[12 min read [3002 words]
The origins of red tents
Red tents, moon lodges and bleeding lodges are misunderstood by some in modern society. Some see them as a contributor to the stigma around menstruation. They are thought to have been a way to isolate girls and women from societies when they were bleeding. Like a form of punishment; that when you bleed, you are thrown out of society. This is what red tents, moon lodges and bleeding lodges were not.
Moon lodges and bleeding lodges originate from the Native American tradition. Before agriculture was introduced, men hunted and women generally raised children, cooked, and gathered fruits and vegetables. They learned how to cultivate plants and domesticate animals. Women learned the best ways to preserve food and how to build houses. In most Native tribes, women were responsible for defining the political, social, economic and spiritual path of the tribe. They were the ones responsible for the development of civilization.
Women have the ability to create, sustain and birth a human life. This is a precious gift which comes in the form of the menstrual cycle. These communities experienced that menstruation was a link between humanity and spirituality.
A rite of passage
Moon lodges and bleeding lodges served as a place for girls and women to go to be still, to rest and to reflect. These spaces gave her time away from the world which allowed her to deepen her connection to her body, her spirit, her Self.
Menarche — a girl’s first bleed was seen as a Rite of Passage into Womanhood and was a time of celebration. The young girl was honoured as she was initiated into the next step of menstruality. Here, she began to learn every facet of being a woman.
She was taught about her fertility cycle and the ever changing nature of her being. She learnt about the multi-layered, biological, psychological, and spiritual system of evolution that lay within her body.
Women learnt about channeling and the art of innerstanding her inner senses. She was taught how to listen to and trust her intuition. Older women served as a guide and companion in the deep journey of learning of self accessed through the cycle.
These containers served as supportive, safe and deeply nourishing environments. Women would learn the importance of honouring their body with time, rest and self care practices. They were taught how to work with their cyclical and dynamic nature which gave her full agency over her body, mind and spirit.
As a woman learnt about each phase in her cycle, she was able to be authentic and was unapologetically herself. This inspired and empowered other women in her community to be their true selves.
The indigious knew that when women gather, their inner senses are heightened and there is limitless power in the collective. It was during this time that women were able to experience their connection to spirit and received messages to help guide them in life.
The sacred role of moon lodges and bleeding lodges
Moon lodges and bleeding lodges were a place for meditation and reflection. A place where women hugged, laughed and cried together. It’s where they sang, danced and chanted. A space where they expressed their creativity in any way that showed up for them.
They were a place where they shared their deepest and difficult secrets so they didn’t have to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. It was a place for sisterhood and connection. Where they came together to share stories, experiences and wisdom which inspire one another to learn and grow.
In these spacs women learnt how to wield their natural powers gifted to them through their menstrual cycle. They used their cycle as their personal guide as well as using it to help their tribe. She loved and respected herself, as did the rest of her community.
Through this custom, by the time a woman reached menopause, she had fully and deeply innerstood herself. This allowed her to step into the next initiatory stage of menstruality. She knew she would be met and respected as a wise, older woman. Her mature years would be approached with a deep sense of trust in herself and with the reverence from her community.
She then became the elder and would be the space holder for women who came after her. Her wisdom would help guide them to innerstand themselves on a deeper level, just as she had been guided by her elders. She would teach women the very important role they played within their communities and the earth.
“When women started to bleed, they left their homes and families to go to the sacred introspective space of the Bleeding Lodge. The Lodge was honoured and respected by the entire community, for the dreams and visions of the bleeding women brought vital survival information such as planting and healing knowledge and guidance on community relations. When there were questions that needed to be answered, the women would go to the Lodge and ask the Ancestors. All questions were always answered through the Ancient Ancestors. The entire community benefitted through the powerful gifts of the women’s bleeding cycle.
Since our Ancient Grandmothers probably all bled together, many women shared the Womb Lodge at one time. Ceremonies to honour our womb cycles, celebrate the cycles of the Earth and Moon, and rites of passage were developed by these women from visions and dreams during their bleeding times in the Sacred Lodge. These traditions were passed down in the initiatory rites of the Blood Lodge from mother to daughter.”
Songs of Bleeding by Spider
The price we pay for this lost custom
In the last 50 years or so, much of this knowledge has been lost. With the professionalisation of health care, we have become increasingly out of touch with our bodies and how they work. For many women this has created a layer of mystery around one of the most natural of human functions: our monthly cycle and conception.
Society teaches us that the preferred way to be is ‘busy’ and we must be ‘doing’ something to be accepted. If our schedules aren’t full then we must be lacking in some way or missing out on something. Expectations are put on us; be it from ourselves or from others, to be all the things, to all the people, all the time. When we live like this day in and day out, it has implications on our overall health and wellbeing which inevitably affects our communities.
Whether we choose to believe it or not, our bodies are different from mens in that we have an extra rhythm to attend to. We have been gifted the ability to create and sustain life, given to us through our menstrual cycle. Our energy levels are changing every single day but women are not taught this or how to read our bodies. We aren’t taught how to truly innerstand ourselves, nor are we given tools based on our cyclical nature to look after our health and wellbeing. We are cyclical beings living in a non cyclical world.
Some uncomfortable truths
There’s currently an epidemic of chronic illness, mental health and reproductive issues among women. We’re living in a time where our standard of living has never been so high, yet women are becoming unhealthier and unhappier. I believe there are several contributing factors to this.
Ignoring the cycle
Many women either feel indifferent to or they dislike their menstrual cycle. This essentially sends a message to their body telling it that they don’t want to have a cycle. Suppressing something that is intrinsically part of you is likely to show up by way of PMS as well as mental health issues. Another way we suppress our cycle is through taking hormonal contraceptives (The Pill, injections, implants, vaginal ring and the patch). There are numerous short and long term effects that are negatively impacting women. To learn more about this, please do read my article “Is the Pill good for our overall health and wellbeing?”
It saddens me to say this but most women have been through a traumatic experience such as sexual harassemnt, sexual abuse or rape at some point in their life. Carrying an unresolved sexual trauma is essentially a form of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Bessel van der Kolk M.D is the author of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. He says “Posttraumatic has a physiological basis.” Meaning that the traumatic event may manifest itself physically. In the case of sexual trauma, it’s likely that the womb space continues to relive that experience.
Mike Lousada works in the field of somatic sexology and his mission is the sexual healing of women. Somatic sexology is the meeting of somatics (focusing awareness through the body), with sexology (the scientific study of human sexuality). In ‘Vagina, A New Biography’ by Naomi Wolf, Lousada states “The vagina is designed partly for pleasure. Then our life experiences come along. It is as if the tissues of the vagina receive emotion that is poured into them. With more experiences, the emotion becomes compacted, especially if you have had pain. Pain eventually turns into vaginal numbness; which is actually desensitization, which is very common.” If sexual trauma can cause desensitization of the vagina, I wonder to what extent sexual trauma could cause, or partly cause reproductive health issues such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) or endometriosis.
Ignoring our cycle which is intrinsically part of us, and not dealing with sexual trauma could have unforeseen effects on our reproductive health. The more women I work with, the more I observe that these are two contributing factors to why many feel like they don’t know themselves and/or develop menstrual and mental health issues over time.
Fear of the feminine
Patriarchy is loaded and triggers many people. But I feel it’s an important topic to bring up so we can move away from being triggered and start to innerstand one another more. People tend to think if one uses this word, they dislike or not honour the masculine or men. While I acknowledge that this may be the case for some, this is not the case for me. However, I do feel we have to be honest about the current system we live in. While there are many good things about our modern day living, there are many negative things too.
My innerstanding of patriarchy is that since time immemorial, it has fears the feminine which is powerful and vulnerable. It seeks to dominate and suppress what it cannot control, which we see in almost all cultures across the world. Patriarchy is just as bad for men as it is for women. Suppressing the feminine and women does a disservice to everyone as it conveys the message the feminine is wrong. The feminine is not wrong just like the masuline is not wrong. Both energies reside within all humans and we need both to be in balance in order for true unity, within and with others to happen.
To fear the feminine is to deny half of all of us that exist in this world, irrespective of sex. Suppressing a part of ourselves creates disharmony within us and outside of us. It’s my observation the world is in complete disharmony. Never has there been a time where we could have an abundance of everything, yet most are barely surviving whether it be emotionally, mentally, physically or financially.
What if we started to have honest conversations with our loved ones about the truth of how society has made all humans feel? Yes, it’s icky, it’s challenging and it’s triggering for everyone, but what other option is there? Do you want to continue living in a society in which the feminine and women are seen as lesser than? I know I certainly don’t. Nor do I want to live in a world where any person is seen lesser than. I envision a world where everyone is celebrated for their differences and are allowed to be themselves in their entirety as this is when we will know peace.
Our blood is medicine
To many, this will be a completely new and alien concept. One that feels so far out of reach because of how society has made us feel about our menstrual cycle. But this medicine is available to all women.
During cuddling, orgasming and breastfeeding, oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’ is released. The reason for this release is to help us bond with and fall in love with our partner and our child.
Oxytocin is released when our womb contracts, which happens when we give birth. Therefore helping us to bond with and fall in love with our child. Our womb also contracts when we bleed, which means oxytocin is being released each cycle. Yes. When we bleed, our body is helping us to bond and fall in love with ourselves.
Our menstrual cycle has been seen as a curse and our blood as dirty. To me, this narrative just doesn’t make sense because part of our design is to fall in love with ourselves. Having experienced this rush of self love each time I bleed, it’s the time I feel deeply connected to Source. I have my own inbuilt ceremony in which I connect with the Divine each month and it’s more healing than I can put into words. Just as the indigenous peoples knew, menstruation is our link between humanity and spirituality.
Our blood is medicine.
Todays Red Tent
Our modern concept of the Red Tent was introduced by Anita Diamant in her 1997 publication The Red Tent. The novel follows a group of female central figures in the Bible whose stories had been forgotten. She rewrites the narrative that women were ‘sent’ away to red tents during menstruation and replaces it with another. She envisions that these red tents were a place to rest, initiate girls into womanhood and to share deep wisdom.
Anita’s story touched many women’s hearts which resulted in many gathering across the world to create their own red tents. This is how the Red Tent Movement was born.
Modern red tents are used as a communal place for women to gather. They are seen as a place to learn more about our cyclical nature and how to care for ourselves. These spaces create a supportive community of women to lean on and learn from. They create a much needed retreat space for women to rest and heal. Red tents allow for women wisdom to be shared and rites of passages to be celebrated.
For a lot of women, taking time to themselves seems unachievable due to family and work commitments. For many, especially mothers, there is a sense of guilt when wanting to, or actually taking time to herself. However, if we don’t stop, it will eventually take its toll on us. Whether it shows up as PMS, mental health issues or severe reproductive issues. The healing happens when we stop. This is why I encourage you to join the Red Tent Movement.
Creating a red tent
Red tents can be as intimate or as elaborate as you want. Although, I would suggest following some guidelines to help you and the people invited to get the best out of the experience.
Bringing friends on board is ideal as there will be more ideas and more hands to help throughout the entire process.
Who is it for and why? What do you want/not want? What are you wanting to create? Community? Retreat? While everything could happen in a red tent, it’s best to have a specific idea as it makes it easier to envision and plan for.
Where and when it will be held and how long for? Who will you invite and how? Will they need to bring anything or will you provide everything? What activities will you facilitate?
I’d suggest with all red tent gatherings, an opening and closing circle should take place to acknowledge each other before and after the event. Have an activity planned but also allow room for anything organic to unfold. Planning a red tent gathering requires you to maximise your feminine and masculine energies of flow and action!
How will you decorate your red tent? Will it be minimal or full to the brim with drapes and accessories? Where will you source these from? Could you source an actual tent? You could hire a tipi or a yurt! Also give some thought about the set up/pack down on the day. You can also facilitate red tent gathering virtually if you have a global tribe. The point of red tents is to create connection and community which can be achieved in different ways.
Visit the Red Tent Directory to find and join an already established red tent in your area.
Menstrual Cycle = Magic
From a young age, we’re taught that periods = pain. This very subtly perpetuates the narrative that there is ‘something wrong with us’. We grow up thinking, consciously or subconsciously that our bodies are broken and will fail us in time. All of this is simply untrue and toxic to our psyche. This narrative is calling to be changed and that change starts within.
We first have to learn what our bodies are doing and innerstand ourselves better than others. We need to learn how to read what our bodies are telling us as this will help us figure out what the problem is. When we combine educating ourselves with rest and radical self care, we begin to transform our relationship with our cycle.
Red tents serve as a place for this to happen. I’m calling for more women to join the Red Tent Movement. In these spaces, we can learn the magic of our menstrual cycle. Read my article “Menstrual Cycle = Magic” to learn more.
My contribution to the Red Tent Movement is through my 12-week group Homecoming Course. This is a 12-week online menstrual cycle awareness course. Once the foundations of MCA has been laid, you will also adopt a new lexicon for your cycle. My aim is that you will start to (re)build trust with your cycle and over time, you will learn more about yourself. As a result, you should be able to navigate your life with more confidence, grace, and precision. In time, I hope this will open the door for you to connect to God(dess) and to realise the unlimited potential that lay within you.