us to a sense of the ties between us. We are all here in the forms our ancestors revered because [p.276]

that was what kept their world together: long-necked swans, gap-toothed cows, black-skinned trees, knobby-faced rocks, round-faced suns, willowy-limbed snakes, blue-eyed skies, pale-cheeked moons, obsidian-eyed stones, hook-nosed hawks, broad-lipped ducks, red-haired carrots. We have all been shaped by our ancestral ideas, but now have new tools with which to see ourselves whole.

Although it may be "better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness," I say it is better still to uncurse the dark. We must learn the world whole. Light is evil as well as good; dark is good as well as evil. Semen, in the age of AIDS, can no longer be seen as "clean" and life-giving -- penises have to be veiled in rubber now. Sunlight is dangerous, as are the toxic byproducts of materialist factories and the insecticides used to make perfect food. And the light of nuclear fission has eclipsed the old power of menstrual blood to destroy the world.

According to astronomers and physicists, light constitutes only about 7 percent of the cosmos, and the center of the sun is dark. "Light" can be said to exist only in the context of that greater dark. The All-god cannot possibly be only "light," then, for the cosmic mind operates largely in what 1s for us, with our dependence on our organs of sight, darkness. If deity is the known cosmos, it lives mostly in "the shade."

The seminal explosion of male-led technology of the last few centuries is being absorbed by women now. Men need to be excellent and fearless teachers; women need to know that men do not bring the final Word, the way they once brought home fire or a wild dog. We all must construct a new set of metaforms -- forceful r'tu that performs some of the same functions as war but eliminates its sacrifice of humans and earth. Nuclear force, chemical waste, and acid rain can be brought under control if we remember how we've solved problems in the past, and that we've been given some marvelous new looms to weave new Words.

It is impossible for me not to believe that menstruation, entering a state of newly washed hygiene, will quickly entrain again with a different set of elements -- those needed to neutralize the forces set [p.277]

in motion by male seclusion and male-only origin story. Women, having learned what the male story offers, will become again teachers with a new set of "Female Instructing Principles." We will again find Snake, for menstruation is our most enduring covenant.

In the Gaia theory of biologists Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock, the self-regulating ecosystem has created an atmospheric shroud, as though the earth has veiled itself to regulate the life-shortening force of the sun. In a sense we, all organic life, are the earth's measuring forms. We are the cultural paraphernalia of "her" external mind and help to weave the veil that protects us all. Perhaps if we learn again the entrainments of fellow creatures and planetary bodies we will understand their Word, reconnect with them, and begin to see how we fit into the pattern. We must discipline intuition with objective scientific principles, so we can trust it and use it effectively in a new dia logos.

We materialist humans seem to be moving in a great procession, toward what destination, what new marriage, we do not know. Our Word is migrating once again. Having gone from skin to skirt, and then from skirt to script, it is now written on screens as dancing light with sound and color. But that light, like any other, can only exist in a context of interaction with dark; and in the microcosm, the pixels that build the characters and forms on the screen are honeycomb weavings of light and dark. The numerical system that stores the microchip information is a yes/no system.

The world created through digital video-computers -- offers a potentially hopeful vision. As a network is set in place worldwide, we may soon work at home or some new version of home, where parents can be with their children, neighborhoods can develop again, where we can "materialize" reality in experiences of written light, without overprocessing the natural world, or so much parading in our fire-driven chairs. The new Word demands also a new basis of economy -- what is it we have to trade from screen to screen? Is this a chance for different terms for the "washing" effect of money? For several hundred years in the West, money has been endowed with the seminal power to wash. It is "saved," held back [p.278]

in "banks," as also blood is stored in blood "banks," and as earlier, water was seen as stored in river "banks." In banks, money took on a reproductive role and was given the ability to "increase and multiply" through such forms as interest and profit. Will money now be gauged in units of energy measured as computer time or microchip bytes as it was once gauged in units of gold, or salt, or red feathers? Why can't we even out the disparity between people with centralizing r'tu but no goods and the people who have goods but no centralizing r'tu? How can the earth be an economic partner who benefits from our endeavors?

Young people have always been catalysts of change, and sometimes eras that seem most difficult, when we are at the bottom of our Descent, are most valuable in the formulation of new r'tu. We need young Word brokers to help establish new systems of value and exchange. Meanwhile, the satellites catapulted from earth's surface by the Cold War have become an "eye of life." We have been given a view of our blue planet from off its surface. We can see it whole, measure our impact on it, and see its new patterns. The question is whether we can also learn to see from the point of view of the earth, of matter, and of all living beings.

The Great Wash of Shame

To hasten into consciousness the renewed menstrual mind, we might want to work with our residues of shame, which are completely related to menstrual knowledge. Shame is consciousness of ability to do evil, and it is a fundamental human quality. Shame is also acknowledgment of something unfinished, raw, and is therefore the doorway to creativity and finding solutions. Shame accompanied some great discoveries -- of the harm of incestuous mating, of the power to transmit disease, of the power of semen in conception, of the reality of individual death, of the ability of human cultures to live without blood sacrifice.

Deep shames attach to being female, and they don't diminish when we drive our shiny cars out into the world chasing our arts [p.279]

and sciences, learning and contributing to the new ways that men command them. We feel shame when we can't live up to all that is expected of us in family obligations, in the world, and in our own psychological and sexual persons. I have developed a women's shame ritual -- based in a rite devised by my partner, Kris Brandenburger -- that acknowledges the power of shame and frees our creativity and joy.

In a small group, two or three women set a date for the rite at least two weeks in advance. Each spends time thinking about her own shames, making a short list of them. She dresses for the rite in ragged, dirty, ill-fitting, or otherwise shameful clothes. At the appointed time, the women gather and sit facing each other, taking one long turn at a time telling their shames. Some women may want to cover their heads with a cloth while speaking, or to use other simple additions from their menarchal tradition. While the "menstruant" is speaking, the companion(s) listen, careful not to solve, interrupt, or negate the shame -- letting it be what it is. Then others take turns with their own lists.

When all have spoken, the women go to a bath place -- a large household shower or public hot tub or sauna, or a pond or lake -- any body of water where they can take turns washing each other from head to foot, including the hair, and with special attention to the hands, feet, and face. Feelings of shame may accompany this portion as well, so silence may be enjoined.

After the bathing, the women dress in some of their best clothes, fix their hair, helping each other and admiring the clothes if they feel like it. Finally, they go out to dinner or to a special meal they prepare together, and enjoy themselves.

For a larger group of women who don't know each other very well, a group may begin with general discussions of some menstrual history and metaformic ideas, telling of individual experiences of menarche or childbirth, and of shame. The larger group breaks into units of four, six, or eight. Two women sit facing each other on the floor or ground, while the rest stand around them, facing each other in lines with their arms extended and fingers [p.280]

locked together, forming a hut shape in which the two seated ones are enclosed. Leave the east side open, and if there are as many as six "walls," the last pair can close in the west side. The walls can listen or not, as they choose.

After each "menstruant" has finished speaking her shame, the companion washes her face and hands with a clean cloth dipped in clean water. In my experience guiding women in this rite, the washing was a profound experience, and participants often wanted to take a long time with it.

When every pair has taken a turn as menstruant and companion, when everyone has told her shames, the group rearrange or change clothing, comb their hair, sit comfortably, and share some metaformic food -- red fruits, dark breads, wine or beer or cola drunk with a straw -- as reminders of where our lives originated and that we are woven together by our metaforms.

I imagine my next shame rite. In humility, I sit facing my companion sister Ereshkigal, surrounded by towering walls of the living female hut. "My father bought me a case of cosmetics when I was thirteen," I begin, "and I scorned it." Now I close my eyes to imagine my two parents, back in their garrulous mid-fifties, suspending their daily battle to sit so eagerly side by side in their living room, giving me the fragment of the oldest human tradition. They watch my face so closely -- I feel again my grief and shock, and theirs.

And I reach again, taking the box, knowing this time I will use it in my own way. I embrace them each in turn for everything they gave me, and as everything that brought me here and connects me to the past. I will go out into the world of men to learn what is there. But I will also stay connected to women every chance I get, until we figure out what this little box will do for the world, once we open it.  [p.281]

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