Jahi the Whore, “Whose Name Means ‘Menstruation,’” as the Model for the Patriarchs’ Whore of Babylon and Archetypal Witch

The Raising Up of Jahi the Whore, ancient Persian frieze

My paper, ‘Women and Death, Monsters and Menstruation in Hans Baldung Grien,’ is gaining a lot of readership on Academia.edu, with subscribers from all over the world–Prague, Hong Kong, Istanbul, and other locations: https://www.academia.edu/27740383/Women_and_Death_Monsters_and_Menstruation_in_Hans_Baldung_Grien

It includes a portrayal of the earliest ‘devil’s handmaiden’ and original model for The Whore of Babylon or archetypal Witch, the Yahwist patriarchs’ and prophets’ pejorative title for the Great Goddess venerated throughout Mesopotamia under various names, including by early Jews as the Asherah, the Tree of Life, and copiously smeared throughout the Old Testament by later Yahwists and by John of Patmos in his ‘Book of Revelations’ that closes out the New Testament. This original model was ‘Jahi the Whore’ (‘whose Name means means ‘Menstruation’) of the original, polarized, dualistic, ‘monotheist’ patriarchal religion in the region, that survives as Zoroastrianism. Jahi the Whore is also the original ‘Poison Maiden’ of the ancient proto-Vedic patricist system of healing, medicine and magic, the Aryuveda, mythologized, cited, invoked and suspected to this day in assassination plots and top secret military machinations among Pakistan, India and Sikh strongholds in Amritsar.

As I described more fulsomely in my paper, ‘From The Creation of Eve, to Pygmalion, to Ex Machina: The Abject Male Fantasy of Artificial Women as Sex Slaves, ‘Help-Mates’ and ‘Companions’:

In Zoroastrianism — the source religion for all Indo-Iranian/Indo-European/Indo-Aryan Cattle Cult religions (including the Three Main Orthodoxies of the Abrahamic stem) — the Arch Demon, Ahriman, ‘lifts up’ and ‘charges’ the female demon, the ‘Poison Maiden’ Jahi (whose name means ‘menstruation’), with the task of ‘empoisoning’ the Works of Man, the animals, the elements and the Earth itself, thus ‘creating’ her as the worst ‘pollution’ in his arsenal against Ahura Mazda (the “Good God’) and his crown creation, Man:

The figure of Jeh appears in Zoroastrian texts as the personification of the pollution of menstruation. Jehis the Middle Persian rendition of an older Avestan word, jahi or jahika, which, due to its context, is usually translated in a pejorative sense to mean “whore,” although its etymology remains uncertain.

Jahika appears frequently in the early Zoroastrian texts. The word can mean “woman” or a woman who cannot reproduce. It is also used of the woman who behaves improperly — practices sorcery, or is promiscuous. As the epitome of an evildoer, Jahi threatens the good creation physically in that her glance dries up one-third of the rivers and one-third of vegetation, and her touch withers one-third of the good thoughts, good words, good deeds, holiness, and ability to combat evil of the faithful person (Vendidad 18.63–64). Because of her destructive potential, Jahi is worse than the other miscreations of Ahriman, the Destructive Spirit (Vd. 18.65). The threat she poses is echoed in proscriptions for menstruating women: Women in menses are to remain separate from the elements of creation, especially fire, in case they cause harm with their gaze (Vd. 16.1–4).

In the Middle Persian texts, Jahi, as Jeh, becomes the archetypal Whore. The Bundahishnplaces Jeh in filial relationship with Angra Mainyu (also called Ahriman). Jeh’s words revive Ahriman from a three-thousand-year stupor, and he kisses her on the head, at which moment she becomes the first to be polluted by the blood of menstruation (Bd. 4.4f.). This is one of the few myths concerning the origin of menstruation.

In the material battle between good and evil, Jeh is pitted against all virtuous women (Bd. 5.3), since they are all subject to menstruation and its inherent pollution. Jeh is also referred to collectively as an adversarial “species” (Bd. 14 a.1). In Wizidagiha-i Zadspramshe appears as Jeh-dev — the “whore demonness” — the queen of Ahriman, who leads her band of demonesses to corrupt all women, and, thus all men (WZ 34.30–31). The Jehdev’s sexuality is unlimited, and her promiscuity presents a challenge to the virtue of the faithful. (https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/jeh, Updated Dec 17 2019)

Though irresistibly sexually alluring, Jahi ‘The Whore’ is the original Poison Maiden — toxic in the extreme, who kills by seduction. In the Vendidad Jahi is characterized as causing Ahura Mazda “the most grief”.(Vendidad 18.62) “Her gaze takes the colors away from a third of [world]”. (Vendidad 18.64) Jahi is also given the cosmological role of killer of Gav-aevo.data (MP: Gawi ewdad), the primordial creature from whose seed all animal creation originates. (Vendidad 21.1)

Persepolis mural showing ‘The death of Gav-aēvō.dātā/Gawiewdad,’ the primordial bovine, at the hands of Jahi (“Menstruation”) in the form of a lioness demon.

In the Sudgar Nask, the holy element of fire is polluted by the stench and filth of Jahi’s abundant hair — the long, lustrous, seductive hair of women being constructed as having been formed from menstrual matter in ancient texts. The ‘pure’ fire element is threatened by Jahi (“Menstruation”), “owing to the hussy who, dropping her knee on to the fire-stand, arranged her curls; the falling of damp and moisture from her head, with the hair and filth therefrom.” (Denkard 9.1.10.6) The Sudgar Nask is an Avestan text that has not survived. However, its contents are summarized in The Dēnkard or Dēnkart (Middle Persian: “Acts of Religion”), a 10th-century compendium of Zoroastrian beliefs and customs. These figures’ primordial conspiracy to ‘empoison’ the world formed one pole of the first rigidly polarized dualistic religion and also the first ruthlessly binary political ideology.

Zoroastrianism was a state religion, the ideology of which was designed to justify and shore-up the absolute power of the king. Its logics are at the root of the dialectical model of thought — polarized values constantly at war with one another, and the foundation of the religio-socio-cultural pattern of constant warfare.

The figures of Ahriman and Jahi the Whore, or “Menstruation,” in their conjoined subversion of ‘God’s Order,’ are the models for the later malign partnerships of Eve and the Serpent in the primordial and ‘pure’ Garden of Eden, Pandora and her box of blights (symbol of her menstruation) after she is forged by the Greek creator god Hephaestus, and the Whore of Babylon with Satan in the form of the dragon of the Apocalypse, when the ‘Great Whore’ “pours out the cup filled with the pollutions of her fornications” (a transparent cipher for her menstruation) at the end of the world in Revelations.

The Whore of Babylon or ‘Scarlet Woman’ of Revelations inherited many of the infamous attributes of the ancient Persian daemon of the Apocalypse, ‘Jahi’ or “Geh,’ whose name simply means ‘Menstruation.’ Re-cast as the legendary ‘Abomination’ of the Old Testament (Ashtoreth/Ishtar/Astarte, etc.), the Whore of Babylon’s worship was notoriously reinstated among the Israelites by Solomon and Jezebel, and other monarchs who ‘sinned in the eyes of the Lord.’ (Brenner, 53–57) Here too, “…we find menstruation flooding the world with evil,” in an eschatological, cosmological drama. (Lederer, Fear of Women, 27) “For it is told that Angra Mainyu [the Devil], Lord of Evil and antagonist of the good Lord Ahura Mazda [God], having slept three thousand years was awakened by a female friend, Jahi (Menstruation), who shouted at him,” saying, ‘Arise, O father of us all! For I shall now cause in the world that contention from which the misery and injury of Ahura Mazda and his Archangels are to proceed. I shall empoison the righteous man, the labouring ox, the water, plants, fire, and all creation.’ Whereupon Angra Mainyu, starting up, kissed her on the forehead, and the pollution called menstruation appeared on the demoness….’” (Lederer, 27–28. For the full text see Müller 1880, 15–16)

Rise up, thou father of us! For in that righteous conflict I will shed thus much vexation on the righteous man and the labouring ox that, through my deeds, life will not be wanted, and I will destroy their living souls (nismo); I will empoison the water, I will empoison the plants, I will empoison the fire of Ahura Mazda, I will make the whole of creation empoisoned. And so she recounted those Evil deeds a second time, that the evil spirit was delighted and started up from that confusion; and he kissed Jahi on the head; and the pollution which they call menstruation became apparent in Jahi. He shouted to Jahi thus: ‘What is thy wish? So that I may give it thee.’ And Jahi shouted to the evil spirit thus: ‘A man is the wish, so give it to me.’ The form of the evil spirit was a log-like lizard’s (vazak) body, and he appeared a young man of fifteen years to Jahi, and that brought the thoughts of Jahi to him. (Müller 1880, 16)

For his millennial work, ‘The Apocalypse,’ the near-deified German artist, Albrecht Dürer, based his Whore of Babylon figure on an actual prostitute — a famous courtesan from Venice — whose acquaintance he had made when travelling solo in Italy soon after his marriage.

The Whore of Babylon, woodblock print from ‘The Apocalypse,’ 1498, by Albrecht Dürer

The historic demonic contract described in the Zend Avesta passage, or the elements of it that migrated into Judeo-Christianity, are what came to bear in the Witch Hunt, and is what Baldung is illustrating, through inference and cathexis, in his ‘Witch and Dragon’ drawing of 1515:

Hans Baldung Grien. Witch and Dragon, 1515, highlighted drawing on tinted paper, Kunsthalle Karlsruhe

Feminine blood, by which was meant uterine blood and the polluted ‘vapours’ and humours it generated, was synonymous with Original Sin — mortifying, polluting and damning. It was synonymous with The Fall, and provided the reason for Man’s hapless and vulnerable postlapsarian, ‘fallen’ estate. Acres of ink have been spilled by the Christian Fathers in abjectly describing the dynamic — The Curse of Eve. Menstrual tropes were active during the Inquisition in condemning women to be ‘cleansed by the flame’ as ‘witches. Feminine blood conferred The Curse of Eve, could coerce by means of sexual temptation, and could not even be looked on by Inquisitors torturing or executing women condemned as menstrual ‘witches.’ Feminine blood, from “her eyes, from her ears…” from “her…wherever,” must not be glimpsed, even when issuing from female martyrs and saints.

As Pope Innocent III infamously averred in his seminal work in the contemptus mundi tradition, ‘The Misery of the Human Condition’ (De miseria…), female blood was “filthy to speak of, filthier to hear of, filthiest to see….Hear now on what food the child is fed in the womb; actually on menstrual blood, which ceases in the female after conception so that the child in her womb will be nourished by it. And this blood is reckoned so detestable and impure that on contact with it fruits will fail to sprout, orchards go dry, herbs wither, the very trees let go their fruit; if a dog eat of it, he goes mad. When a child is conceived, he contracts the defect of the seed, so that lepers and monsters are born of this corruption. Wherefore according to Mosaic law a woman during her monthly period is considered unclean, and if anyone approach a menstruous woman it is commanded that he be put to death. Because of this uncleanness it is further commanded that a woman keep away from the entrance to the temple for forty days if she bear a male child but for eighty days if she bear a female.” (Innocent III/Lothario dei Segni. De miseria condicionis humane, ed. R. E. Lewis. Athens, 1978.)

In all fairness, Innocent III was getting his stuff from Pliny the Elder (c.50 AD), who was regurgitating Aristotle, much like St. Augustine, St. Paul (called ‘the Philosopher Saint’), St. Jerome, Isidore of Seville, and St. Thomas Aquinas, among other ‘Fathers of the Church.’ But his example serves to exemplify the enduring discourse around the Aristotelian theory of ‘feminine defect’ (the visible evidence of which was menstruation) and ‘polluted’ feminine blood. Theological and secular discourses like these not only openly fueled the Witch Hunt and other historic femicidal events, but they underwrite contemporary male violence toward women and girls as the currently leading Human Rights abuse on Earth. They supply the context in which a thriving subtext of misogyny plays out in available Health Care for women and mothers, or the lack of: “The US was one of only 13 countries, including North Korea and Zimbabwe, that saw its maternal death rate increase since 1990. We are going in opposite direction of the whole worldwide trend,” according to University of Maryland researcher Marian MacDorman, who co-authored the best available national study of US maternal mortality in 2016.

When unconsciously misogynist scientific researchers of the 1970s and 80s, following the still extant Aristotelian medical model, discovered that fetuses persistently thrived and fared better when they were properly being nourished by their natural matrix of uterine blood in real wombs rather than test tubes or disembodied, artificial ‘sterile’ see-through plastic wombs, they were ‘surprised’ and seemingly couldn’t figure it out. Their unconscious biases were preventing them from seeing the obvious. More recent (and more enlightened) research and approaches have recognized uterine blood and menstrual fluid as ‘the perfect food’ — clean, rich in nutrients, minerals, amino acids, immune boosters, and nurturant qualities, and that it is a rich source of sound and healthy stem cells for use in life-saving transplants.

Polluted feminine blood tropes are why Donald Trump’s ‘dog whistles’ to his base, denigrating powerful or threatening women, like Hillary Clinton, Mika Brzezinski, or Megyn Kelly, with abject menstrual imagery, land so hard. It is why Trump ‘feminine blood’ comments and Tweets inflame systemic, institutionalized misogyny so successfully. There is still a widely dispersed, deeply embedded distrust of femininity and of feminine blood, instilled over centuries of indoctrination and fear-mongering.

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Yvonne Owens, PhD

I'm a writer/researcher/arts educator on Vancouver Island and all round global citizen who loves humans even though we're such a phenomenal pain-in-the-ass.