Dr Carnesky's Incredible Bleeding Woman // Carnesky Productions

On Monday 21 August, the new moon passed in front of the sun and a partial solar eclipse was visible from Edinburgh before the sun set (clouds aside). Ironically, perhaps, for a show about menstrual cycles and lunar rituals, Dr Carnesky's Incredible Bleeding Woman had a day off on Monday. But perhaps the power of the new moon temporarily conquering the sun would make it too dangerous to perform, anyway.

In this cabaret show performed by six "menstruants", sword swallower MisSa Blue understands the risks. She discovered the hard way that it is not only the womb and vagina that change in the menstrual cycle - there are oestrogen receptors all over the body, so most organs are affected by the fluctuating hormone levels in some way. On one recent occasion, MisSa says her throat had swollen just enough to not leave room for her usual blade, and her oesophagus was punctured during her act. So now she swallows different length swords depending on the time of the month. The 28 swords are lined up at the back of the stage throughout the show, their handles elegantly showing the phases of the moon.

Dr Marisa Carnesky studies the significance and symbolism of menstruation in different times, traditions and cultures, often involving magic, mysticism, and rites of renewal and fertility. Today, menstruation is both ordinary (a large proportion of the world's population experiences it) and taboo. In some cultures, menstruating women are not allowed to be in the same space or use the same things as everybody else, often putting them in unsafe and unhealthy situations. Carnesky and her fellow show-women have been engaged in experiments to reclaim menstruation as a vital female experience, to be celebrated with new rituals of their own devising.

In particular, Carnesky says she wants all women to synchronise their menstrual cycles, to harness the power of being in sync with the planet and each other to start a more political revolution. While scientific research suggests it is mostly by chance that women's menstrual cycles appear to fall in sync when they spend time together, this may be because scientists haven't studied women who are consciously trying to synchronise, either with each other or the moon.

What science is coming to understand, however, is that menstrual blood is truly powerful stuff. Not only would it be much more efficient to collect menstrual blood for certain medical tests, rather than drawing blood from blood vessels, but menstrual blood is also rich in stem cells that could potentially be used for research or even as the basis for new medical treatments. Maybe that will be a new kind of menstrual magic to harness in the future.

- Michael Regnier


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Dr Carnesky's Incredible Bleeding Woman - Carnesky Productions

Seeing the Eclipse on Monday - Edinburgh Evening News

Physiological Changes Associated with the Menstrual Cycle (Farage et al, 2009) Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey 64(1) 

Blood Speaks - Mosaic

Do Women's Periods Really Synch? - The Conversation

Characterisation of Menstrual Stem Cells (Alcayaga-Miranda et al 2015) - Stem Cell Research and Therapy

Tests Using Menstrual Blood Could Help Detect Diseases in Women - Healthline