Red Tent Origins
Here is a story of the Maiden, Mother & Crone
I once entered a dark realm where I looked death in the face. I was stripped of everything that I thought made me who I was. All of the trappings of my most fundamental feminine qualities were withered away. There was grief there, and strangely there was joy too. Joy in the realization that all of the trappings did not encompass my essential self, joy in the realization that I was in fact more free than I ever imagined. I walked out, bald, one breasted, body dry - a Crone. Yes, a Crone, though not quite an elder. This was the path of a breast cancering initiate.
The lives of women are so deeply connected to the land, to the moon. We are like a spiral of cycles within cycles - our bodies ebb and flow - we bring forth the generations. We have within ourselves a sort of an ocean in which we nurture our young - birthing them in a rush like the tide. We learn about how we are powerful, and we learn about how we are powerless in near equal measure. We Bleed, and yet do not die - a miracle that is swept under the rug - hidden away and diffused. We are ourselves miracles, and yet we drown in the thoughts of self loathing, and of never being good enough.
How women feel about their moon time is complicated to say the least. Over the years since my first period at age 12 I have wrestled with all kinds of emotions around my period: from; "Whoa I am a woman now. . . Whoa." to intense celebration of the newly sexually active; "I'm not Pregnant!!!" to the sadness of returning periods after a miscarriage of a wanted baby, and the vast well of conflicting feelings when my periods abruptly ceased due to chemo induced menopause at age 43.
When my periods returned at 46 after a few years hiatus, I decided I wanted to celebrate their arrival back on the scene. After descending into the darkness of mystery during cancer treatments, and becoming a crone - somehow my body had decided to return, to voyage back into the realm of a more fecund nature. I was being reunited with a part of myself that had been lost. Reunited for what may well be only a brief visit. It felt like some sort of enormous cosmic retrograde, the gift of a chance to heal my wounds of womanhood.
I wanted a self care ritual to honor my return to sacred moon-time. A ritual that could fit into my life. Taking an entire day in retreat sounded wondrous, but not practical. Thinking back to the worlds my children created in their imaginations, and considering my new mindfulness practice, I came up with a solution that makes me really happy - The Red Tent Project. Basically to create a small and ephemeral art installation, a tiny tent somewhere outside during my moon. The tent holds space and time for creating, and appreciating nature - a moment of connection with all the ancestors, the women of now, and the women yet to come.
This idea coincided with not only the return of my semi regular blood flow, it also lined up with my decision to start working again as an artist, after an even longer break. Inspired by my lifelong love of color, and of natural dyes in particular, I decided to dye some silk red to use as my tent fabric. I chose Madder, because it felt right to dye with a root, rather than the crushed female bodies of cochineal insects. Over time my connection to Queen Madder intensified, until she has become one of my biggest teachers.
I soaked the dried madder root in rain water for days, then crushed it as best I could using a blender for the small bits and a hammer for the larger pieces. I heated it carefully, and kept it in the good temperature range for half a day before adding the silk. Next came stirring it like a cauldron of intent for an hour before removing it from the heat - where it soaked for three more days. And on the seventh day my first ceremonial Red Tent silk was finished.
Then I waited for my moon to arrive again, and finally it did. On a hot dry day in late summer, when some of the trees were starting to release a few of their leaves, in a prelude to autumn. I used dry sticks trimmed from a butterfly bush to form the poles of my first little red teepee. I carefully gathered and arranged some leaves to form a little bed inside. As I worked I immersed myself in the smells, sounds and textures of the natural world there under the maple trees of my yard. I then allowed myself time to imagine being small enough to fit inside the tent, warm and peaceful.
After a while I returned inside the house to continue my tasks of the day, pausing every now and then to look out the window and breath back into the imaginary realm of the Red Tent...
The next month I was traveling - teaching a class near Austin Texas. My tent there was surrounded by blooming broom weed, and the floor of the tent was made of a silk dyed a saturated golden yellow with some of the broom weed flowers. The weather was heavy and thick with moisture, just a few weeks after Hurricane Harvey had devastated Houston. It struck me then that the little Red Tents are a sort of recovery tool for me, as well as a tool for empowerment and deepening my connection to nature and my own body. My new self care ritual was becoming rooted in my life.
From the start I have posted pictures on Instagram of all of my tents, as a playful invitation to other women who may be menstruating at the same time. As a means of connecting in some ephemeral way to the pulse of the divine feminine and our collective womanhood.
When I look out the window at one of my tents, or even glance at the photos of one that I have taken, it feels like a slowing of time happens. An invitation to pause, and take a deep breath. It eventually dawned on me that most people could benefit from having the permission to pause more often, that women could benefit from honoring their bodies with ritual on a regular basis. Perhaps our health would improve if we did so.
Over time I began to think more and more about what it would be like if this ritual was more widely practiced, by many rather than by only one person. What form would it take in the imaginations of others? What if the naturally dyed silks could become a sort of talisman for women to wear, as a reminder to themselves to take a little extra time for reflection, relaxation and play during their sacred moon time. What if my little red tents could become a movement?
Over the months that I pondered these ideas there were significant pauses between moon-times - leading me to sometimes think that my sojourn back into the realm of bleeding women had ended again. While I felt very drawn to dyeing ritual cloth to offer to others, it felt that the silks would be more powerful if I was bleeding.
Then in the spring the opportunity has presented itself to create silks in the right conditions. It is with a joyful heart that I created ten Red Tent silks.
All of the dye plants for that first batch of Red Tent silks where chosen not only to provide luscious color, they are each powerful and healing. Madder Root - the queen of red dyes has long been used to sooth menstrual discomfort, Warming Yarrow helps us hold energetic boundaries, and has been used to regulate our menses, Generous Red Alder who can support our digestion, and help let go of all that does not serve, and a splash of homemade blackberry wine - to remind us that it is okay to have protective thorns, so that we might better savor our sweetness.
It was a joy to send them out into the world, offering them to those who are drawn to the Red Tent idea, of committing to creating a self care ritual for themselves. Some I sold, others I gifted.
I began to imagine all the ways that Madder Red Silks might be used in all kinds of ways beyond creating a tiny tents. Imagine these as a gift to a young woman just starting her moon journey - as an invitation to womanhood, or as a comforting wrap around the belly womb, as an altar cloth, hung on a doorframe as a signal, a talisman for a women's circle, or between good friends, even as part of a ceremony for a new mother who is returning to bleeding after the post baby hiatus, used by women who no longer bleed to reconnect with herself and the rhythms of the moon phases. . . Perhaps most of them will be worn as a symbol for to the self, a reminder to be gentle to oneself while the spiritual portals are more open for what ever reason.
Nearly endless ideas began to bubble up. For this reason I started to host New Moon Red Tent Retreats. During the events women come together to explore self care. Using story telling, craft and time in nature to facilitate a time of being deeply nurtured. These events have taught me that however you might choose to take care of yourself with a little more fierce self love, that will be just exactly the right way. Spending time in the wise company of women in all phases of their lives in this way has become a privilege that I treasure. The Red Tent is so needed in the world.
I look forward to seeing where my little red tents will take me next.