Last night was the first gathering of the Oswestry Red Tent and it was amazing.
There were 13 women, of all ages, most of whom only knew one other person, if anyone at all and yet through the evening there were some deep connections, reflections, laughter and tears. With strangers. Such intimacy.
Because it was the autumn equinox we focused on three questions:
- What do you want to appreciate and harvest from your last year?
- What do you want to dead-head, prune back or burn because you no longer want it?
- How can you prepare your soil for the next year? How can you look after yourself as you go into the winter months?
Simple questions but how often do you have time to consider them? I have written before about the power of sitting in a circle; in the sweatlodge and in Greece. and I tried to run a sharing circle last year, in a different location but it didn’t work after the first one. Partly it was because the location was wrong, I also charged too much, I was in a different space from where I am this year, but also, significantly, I was doing it as a lone ranger rather than this time we are part of something.
The Red Tent Movement and the Red Temple Movement have been going for about 9 years and were inspired by a book by Anita Diamont called Red Tent. It is a grass roots movement, owned by no one, with no leader and every Red Tent is as different as the women who are present. I love this random, collective approach, with no hierarchy, no ownership, no branding, no franchises, no fixed format, look or rules; it feels radical. Rather there are some principles, intentions and aspirations of inclusion, respect, care and empowerment.
Red Tents in the novel are menstrual huts, held on the new moon where women go to connect. They are feminist without being politically so in that they are a space for women’s voices and issues to be heard, honoured and supported in a way which is not usually possible in every day life. A place for women to speak the unspeakable, to name their experiences and fears and joys.
Groups of women have always gathered around kitchen tables or on back steps to talk. Only this year, there was a spontaneous moment, where a group of us women just happened to be sitting at the same table, with no men around. Not all of us knew each other but and very quickly stories of birth, sex, the menopause, child rearing, caring were shared and there were such belly laughs and recognition and connection that the time was rich and nurturing.
These are the experiences which are so profound for women and yet there is so little time and space to share our stories in every day life, and it is this time and space which a Red Tent gives.
Women are often so busy looking after everyone else that they don’t take the time to look after themselves and spontaneous moments of connection round the table are rare. Last night one of the biggest things that we all wanted was support and connection; deeper connections than is often possible with the people we work with or meet socially.
Red Tents are confidential and non-judgmental. So often women compete with and judge each other; what we look like, how we child rear, where we are in our career ladders. Red Tents are places where we can connect rather than compete and where we can take off our masks and roles and connect with who we really are when we aren’t so busy or stressed.
Life can be lonely. So many men and women go from home to work and back again and whilst we might engage with a lot of people in our day, we may not feel ‘known’ by the people we spend our days with; we may feel ‘unseen’. Humans need to be seen and acknowledged for being who we are and only last week I wrote about the appalling consequences that can happen when there is no support or care.
The Red Tents have a special feel about them, they feel a bit like a sacred space. Susan Hale (Sacred Space, Sacred Sound, 2007) said;
“A sacred space is temenos, a Greek word meaning an enclosure that makes it possible to enter into a relationship with a greater reality. Entering into sacred space, one crosses a threshold and moves from chronos, human time and space, into kairos, eternal time.”
I like this definition of the sacred and it certainly sums up how it felt for me last night. No gods or spirits were invoked and yet there was a sense of taking time out of normal time and sinking into something deeper.
Last night there were mothers, daughters and grandmothers present and Red Tents are open to all women who have menstruated. Again this is rare. So much of life is delineated by age: teenagers meet in schools, mothers meet in antenatal classes, grandmothers, well where do they meet? But how often would you find a girl, new to menstruation in the same room as women who have birthed and women who are through the menopause and how often would we get the chance to hear each other’s stories?
I love the fact that there were all stages of womanhood present; maidens, mothers and crones. Whilst I’m still in the mother stage; as my periods wane and my temperature rises, I am also entering the crone stage and I’m really enjoying it so far.
The three stages of womanhood are seen in all cultures. The maiden is like spring; full of life and new potential and possibility. This is the stage where we are learning new skills and abilities.
Motherhood is like summer; blossoming, nurturing and realizing our potential. This is true even if women don’t have children as this is the phase of life where we are succeeding at work, where we making our homes, where we are productive and creative and in bloom.
The Crone or Sage phase is like autumn where life is rich and warmly coloured and where we can start to withdraw from the world of achieving and doing to pay attention or our soul and our connection to each other and the earth. This is of course the last phase and it is now that we look back on our lives and put our houses in order in readiness for ageing and death. There is wisdom in this last phase born of years of experience; we have learned from our mistakes and can share what we have gathered with others.
To have all these stages of womanhood together is sooo rich. I have always sought out older women and found them to guide me and now I am one of those women it is a delight, in my work, to be with younger women and watch them blossom and grow.
At the start of the night, most of us were strangers to each other. As we sat in our circle at the end there was a warmth that was formed from the sharing of stories and the giving of our attention and our openheartedness and it was rich and nurturing and satisfying.
If you live in a different area or country the Red Tent Directory has the listings of where you can find one near you. Or why not set up your own?
Have a good weekend