The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion
Page: 440The Bushmen of South Africa think that, by a glance of a girl’s eye at the time when she ought to be kept in strict retirement, men become fixed in whatever positions they happen to occupy, with whatever they were holding in their hands, and are changed into trees that talk. Cattle-rearing tribes of South Africa hold that their cattle would die if the milk were drunk by a menstruous woman; and they fear the same disaster if a drop of her blood were to fall on the ground and the oxen were to pass over it. To prevent such a calamity women in general, not menstruous women only, are forbidden to enter the cattle enclosure; and more than that, they may not use the ordinary paths in entering the village or in passing from one hut to another. They are obliged to make circuitous tracks at the back of the huts in order to avoid the ground in the middle of the village where the cattle stand or lie down. These women’s tracks may be seen at every Caffre village. Among the Baganda, in like manner, no menstruous woman might drink milk or come into contact with any milk-vessel; and she might not touch anything that belonged to her husband, nor sit on his mat, nor cook his food. If she touched anything of his at such a time it was deemed equivalent to wishing him dead or to actually working magic for his destruction. Were she to handle any article of his, he would surely fall ill; were she to touch his weapons, he would certainly be killed in the next battle. Further, the Baganda would not suffer a menstruous woman to visit a well; if she did so, they feared that the water would dry up, and that she herself would fall sick and die, unless she confessed her fault and the medicine-man made atonement for her. Among the Akikuyu of British East Africa, if a new hut is built in a village and the wife chances to menstruate in it on the day she lights the first fire there, the hut must be broken down and demolished the very next day. The woman may on no account sleep a second night in it; there is a curse both on her and on it.
According to the Talmud, if a woman at the beginning of her period passes between two men, she thereby kills one of them. Peasants of the Lebanon think that menstruous women are the cause or many misfortunes; their shadow causes flowers to wither and trees to perish, it even arrests the movements of serpents; if one of them mounts a horse, the animal might die or at least be disabled for a long time.
The Guayquiries of the Orinoco believe that when a woman has her courses, everything upon which she steps will die, and that if a man treads on the place where she has passed, his legs will immediately swell up. Among the Bri-bri Indians of Costa Rica a married woman at her periods uses for plates only banana leaves, which, when she has done with them, she throws away in a sequestered spot; for should a cow find and eat them, the animal would waste away and perish. Also she drinks only out of a special vessel, because any person who should afterwards drink out of the same vessel would infallibly pine away and die.