Red. Plump juicy tomatoes. Warm burgundy wine. Sweet scarlet strawberries, and crimson hot blood, throbbing in our veins and arteries. Red. The hue of passion and danger, of anger and love sparkling rubies and garnets, and desert sunrises and sunsets… of powdered ochre, outlining the imprint of a long-ago human hand on the wall of an ancient cave… the shade of a gossamer gown, worn by a newly handfasted bride… joyful lips that smile and kiss and speak of promises to keep. Red. The Red Tent. A place for women… sisters… a place of magick and heritage, spirit and soul, words and dreams and respect, for yourself and others of your kind… a sacred place of secrets where you can hold all that you are given, and you give all that you can hold.
Spontaneous and organic, a Red Tent is a red textile space where women gather to rest, renew, and often share deep and powerful stories about their lives. The Red Tent movement is changing the way that women interact and support each other by providing a place that honors and celebrates women, and by enabling open conversations about the things that women don’t want to talk about in other venues. Things We Don’t Talk About weaves together healing narratives from inside the Red Tent to shine a spotlight on this vital, emergent women’s tradition. The film provides us an opportunity to remember, to listen, to know, and to find what it is we need to bring back to our communities to help awaken the voices of women.” (This description copied from the website – http://www.redtentmovie.com/ )
My clan and I had the opportunity to purchase tickets to the World Premiere of this film, which would be held in a large space donated by the First Churches of Northampton, in Northampton, Massachusetts on September 15, 2012. The website listed tickets for the movie itself, but also held a temptation we could not ignore… participation in a full-day event, which would run from 1:00 pm to 9:00 pm. We knew we didn’t want to be just part of an “audience;” we wanted to interact and participate in every aspect of the day…
- The Gathering (Red Temple social time, and shopping at the Red Tent Marketplace)
- The Sharing Circle (personal sharing and offerings, such as what it meant to be a part of this event)
- Tribute and Performances (dance, poetry, recitation, chants and music… and meeting the filmmaker, Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost, PhD)
- a 2 hour dinner break/free time, in the amazing little town of Northampton
- Que-up/doors opening for last-minute Marketplace shopping and choice of seats
- The FILM SCREENING!
- Question & Answer session with the filmmaker, Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost, PhD
We chose to make a weekend adventure of it, and on Friday afternoon, we headed out via the Orient Point Ferry from the North Fork of Long Island to Connecticut ( https://www.longislandferry.com/default.aspx ). The voyage was relaxing, with calm waters, bright blue skies and puffy white clouds.
On the New England side, we were greeted by changing Autumn leaves, a cool evening breeze, and as the sun set it gave way to the smallest waning crescent of Our Lady Moon. We were tired but excited, and once we unpacked we called it a night and fell into a restless sleep.
“Wear something red” the website had encouraged. Be flashy, be comfortable – celebrate yourself. After breakfast, there were three of us sharing the hotel room. Two of us were females, jockeying for position to apply makeup and fix our hair. Jozef was done dressing, and he watched us, bemused at the chaos. We hit the road at 11:30 AM, and arrived in town with some extra time to spare.
Northampton immediately reminded us of Greenwich Village in New York City, and Woodstock in upstate New York. The town was filled with people young and old, strolling through a farmer’s market, a jazz festival and shops with goods spilling out their doors, everyone bustling about and so attractive to see. Folks were shopping and walking, singing and laughing and playing musical instruments on the streets. We parked and wandered toward the Church where the premiere was to be held. A grey-haired woman with a white Jack Russell Terrier spontaneously stopped Rhia and me to tell us how lovely we looked, and she asked where we were going. We learned her dog’s name was Ginger, and as we patted her, we explained about the Premiere. We learned that we could park anywhere (as we had a handicap permit), and that the town was “friendly to all minorities!” As clever Ginger performed tricks for us, more strangers came by to greet the pup and her owner, and joined our little group. Before we knew it, we were “holding court” as “out of towners in Northampton for a sold-out Premiere!” People were willing to run off and bring back a map of the town and menus from restaurants for us, so we could make dinner arrangements! The friendliness was amazing.
We bade everyone farewell, and walked up the street to the side-door of the Church. As we walked, we could see a display advertisement about the event. There, on a large sidewalk sign just outside the Church’s wrought-iron fence, was a colorful poster with a photo of joyful, smiling women, and the name of the event: “Things We Don’t Talk About: Woman’s Stories from the Red Tent. The handwritten words “SOLD OUT!” were emblazoned across the bottom. Surely, it was time. Rhia, Jozef and I passed through the fence gate, walked up the short flight of stone steps, and passed through the outer door into a small reception area. Another doorway was to our left, and we stepped through, one at a time, not sure what to expect.
What I saw was amazing. I felt immediately transported into another dimension, a far-away land. The large anteroom before me was draped, from floor to ceiling, by billowing fabrics of many types and shades of red, some with sparkles, some with beads, moving in the breeze. Tables had been set out, edging half the room. They were laden with items I could not yet define.
We were greeted by two welcoming women at a wooden podium, and after our hands were stamped with an identifying star, they bid us enter. “Who would like a hug? May I hug someone?” With her arms open wide and a thoroughly honest smile on her face, we were taken into the embrace of the filmmaker herself. My family and I gratefully participated in the hugging, and the warmth I felt from Isadora was absolutely genuine. “Welcome, thank you for coming, I’m so glad to see you here! It’s all so exciting!” We introduced ourselves and had our names checked off the list of attendees. As full-event participants, each of us was presented with a colorul movie poster, and a thick, delicious chocolate bar called MoonTime Chocolate. It was amazingly dark and rich, with pomegranate flavor and cherry bits – made especially for the event by Liberty Chocolate (link below):
We were told to help ourselves to “Red Tent tea” and spring water throughout the event, and if we had any questions, to please just ask. I felt so at home, I started to cry.
We shopped the Red Tent goods available to us, buying postcards and pashminas, candy bars and CDs, posters and works of art. We mingled with friendly women, chatting about how far we’d all traveled, and whether we knew of Red Tents near our homes. Red was everywhere, on all the women. Isadora herself wore a clingy wrap-around dress, and she spent most of her time before we were called to participate in the first event making sure that she met every single person who walked through the front door.
The energy in the room was organic and palpable. Some women splintered off, spontaneously forming small groups here and there, raising their voices and raising their arms, chanting and dancing and singing.
I quietly observed from around the edges, wandering about, taking photos, witnessing the gathering of a community in which I hadn’t realized I, too, was a treasured member.
It was during this social time we met ALisa Starkweather, who welcomed us and humbly bowed, offering us some of her own chocolate bar, telling us that it grew ever sweeter each time she shared it! We enjoyed her companionship, but had no idea that she was the visionary, the foundress of the Red Tent movement and co-producer of the movie along with Isadora!
At a prearranged time, all were called to sit in a great circle. It was time for Sharing.
Our time together was not tightly organized, and was gently moderated by ALisa. All were encouraged to speak out, ask questions, make comments, introduce themselves… and we spoke up from a Sea of Red. I felt comfortable and at home. I broke with my usual behavior of listening quietly to others and asked quite a few questions of my own. It felt odd to me, to hear my voice come out of the silence, and I started to cry again, but not out of sadness but due to the emotions I felt deep within. I felt a strong connection to every soul in that room and listened intently to what everyone had to say. After a brief break, we returned to find that our seats had been rearranged, and we were facing another direction. ALisa Starkweather used this time to help us reach out and get in touch with one another. I was drawn in, deeply, and knew comfort from those souls around me. This was my community. These women were my Sisters. I felt spiritual arms wrapped around me in welcome and reassurance. I felt my heart beating in time with everyone else’s. I felt my pulse, the sound of my blood, red blood, swished and pounded in my ears. I knew that I was home.
ALisa graciously relinquished the floor to others. There were bellydancers who performed for us – first, a pair of young women with red silks, and then, a soloist with white silks – all breathtaking, elegant and expressive.
They were followed by other women performers whose expressed their art by the use of words, spoken, sung and recited with deep meaning. As listeners, all of us laughed, cried, and called out in appreciation of the heart-rending gifts they freely provided.
Soon, it was time for the dinner break, and we all flowed out of the church onto the streets like the Red Sea, women of all sizes and shapes in many shades of red, laughing and talking in groups of newly-made friends. Thanks to our earlier meeting with friendly strangers, the three of us headed two blocks away and spent a lovely time on the upstairs patio of an Argentinian steak-house, seated under an umbrella, sharing food and wine and watching the world go by. (We even saw “Ginger the Jack” and her mom walk by on the sidewalk beneath us, but didn’t feel it would be civilized to yell down to them, or even if they’d remember us!)
We had a few extra minutes to shop after our meal, and the sun had started to set as we returned to the Church for the movie premiere. There were about ten others in line before us, and more were approaching from all directions. We realized that there would be more attendees now than before as there had been tickets available for only the movie as well as for the day’s events, which came with the option of taking a seat in the first three rows. Once we displayed the star-stamp on our hands, we re-entered the building and found the seats rearranged once again, all facing a large white screen. We three chose to sit in the rear toward the side, which we found would give us a good view.
I promised Isadora to provide a review of her work, but could not have written a review without describing the day which led up to its viewing. It’s not that simple. Both the day and the movie showed me that as a woman, I am not alone in this world.
The narrator of the movie is Dale Allen, one of the women who participated in the verbal presentations earlier. She had sat on the floor with her lovely young daughter, and as I watched them holding hands or touching each other’s blonde hair, I couldn’t help but think, “ahh, our next generation.” All the generations were given time in the movie, from infants to grandmothers. The Red Tent Temple is described as a feminine, womblike space created of red fabrics, where all women can “check their titles outside, and come in as just women.” But realize, please, that it is not just a place, it is a state of mind.
ALisa Starkweather, foundress and visionary of the movement was shown speaking from her heart about how vulnerability and transparency is our strength, how we must not hide anymore, not from others or ourselves. We are human, and there is to be no shame, no marginalization, no destruction of self. All of us are responsible for co-creating, and no-one is “in charge” of this movement which is unique to women.
The Red Tent Temple is shown to be a space for healing, where all women have the opportunity to hit the reset button, to be the women they want to be. Women can talk about anything they may have felt uncomfortable discussing anywhere else. It may take time, but once you have learned to trust yourself with other women encouraging you, you can open your soul and let the “real you”out.
“The Red Tent” novel, a bestseller by Anita Diamant, was part of the inspiration for this movement. Having recently read the book (after buying it from a vendor on the porch of the Maetreum of Cybele, during Palenville Pagan Pride Day), I also spent a lot of time deliberately reading the numerous negative reviews posted by customers on Amazon. Most of those reviews were written by people who were strict Bible-believing/Talmud-following folk, who chose to buy/read the book without understanding that this was neither a historic nor a religious book. The story did not follow the Judeo-Christian pseudo-historic tales. Those readers assumed that the book was what they wanted it to be. Had they done a little research, they would not have read it, and their comments never would have been written. They called the authoress a liar and a “deceiver” because her novel wasn’t “factual” when they mistakenly thought it was going to be. They carried-on about perversion and child abuse being glamorized, which was only a coming-of-age ceremony celebrated by the adult women and a young, willing participant who not only expected it, but craved it. They were horrified by the existence of “pagan idols” in what they felt was Jacob’s “Christian” household. They were disgusted by even the possible existence of a Red Tent, where the women of the tribe could gather together during their moon time “for the purpose of practicing un-Christian ceremonies.” They insisted that it was “impossible” and “ridiculous” that the women’s cycles might ever closely clock together. They were “personally insulted” that an authoress with a Jewish background would “betray her history” in a fashion that would promote such “ugly beliefs.” They feel the book degrades their religions, but in turn, their harsh words degrade Paganism, which I long ago chose as my religion. I became disgusted by their militant anger at the inspirational ideas which encourage all of us to accept our need to develop and experience actual Red Tent Temple gatherings in the 21st Century.
It’s a scientifically-proven fact that the full moon comes `round our Earth every 29.53 days, and there are 13 full moons in a year. Human female menstrual periods tend to run in 28 day cycles, similar to the lunar year. The moon and the ocean’s tides are linked. The surface of the Earth is more than 80% water; the human body is composed of more than 80% water. Although there is no proof that the moon impacts us in any way, I like to believe it does, just as the Pagans did long ago before sophisticated science was able to explain a lot of what had been only superstition. In those primitive societies, people lived close to the land and under the stars and the moon. Women’s moontime followed their natural cycles and were full and flowing just as the earthly tides were, and remain today. All waters reach their height during the Full Moon… but modern women who now live indoors, under artificial lighting, have lost connection with natural cycles and ache to find their place again. The Red Tent movement shifts women from isolation, thinking they are alone in what they experience. Menstrual huts unite women, and should not be a place of banishment. Native Americans had moon lodges, and Susun Weed affirms in the movie that the moon lodge/Red Tent lives inside every woman, as the uterus itself. No matter whether we females are too young to give forth our first blood, or too old to bleed again, the Red Tent is a welcoming place for us all. When we enter the tent, our temporary absence leaves the men to themselves as well, creating both a sisterhood and a brotherhood.
ALisa Starkweather affirms that this is a place in our culture that we are rebuilding, remaking and reinventing by and for ourselves as women. Women’s spirituality is being recreated today as we have little to no historical proof of what women used to do, and part of the purpose of the Red Tent movement is to reclaim that which we have lost.
This movie shows that we come from all walks of life, with different gifts to share. Numerous photos are shown, complete with job identities, showing that all of us are valued and appreciated. Every Red Tent Temple is different. You never know who will attend, two women, or ten. There is no set schedule, no events written in stone, and it is not exclusively a menstruation space. One thing in common, though, is a talking circle… a space to listen without speaking or trying to fix anything… with no judgment… no shame. Women now find the freedom to discuss harsh things and positive things… rape, molestation, loss of virginity, triumph, first blood times, giving birth to children… no longer forced to be silent about such events. No longer are these “Things We Don’t Talk About.”
One very touching event shown in the movie was the use of a washing bowl to remove from one’s hands the dust of the day, and symbolically remove from our souls the heaviness of regret, anger, sorrow and loss which as women, we feel required to carry within. We must make the choice to actively release the negativity of our lives, and that choice must come from within ourselves with the support and approval of our Sisters. Other topics touched upon were loss of children, in/fertility, the change of roles, circles and cycles, and a space to learn and teach one another. There is affirmation of beauty, because of some things and in spite of others. There is love and celebration of community, displayed in dance, conversation, laughter and song. There are positive affirmations, such as the one spoken from the depths of her heart, by Alisa Starkweather: “I WILL LIVE AND DIE WITH THIS LOVE.” To think we all are “just another woman” is wholly inaccurate, and even disparaging. Every woman is sacred. Every woman is able to work wonders. Every woman can – and should – make her mark in the lifetime she has been given, whether that lifetime is measured in minutes, or in years.
Such magnificent inspiration was offered over and again throughout the film, which was pleasing to the eye, and to the spirit. I was relieved to remember that I had purchased my own copy when my family had shopped at the Red Tent marketplace early that day. As I looked around at the crowd, I thought ahead of how I could arrange a showing, how I could share this wonderful gift with others when I got home. As the film ended and the lights came up, Isadora received a standing ovation – applause and chanting from the crowd. She provided us more time to make comments and ask questions. She gave kudos to those present who had input in the film, and encouraged them to speak. Toward the end of our time together, she herself offered an ovation to those MEN who in the audience – probably about 4 or 5, including Isadora’s own gentleman, and our family member, Jozef.
She thanked them all, and also those men who were not present but who had helped with the production. She graciously expressed her gratitude for their understanding the need for the film, and for their support of the Red Tent movement itself. All of us, even as strangers, felt blessedly connected. The emotions were many. Joy. Forgiveness. Relief. Many held hands, or hugged. Some laughed or cried. We looked at one another with understanding and full acceptance. We knew we were family.
As we departed the theater, the air was brisk, the skies were velvet black, the Moon had entered Her dark phase, and a few sparkling stars could be seen. We attendees poured out into the streets of Northampton like a river of red wine, flowing quietly and in the shadows. Our hearts were light as we entered our Jeep for the drive to our hotel for one more night. We drove in silence for awhile before sharing our experience with one another. I told them I had promised Isadora that I would write about our journey… and so, I do this now.
The movie has reinforced what I have come to know. We must take the time to honor ourselves, heal ourselves, and enjoy being uniquely ourselves. After our own healing, we must lift other women up by the power of our own love. If you listen to the voice of your own pleasure, everyone around you will benefit. We are taught that it is appropriate to stop and smell the ROSES… red, red roses… and we must do so, day by day.
ADDENDUM 12-5-12: Jozef’s blog entry about the premiere -