How Feminist Mythology Helps Girls & Young Women
Feminist mythology! Mythology that restores women and girls as central to our collective human mythology. I want that! You want that! And we all used to have that a few millenia ago. I’m working really hard to help us all restore and reclaim the myths that not only feature women and girls, but convey important information about our bodies, the miracles of being female, and how females are particularly and distinctly connected to the natural world and life itself.
Feminist mythology helps girls and young women by teaching them that some of the great myths of human civilization are actually:
- menstrual myths,
- or myths about the strength, courage, and ingenuity of girls,
- or how girls were viewed as intrinsically part of the natural world, i.e. they were wild.
Here, and occasionally on my blog, I present restored myths of special interest to girls and young women.
Patriarchal mythologies have tried to erase all traces of menstruation being a wonderful female experience with its intrinsic power. For girls and young women growing up today, it may seem inconceivable that each month your period could be an experience of wonder and power. Patriarchy attaches a ton of shame to menstruation. How dare we bleed! And, especially, don’t let anyone notice that you’re on your period, because you might turn into the target of a lot of PMS jabs, ridicule, or condescension.
Here’s the truth: Human females, women and girls, bleed more than any other mammal on the planet as part of our cycle of estrus. This makes us incredibly unique. We are astounding because we bleed but do not die. (Yes, sometimes cramps make you feel like you might.) However, this menstrual bleeding is a huge power. Menstruation is an experience of renewal, connection to cosmic cycles, and life. These are all genuine powers. Men and boys only bleed because they are wounded in some way. A wound has the potential of becoming infected. If serious enough, the wound may cause major blood loss which can lead to sickness or death.
And as females of all ages know, menstruation is an initiation. Menstruation teaches girls and women how to literally flow with life. We learn what it’s like to be under the sway of something larger than ourselves—the Mysteries—how to relax into that experience, how we individually respond to discomfort and pain, and how to empower ourselves to ride it all sanely and well. In ancient times, women and girls learned how to help ourselves during our menstrual periods with herbs, exercise, massage, song, and more.
A menstrual myth from ancient Egypt
Ancient Egyptians revered female cats (large and small) as solar goddesses; reverence evidenced by the worship of Bast, Menhit, Tefnut, the Great Sphinx, Hathor, and of course, Sekhmet. In ancient Egyptian culture, lioness goddesses represented and regulated all movement of the Sun. Egypt’s solar lioness goddesses governed sexuality, life, culture, childbirth, time, cycles, and death. Especially connected to women, they symbolized heat, light, power, sensual pleasure, fertility, wisdom, waters, and community.
In pre-dynastic times, Hathor, the cow-goddess of the moon, was also the lioness goddess of the sun. The red cow of the Lascaux caves gives us a symbolic representation of our uterus. There’s no mistaking however clinically the drawing is, the shape looks like a red cow head. We also clearly mirror the moon cycles with our cycles. And as girls and women know, there are certain days on your period when you completely feel like a lionness! This is an ancient pairing. Even today, yoga postures retain this ancient union in the well-known cat-cow pose sequence signifying deep inhalation and exhalation. This sequence limbers up the spine as well as shifting the pelvis back and forth with breath.
Once Dynastic priests elevated Râ as the Sun god over the lioness goddesses, Hathor and Sekhmet were simultaneously demoted and conflated, particularly in two myths of Râ: the lost eye of the sun, and the vengeance of Râ. In these related myths, Râ’s sovereignty is shaky; he is weak, old, and petulant.
In the first ancient myth, Râ ineffectively tries to replace Hathor or Sekhmet as the Eye of the Sun, but only manages to send her off into the desert leaving him unable to rule properly. Only the god Thoth is able to bring her back so she can restore order to the world. In the other myth, Râ is mocked by humanity because of his impotence; consequently, he curses them and sends Sekhmet/Hathor to slaughter them. Lioness goddesses, especially Hathor, Tefnut, and Sekhmet controlled the timing, height, and duration of the annual Nile flooding. Iron-rich silt made the initial flooding of the river run deep red thus resembling blood.
In both myths, Râ is incapable of releasing the Nile floods. People were dying due to a prolonged drought, the merciless heat of the blazing sun, and the growing inability to grow enough food. It’s clear that the only the solar lioness goddess Sekhmet/Hathor presided over the flow of the Nile and the lives of the people. In priestly patriarchal rewrites, Sekhmet becomes a raging goddess, frenetically killing the people who have spoken against Râ. However, because so many die, Râ becomes alarmed. He orders mandrake root and grain be ground in order to make several thousand jars of red beer. This potent red beer is poured out over the fields and Sekhmet, thinking the liquid is blood, sees her beautiful face reflected in it. She proceeds to lap it up and becomes so drunk that her killing frenzy is vanquished.
However, as we now know, the rewrites were all bunk, b.s., patriarchal propaganda. The truth is every year ancient Egyptians held the much anticipated and acclaimed festival of Sekhmet/Hathor in Luxor and Dendera. Held in the month of Thoth (equivalent to July), this celebration marked the start of the Nile River beginning to flow and flood. Egyptians sailed down the flowing red Nile, disembarked at the temples of Sekhmet/Hathor and proceeded to play music, dance, drink beer, and have lots of sex as tribute to the red-clad, bare-breasted lioness goddess.
Mandrake root has long been known to dull pain, induce sleep, and in large doses, incite mild delirium. An ancient fable about mandrake even claimed it cured sterility. Added to a red emmer wheat bear, all of mandrake’s herbal qualities meshed nicely into the raucous New Year’s festival celebrating the erotic life-bringing solar goddess Sekhmet. And, as Sekhmet’s original wonderful menstrual myth shows, and as we women all know, if a goddess’s or woman’s menstrual blood is flowing, uninhibited sex, new life, joy, and revelry follow.