She began to nurse dark fears about the future. She would never bleed, never marry Jacob, never bear sons. Suddenly, the small, high breasts of which she had been so proud seemed puny to her. Perhaps she was a freak, a hermaphrodite like the gross idol in her father’s tent, the one with a tree stalk between its legs and teats like a cow. So Rachel tried to rush her season. Before the next new moon, she baked cakes of offering to the Queen of Heaven, something she had never done before, and slept a whole night with her belly pressed up against the base of the asherah.
But the moon waned and grew round again, while Rachel’s thighs remained dry. She walked into the village by herself to ask the midwife, Inna, for help and was given an infusion of ugly nettles that grew in a nearby wadi. But again the new moon came and again Rachel remained a child.
As the following moon waned, Rachel crushed bitter berries and called her older sisters to see the stain on her blanket. But the juice was purple, and Leah and Zilpah laughed at the seeds on her thighs. The next month, Rachel hid in her tent, and did not even slip away once to find Jacob.
Finally, in the ninth month after Jacob’s arrival, Rachel bled her first blood, and cried with relief. Adah, Leah, and Zilpah sang the piercing, throaty song that announces births, deaths, and women’s ripening. As the sun set on the new moon when all the women commenced bleeding, they rubbed henna on Rachel’s fingernails and on the soles of her feet. Her eyelids were painted yellow, and they slid every bangle, gem, and jewel that could be found onto her fingers, toes, ankles, and wrists. They covered her head with the finest embroidery and led her into the red tent.
They sang songs for the goddesses; for Innana and the Lady Asherah of the Sea. They spoke of Elath, the mother of the seventy gods, including Anath in that number, Anath the
nursemaid, defender of mothers. They sang:
“Whose fairness is like Anath’s fairness?
Whose beauty like Astarte’s beauty?
“Astarte is now in your womb,
You bear the power of Elath.”
The women sang all the welcoming songs to her while Rachel ate date honey and fine wheat-flour cake, made in the threecornered shape of woman’s sex. She drank as much sweet wine as she could hold. Adah rubbed Rachel’s arms and legs, back and abdomen with aromatic oils until she was nearly asleep. By the time they carried her out into the field where she married the
earth, Rachel was stupid with pleasure and wine. She did not remember how her legs came to be caked with earth and crusted with blood and smiled in her sleep.
She was full of joy and anticipation, lazing in the tent for the three days, collecting the precious fluid in a bronze bowl—for the first-moon blood of a virgin was a powerful libation for the garden. During those hours, she was more relaxed and generous than anyone could remember her.
As soon as the women rose from their monthly rites, Rachel demanded that the wedding date be set. None of her footstamping could move Adah to change the custom of waiting seven months from first blood. So it was arranged, and although Jacob had already worked a year for Laban, the contract was sealed and the next seven months were Laban’s too.
Extract of the book The Red Tent