The stage of menarche comes from the Greek word menus which means both “moon” and “power”. The way the menarche and menstruation are dealt with in our culture, our families and our community clearly influences how a young woman understands what it ‘means’ to be a woman.
I’ve heard that Apache Native Americans held ceremonies for days with the whole tribe present to celebrate girls entering their womanhood. The Nootka tribe had a party to honour a girls menarche after which she was taken far out to sea and left to swim back to land. Once se had done this she was recognised by her community as a woman, strong and brave, and red the responsibilities of womanhood.
In modern times, some families acknowledge the menarche with a gift, a dinner, even party. Sometimes this happens within a circle of women who welcome the newly fertile woman, to their sisterhood. They share stories and make wishes and blessings for the woman’s future life… and for others the menarche is not acknowledged at all.
In ancient Greece this was a particularly special time in a girl’s life, according to medical texts of the time (yes they still exist) this happened between 13 and 14, and marked the point where the girl was ready for marriage and therefore ready to bare children which to be fair was of more interest then the actual bleeding. Although some spring festivals call for menstrual blood to be mixed with corn and spread on the earth to bring fertility to the land.
If marriage and child birth didn’t happen quickly after the first bleed, the woman was thought to have a “wandering womb” and would therefore suffer hallucinations, severe headaches, vomiting, and pains. It was also thought that if girls’ bleeds lasted longer then 4 days and she did not release at least a pint of blood she was weak and delicate and her children would also be weak and delicate.
Even before menarche a girls life is said to be dedicated to Artemis in her “Protectress of children, marriage and childbirth” form, young girls would dedicate the toys of their childhood to the goddess and have a “period of ritual wildness” before puberty – they would wear bear masks to rituals and dress in a yellow robe to represent the bear skin. At menarche there was the chance for selected girls to leave the home and attend Artemis’ sacred temple in Bauron, they would dress as a bear or a fawn, dance in solemn steps to flute music and make offerings of blood and corn, and figs to her for the right to move on to marriage, where the girl would briefly worship Aphrodite (lust and sex) until returning to Artemis’ worship at child birth, some now included a more involved worship of Demeter as they’re mothers while their children would take up the main worship to Artemis. As a virgin goddess Artemis needed to be soothed and appeased before she would give permission for young girls to loose their virginity. The risk of revenge of the Goddess was ever present right up until the girl survived childbirth.