by Delphine Demore, PhD
It is dark inside the tent, with the light muted by the enclosure. At this late afternoon hour, the entire dwelling is tinted red and pink and orange. Soon the sun will set and the glow of the fire and burning coals will be the only light. You sit in the Elder’s chair, near the doorway. The fire is burning brightly and there is water in the clay jars at the other side of the room, to keep it cool. There is food, cooked ahead and preserved, with fruit and cheese. A week of freedom from preparations, child care, household chores, marital responsibilities, a time all the women come to treasure. Tonight, there are a few newly bleeding girls joining the Red Tent. They have not been to the Women’s tent before and they are curious, eager but worried too. Like all fledglings, they anticipate and fear what is unfamiliar. You smile, remembering your first time in the tent. The tenderness you feel for the newly fertile girls was shown to you then. The tradition of women handing down their wisdom and teaching their daughters is ancient and honored here.
You hear the approach of the first woman. She is a young matron with 2 small children. She smiles at you and you anoint her forehead with the blessing oil. You embrace, kissing each other on each cheek. She takes a seat in the circle around the stones. Soon others join her, standing in line for their anointing, embracing you and each other with warmth and welcome. The first timers come together, finding courage in numbers. They are welcomed in kind.
When all have arrived, you begin the Women’s Chant, calling on the protection of the Divine Mother. The women join hands and chant, filling the tent with their sweet voices. You pour the first cup of water on the stones in the center, sending up a burst of steam into the hole above the circle. Your chant begins to quiet and your prayers are sent out into the sky.
The youngest women rise and address the new arrivals. They tell of their first time in the tent and their first menses. They honor and bless the girls, welcoming them into the circle of women. They are each handed a branch of lavender and rosemary, as a symbol of love, peacefulness, protection and healing. The other women come forward, one at a time, in age order, to bless the girls and tell a short story of their own blood time. Finally, you are left to speak. Though you have not bled for a long time, you often volunteer to anchor the Blood Times Tent. All the women come if they can. Many are needed to care for children and do the women’s chores while the bleeding women are sequestered.
The women again join hands and hum softly as another cup of water is thrown on the hot stones. When the steam dies away, there is a collective sigh and everyone relaxes.
As the women begin to talk to each other, in pairs or small groups, enjoying the leisure that their nomadic life prohibits during the rest of the month, your attention drifts and you remember other Blood times, other days, women who were friends and who are gone now. You remember…
You see yourself pressing your lavender and rosemary between stones after your first time. Like the young girls here tonight, you stored them in your amulet. Reaching for the amulet that hangs from your neck, you know that you have them still. You remember bringing your first babe with you, nursing her in the steamy air, content to drift in and out of the conversations, absorbed in the love affair of motherhood. Your other babies were also brought here, but the memory of that one is still sharp in your heart. Your daughter goes to another tent somewhere else, in her husband’s family, taking your granddaughter with her. You wish you saw them more often.
You recall the first time your daughter came to the tent, brave and strong. She was not timid, but walked in with her head high, expecting to be accepted, expecting to belong. As a mother, you had taught her well to honor herself and the sacred mystery that is fertility. You are proud of her. That tradition goes on, wherever your daughter and granddaughter go.
Today, your other daughter is present here, following the Shaman Way rather than the motherhood path. You are proud of her too.
In the tent, friendships are forged and confidences shared. All seek understanding, celebration and solace from each other. You remember your mother, taking her turn as elder in the tent, looking at you with that proud, fierce mother look. Even now, after so long, you miss her. Soon, you will travel that ancient river and be reunited with her. The cycle of life, like the blood flowing here, will go on…
We honor that ancient tradition here today. Taking a deep breath, bring yourself back here to the circle. When you are ready, open your eyes.