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how can we help our young women on their transition through menarche?

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Menarche is perhaps one of the most significant and powerful stages in the life of a woman. The word ‘Menarche’ pronounced men’ar’key comes from the Greek words ‘Moon’ and ‘Beginning’. At menarche there is a psychic opening (the pineal gland undergoes much activity) and these changes often make the young woman feel permeable and easily imprinted, vulnerable, unsure. I can certainly vouch for that from my own experience of Menarche.

“At Menarche a girl is opened to her spiritual and creative powers but is ignorant of what is occurring” Alexandra Pope.

According to pretty much everything I have read on this topic so far, I have seen that Menarche was once a respected and celebrated event by many of the world’s cultures – rituals were held to mark the importance such as green-tea celebrations in China, Moon Lodges in Native America, body painting in Aboriginal Australia, feasts in India with gold jewellery given to the girl.

Unfortunately these rituals seem to have gone awry over time, and instead of joy and celebration many young women are faced with heavy negative cultural taboos about menstruation – ranging from preventing them to go anywhere near the livestock, touching food, even touching men or any of their possessions in case they brought bad luck!

In ‘modern’ Western society menstruating women are seen as less productive and emotional and as a disadvantage to the workforce in general due to their ‘unreliability’. Menstruation does not fit in with the general industrialised work ethic of the West – but does that real make a natural bodily process wrong?! Of course Not!

So this is what our young women are up against when it comes to the bigger picture and societal beliefs. Women, we’ve got a lot of work to do!

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The Importance of Menarche and of our role

“The importance of Menarche experience affects her experience of menstruation each month / how her life might play out. Approaching it as a powerful and sacred moment can ensure this is beneficial and empowering” Alexandra Pope.

This is big stuff. So we discussed it at our Red Tent Gathering – a place for important things to be spoken about.

It became clear to all of us that the pivotal role model needs to be the mother – as a mother we need to first address these issues in ourselves, and then let this positive attitude shine and radiate from us to our families. If this happens right from the start when the children are young, they will grow up with the understanding that these processes are normal and natural healthy and positive. Things you can do like openly changing sanitary towels in front of your children if they happen come into the bathroom at that time, washing out your cloth pads so they can see the blood (and not be afraid of it or squeamish), talking about your needs in terms of your menstrual cycle (when the child is old enough to understand that childhood is linear and womanhood is cyclic), maybe describing the cycle itself using nature as an example – like the moon and the earth and even the cycles of time itself!

What did become really apparent in our discussion, is that this is one of the ONLY things left that we as mothers aunties or friends can TEACH our daughters and our sons about! With the internet taking such a huge role in our lives, and school education rarely speaking of anything other than the biological processes and promoting large disposable sanitary companies … It is essential that we tell our story, share our own personal experiences and be open with our children. This way, these concepts are not alien to the young woman, and there is less to learn all in one go. Miranda Gray put it wonderfully, describing the need to “awaken the idea and experience of womanhood in her” so that the whole experience becomes as empowering as possible.

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Before Menarche…..

I don’t know about you, but my menarche came and went and overall felt pretty ‘icky’. It was plain embarrassing and I was not happy about changing into a woman at all. Being the younger daughter and the tomboy joker of the family the whole idea of even just wearing a bra alienated me (I am still so thankful for my sister helping me so much with everything)!

So how do we help our young women with these natural feelings of embarrassment, of not wanting to change? Again it comes back to us as women, our reaction to our bodies and to her special moment, and the upbringing she has had since she was small. It’s not about overwhelming her but gently showing her that she is changing and we are changing in our attitude to her as a response – that we are letting her child-self go. I think the main thing here is for a long term approach, long term support – so that the young woman is allowed time to learn about what being a woman means. If you are a keen menstrual cycle charter like me you know that even no two cycles are exactly the same (although the general pattern is the same). These concepts are complex, and in order to pass them on much sustained support and gentle guidance is needed.

Before she reaches menarche talk to your daughter explaining menstruation both in physical and emotional terms so that the girl has some idea of the gifts of womanhood and cycles of moon/nature/woman. Depending on the emotional capacity of the young woman it may be a good idea to use characters or story for this, for example the story of Demeter and Persephone, where Persephone eats the fruits of the tree of life (representing menstruation) down in the Underworld and must therefore live half of the year with the Lord of the Underworld, and half of the year in the light with her mother Demeter. The mother/child bond is broken because they cannot be together all the time, and menstruation is the point where the cyclical nature of womanhood begins.

There is also a wonderful children’s book called ‘Cycling to Grandma’s House’ by Jac Torres-Gomez which I would really recommend, as it really presents menarche in such a special mysterious magical and almost exciting way. The ladies of the Red Tent loved the story too (and all commented that they wished the world was more like that kind of naive world portrayed in the story)! I think this book could be given to the girl to read as a preparatory ‘tool’ (maybe when she is showing signs of approaching menarche (i.e. when emotional changes are occurring, breast buds are growing etc).

Also in this preparatory time it may be worth sitting down with your daughter and asking her some of these questions (borrowed from Miranda Grey’s book Red Moon) about what she would like on the special day: Would she prefer it if it was just you and her? Outside in one of her favourite places or in her bedroom? Would she like any special objects with her, like her roller-boots or favourite bracelet(?!), would she be happier in her normal clothes or dressing up in a costume? Is there something physical she would like when the time comes like a haircut or having her ears pierced?

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So how can we celebrate this in a socially appropriate manner?

If you are both happy to mark the occasion in some way, have a think about what you want her to feel and try to make those feelings arise in her – it may be taking her out to dinner, writing her a letter or card, giving her a ‘Red Box’ (Home-made of course!) with some of the following inside: a ‘moon’ journal for writing her feelings down, a simple menstrual cycle chart, some new bath towels (maybe red ones?), a piece of jewellery, cloth pads. It could be giving her flowers, a cake… Whatever will make her feel special and honour this rite of passage. The main thing is to communicate and discuss with your daughter by asking her questions about what she wants (such as those above). The women at the Red Tent loved the idea of having a special piece of jewellery ready to give the girl and showing it to her before she reaches her Menarche. This could be a perfect opportunity to explain what will happen when she reaches this special rite of passage.

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On the Day…

This of course very much depends on the girl, but my friend Marisa from Canada gave me these suggestions which I LOVED –

  • Girls and women could have a red party with not only red cake but red foods (e.g. strawberries or maybe even a bit of chocolate to represent the Goddess)
  • The girl or girls taking part could get hand massages with beautiful essential oils, or have a flower wreath made and put in her hair.
  • She can sit in the middle of the circle and older women in her life can give her advice, each woman coming to the party can bring a bead and then when they are all together they can string the beads together into a bracelet that represents all the strength and support of all the women in her life.

A lovely idea from a book called Moon Time by Lucy H Pearce was for you (as the mother) to sit down with her on her special day and quietly reflect on and share your memories of your first period. Even, and gently, discussing your own fears as a way of reassuring her. Also, your memories of being a teenager, your pregnancy and birth, your hopes and wishes for her in her life, acknowledge her growing beauty power and spirit, acknowledge the letting go of her as your little girl and embracing her as a young woman forging her own life.

A question that came up during the Red Tent was ‘should we tell our daughters if our experience was bad in case we frighten them?’ The answer that came was that even if our Menarche experience wasn’t as positive as we would like, to find a positive in our own story.

Encourage her to diarise her dreams… “in Native American tradition it is said that the vision for the girl’s life comes in dreams around her first menstruation” Alexandra Pope

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After Menarche….

The discussion at the Red Tent emphasised the value of continued support and teaching our daughters about the powers of the pre-menstrual phase of our cycle. How many of us have made massive mistakes during this time of our cycle – said things we didn’t mean, did things we didn’t want to do, hurt other people… And what of the relationship between alcohol and the pre-menstruum!!? Why did no-one tell me that I could get overly sensitive? And about diet too – why it is better to try and eat leafy green vegetables during pre-menstruum rather than high sugar food like sweets or chocolate (even if I am craving them) and drink less caffeine even though I want that! And the equally powerful pull of the ovulatory phase… sexual desires and feelings linked purely to our menstrual cycles.. How could these be omitted from the general education system!!! Lets tell our girls!

And lets not forget about our boys – the fathers of the future! It is equally important that they are included in the experience of a women’s menstrual cycle from a young age too, so that one day they may recall a dim and distant memory of their mother’s attitude to the menstrual cycle and this will cultivate healthy relationships in their futures. As one of our Red Tent women said ‘their girlfriends will thank me in the end!’

Finally, it is worth remembering that all of us are different and unique and there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer to the process of helping our daughters on this transition. Some of the ideas listed above just might not fit in with the personality of you or your daughter, and that is fine. The main thing is that somehow a healthy attitude towards menstruation and becoming a woman is passed down to the next generation, who can then pass down positivity to their families to come. And that collectively we end this ridiculous taboo and restore a bit of balance to our societies!

Thank you’s…

A Big thank you to the Ladies of the Red Tent in Gwynedd, North Wales – what a wonderful and productive discussion! And thank you to Alexandra Pope for her inspiring words, Miranda Gray for her ideas in Red Moon, and Lucy H Pearce for her ideas in Moon Time.

For more about menarche and loads other feminine topics, head over to woman’s wheel by clicking here

 

 

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ancient handicrafts and the loss of domestic arts

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So many creative skills have been lost over the years. Picture your own Grandmother – even 30-50 years ago there was such a greater focus on mending, re-using, recycling materials in the home, and making gifts and trinkets for the house. Very little was thrown away back then, things were built to last, there was simply not so much waste.

I remember at the age of 8 making lavender bags with my Mum and Nan out of old cloth and dried lavender that we had harvested a few weeks before that just smelled wonderful.

If I really think about how many of my Nan’s skills I could have acquired but I didn’t – maybe I didn’t have the time, I wasn’t interested, I thought the skills were useless; sadly when I was at school the thought knitting was highly un-cool… Out of her wonderful depth of knowledge gained from her 97 years of life, my nan had many life skills such as knitting, darning, sewing, weaving, embroidery, how to re-use old fabrics and make clothes, gardening for flowers and vegetables, keeping chickens, DIY, cooking…. and probably so many more I never even knew about.

Nowadays we have this totally crazy culture ‘the throw-away society’ where we seem to be obsessed with consuming. Cheap, disposable, probably highly toxic mass-produced items are so commonplace. Acts such as consuming lifeless un-nourishing pre-packaged food, and trading in our car at only 3 years old have become normal as we lurch uncontrollably towards the latest accessory or fashion. Items have become status symbols; we seem no longer interested in home-made heirlooms due to their often low financial value.

Traditionally both the creation of handicrafts, and inheriting skills such as weaving, embroidery, calligraphy, pottery, quilting, papercraft, spinning, sewing, handicrafts were essential to that culture. Women would teach and practice their art with patience and dedication, learning many lessons along the way. Many of the crafts would be sacred and grew in value, so were placed under the care of a custodian. Often they would be passed down through the generations of the clan, becoming family heirlooms. Story-telling sessions in the community would keep the memory of the maker and their clan very much alive; so in this way the worth of the handicraft was very much in the spiritual and energetic connection with the maker. It is no wonder we feel no connection with the world if there is no story behind our factory-produced ornaments.

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It has been found that the repetitive nature of such craft activities does actually calm and still the rational mind (in the same way that we use mantras during meditation). This would have also allowed the women access to light trance states and assist in connecting to their intuition; to receive visions and insights. Due to the cyclical nature of our seasons, these handicrafts would make up an essential part of the Winter months; a time known for inner work, reflection and solitude.

Bringing back the lost tradition of craft is essential if we are to escape from the material consumer-driven world that we are inevitably part of in the West.

My friend Shira in Canada has regular ‘crafter-noons’ with her female friends where they make things from driftwood, make cards, get together and have a chat. We were laughing about it the other day, coming up with other names like ‘crafter-nevenings’ or ‘crafter-lunches’.

Hope to see you on woman’s wheel soon! Click here 🙂

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beautiful red tent quotes

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“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.

“The world is changing, rapidly & women in particular are actively seeking ways to empower themselves & change their lives for the better. A tradition which has been missing for modern women & was once considered intrinsic to a woman’s experience is the omission of the Red Tent, a moon lodge gathering undertaken by women of all indigenous cultures to mark their monthly lunar cycle which was honoured accordingly as a time of rest, reflection & renewal.” ~ Tanishka.

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“In response to an intuitive calling from the Earth Mother to seed Red Tent New Moon Circles in every suburb, town, state and country to reawaken the gifts and wisdom of the feminine to balance the planet.” ~ Operation Red Tent.

“What would the world be like if young women were mentored by older women? What would the world be like if we knew that we could have a place for our stories to be told?” ~ Red Tent Movie Trailer.

“In the ruddy shade of the red tent, the menstrual tent, they ran their fingers through my curls, repeating the escapades of their youths, the sagas of their childbirths.  Their stories were like offerings of hope and strength poured out before the Queen of Heaven, only these gifts were not for any god or goddess – but for me.”  ~ The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

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“I want to build a moon lodge, where old womyn braid my hair, brushing slowly, gently, the tangles of my life free, where there are no walls, only painted cloth, flowing, circling, blanketing me from the world.” ~ Jessica Todd.

“In the red tent, the truth is known. In the red tent, where days pass like a gentle stream, as the gift of Innana courses through us, cleansing the body of last month’s death, preparing the body to receive the new month’s life, women give thanks — for repose and restoration, for the knowledge that life comes from between our legs, and that life costs blood.” ~ Anita Diamant, The Red Tent.

“In the native American tradition if you wanted to destroy a village you simply destroyed the Moon Lodge – the place where the woman gathered every new moon to intuit insight to govern the tribe. So it stands to reason that the fastest way to rebuild our global village is to re-instate the tradition of the Moon Lodge or Red Tent.” ~ Tanishka

For beautiful quotes from the women of my local tent, about how much the red tent means to them, or for top tips to set up your own, click here.

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the red tent ~ a place to celebrate our womanhood

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I have just finished my 9 month apprenticeship training with Alexandra Pope called ‘The Way of the Menstrual Cycle;’ a wonderful experience for me – not only a fascinating topic, but also it was the first time in my life I had experienced sitting in a circle, surrounded by a loving wise experienced and supportive group of just women, all sharing their truth. It was so refreshing and honest, frank, deep, funny, and grounding. I learnt so much.

Several of the women I met already hold Red Tent groups around Britain, and the conversation sparked something within me. I had read Anita Diamant’s book ‘The Red Tent’ a couple of years ago, and had dreamed of the possibility of this becoming a reality. And now I know I am not alone. There is now a world-wide Red Tent Movement, which aims to ‘‘seed Red Tent New Moon Circles in every suburb, town, state and country to reawaken the gifts and wisdom of the feminine.’ Even a film has been made about such gatherings of women, called ‘Red Tent Movie – Things we don’t talk about.’

I now feel SO inspired to do something to help my fellow sisters, that I am writing this with the intention to attract other women who share the same passion! I would love your comments about the Red Tent movement, your experiences of circles of women, or if you live in North Wales and would like to come to my new circle…please feel welcome come along.

Visit woman’s wheel for more advice and red tent information by clicking here.

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Traditionally the Red Tent performed a number of functions, including: rite of passage instruction and ceremonies, teaching and sharing of healing methods, teaching and sharing of pampering and beauty treatments, meditation and healing for self and the greater community, sharing of recipes, child rearing tips and life experience, sharing of personal stories and parables for spiritual teaching, counselling and emotional support, lunar and seasonal sacred ceremonies, and teaching and sharing of crafts, to name but a few.

A modern day red tent usually involves a circle of like-minded women sharing with each other and allowing each woman to have some time to express herself. It might be enough for the rest of the circle just to listen to her, to witness her. Or it might be a discussion on spirituality, astrology, menstruation, health, some kind of support on her life journey, gentle motivation, setting an empowering intention, or simply a back-rub!  It is really to create some special time to express her own needs; a gift that women rarely bestow upon themselves with the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Women can also contribute something to the circle – whether that be a song, a poem, a piece of art, an inspiring quote, reciting a dream or story, an insight into their last menstrual cycle, or just to have a discussion about ecological cleaning products or household tips! Occasionally one of the women may want to lead an activity, such as craft or an alternative therapy. Anything goes, but generally the red tent gathering just flows along beautifully with no rigid set pattern.

The following information has been copied directly from a free download available by visiting Tanishka’s website.

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Why is the Red Tent held at New Moon?

‘New moon is the time of the month, 2 weeks after full moon when we tend to feel tired, inward & vulnerable. It’s when our insecurities & old wounds surface… our shadow self that we often try to hide from others. But if we don’t learn to accept & heal our shadow (like Peter Pan) we never grow up & so we end up with a society so afraid of aging we think it normal to carve ourselves up rather than be publicly seen as an elder.

It is for this reason women of all indigenous societies for thousands of years gathered together at his time to reflect upon their lives, offering emotional support & healing to one another rather than expect their partner to intuit & fulfill all their emotional needs. The new moon is also the time when most women experience their ‘moontime’ or ‘heavenly water’ as it was known in traditional Chinese medicine.

So this custom offered a time out to working women & mothers, enabling them to turn inwards & rest & replenish when their lunar tide was out each month & their life force at its lowest ebb. Another reason for this time honoured practice was that during one’s moontime (the most common time for women to menstruate) & generally at new moon, women are at their most psychically open. When they were considered to be, ‘closest to God’ as it’s the most inward time of the cycle, making it the ideal time to meditate on behalf of themselves, each other & for the greater good – channelling intuitive insights & guidance.’

The Cultural Cost of the Omission of The Red Tent

‘The Red Tent also helped to sustain healthy partnerships & marriages. Because just as our bodies are ruled by the moon, so too are our emotions. And just like the moon women are changeable & emotional beings. So when we experience the dark time of our emotional lunar cycle, it is best for the longevity of our relationships that we take sacred space from our partners & children so they don’t experience our destructive side when we are in the little death phase of our monthly mandala.

If we take this time to focus on our inner needs at this time we can return to our loved ones full of self love & nurturing so we have it to give to them the rest of the month without burning out. Without this cyclic acceptance of our need to give back to the self we end up with a Western epidemic of breast cancer in the ‘civilised world’ where women are culturally expected to nurture 24/7 without asking for anything in return. Just as we need to breathe in before breathing out, so too women need to take time & sustenance for themselves if we are to continue giving to others from a centred & full sense of self.

Similarly, by taking responsibility for our emotional well being through a monthly practice we lessen our need for emotional comfort through overeating, as the sacral energy center which resides in the abdomen is governed by the moon. When women don’t honour their emotional needs the result is gluttony, the vice of the sacral chakra.

So with the omission of Red Tents giving women a regular time to process their emotions we see eating disorders as common place, particularly amongst teenage girls. Other feminine health complaints such as menstrual disorders & depression are also often alleviated through this simple, cyclic practice.

For women raised in a Western (masculinized or yang) culture that had no understanding of ancient women’s traditions so dismissed them as old wives’ tales or feared them as the work of the devil, we can now see the physical cost of women who aren’t in touch with their feminine essence as infertility is now at an all time high in the West. New moon circles offer the most fundamental & practical way to attune women’s natural hormone cycles to the moon, regulating their endocrine system without the invasion of synthetic hormones.’

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“I want to build a moon lodge

where old womyn braid my hair

brushing slowly, gently

the tangles of my life free

where there are no walls

only painted cloth

flowing, circling

blanketing me from the world”

~ Jessica Todd

See how the red tent has grown! Visit woman’s wheel for more advice and red tent information by clicking here.

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