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Embracing the Feminine Mystery: The Red Tent in Ancient and Modern Times
Welcome to the Red Tent
The Red Tent in Biblical Times
In the biblical book of Genesis, the first book of the Judeo-Christian Bible, set in ancient times, the reader learns about Jacob destroying idols that belonged to the women of his tribe. He did not tolerate the presence of "pagan" customs in his family. His god, Yahweh, wanted them abolished. Yahweh was to be worshiped by everyone in his tribe.
The Red Tent: A Novel, a book by Anita Diamant, describes the same story from the point of view of the women in Abraham's tribe, women who often worshiped goddesses and used herbs for healing. The main character is Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob. She is mentioned as the victim of a rape in the Bible, but Anita writes her story in a way that asks her reader to think differently about the conditions around the murder of the "rapist," whose family did not worship Yahweh. According to Diamant, Dinah gave herself in marriage to a man that was considered a rapist because he did not ask her brothers' permission to marry him. They were not granted a chance to "give he away" in marriage. Though recognized by the prince's family, Dinah's marriage to her husband was not sanctioned by Jacob or her brothers.
Anita Diamant works her story of Dinah and the aftermath of her husband's ruthless murder around the ancient biblical history that provided the backdrop for the events that are described in the novel. In this manner, the boldness of the risks that Dinah took were illustrated in sharp contrast to what was expected of women in the time that she lived. Both were about love of life's mysteries.
A Wall of Herbs ~ Woman Medicine
The Red Tent
The Red Tent was a tent that the women in Jacob's tribe set up every month during the time that the women were in their monthly cycle of bleeding. When many women live in close proximity, their cycles often occur at the same time, thus many of the women participated in the traditions around the Red Tent at the same time of month. It was a time to celebrate fertility and the role that women's bodies played in creation and bringing forth new life.
In ancient times, the tribal women sat in beds of straw that absorbed the blood, and at the end of the week they burned the straw. They were considered by the men's society to be unclean during this time, so they kept to themselves and did not engage in their usual daily work, or other activities. They used the time to share stories of feminine power and love, and to share their traditions with the younger women of their tribe. It was a time of initiation into womanhood for those just beginning their maiden stage.
The Red Tent paperback edition
I read this book as a group discussion choice and loved it. Anita Diamant is very skillful at character development from a small kernel of information alluded to in the Bible. Dinah's story is tragically inspiring, and the book deserves to be read before seeing the movie.
Rituals and Stories
During the time spent in the Red Tent, young women were welcomed to join the older women of the tribe and were introduced to the Goddess Inanna, of which there was often a clay image present. They changed and sang, and were shown warm acceptance by the older women. They introduced themselves through their matrilineal (vs. patrilineal) descent and shared stories of their foremothers. Candles were lit, the tent was laid out with lush carpeting and pillows, and the atmosphere was supportive. Younger women learned skills from the older women, such as weaving and midwifery. They were also given grains of wisdom to live by. In the Red Tent, women's mysteries were honored and upheld.
Gods and Goddesses
The women listened to and encouraged each other. They considered their tradition a women's spiritual tradition and the traditions being forged around Yahweh a spiritual tradition for the men. They did not see them as in conflict with one another, just fashioned to serve the needs of each gender.
When Jacob intruded upon their space and destroyed their idols, allegedly because the wife of one of the brothers felt obliged to betray them by reporting their practices, they were shocked and distressed to hear that their traditions were considered evil. The women considered their worship complementary to the men's.
Dinah grew up listening to the stories that her mother Leah and her Aunt Rachel shared in the Red Tent. They spoke about how women were treated differently from how men were treated. Rachel taught Dinah the skills for becoming a midwife. She also taught her how to ease the pain of a mother in labor and abate a fever with herbs.
As Dinah grew older, she grew in skill as a midwife, and she was invited to assist Rachel in delivering a baby at an Egyptian palace. The queen was impressed with her skills and asked that Rachel leave Dinah behind to tend to the mother. The mother was also a midwife and later convinced Dinah to resume delivering babies after she was exiled from the palace in the aftermath of her brothers' brutally murdering her husband. The queen took her son and raised him as her own, so he did not know she was his mother until he was a grown man.
A New Life
According to Diamant's novel, Dinah began her life over from nothing after she was exiled from the palace. She rented a small shack and sold herbs to pay for the rent and for food. Later, she began delivering babies when women in her neighborhood experienced distress during labor. Her reputation grew again and she was accepted into her new community, even more than in her own family. Though her mother and aunt loved her, she did not return to her ancestral home to make peace with her brothers and father until Jacob was close to death. Her second husband supported her and accompanied her on that journey, and the movie implies that they enjoyed a long life together afterward.
The Red Tent movie trailer
Candles and Cupcakes to Celebrate the Lives of Women ~
The Modern Red Tent Movement
Anita Diamant's book inspired a movement for women, who have named their gatherings after the traditions portrayed in her book, The Red Tent. The modern version of the Red Tent is similar to the ancient tradition, where a red tent is set up, candles are lit, pillows are used for comfort, food is shared, and women are known by their matrilineal heritage. They are not scheduled to co-inside with a woman's monthly cycle, but they are there for all women to find comfort from distress or pain, and to find support from sisters of all ages in their journey toward wholeness and healing.
Modern Red Tent Practice
In modern practice, women from all backgrounds, ages, races, faith traditions, etc., are accepted into the tent. The Red Tent is a safe place for women to share their stories, exchange needs and gifts, and share food and hugs. The author of this hub has attended a bunch of Red Tent gatherings and the idea for writing this hub is inspired by those.
Women have always needed the support of other women, especially when men have been the source of pain in their lives. Women have had to fit into the world of men for the past two thousand or so years and have always needed the support of their mothers, aunts and grandmothers in navigating the world of men while honoring their womanly mysteries. Often, young girls are initiated into womanhood through a Red Tent in their honor once they have started menstruating. Their voices are as important to the company of women in a Red Tent circle as those who have reached their Crone years.
If you are inspired to seek out a Red Tent gathering, please visit the Red Tent Temple Movement site I have provided the link for and find a group of women close to you who are ready to accept you into their circle with open arms!
Why Attend a Red Tent Gathering?
Bathe in Beauty
Find Open Arms
Eat Delicious Food
Healthy food and drink
Support from sisters
Snacks in all shades of red
A Place that Gathers Women into the Red Tent
- Red Tent Temple Movement
Women are ready. Changes in our culture are necessary and the women are going to build infrastructure for our lives that includes support for our womanhood.
- The Durga Studio | The Red Tent Movement
The Durga Studio is a Yoga Studio in Harvard, MA. It is also a place that hosts Red Tent gatherings. You may also find information about Red Tent gatherings on Facebook.
© 2015 Karen Szklany Gault