I arrive in cold drizzle having rushed from my duties. The door is opened by a smiling stranger who welcomes me like a treasured friend. I step through the portal from grey to warm technicolour. The room is assuaged with soft, vibrant, red hued fabrics. A ring of cushions and blankets blurs the hard edges.
A gentle heartbeat of women’s chatter and laughter soothes my ears as a mother’s heart beat might reassure a baby in the womb. The kettle has boiled. I plump for a Womankind teabag. It seems appropriate.
I join the circle. I am home.
Only now do I look at the faces of the women who will share this evening with me. Some I have circled with before, some I recognise from other contexts, some are new to me. We range in age, in interest and in background but everyone shares the look of a person who has just released a huge sigh.
The notion of a space where women would come together to menstruate and birth was first introduced to me at university when I read ‘The Golden Bough’ by James Frazer. There he documented many cultures which banished women, particularly at first blood and often in horrific circumstances, to cages or small darkened rooms, suspended between heaven and earth, in an attempt to insulate the mysterious, powerful and spiritual force that charges them at this time. Later, reading ‘The Red Tent’, I was offered a more appealing version: a haven where women were freed from the taboos that surround their bodies, where they could celebrate and explore their cyclical nature. Anita Diamant’s vivid creation clearly invoked a need for such a space and Red Tents began to surface all over the world, like poppies on a battlefield.
The opening of the circle happens organically. There is no set agenda and ideas are shared and ultimately amalgamated. We settle on introducing ourselves and naming our female heritage as far back as we can remember; I’m ashamed that I can’t remember my Grandma Ackerman’s first name and make a mental note to check. We welcome each member in turn, along with her female energy- her shakti. I feel cherished in this space. This time we have all set aside to spend in the company and manner of women is sacred.
Here, women are free from duty, from expectations, from goals and deadlines, from imposed structure (one woman spends time reclining on the cushions, clearly soaking up the restorative power of the female collective). Whether your contribution is traumatic, trivial or triumphant, every voice is heard, every silence respected. Whether the earth is moving for you or crumbling beneath you, you are held.
There are few rules but one of the most challenging and powerful is that we do not try to fix each other's problems. We do not step into the sacred space of another woman’s words with our own. If we feel a resonance with her words, we say ’Ahhh mama’ This simple protocol frees each woman to say whatever she needs without judgement or the guilt of burdening the listener, who is free to hold space without the need to rescue. It is a powerful tool for healing as well as a catalyst for finding your voice.
There is singing. I have to confess: this was a challenge for me in my first couple of circles. I shaped the words silently, afraid of the strangled noises that might escape but now, having learned that each song contains only a few words and a narrow range of attainable notes, I throw myself in with the full gusto of a shower performance, finding in my voice, cushioned by my sisters, a soothing and solid companion. I float peacefully on a gentle tide of voices, allowing them, along with their sentiment to rock me.
Later, with peaceful hearts, we share food, more tea and company. This time has been a balm for our busy lives, an opportunity to recalibrate with our female energy.
I step back from technicolour into the darkness. I feel both grounded and lifted and I trail vibrancy in my wake.
For Norwich Red Tent, check out this link: http://www.sacredsisterhood.co.uk/
or to find your local red tent: https://redtentdirectory.com/