WHEN I WAS ASKED TO MAKE MENSTRUAL ART FOR THIS BOOK, ‘Aadya Shakti’ had been on my mind for several months. The political turbulence and ecological strife in my environment had been upsetting me. I kept asking myself: what is the ultimate answer to the violence and anger? The answer came to me in a dream one night and I felt convinced that reclaiming the ancient belief in the magical qualities of menstrual blood through art could be one way of healing the ruptures that were plaguing our planet. I decided I would illustrate the mystical aspect of menstrual blood to portray how women are connected to Mother Earth through their menstrual cycle. Menstrual blood has the power to create peace and regenerate the earth, and I felt the strong need to bring this vision of the feminine life force to life through my art.
The idea birthed in my dream was initially a motif of many lotus flowers floating in a sea of blood. In India, the lotus is a political symbol and the logo of a right-wing political party, but in many cultures the flower is used to depict enlightenment, fertility and rebirth. I resolved to erase the negativity and hatred through my painting and reclaim the purity of the lotus.
My menstrual art was inspired by two things. One was the striking image of a golden Lajja Gauri. Lajja Gauri is the lotus-headed Hindu goddess associated with abundance, fertility and sexuality. She is also known as Aadya Shakti (primal energy) and Bhu-devi (Earth goddess). In my vision, I saw myself as her, which is why in my painting you will see Lajja Gauri wearing thick bangles, toe rings, anklets and armlets – the kind of jewellery I wear. In order to do justice to what I had imagined, I photographed myself extensively. I used those photos as a reference to draw the hair on the goddess’s body because I wanted my art to be very personal and intimate. I had been harvesting my own menstrual blood for several years and had collected enough to use as paint. I was convinced that this medium would allow me to reclaim the purity of menstrual blood.
The second inspiration came from a book I was reading by Lara Owen, entitled Her Blood Is Gold: Awakening to the Wisdom of Menstruation, in which she writes about the creation myth of the Kogi Indians of Colombia. The title of the book and these words from the book about the Great Mother – ‘from her comes life’ – resonated with me. The Kogis believe that the earth was formed by the Great Mother during her menstrual cycle. Her blood seeped into the ground and became the precious gold that flows in the seams of the earth’s rocky interior. According to the Kogis, menstruation is directly related to the survival of life on this planet and menstrual blood is the magical fluid from which human life was created. The blood from the womb that nourished the unborn child is believed to have mana, or magical healing power. The Kogis also say that whenever the earth stops receiving this magical, mystical fluid, violence increases, leading to great destruction, which will eventually consume the planet itself.
The Kogi culture is not the only one that holds such beliefs. Many other cultures also acknowledge that menstrual blood has mysterious healing qualities; some say it could cure leprosy, and others claim it is an aphrodisiac. Menstrual blood, according to the Tantric tradition, is sacred, and men could become spiritually powerful by ingesting it. However, over time, patriarchy and evolving value systems have made us forget and distorted these ancient ideas and rituals, turning a sacrament into a pollutant.
I had other symbols in my mind as I conceptualized my art. Blood is closely linked not only to Mother Earth, but also to the moon and the snake. As women, we are of the earth in a powerful way. Together, we are the nurturers and givers of life. The earth is our home, and like her, we host homes within us. When a woman bleeds, her connection with the earth is activated in a cellular and magical way. We are connected to the earth at a subatomic level. The female body is a microcosm of the earth as much as it is a metaphor and a reflection. What we see around us is how our bodies are too. The soil of the earth is like the skin of our bodies, and the ocean is like the human heart which pumps life into the body, the trees are like our lungs, and the menstrual cycle mirrors the regeneration of the earth. The fact that women bleed without dying adds to their numinous power and emphasizes the earth’s continual renewal.
Women have an intrinsic relationship of similarity with Mother Earth. When we bleed onto the earth, we reinforce this connection to Mother Earth who sustains all life. Earth, like the menstruating woman, has lost her status as the sacred mother because humans have become increasingly ‘civilized’ and distanced from nature. When a woman menstruates, it is a chance for her own rebirth and the renewal of her connection with Mother Earth.
The other icon I use in my art is the snake. Snakes and women share a pattern of cyclical shedding. The snake sheds its skin, while the woman discards the lining of the womb when she menstruates. The symbolism of the snake also demonstrates the different stages of life that a woman passes through – the shedding of childhood at puberty, of fertility at menopause, and life at death.
The moon also features in my painting as a representation of feminine power and marks the congruity of the lunar and menstrual cycles. There is a period of darkness before the moon returns to the height of its glory, akin to a temporary death. Death occurs before renewal, and menstruation marks the end of a chance at the creation of a potential life while also offering the promise of yet another opportunity for the same the following month.
When women share their menstrual blood in a sacred ritual with Mother Earth, either individually or in a ceremony, enormous positive power is unleashed which can help to rebalance and heal our planet. During this act of sharing, women act as a conduit between the generative forces of the moon and the receptive fecund energies of the earth. Women are the link between two celestial bodies – the earth and the moon – through their lunar cycle and earth-nurturing menstrual flow.
Each person has a role to play in healing our planet. The growing hatred around us is drawing up more borders inside our hearts and on our lands; love, compassion, equality and dignity are dwindling faster than the speed of light. We are sliding down the path of destruction into a dark period of the moon’s cycle. Isn’t it time for us now to turn to the Great Mother who created us? To join her as she renews herself for the rebirth of our planet, its beings and its systems through a magical communion between her and our mystical blood?
Lyla FreeChild is a self-taught artist based in Jaipur, India. Her paintings and pottery work revolve around sexuality, pleasure, trauma, social taboos and feminism. To celebrate the beauty of nudity and the sacred feminine power, she often uses her menstrual fluid in her artworks.
Cover art: Menstruation is not a burdern but nature’s gift’. Mural near a well in Madransare, Jharkhand, photo by Srilekha Chakraborty.