In Shakti Woman, Vicki Noble refers to Geoffrey Ashe, a noted British scholar of shamanism, who has written that shamans were originally women, and that the oldest form of the word “shaman” refers to “female shaman.” Vicki writes, “Ashe is very clear about one thing that especially interests me: He says that ancient shamanism was not an individual phenomenon but something that was practiced by the female group. And the power of the female group is biologically rooted in menstruation and the blood mysteries of birth.” (p 13)
A shaman is one who flies between the worlds, and who has a foot in both worlds — that of the seen and unseen. When a woman bleeds, she enters the world of the unseen, the world of dreams, intuition and spirits. Because we, in the west, are not educated in these ancient ways of seeing, we do not know how to embrace them. But, with Goddess re-emerging, our memories are returning, and we are re-membering.
With the female group bleeding together, the collective vision is deep and profound, with far-reaching affects on the community. In matrifocal societies, it was probably true that tribal life was guided by the visions of women who bled together. Women accessing healing and wisdom in the unseen realms through their blood, in rhythm with the moon, together, was a primal shamanic art. And giving birth was also a primal shamanic art.
Monica Sjoo clearly gives her perspective on women’s shamanic art in New Age and Armageddon: “The ancient Goddess was the birth and death Goddess and fertility wisdom and shamanism are about crossing between the worlds. The birthing woman is the archetypal shaman as she brings the soul from the other realms into this world, forming and incarnating it within her body. She is mediator between the worlds and magically converts bread and wine into flesh and blood in mysteries of transformation.” (p 194)
Birth is certainly messy and bloody. It is intense, fierce, fiery and loud, but not violent. It is bloody from shamanic transformation. Birth-blood is the primordial ocean of life that has sustained the child in utero; the giving of this blood in birth is the mother’s gift to her child. The flow of blood is the first sign, following the flow of waters, that signals that new life is on the way, just as it is the first sign of a young maiden’s initiation into a new life at her menarche. The blood of transformation is miraculous. In Spanish, the phrase “dar a la luz”, to give birth, literally means ” to give to the light”. Giving to the light — mothers giving birth are giving light to new life through blood. The messiness and bloodiness of birth are the gift of the Earth–elemental chaos coming into form.
Honoring mothers as the first shamans honors all of us. Recognizing that without our mother’s love, nurturance, and healing wisdom we would die, shows us how to be in cooperation with the web of life. Respecting our mothers teaches us respect for the Great Mother.