Tag Archives: menstruation

North German Canning Superstition

Context:

HH is a retired former housewife who lives in Westergellersen, a small village in northern Germany.

Main Piece:

“Frauen sollten kein Gemüse einkochen wenn sie ihre Regel haben. Die Gläser werden dann nicht richtig schließen.”

Translation:

Women shouldn’t be canning any vegetables while they’re on their period. If they do, the jars won’t close right.

Analysis:

There are many superstitions about the female menstrual cycle, many delineating the things women should and shouldn’t do while they are actively menstruating. The informant does not recall any further logic behind the superstition, only that the jars won’t seal correctly. Given that canning is largely seen as women’s work, and that having a good seal on the jars is vitally important for the long-term preservation of the food, it does seem reasonable that a superstition around women’s bodies would be connected to this important facet of women’s work.

Given that this is a superstition, and therefore a magical folk belief, this belief would fall under the umbrella of Sympathetic Magic, specifically Homeopathic. My interpretation of the metaphor involved in this magical belief is that if the woman canning is menstruating, her body is momentarily shedding bodily substances and fluids, rather than how she is ‘sealed’ during the rest of her cycle. So, a woman must be ‘sealed’ herself while canning, otherwise the ‘unsealed’ trait of her body would metaphorically translate to the jar, not letting it properly seal.

Menstrual Taboos In Modern-Day India

Informant’s Background:

My informant, SV, is a recent graduate with a Master’s from the University of Southern California. He is 25, was born in Hyderabad, Telangana, India, and moved to the United States to attend a graduate program at USC. Post-graduation he remains in Los Angeles hunting for a job.

Context:

My informant is my roommate and a close friend of mine. I asked him if he could share some Indian traditions, customs, or folklore with me.

Performance:

SV: “So… One of the kind of, er, traditions in India… are like women are considered impure when they’re doing their periods. So they’re not allowed to a lot of places, or they’re not, for example, like temples or a lot of holy places, or they’re not allowed in the kitchen and to cook food. So this is a tradition that is probably more prevalent in more rural areas which isn’t as prevalent in other areas where people are progressive and aren’t as strict with these rules but this, uhm, used to be a thing maybe in older generations where women would have their, like I guess rights limited when they’re on their periods and they have limited things that they can do and they’re sort of oppressed in some sense. Another thing through this is also the fact that sort of like talking about it is considered taboo. Like I guess when I was younger I didn’t realize it but then later when I got older I understood that like, because my mom’s on her period, that’s why she’s missing temple. Because when I was younger I would just think that she was busy or she was tired. And it didn’t make sense to me when I did understand it, because I thought it, to me, was just a normal bodily function, so uhm… I didn’t quite understand it but trying to talk to her about it wasn’t something she was comfortable with. Same at school, it’s considered very taboo to sort of like, openly talk about it, so for example sometimes at school a girl might be on her period, and she forgot her pad, so like she’d borrow it from a friend, and it’s sort of like they’re passing drugs or something it’s like… it’s so secretive. They’d cover it up with newspaper or with a plastic bag because it’s something that for some reason is considered embarrassing.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

SV: “It’s a normal human function, right? So I guess I still find it odd they treat it this way, but I guess that’s just how it is.”

Thoughts:

Menstrual taboos are fairly universal, seen in a wide range of cultures throughout the ages and even up to this day. In this case, the informant notes that menstruating women are seen as impure, hence they are not allowed to cook food or be in the kitchen, as they are most likely considered to be contaminating the food by being in it’s presence or by handling it. Superstition often plays a role in the establishment taboos, in this case, the actual possibility of the women contaminating the food is negligible, yet the taboo lives on due to the superstition that the menstrual blood will somehow manage to contaminate the food and the kitchen, as well as the temple, in the case of this taboo.

I Dentoni

Main piece:

L.S.: It was something I was told when I was 15, 16 years old. My mum used to tell me not to put my legs and feet inside the water when I had my periods or, otherwise, my teeth would get super long. I remember I told this also to a friend of mine, who was a bit older than me and [smiles] she laughed at me.

V.S.: But was this considered ‘common knowledge’?

L.S.: I think so. I do not exactly know the origin, but my mother always told me this and…well, I guess my mother was told the same thing when she was my age. 

Background: (why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does if mean to them? Etc.)

My informant was born in the Tosco-Emilian Apennines (Italy) in 1931. While she spent the majority of her childhood there, she moved to Bologna, Italy, when she was about 13, and she has been living there ever since. This belief remembers her of her mother, and she told me of having said it to her daughter and grand-daughter as well, despite her lack of belief in the truthfulness of it.

Context: (the context of the performance)

The informant recounted me this while having a tea in her living room.

Thoughts:

I believe this folk-belief to be really interesting as it directly concerns two fundamental aspects of womanhood. Firstly, until not many years ago, it was common understanding that going for a swim or dive into a pool of water would be unhealthy for women during their menstruations. Many were the presumptions concerning this hypothesis and many were the plausible reasons given, for the majority related to the fact that it would cause some sort of deficiency or simply be bad for their health. The true reason why women were advised against bathing -at least publicly- during their periods, is, instead, attributable to the possible embarrassment this would provoke towards other people in the surrounding area, who would witness the natural leakage of blood the immersion would commonly provoke. 

Secondly, this belief brings to light a second and more interesting aspect related to women’s menstruations, which is the one of transformation and fear of change. As a matter of fact, the appearance of this monstrous dental extension (Dentoni, which in Italian means high teeth) in the case of contact with water represents one of the many forms of fear both towards growth and also towards the social expectations that from it derive -just like Bloody Mary does. 
The conventional pattern of transformation can also be interpreted as a rite of passage from the society of children to the society of adults. 

Period Stains and Pens

Context & Background: 

Informant is a childhood friend of the collector. They went to school together from 4th grade to 7th grade in Bangalore, India. Here is a story that the informant told about their time at school and the unusual circumstances that girls in the school had to go through. 

Performance: (via phone call)

You know that those years (ages 10-14) are times of development. Naturally, all the girls in my class, and I’m sure yours as well, started getting their periods for the first time. And as you should remember, we had an all white uniform. So, period stains on the white skirts were inevitable. And it was so embarrassing at the time, like I had encounters where I wanted to help a girl but she would deny that she was on her flow. Anyways, I noticed after a few months of getting mine that us girls learned a new trick to cover up any accidental stains. At the school, we always had to write with ink pens, and so if the period stain was small, we would cover up and scribble on the stain with the ink. And then, it would seem like an ink stain and not a period stain. However, once this got around, we got to know the meaning behind the ink stains, but at least it wasn’t as embarrassing as a bright red stain. 

Analysis:

I encountered and performed this little trick in the past as well. The reason the ink stain trick got invented in the first place is because people in India are very conservative and think of periods as taboo. This comes from the fact that for a long time, India considered girls less than boys, and so women’s issues were never addressed. The fallout from that mentality still persists today and so period stains are still very embarrassing in the culture. Not to say that they aren’t embarrassing in any other cultures, but especially in Indian culture. Another note is that there isn’t as much freedom in Indian schools as there is in Western countries’ schools because of the strict uniform. If there are difficulties at that time of the month, girls usually dress differently to accommodate for that, but that isn’t possible in India and so they have to come up with other tricks to hide natural occurrences.

CycleBeads as Fertility Tracker and Family Planner

Main story: 

A conversation was had between the informant and myself. The informant can be known as MC and I will be known as MH. 

MC: There are these beads, they are called cycle beads. Think of it like a rosary. It is a necklace looking contraption. Based on the colors of the beads and the amount of them you can tell what days you will be fertile, infertile or menstruating. 

MH: And does this work? 

MC: I mean, it has been proven time and time again in modern medicine that things like these trackers are merely myths. If they actually worked it is most likely sheer luck. The only way to accurately prevent pregnancy is by either not having sex, or using contraceptives like condoms and IUDs. And predicting fertility is still something modern medicine cannot fully conceive. So I am not sure how much to believe about the beads, but they are interesting. 

Background: 

The informant studies public health and took a class on eastern medicine traditions. She found this one to be vastly interesting as women swear by it. But she knows through studying female reproductive health and sexual education that homeopathic methods like this notoriously do not work for most women. 

Context: 

The informant is a friend of mine and the conversation was held over facetime in a very casual setting as we talked about different approaches to health care. 

My thoughts: 

I am in a similar vein of belief with her. I do not know where I stand in believing in homeopathic methods. But they have often been used for centuries so there has to be levels of truth to them. Because anything that people dedicate that much time to has to have a certain level of importance for one reason or another. And there is some level of truth to the menstrual cycle counting with beads, some women do have very steady cycles that are predictable and they can use them to semi accurately predict fertility and pregnancy prevention. But most times I would more so believe that it is sheer luck as reproductive safety is pretty well documented that it cannot be tracked just through simple methods and birth control can only be achieved through methods like pills, IUDs or condoms.