The Bible taught (Leviticus 15: 19-24) that a menstruating woman was not only 'unclean' in herself but polluted others. The scientific authority of Pliny's Natural History (ad 77), and many later medical writers, added that she could shrivel plants, kill bees, taint food, and cloud mirrors by her touch, her glance, her breath, or her mere presence - let alone her actual blood. Though many folklore collections avoid this topic, those that do mention it record beliefs and *taboos which seem similar everywhere, some of which were still current in the mid-20th century. During her period, a woman must not handle raw meat or go near ham that is being cured, for she will taint it; she must not enter the dairy, or milk will sour and butter-making will fail.
   Theologians disagreed on how rigorously to apply to women the Leviticus rule that anyone 'unclean' must not approach 'the tabernacle or any holy thing'; some said they must not even enter a church, but in 579 Pope *Gregory instructed missionaries working in England to let them do so, and even receive Communion, since what was natural was not sinful (Bede, Ecclesiastical History, book I, chapter 27). In the 20th century, the debate was still not over; among Primitive Methodists, no menstruating woman could attend a church service (Porter, 1969: 22), and some Catholic girls thought (wrongly) that to take Communion then was a sin JS].
   Other folkloric warnings, current until recently, protected the woman herself from supposed risks. The best known was never to wash your hair or put your feet in cold water, or 'the blood will fly to your head and send you daft'; this echoes an outdated medical theory about misdirected menstrual blood reaching the brain and causing melancholia. It was also bad to have a bath or go swimming, either because 'the water will get inside' or because 'the water will turn black'. More unusual was the Lincolnshire rule, 'Don't walk in long grass, the snakes will smell you' (Sutton, 1992: 31).
   The sudden surge of oestrogen which signals the onset of menstruation affects the sebacious glands, making *hair greasy, lanky, and unmanageable. Hairdressers avoid styling or tinting a woman's hair at this time, since the results will probably be poor. The current phrase 'a bad hair day' for a day when everything goes wrong may be based on the experience that pre-menstrual irritability, clumsiness, and greasy hair coincide JS].
   Sexual intercourse during menstruation was taboo; according to the Bible, it was a crime incurring the death penalty for both parties (Leviticus 20: 18), though secular law has never enforced this. Scripture also warned that 'menstruous women bring forth monsters' (II Esdras 5: 8), and medical writers agreed; a popular handbook, Aristotle's Masterpiece (1684, but often reprinted up to 1890), taught that it would probably result in abnormalities such as hairy infants or those with extra limbs (book I, chapter 5). Nowadays, it is occasionally said babies so conceived are *red-haired.
   ■ Porter, 1969: 21-3; Opie and Tatem, 1989: 247; Sutton, 1992: 16-32; Patricia Crawford, Past and Present 91 (May 1981), 47-73.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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