10 Shocking Beliefs of the Yorubas About Menstrual Blood
Yorubas have a lot of beliefs about many things but the beliefs they have about menses, menstruation and menstrual blood will petrify many. Enjoy this piece.
He is the husband,
He is the wife.
Warm like the sun,
Cool like the harmattan.
He builds a house of parrot’s feathers
a wall of darkness
that reaches into the sky.
In this poem above, the iko oode or ikoode are the crimson tail feathers of the African Grey Parrot and they represent the aje (mother) of menses while Oduduwa (who can be male or female depending on the part of Yorubaland you are from): builds a mansion of aje that changes into the uterine calabash of cosmic proportions.
- A woman in Yoruba beliefs, is not seen as an object of impurity, either with or without the menses. The female is accorded the greatest sense of respect in Yoruba traditions and that explains why many of the gods and divinities are demonstrated as female entities. Even Oduduwa and Olodumare (Creator God) are seen as females by some Yorubas. Unlike what obtains in some other Middle Eastern religions where a menstruating woman is forbidden from certain acts of worship or even sexual intercourse or in Hinduism where menstruating women are banned from the temples, menstruating does not stop a woman in Yorubaland from carrying out any of her religious duties. As a matter of fact, men become babalawos and almost never an Iyalawo and that is because women are believed to be the source of the secrets that the Babalawos (men) are searching for. That explains why Babalawos often turn to the Iyas and Awon Iyami Oshoronga for help and assistance from time to time. In short, menses does not diminish a woman in any way in traditional Yoruba religions. A woman is seen as the embodiment of divinity and the living manifestations of Olodumare or the Odu.
- Menstruating women are not barred from Ifa because they are seen as the sources and activators of the Ifa oracle itself. Like the males, they can take all their time to learn the Odu Ifa with its countless Ese Ifa, medicines and prescriptions of power.
- Osun is the root word of irosun, which represents menstrual blood. In Yoruba mythologies, blood is not only necessary and relevant to one’s lineage, it is also an integral part of the destinies of humans. Irosun is also the red powder from the camwood tree that is used to consecrate the pot (Odu) of Ogun, the goddess of war and iron. Blood in Yoruba mythology is generally seen as a type of fertilizer, which explains why shedding blood to the earth in forms of sacrifices is quite common.
- The reason Yoruba men and even other men in some other cultures are afraid of being slapped with a menstrual cloth of a woman is that the woman’s (usually his wife or mother) body is her Apere, representative of the Odu so the fear stems out of respect and reverence and not out of repulsion or hatred. This is based on the deep-rooted belief that a woman’s breasts, menses and her vagina are her actual sources of power as seen in the Igbadu and for a woman to go naked deliberately out of fury or slap the man with her menstrual cloth is seen as the height of anger or disapproval from the woman, something the men do not want. Female sexuality plays a great role in Yoruba cosmogony and that men can see glimpses of heaven through the female sexual organs during coitus means they are objects of intense worship. But it is known among the Yorubas that the same path that can lead to bliss can lead to eternal damnation so when a woman deliberately exposes her nakedness or hits the man with her menstrual cloth, it can derail his destiny forever. To be slapped with the menstrual cloth of the mother is to be rejected by the ancestors and the unborn generations forever. Because men came from women (that is the belief in Yoruba traditional religions and not the other way round as seen in other Middle Eastern religions where the woman is believed to have come from the man), he cannot destroy that which created him (the woman or female body) no matter how much he tries.
- Yorubas seen the crescent moon as a symbol of renewal, freshness and regeneration. This is why they call the menses nkan oshu meaning ‘sign of the moon’ as oshu (oshupa) means the moon. This is because the women use the waxing and waning of the moon phases as a calendar for their cycles. When the moon is at its highest level of waxing, maidens and new brides pray to it to grant them ‘newness’ (fertility) and the strength to carry a child on their backs. Thus, menstrual blood in Yorubaland does not come with fear, disgust or seen as impure. It is rather seen as a sign of renewal, bounty and fertility. That explains why some priests use menstrual blood of a virgin (or any lady) to do some of the most powerful magic charms eyonu or ogun owo , the charm for fame and wealth. This is because menstrual blood is considered to be sacred and powerful. This belief is also seen among the Cherokee Indians of North America and in various tribes of Africa.
- Menstrual blood can also be used in some rituals in Yorubaland. For example, one of the most powerful women in the traditional Yoruba society known as the Iya Lekuleja can prepare one of the most potent medicines by removing her cloth, standing naked before everyone, moving round a circle countless times while reciting incantations quickly then kneeling over a calabash and washing her breasts and vagina (with its menstrual fluid) inside it. This concoction is then given to the subject, usually a son or any male, to drink. By kneeling and assuming the posture of Ikunle Abiyamo, Iya Lekuleja is believed to open access to her sacred Igbadu and her Aje for the subject to tap from the powers within. When the son drinks the potion, he is believed to be a born again as he tasted his mother, via the cleansing waters of her vagina and the omi ero of her breasts.
- Some Yorubas hold the belief that a menstruating woman can render the magic or the charms of a native doctor useless.
- The Yoruba belief is that menstrual blood has healing powers. Well, this is true and it is confirmed by modern science. The stem cells in menstrual blood have the same powers of regeneration as the stem cells harvested from the umbilical cord blood and the bone marrow. How the Yorubas of the old knew that menstrual blood had regenerative capacities should be a source of curiosity to us all. Scientists are already thinking of how to use menstrual blood stem cells to treat heart diseases, stroke, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and a host of other diseases.
- As menstrual blood (or blood in itself) is seen as sacred, Yorubas believe that with each menstrual period, a woman loses part of her ‘power’ and this explains why older women who have reached menopause are believed to have more potent spiritual powers. Such women do not menstruate anymore and are believed to ‘retain’ all their inner powers instead of shedding them every month.
- Red, the colour of menstrual blood is also one of the three main colours of the Egbe Iyami Oshoronga (red, black and white) with the red standing for not just the menstrual blood but also the activation and authorization of the ashe (divine order). For the curious, black represents vitality, pure melanin and perfection in Yorubaland while the white stands for the ancestors. Because of the mystic power attached to menstrual blood, all women are seen as potential members of the Iyami Oshoronga cult as they are all linked through their menstrual blood. So far from being an impurity that will taint the sacred and pure, menstrual blood is seen in Yorubaland as a source of purity and sacredness in itself. This explains why women are not prevented from reaching the highest levels of hierarchy in the traditional Yoruba religions simply because they bleed.
THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.
- The Yoruba Today by Jeremy Seymour Eades.
- The Architects of Existence: Aje in Yoruba Cosmology, Ontology and Orature by Teresa N. Washington.
- Women in the Yoruba Religious Sphere by Oyeronke Olajubu.
- Spirit, Structure and Flesh: Gender and Power in Yoruba African Instituted Churches Among the Yoruba of Nigeria by Deidre Helen Crumbley.
- Can Mail-In Menstrual Blood Banks Help Save Lives? By Bonnie Rochman