The Gift From the Moon
how moontime came to women and how it might be honored
~Nicholas Noble Wolf
Most, if not all traditions of Native American spirituality hold moon-time as a sacred time of purification during which women do not go into ceremony or use sacred objects such as pipes and feathers. Often people from Western culture see this as a disrespectful and negative stereotyping of a woman’s menstrual cycle. We traditional people do not see it this way, as moon-time is a place of honor and beauty.
I am a traditionally initiated shaman and medicine man living in Durango, Colorado in the USA. Recently I had the honor to be sponsored into Britain to be of the most service and assistance to the people there that I could. While there, I met many people doing their best to walk the path of their spirit. Everyone I met was very honorable, and I hope that maybe I was able to be of some small service to those I met.
During my visit, I found that some women wanted to participate in sweat lodge during their time of the moon. Therefore, while I am but a man, I thought to offer some words that the elder women on the Southern Ute Indian reservation have given me coupled with knowledge from my shamanic lineage and personal experiences.
Before I go into those words, let me clarify that I am a white man. I was chosen to become shaman by the Old One and received my instruction from Jade Wah'oo, successor and caretaker of the lineage passed on by Grandpa Juan Peña (Tewa) of the San Juan Pueblo in New Mexico. As a white person, I was specifically instructed to bring certain of our ways to the white people of the world to assist them in finding and walking the path their spirit intends.
We have a telling of the coming of moon-time to the women. I will share it here as it was given to me:
A long time ago, women did as they do now—they held the family, they held the power (life-force) for the family, they held the happiness and joy, they held the sorrow and disappointments. After time, the negative emotions and heartache that the women took upon themselves on behalf of their families would begin to weigh them down. The women would become sick and finally, could no longer take on the burdens of the family. Yet the nature to do so had been imbued into them by Creator.
One day, a woman was out in the forest, crying because the burden had become so great, when Raven heard her and asked, "Mother, why do you cry?"
The woman responded, "I love my family so very much. I hold my family in my heart and soul, but the pains of life have filled me up. I can no longer help my family. I can no longer take their burdens from them. I just don't know what to do."
Raven responded, "I understand the pain you feel, as I feel it also. I will go and ask Grandmother Ocean if she knows what to do." So Raven flew to the ocean and shared with Grandmother the plight of the women.
Grandmother Ocean responded, "If the women will come to me, I will wash their pain from them, but this won't help the ones who are far away. Let me ask my sister, Grandmother Moon, if she can help."
So Grandmother Ocean spoke to her sister of the women's plight. Grandmother Moon responded, "I am the power of the feminine. I will send into the women, my sisters, your waters carrying my power. Once every moon cycle, you shall come into the women through me and purify them." And, she did this. So ever since then, every woman has a time each moon cycle when she embodies the power of the moon and flows the cleansing of the ocean. We call this the woman's time of the moon, or moon-time.
It is each woman's responsibility to take the time when she is in her time of the moon to purify. It is the responsibility of the men to give the women the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately these days, the men generally do not allow this opportunity. It used to be that women could have a "headache" and tell the men to leave them alone. Of course, in some traditions, there was a formal arrangement set up where the women could get away from the men to a moon lodge. But, people have tried to make women into men. Some women say, "We are strong, we can do anything during our periods". So, now we have PMS!
One has to understand the fundamental nature of power. With power, the lesser inherently flows to the greater. Therefore, when a woman is embodying the moon, she is embodying a huge reservoir of power—all that is contained within her sister, Grandmother Moon. This means that lesser amounts of power around her will inherently flow into her. That would include power charged with negative emotion. This can make a woman sick. Suddenly that "headache" is very real. Those cramps are but the negative emotions that surround a woman through whomever she comes in contact with.
So, what can a woman do while in her moon-time? First, she can be conscious. She can set her intention such that she does not take into herself anything from anyone (yes, this takes practice). She will refrain from getting into unsettling discussions or being around upset people any more than absolutely necessary. She will not allow negativity to flow into herself from others. For, while power will inherently flow from lesser to greater, one’s intent can always control that. Second, each day, she can go outside and sit with the moon for a time, asking for assistance and giving thanks for the purification being given. Third, she will not participate in ceremonies at that time. Ceremony is about creating, about outward energy. A woman in her moon-time is about purifying, about inward prayer. Also, a woman’s power flow will shift to a moon-wise direction when she is in her moon. However, ceremony would generally be moving power in a sun-wise direction. This would be a conflict, distracting both the woman and the other participants. And, with all that power flying around, it would be very difficult for the woman to keep from taking any of it into herself. The knowledgeable women here have told me that a ceremonial is the last place they want to be at that time of the month, anyway. They just want to be by themselves or in a very quiet space.
Our tellings of the coming of the sweat lodge say that it was given to the men because the men do not have a moon-time. It was only in the last thirty years or so that women have begun to sweat (except in doctoring sweats, of course). In fact, in many traditions, even if the women do sweat, they do so separately from the men. I welcome women into my lodge as I understand that these days they do not have the ability to fully go through moon-time purification as they might desire and need. They must be at work from 9 to 5. They can't step away for 4 or 5 days anymore. It is very sad.
In summary, women of knowledge do not sweat during their time of the moon. They are not excluded by the men nearly as much as they choose to exclude themselves. They do not choose to contend with that which is being released within the lodge in the name of purification. They choose to honor the gift they have received from their Grandmothers and, in that way, honor themselves, their families, and their people.
So far as handling medicine objects such as pipe or feathers goes, these are living, empowered beings. Certainly a woman would refrain from using them during her moon-time so as not to draw the life-force out of them during her super-empowered time.
I suggest that women learn whether this knowledge that has been passed down is true or not for themselves. Do not rely on a man to say, but rely on Grandmother to say what is best for you. To support this, I invited women who wanted to participate in discovering what is true to come to my sweat lodges. A woman not in her moon then volunteers to be of service to these women, by seeing to any needs they have. The moon-time women sit outside of the lodge on the west side (the side of feminine power) about ten or so feet away where they pray to Grandmother Moon and meditate. When it is cold, they may sit by the fire, of course. After the lodge, these honored women are served food by the woman in service before anyone else. While I will never know what it is like to sit in prayer and meditation during a moon-time, I have been informed by those women who have had this opportunity that it is extremely profound and that they received greater value than they could ever receive sitting within the lodge.
In closing, I remind all people that a woman in her moon-time is to be honored and revered and never, ever made to feel an outcast. She is sacred and precious.
(originally published in Sacred Hoop magazine, Winter 2000/2001)
© copyright 2000, Nicholas Noble Wolf