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The Henna Page Journal
Bathing Kittens to Bring Babies!
Catherine Cartwright Jones
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Front cover

Before fertility clinics, women everywhere had an array of household rituals to insure a pregnancy. In medieval Iran, children were much desired, and women had ornaments, prayers, amulets, and rituals they could turn to in hope that they would soon have a child. When the housecat had kittens, an Iranian woman would take two of the litter to the hamaam, the village bath, put them in a basin, and sprinkle them with water. She felt cat’s bountiful, magical fertility would help her have a child.

This kitten is reluctant to be a fertility charm.

Henna has been used to enhance and protect a women’s sexuality since earliest practice.

Red palms have been associated with women’s fertility for at least 9000 years. Women hennaed their hands for love and fertility through the Bronze Age along the northeastern coast of the Mediterranean before the Egyptian pyramids were built. Women hennaed their hands and feet to drive away the “Evil Eye” that could make her barren, and to avert all the sorrows and catastrophes that life might bring.

Women hennaed when they were betrothed, married, pregnant, just at birth, and in the weeks after they’d given birth. In this issue of the “Henna Page Journal”, The Functions of Henna Traditions During the Childbirth and Postpartum Period, by Catherine Cartwright Jones, details surprisingly sensible and comforting henna traditions following birth!

The henna patterns here are from medieval Iran, adapted from Hennaria, Traditional Iranian Henna Art by Erfan Mahlodji and The Assemblies of Lovers, a Persian manuscript from the late 15th century that has miniature paintings showing women with swirling vine and flower henna patterns. Iranian women often applied their henna in the hamaam, because steam rooms made henna stains dark!

Gwyn Thomas: photographer
Catherine Cartwright Jones: henna
MeowCow: kitten by Magenta

Text References

De Moor J, “The Seasonal Pattern in the Ugaritic Myth of Ba’lu, According to the Version of Ilimiku”

Verlag Butzon & Berjer Kevalaer, Neiukerchener Verlag des Erziehungsvereins Neukirchen – Vluyn, 1971

Field H, “Body – Marking in Southwestern Asia”

Peabody Museum Papers, Cambridge Massachusetts, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1958

Masse H, “Persian Beliefs and Customs”

Human Relations Area Files, New Haven, 1954

Mahlodji, Erfan, “Hennaria, Traditonal Iranian Henna Art”

TapDancing Lizard, Ohio, 2002

Tauzin, A; “Le Henne, Art Des Femmes de Mauritanie”

Ibis Press, Paris, 1998

Westermarck, Edward, “Ritual and Belief in Morocco” Volumes 1 and 2

Macmillan and Company, Limited, London, 1926

Referenced Works of Art

Cycladic Female Figure, 2700 BCE

British Museum, GR 1933.10-16.1, London

Assyrian Ishtar , 2400 - 2200 BCE,

British Museum, WA 118996, London

The Assemblies of Lovers, between 1470 and 1551,

Bodliean Library, MS Ousley Add MS 24 Folio 1270, Oxford

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