by Teresa Maria Bilowus
“Return To The Red Tent” was first published in Starflower Living Naturally, Issue 2, July 2014
“How might your life have been different if there had been a place for you? A place for you to go…a place of women, to help you learn the ways of women… a place where you were nurtured from an ancient flow sustaining you and steadying you as you sought to become yourself. A place of women to help you find and trust the ancient flow already there within yourself… waiting to be released… A place of women…” ~ Judith Duerk, Circle of Stones
Photograph © Teresa Maria Bilowus 2014
There is a place where women can go to tell their stories. A place where women can rest, create, sing, dance, sleep, or just ‘be’ for a while. There is a place where women can be witness to authentic sharing and connection. A place where women can hold each other and be held. There is a place where women can go to experience a ‘homecoming’ and leave feeling renewed, restored, replenished and open. There is a place for women. It is called the Red Tent. When women’s paths meet in this safe and sacred space, lives are transformed.
It is unlikely that when Anita Diamant published her best-selling novel ‘The Red Tent‘ back in 1997 she could have imagined how her work would be a catalyst for a ‘Great Remembering’. Anita Diamant’s descriptions of the monthly celebrations in The Red Tent not only illustrate the close relationship with land and nature and the moon cultivated by semi-nomadic women in ancient times, they also indicate the strong bond between women who would menstruate together in a sacred gathering space. It was in this sacred space, the Red Tent, where every girl became a woman.
Whilst the origins of the ‘Red Tent’ are fictional, women sitting together in circle is ancient and very real. Women coming together to bleed is found in almost every culture around the world. In some traditions women were segregated from their communities for being ‘unclean’ during their monthly bleeding time. But in many cultures women were honoured during the bleeding days and went to a special place within the village to commune with other women. Sometimes this place was called the women’s lodge, the moon lodge, the menstrual hut, the bleeding lodge, or by some other traditional indigenous name. These spaces all had great power and significance because it was the space where women bled together and shared wisdom. It was in these spaces that women passed down their traditions and shared their aural history – their stories and their mythology. It was in these sacred dwellings that women connected to their own inner power – in particular the intuitions and visions that came at the time of bleeding. And it was in these gathering spaces that women helped guide young girls into womanhood and were themselves guided by the community elders.
Photograph © Teresa Maria Bilowus 2014
Today, the Red Tent is a global women’s movement. There are an estimated 20,000 Red Tents worldwide. In thousands of locations around the world women are once again gathering together to share the cycles and the stories of their lives. These are important times. For the last 4000 years the entire history of ‘woman’ has been suppressed. Women’s songs, wisdom, traditions, intuitions, stories, methods of healing, mythology, knowledge of herbs and of the stars, and of magic and the underworld have all been vanquished. Patriarchy effectively wrote history in the image and the voice of the masculine. This doesn’t necessary mean that history is wrong. But it does mean that without the voices of women, history is wildly incomplete.
When women enter the Red Tent a ‘Great Remembering’ takes place. Women the world over share the same experience of coming into the Red Tent for the first time and yet it being deeply familiar. The Red Tent is a gathering ground for which women have been yearning, but until women actually enter the space, this yearning has not been released. Adeola from the Red Tent community in Bournemouth, UK says “I found a space I hadn’t released I craved, to speak with a voice I had never heard, about a wisdom I had carried since birth but had no awareness of.”
It seems that ancient women-wisdom is woven into the very fabric of the Red Tent space. From its fictional beginnings, women all over the world have breathed power and life into the Red Tent. Some Red Tents focus on celebrating menstruation and the blood mysteries, others are simply a place where women can dance, sing, rest and speak their stores. Healing, transformation and renewal are common themes within Red Tent communities. Regardless of age, culture, background, experience, religion, or circumstance, all women have a home within the Red Tent. There is a deep-knowing that when a woman enters the Red Tent she is supported not only by other women, but by an ancient energy that has drawn women together since the Beginning.
Women have big, important stories. Deep, painful stories. Stories that matter. Stories make up the meaning of women’s lives and yet for so long there has not been a place for women to share these stories. It is so easy for women to hide what has happened to them – to stuff their own experiences down into a hidden-away-space so as not to feel them. It makes it easier to ‘get on’ with day to day life. But within the walls of the Red Tent women are experiencing the phenomenal healing power of telling their stories. No one needs ‘fixing’ or advice in the Red Tent. There is no judgement or ‘therapy’. But there’s lots of compassion. And there are lots of women being heard. When women speak it, shout it, cry it, scream it, feel it – whatever ‘it’ is, then it comes to the surface to be released. Women’s stories are monumentally important. Each and every one of them. All over the world the Red Tent is providing a safe and sacred space for women to tell their stories. And be heard.
Photograph © Teresa Maria Bilowus 2014
In September 2012, award winning film-maker Dr. Isadora Leidenfrost released a ground-breaking documentary entitled “Things We Don’t Talk About: Women’s Stories from the Red Tent‘. This 72 minute film seeks to ‘humanize the stories in the Red Tent – to put a face on the space’. Recently I had the wonderful pleasure of connecting with Dr. Isadora to talk about her film and the worldwide Red Tent movement.
Dr. Isadora, can you define what the Red Tent is for modern-day women?
“The Red Tent today can be anything you want it to be. The Red Tent is to fulfill the needs of your community. What do women need? Who would come? Sometimes women need to dance, sometimes to talk, sometimes to rest, to laugh, to cry, or to eat soup. There’s no one right way to create a Red Tent space. It has to meet the needs of the community, whatever those needs might be.”
Why now? Why at this time? Why has the Red Tent movement become so big?
“Contemporary women have a need for sisterhood. The Red Tent movement has a wonderful ability to cross all boundaries of culture, religion and background. No matter who you are, what language you speak or who you love, inside the Red Tent we are all sisters. I’ve heard women’s stories from Red Tents in India that are the same as women’s stories from Red Tents in Chile. The Red Tent transcends everything and brings women together to just ‘be’ in a safe and sacred space.”
So is the Red Tent part of the feminist movement?
“Well, firstly, let’s define feminism. My definition of a feminist is someone who believes that all women should be respected, honoured, nurtured, and heard. A feminist wants all women to believe in themselves. A feminist is someone who wants women to muster up the courage to live what they came here to do. I believe we are in the third wave of feminism. The first wave was the right to vote. Then came the second wave which was for equality. But we went out too hard. We burnt ourselves out. And so now the third wave of feminism is about self-care and self-love. It’s about bringing everything back into balance. The Red Tent gives us a place where we can find this balance. We can find sustenance communing with other women within the walls of the Red Tent. This gives us the power and the strength to go out into the world and do our work. Women need this balance.”
Photograph © Teresa Maria Bilowus 2014
Dr. Isadora, in addition to being a filmmaker, you are also a textile historian. How important is the ‘fabric’ when creating a Red Tent?
“I have personally done over 500 film screenings of ‘Things We Don’t Talk About‘. Each screening is done in a Red Tent. I set up these Red Tents in gardens, churches, houses, forests, community halls and theatres. I have a great love of fabric. I have lived in 18 countries and I am intrigued by the history of fabric. I create amazing Red Tents with beautiful fabrics that I have collected from all over the world. But I know women who simply gather in circle each wearing a red scarf. That’s a Red Tent too. The Red Tent is any embodied space that honours the needs of women.”
Could you share your forward vision for the Red Tent movement?
“I would like to see The Red Tent movement get to places that are not so westernized. I would like to see it grow into places such as Eastern Europe and Asia. I’d like to see the potential that the Red Tent movement has to support women in those countries. I’d also like more international festivals with huge Red Tents. I envision global summits and international symposiums on the Red Tent movement where women from all over the world come to share their experience and their future vision.”
And finally, what about the future vision for your film? Where to from here for ‘The Red Tent Movie: Things We Don’t Talk About’?
“I would like to do lots more film screenings within the US and internationally. And I’d like to make another Red Tent film. The next one would incorporate women’s stories from the global Red Tent movement. I’d like to film women from the Red Tent telling their stories in their own countries, culture and language, and then subtitle them in English.”
When contemporary women are asked what the Red Tent means to them, they share that the Red Tent is “a sacred feminine temple where I can honour myself”, and “home”, and “a place of powerful healing – healing where nothing needs to be done”, and “a place where I can come back to my pack.” There is a gentleness, kindness and realm of support for women within the Red Tent that is not found anywhere else in modern day society. Many women are witness to the powerful outpouring of love that takes place in the Red Tent. Women who have previously felt resistance toward women’s circles because of negative experiences of malevolent or competitive women are being drawn back to reconnect with women within the safe space of the Red Tent. Here, women are being nurtured by each other. Women can enter the Red Tent at any time. This supportive space is no longer just for women at the time of menstruation. The global Red Tent culture offers a place for all women to gather and honour their own individual journey while experiencing oneness with a united sisterhood.
There are often regular monthly gatherings within a Red Tent community. These monthly gatherings might be loosely structured to include movement and music, talks, rest time, craft activities, body work, creative pursuits, pampering, reading, journalling and much more. In addition, Red Tent communities offer open days where women can use the space in whatever way supports their needs. Workshops or special events held in the Red Tent are often focused on areas that are deeply raw and painful for women. These can include topics such as healing from birth trauma, dialogue about sexual abuse and rape, mother wound healing, and empowerment around the menstrual cycle. Often when women take part in a workshop or retreat, they can experience big shifts only to go back to the ‘real world’ where there is no where to discuss, share, explore, or expand these shifts further. This can be difficult when the work is deep and the processes new. Within the space of the Red Tent, women can find ongoing support around such shifts from other women in the Red Tent community and from the space itself.
It is common within the Red Tent to find teenagers conversing with crones. This is a space where all stages of a woman’s life are recognized and honoured. The sacred trinity of maiden, mother and crone are melded together in a diverse and dynamic group of women defying societal norms on age segregation. It is within the Red Tent that young girls are experiencing powerful coming-of-age circles and empowering mentorship programs. Once again women are guiding girls into womanhood. For the first time in generations girls have a place to go to learn the ways of women. The Red Tent is a collaboration of women. All women have gifts to bring. Some women give massages, as others make tea. Some women bake cakes while others brush hair. Some women read poetry as their sisters are painting toenails. The Red Tent is where all of this can happen simultaneously and with complete spontaneity.
The healing that is taking place in the Red Tent is vital for our planet. When women heal themselves there is a ripple effect that touches their ancestors, their children, and the entire global community. Courageous women all over the world are speaking their stories. Women are finding their voices. When a woman comes to the Red Tent she experiences a ‘homecoming’ and a deep sense of belonging. Each time she returns to the Red Tent she returns home to herself.
© Copyright Teresa Maria Bilowus 2014 All Rights Reserved.
About the Author
Teresa Maria Bilowus is a facilitator of workshops and retreats pertaining to Women’s Blood Mysteries. She is a Menstruality Empowerment Activist. Teresa facilitates Red Tent Bournemouth (Dorset, UK) and is the founder of Moon Girl Warriors, a powerful coming-of-age mentorship program for girls. Teresa is passionate about giving voice to womb-space wisdom and educating women on the rites-of-passage from menarche to menopause. She studies metaphysics and is a freelance writer. Teresa is the inspired mother of two phenomenal daughters.
Teresa can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information on the Red Tent please visit:
Dr. Isadora Leidenfrost – ‘The Red Tent Movie – Things We Don’t Talk About’ http://www.redtentmovie.com/
The Red Tent Temple Movement http://redtenttemplemovement.com/
The Red Tent Directory – UK and Europe http://redtentdirectory.com/
Red Tents In Every Neighbourhood http://www.deannalam.com/global-network/
And for further information about HERSTORY – A Womanifesto (an informative free e-book) please visit the website of Jane Hardwicke Collings: http://www.moonsong.com.au/