Red Tents and Their Link to Spirituality

8 min read (1898 words)

Red tent

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. It’s believed they were used as 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 were “responsible for hunting, warfare, and interacting with outsiders. Women managed the internal operations of the community. They usually owned the family’s housing and household goods, engaged in agricultural food production, and reared the children.” They learned how to cultivate plants and domesticate animals and women learned the best ways to preserve food and how to build houses.

In many Native communities, it was women were responsible for defining the political, social, economical and spiritual path of the group. As women are the ones who give birth, they were the ones responsible for the development of civilisation. These communities experienced that menstruation, pregnancy and giving birth were a link between humanity and spirituality.

A rite of passage

Moon lodges, bleeding lodges served as a place for girls and women to deepen her Spirit-Mind-Body connection. They would be given the opportunity to rest, reflect and connect to her Self.

Menarche – a girls first bleed was seen as a Rite of Passage into Womanhood and was a time of celebration. Young girls were honoured as they were initiated into the next step of menstruality. They began to learn every facet of being a woman. Women were taught about fertility and the ever changing nature of their being. They learnt about channeling, the art of understanding their inner senses and learning how to listen to and trust thier 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. They were taught how to work with their cyclical and dynamic nature; giving them full agency over themselves.

As women learnt about each cycle phase, they were able to be authentic and themselves. This inspired and empowered other women in their community to follow suit. 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 and 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 women would share 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, to come together to share stories, experiences and wisdom which inspire one another to learn and grow.

In these spaces women learnt how to wield their natural powers gifted to them through their menstrual cycle and used it as a personal guide as well as using it to help their community. Through this custom, by the time a woman reached menopause, she had fully and deeply understood herself. This allowed her to step into the next initiatory stage of menstruality where 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 understand 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.

Spider says…

“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 privatisation 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.

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 change every single day but women are not taught how to read our bodies to make the best out of this dynamic flow. We aren’t taught how to truly understand 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.

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 and 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, showing up as PMS, mental health issues or severe reproductive issues. A trusted teacher of mine says ‘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?
  • 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.

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! You can also facilitate red tent gathering virtually if you have a global community. 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, toxic to our psyche and a narrative which is calling to be changed.

We first have to learn what our bodies are doing and understand 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. This is when we will be able to learn the magic of our menstrual cycle. Read my article “Menstrual Cycle = Magic” to read about my personal journey of cycle awareness.

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