by Jayleigh Lewis
On June 6, 2014, the third annual Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference, a three-day gathering centered on plant medicine in the Wise Woman Tradition, began. The event was permeated with Red Tent energy, in part thanks to Dr. Isadora, filmmaker of the Red Tent movie, Things We Don’t Talk About, who hosted two screenings of the movie, built two Red Tents in two different spaces, and co-facilitated a pre-conference workshop for staff. From setup to takedown, the entire experience was woven with small miracles and synchronicities.
The Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference, founded in 2012 by Linda Conroy, provided a receptive home for the movie last year, thanks to attendee Celena Chavez, orchestrator of the conference’s Red Tents. As a result of Celena’s vision, the Red Tent has been building presence and momentum among the women who gather each year to celebrate their connection with earth-centered, plant-based wisdom.
This year, the conference was held at The Beber Camp in Mukwongago, Wisconsin. The camp is Hasidic Jewish and keeps kosher; conference attendees observed these regulations, which meant that food could not be taken outside the dining hall. There was a beautiful give and take between the women and the camp staff. Each supported and honored the work of the other. And, too, the interchange recalled the roots of the Red Tent movement in the Jewish tradition: Anita Diamant, author of The Red Tent, the book that started it all, is Jewish, and her book is set in ancient Israel. Dr. Isadora reported that two male camp staff who helped her set up the Red Tents remarked on this connection. They planned to make an enthusiastic recommendation to the camp’s director that a permanent Red Tent be set up onsite.
This kind of support and connection was to be the norm all weekend. Dr. Isadora described a feeling of being in an atmosphere of “ask and you shall receive.” It seemed she had only to think of what she needed before it would appear—including a ladder-carrying man at the exact moment she needed a ladder to reach the top of the yurt where she was building a Red Tent!
Synchronicity also abounded during the pre-conference workshop she co-led with Isla Burgess, an herbalist from New Zealand. The staff participants relished this time before diving into the hard work of the weekend; they participated in a veil dancing ritual and in a visioning exercise. During the latter, each woman created a symbol that represented her vision for the gathering. She drew this symbol on a small piece of paper and then shared it with the group. When all of the symbols were laid out together, their similarities were clearly evident. Some women had even drawn the same symbol. The symbols were then organized according to their common elements; together they formed a representation of a natural life/death/life cycle, mirroring the journey of a plant from seed to fully-formed organism and back to seed. After the exercise, these drawings were hung on the walls of the yurt, behind the fabric panels that formed the Red Tent, their presence lending an earthy energy and intention to the space.
Film screenings, workshops, and informal gatherings in the Red Tent brought women’s sacred space to life. The first screening took place in Crown Hall, the main event area, which had been hung with red fabric. The second took place in the more intimate-feeling yurt, and was packed to capacity. Two workshops were held in the Red Tent: one (led by Celena) focused on how to start a Red Tent, while the other (led by a woman named Trilby Sedlacek) was titled “Sex: An Active Part of a Wise Woman’s Life.” Women were inspired by both; those who attended the latter told Dr. Isadora afterwards that the Red Tent had provided for them a safe environment in which to share stories about their sex lives that they had never before been able to share. They said the space had greatly contributed to an enhanced openness among those of all ages who had participated. In addition to these formal gatherings, women came to the Red Tent to relax and chat at other times—particularly the teen program participants, who wanted to be there for the entire conference!
Fun and relaxation was in the air for Dr. Isadora, too: her best friend and mentor, Doreen Bryant, a wise elder woman, also attended the conference, and the two enjoyed spending time together. She didn’t even have to do anything during the takedown of the Red Tents—others did the work before she could get there! A true miracle.
The second visit of the Red Tent to the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference was powerful, needed, and inspiring—may there be many more.
For more information about the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference or to attend next year’s gathering visit: http://midwestwomensherbal.com/