by Jayleigh Lewis
Creativity was in abundance at screenings of the Red Tent movie, Things We Don’t Talk About, during the first weekend of August 2013.
On Friday, August 2nd, the interfaith women’s organization Gaia’s Womb commenced their annual summer women’s retreat in Racine, Wisconsin, a small town on the shore of Lake Michigan. Angie, one of the founders and current director of Gaia’s Womb (as well as pagan minister and women’s spiritual leader), planned this year’s retreat around the theme of the Red Tent. She invited ALisa Starkweather, founder of the Red Tent movement, and Isadora Leidenfrost, Red Tent movie filmmaker, to attend as special guests and presenters.
The weekend-long retreat began with the film screening, the first screening since last September’s premiere to feature the presence of both ALisa and Isadora. Many of the small group of approximately 20 women had attended this annual retreat together for years, but almost none had previously heard of Red Tents. They were in for a treat as they gathered in one of the buildings of Racine’s DeKoven Center, surrounded by architecture evocative of cathedrals and old-style universities.
Unbeknownst to the attendees, at Angie’s direction, the retreat’s coordinators were creating a Red Tent space for the attendees following the film screening. The next morning, the women arrived into this space, finding as if by magic a sacred temple prepared for them. ALisa led one of that day’s workshops, giving the women a firsthand experience of the passion at the heart of the Red Tent movement.
Meanwhile, Isadora was off to Indianapolis, Indiana, for another movie screening that Saturday, August 3rd. The local chapter of the Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess – International (a Goddess-centered, legally recognized religion serving the women’s spiritual community, and one of the endorsers of the Red Tent movie) hosted the screening, as well as a Red Tent gathering, inside a church. Grace and Lia, the organizers, prepared some very unique activities for the gathering.
The highlight, according to Isadora, was an activity involving vegetables. Small groups of participants each received a different vegetable which had been cut in half. They were given the instruction to look closely at their vegetable and describe its characteristics, with an eye to seeing it as if for the first time. Each group created a synthesis of their observations and shared it with the gathering as a whole.
Collective expressions ranged from lists to poetry; Isadora’s group wrote a poem inspired by a purple-and-white cabbage:
In life we see life & the many layers
all is connected, a labyrinth
Limbs extended, a woman gives birth
Eight arms for her roles
Center is protected by multiple layers
When placed core to core a spider is formed to weave the breath of life
The spine supports
the ribs wrap; the breasts feed
A tree reaches
Layers are the age of the cruciferous vegetable
revealing the organs to digest experience.
It is a Red Tent.
The white part of the halved cabbage had transformed in the group members’ imaginations into a woman raising her arms; the purple part had transformed into veil-like layers of fabric hung for a Red Tent. A second image emerged when they put the two halves of the cabbage together core to core: a white spider, limbs outstretched, against a purple background. More images, simultaneously suggestive of a tree and a woman’s body, revealed themselves when the outsides of the two halves were held side by side.
According to Isadora, the process was mind-blowing. This activity and another (a meditation that invited women to listen to sounds from nature with eyes closed) assisted Red Tent participants in expanding their perceptions beyond habit, in reaching toward the beauty of everyday sights and sounds. The fresh perceptions that emerged spoke to the ways in which women’s community is rooted in the natural world as well as the ways in which all life is connected. It was a clear affirmation of the creative power of women coming together!