Here is the complete list of twenty prohibitions in those last mentioned Upper Egyptian Nomes:
1) The hstt-dog of its god (i.e., Anubis), that is, the jackal and the tsm-dog
2) The mouth of the iwiw-dog
3) Its bwt is the menstruating woman
4) He who does injustice
5) The grunting of the pig
6) To raise the voice before [him or god]
7) To take big steps in his house
8) The furious ones of his city
9) To diminish the (surveying) cord of his fields
10) To falsify the circumference of his granary measure
11) To steal grain of his fields
12) To diminish the offerings of his temple
13) To attack a son on the seat of his father in his house
14) To kill anyone from his city
15) To testify against the people of his city
16) To encroach on the rights of the city in his presence
17) The greedy who violates the boundaries of his fields
18) To eat the meat of any animal to be sacrificed
19) To attack the wedjat-eye
20) To remove a man from a semdet (?) in order to transfer him to another semdet
The evidence suggests that each Nome had its own bwt or prohibited acts or animals.
If a taboo were truly universal throughout all Egyptian nomes, everybody would know it and perhaps there would be no need to list it specifically. The fact that a bwt concerning menstruating women in these nomes is possibly indicative of there not being such a prohibition throughout all Egypt.
This article then discusses the recorded absentee lists from the workmen’s village of Deir el-Medina. The reason for some absenteeism was that the wives were having their periods.
And, so, assuming it was because of contagion, the husband had a legitimate reason for staying at home. The author proposes that perhaps it was the female menstruating women who were seen as vulnerable and in need of protection.” (p. 100) “Women and the tomb were both seen as instruments of regeneration, with men taking up the position as intermediaries. As ‘containers’ or ‘houses’ both women and tombs were imbued with the ability to transform potential into actualized existence.” (p. 100) The author develops this idea in some detail. “In short, the evidence points to the tomb being regarded as a uterus in which the mysterious process of rebirth takes place.” (p. 103) The author’s basic contention is that during menstruation both tomb and womb were vulnerable to harm from vicarious contact with the other. The idea is that there is a certain opposition between menstruation and birth. The tomb was a place of “potential cosmic fertility.” And it worked in the opposite way—the tomb could be a threat to a woman conceiving. Here is the author’’s conclusion: “By way of conclusion, therefore, I should like to recapitulate . . . Death was seen as a transition to other forms of existence. When placed in a coffin and tomb, the body returned to the uterus of the sky-goddess. Rebirth, rejuvenation, and regeneration were key notions in Egyptian cosmology. The actual act of procreation, however, was never shown, as is well known. It could be spoken of but not represented…. The mundane, the mode of procreation of this world, however, was excluded, as were manifestations of that procreation, such as sex and menstruation, in contexts where cosmological implications could be made. For the benefit of both worlds, fertility in this world, eternal participation in the solar cycle in the other world, menstruation and the sacred space of funerary regeneration had to be kept apart.” (p. 105)
Another article pointing in the same direction of there being no general bwt on this subject is “Menstrual Synchrony and the ‘Place of Women’ in Ancient Egypt (OIM 13512)” by Terry G. Wilfong (Univ. of Michigan) OIM 13512 refers to an ostracon owned by the Oriental Institute Museum. This article appears in Gold of Praise: Studies in Ancient Egypt in Honor of Edward Wente (1999). “During the Late Period, there are references to the hsmn.t [menstruating woman] as the interdiction (bw.t) of particular gods in particular districts.” (p. 422) “An explicit interdiction against menstruating women does not appear in Egyptian texts until the Greco-Roman period, and even then only in very specific and limited religious contexts…. Taking into account the Egyptian understanding of menstruation….it is not surprising to find no evidence for a formal, universal taboo against women in menstruation.” (p. 431)
Before any assumptions are made regarding this—and before any hard and fast rules are set down concerning women and when they can do ritual—we would want to be quite certain that it’s the gods who want this, not just some ancient custom that we feel we must obey.
Otherwise we are hardly any different from those fundamentalists in Judaism and Christianity who want to force people to observe every ancient rule and custom, simply because it’s ancient.
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The following observations are taken from the article “The Menstrual ‘Taboo’ in Ancient Egypt,” by Paul John Frandsen (Univ. of Copenhagen). This article appears in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 66, no. 2 (2007), 81-105. The author discusses the ancient perception of the anatomy and physiological processes of the female body, as well as of the religious thinking on the process of reproduction. He suggests, “there is no general taboo regarding contact with menstruating women but, rather, [he offers] an argument for seeing the avoidance of them as generated by specific contexts in which female fertility exerts an exceptional influence.” (p. 82) The author offers proof of there being a specific interdiction concerning a menstruating woman—called bwt—in three specific Nomes; the 16th Upper E. Nome, the 17th Upper E. Nome, and the 10th Lower E. Nome. He also references the Papyrus Jumilhac which also mentions a specific interdiction regarding a menstruating woman in the 17th and 18th Upper Egyptian Nomes.
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