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The mystery of the purpose and effects of menstrual blood has led many great scientists to make adventurous statements. Not only did Aristotle, Hippocrates and the famous ancient physician, Galen tried to clarify the unsolved mystery of the monthly bleeding.
In a collective creative puzzle, even Pythagoras, whose revolutionary triangular construction every schoolchild has to face, believed that women simply have too much blood, thus having a need for „emptying.“ Some of his colleagues believed that this abundance is created by food (women are simply eating too much). Others, like Pliny the Elder thought that children would form from the blood.
Old mate Pliny, who manifested his spiritual accomplishments 23-79 AD, pointed out that menstrual blood, however, would be extremely dangerous outside the body. He accused menstruating women of being responsible for just about every possible evil in the world. (Among other things; for the mats of mirrors, the deterioration of milk, the infertility of plants, the fall of fruit trees, the dulling of swords, the rusting of bronze and for dogs and bees dying – the list is long.)
Obviously, a scapegoat was needed.
In the Middle Ages, similar views led to cruel witch hunts. Pope Innocent wrote in the 15th century:
„Witches have destroyed the fruits of the field, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of the tree, the vineyards, orchid plantations, fields, meadows, corn, wheat and all other crops. They spread diseases among animals, kill their young, prevent men from practicing their sexual acts, and make women unable to conceive children. “
-Innocent VIII, 1488
(Especially in the reproach that men do not come to the fulfillment of their sexual desire, I see a small contradiction in terms of religious regulations. According to priests from the 8th century, men who „mated“ with their wives during menstruation, had to stay with water and bread for ten days. Very impractical.)
For thousands of years, menstruating people were blamed for a failed harvest, the spoiling of food, and for any other number of unfathomable evils. In the Middle Ages, more and more people began to believe that menstrual blood was not only impure and dangerous, but toxic. Even the famous doctor and alchemist, Paracelsus, came to the conclusion in the sixteenth century:
„There is no poison in the world that is more harmful than the menstruum [menstrual blood]“
(Why this did not cause the men abruptly handing over the world domination to the women without a fight, is a mystery to me. After all, it was thought that menstruating people have the ability to cause syphilis, leprosy or the plague.)
Almost 400 years later – in 1920 – the Viennese professor, Schick, after a questionable experiment with his menstruating housekeeper involving yeast dough and withering flowers, was convinced of the existence of a menstrual poison. He gave his supposed discovery the name „menotoxin“.
It was not until 1958 that a German doctor proved that menstrual blood is completely harmless. At that time, the pacemaker, the snowmobile and the electric mixer were already invented. (Besides that, my mother was already born).
Could this have not happened a few hundred years earlier?
The assumption that menstruating women blow toxic skin exhalations into the world and thus can be extremely dangerous for precious things, had already burnt down to the deepest cortex of society. As late as 1968, women were released from a photo lab in Baden-Württemberg (Germany) because it was thought that menstruating women’s skin in combination with silver salts cause stains on photos. In Italy, there is still the superstition that tomato soup rots when prepared by a woman on her period. And even today, there are women who think that they should not boil fruits or whip cream during menstruation. (well, you can still read this in online cooking forums).
Have we learned so little over 2000 years?
Hering, Sabine/Maierhof Gudrun (2002): Die unpässliche Frau. Sozialgeschichte der Menstruation und Meontashygiene
Kleine, Heike (2017): Das Tage Buch
Strömquist, Liv (2017): Der Ursprung der Welt.