As Canada works towards reconciliation, we at Lil Helper want to continue to learn and improve, and raise Indigenous voices. For more information on what Lil Helper is doing during this time, click here.
On Flo Friday, we at Lil Helper like to talk about all things menstrual health. For this week, we would like to thank author Kihci Têpakohp Iskotêw Iskwêw (Emily Jane Henry) of Ochapowace Cree First Nation for sharing these beautiful writings with us.
The Celebration of Womanhood
The Elder was asked to share teachings about the traditional views womanhood, specifically about ‘Moon-time’. She began her talk by thanking the people of the land and those who invited her. Next, she said a prayer mixed in both English and her traditional language. She finished by thanking everyone who came to hear her speak. She began, ‘speaking about womanhood and Moon-time is an important topic. It is important for both men and women to learn about our traditional teachings on women and I am grateful to see both, present in the audience today. For some, this topic will be new information; for others, it will be a review. In any case, my hope is to inspire you to get curious. My hope is that, after listening to what I have to share, you want to learn more about your nation’s specific teachings on womanhood. What you will discover is that your ancestral teachings on the celebration of women are simply beautiful. In the meantime, I humbly share just a few teachings with you and thank you for having an open heart and mind as I do.
Our ancestral ceremonies included pre-teen girls going through rites of passage; where they were given teachings on womanhood. For example, there would be a great celebration in the community when a girl was nearing her Moon-time or menses, or what some might call, ‘having a period’. The reason it is called Moon-time is that a woman’s body is connected to Grandmother Moon. As much as the moon is connected to Mother Earth’s ocean tides, it is also connected to a monthly cycle of a woman. There are teachings about the 13 Sacred Moons, and they are simply beautiful; I absolutely encourage you to learn about this teaching. For now, the important thing to understand is this is why we call it Moon-time. During life-giving years, Moon-time marks a miraculous monthly process occurs and this time is held in the highest regard. For us, Moon-time is a time of ceremony; and as such, there is absolutely no shame associated it. Sadly, views have changed so much that I’ve heard Moon-time being called ‘curse’ or other such derogatory slang words. It saddens me because nothing can be further from the truth. I believe truths are exposed as more information is obtained. For example, I heard that some people have been told that women do not take part in ceremonies when on their Moon-time, but only brief explanations are given. As a result, people fill in missing information with interpretations of the worldviews around them. Sadly, over time many have been taught that when a woman has her ‘period’, she unclean; thus, shame and secrecy have also become associated with this time of the month. I have been told that this is the assumption as to why a woman steps back during ceremonies. This is simply not the case. Our ancestral teachings tell us that Creator blessed women or ‘Lifegivers,’ with the sacred ability to give life. It is through a woman life-giving abilities that humankind prospers. For it is true, without women's ability to carry a child within her, no person on earth would exist today. Part of being a Lifegiver is undergoing a monthly personal ceremony, which we call Moon-time.
Moon-time is when a women’s body demonstrates its sacred ability to nurture life. This process includes the woman’s uterus walls thickening so it can prepare to carry a baby. However, as we know, a woman doesn’t become pregnant every month so her body found ways to naturally purifies itself. This means that on a monthly basis, a woman has a natural and spiritual purification ceremony. The lining that prepared for a baby becomes releases through blood, at the same time, the body mimics the process of giving birth; thus pain occurs. The body undergoes physical changes, essentially rebuilding its self. Additionally, for a short time, hormones that were preparing for the nurturing of a baby also become imbalanced. In a way, a woman’s hormones send her messages associated with feelings of loss. Though the woman may not be aware of it, in a sense, a woman is physically and emotionally connecting with the fact that she must ‘try again’ next month. The strength and endurance a woman goes monthly, really tells us how truly powerful women are. Women possess the natural ability to rebalance their entire being through a powerful internal purification ceremony. In other words, a woman can internally cleanse away emotions and thoughts that detract her from walking in balance, because she possesses the sacred ability to realign her energies. When you really think about it, what a women’s body goes through during her Moon-time is a profound and utter demonstration of the love of humankind because she is truly honouring her life-giving qualities. A man does not have the ability of internal cleaning because he does not possess the ability to carry a child within him. Therefore, in ceremonies when men are present, a woman demonstrates great compassion for men by stepping back. A woman also steps back in high regard and great respect for her time of personal power. She is undergoing a powerfully spiritual external personal purification ceremony. She is so powerful during this time of the month that the medicines are naturally drawn to her. For it is true, Mother Earth is also a Lifegiver; and the connection between her and women is so powerful that they are naturally drawn to one another. For Mother Earth understands a natural cleansing period as well; she demonstrates through the change of seasons. As the sacred medicines are naturally drawn to the woman, the purification properties are not as strong as a man might need to be able to purify their energies. As I said, a woman’s compassion for men is so great that they step back from participating in a ceremony during their Moon-time.
Still, this not to say that a woman does not participate in ceremonies during her Moon-time; no, quite the opposite is actually is true. In traditional times, during a woman’s Moon-time, the respect for women was so great that there was no other burden was placed upon her at that time. During monthly moon-lodges, women were encouraged to nurture themselves holistically. Women ceremonies honoured the cleansing time of the body, and also assisted to balance hormones. For example, our Ancestors knew that during Moon-time, the mind (brain) becomes influenced by a sense of ‘loss’. As a result, both serotonin (‘feel-good’ chemical in a person’s brain) and sugar (insulin) levels were being impacted. Our Ancestors knew the power of intermitting fasting for rebalancing thoughts and emotions. They also knew that breaking fasts with fruit naturally restore a body’s sugar levels; thus, today, we see sweet berries associated with women ceremonies. We also break our fast with buffalo broth because of the deficiency of certain alkaline levels in our bodies. Our Ancestors were naturally gifted with knowledge of the body’s chemistry, and a person’s emotional and mental states. Thus, daily lifestyles were based on holistic principles and spirituality was a simply a way of life. Therefore, we lived a balanced lifestyle where we were nurtured physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Today, we can learn more these holistic life views through the Medicine Wheel teachings. I encourage you to learn more about that the teaching of the Medicine Wheel; they have the potential to profoundly impact your life. For now, my hope was to provide you with enough teachings to make you curious about learning more about Moon-time ceremonies. Most of all I hope that I encourage you to learn about the traditional views of women. We must return to our traditional views in order that our culture endures. Our teachings were oral; and to a large extent, still are; however, if there is one thing about our people is that we are resilient because we adapt. We are sharing information with today’s technology and I am so happy for that. Still, there is nothing like learning traditional teachings from your nation’s healthy Elders - most especially the ones that follow our traditional ways. The Elder’s are waiting for you; they know it is time to hand the torch over to the next generation. They want to teach you about ceremonies, and they want to tell you about our ancestral teachings. They want our culture to thrive. I encourage you to go and learn. In the meantime, I thank you for your kind attention.
Kākithaw niwākomākanak (All My Relations),
(author) Kihci Têpakohp Iskotêw Iskwêw (Emily Jane Henry)
Original Home Territory: Ochapowace Cree First Nation
Featured is the beautiful artwork of Loretta Gould. To see more of her work visit her page at: https://www.facebook.com/mikmaq.artist.loretta.gould/?ref=br_rs