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Ancient Women’s Tradition Finds New Life

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Red Tent

Photo By Terrah Baker
Maria Chowdhury, owner of Birth Song Midwifery sits inside her Red Tent where she holds twice-yearly community events for women.

In ancient cultures like that of Native Americans, Africans, Chinese and Christians, red was a symbolic color of the female strength, mystery and power. Because of this reverence towards womanly things, in many cultures, women were separated from men while menstruating and giving birth.

The Red Tent was one of the hideaways that women in ancient Christian culture retreated to during processes specific to their gender. In these tents it is said that women shared their own secrets, traditions and cared for each other during times of need.

Until recently, the Red Tent was largely unheard of, and along with it the camaraderie and sacredness that came with a special gathering place that brought women in a community closer together and to their ancestry. A book titled The Red Tent was published in 1997 that began to change all of that. Based on the life of Biblical character Dinah, sister to the famous Joseph and daughter of Jacob, the book creates a fictional life for a character that was only briefly mentioned in a violent account in the Book of Genesis. Most importantly, and unlike the Bible, the book examines traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood, and the world inside the Red Tent.

Local owner of Birth Song Midwifery Maria Chowdhury was one of the millions of men and women who read the book and were inspired by its look at the importance that was put on a strong connection between women. She is also among many new age women who are starting their own Red Tent ritual, in the hopes of making women realize they are not alone in their experiences.

“Often times women come in and aren’t used to sitting in a room of women and don’t really trust them,” Chowdhury said. “I feel like what women realize when they go into the Red Tent is that they’re connected with each other and women all over the world.”

Each Red Tent is different and based on the creators ideas, but most have a purpose of bringing women together to celebrate their womanhood, and that of their ancestors.

Chowdhury only holds her Red Tent events twice a year, close to the equinox, because of the immense effort and thought she must put into the ritual. In her tent, the ritual goes something like this:

Everyone enters the room where Chowdhury’s Red Tent, homemade with curtains and rods, is located and removes their shoes. They sit down on the cushions and pillows laid out on the floor, with candles lit, the ambiance of serenity set, a singing bowl rings. Then Chowdhury introduces the Red Tent, explains the topic for that session and leads everyone in a short meditation to let them think about what story they’d like to tell. As the singing bowl is passed around, women introduce themselves by their matriarchal lineage and then begin to open up and share their stories, experiences, ideas, some with tears and others with a smile.

“Some people have a lot to say and some people don’t say anything at all,” she explained. “It’s not a time of recognition or advice, it’s just sharing a story. There might be some words of comfort, might be some tears or joy.”

When the bowl has gone full circle, Chowdhury leads the women through a closing and then they leave the Red Tent to eat “delicious foods and make moon cycle tea.” Most people in the tent are wearing red clothes or accessories, and all of the women seem to leave with a new sense of closure, she said.

“At first, people don’t know each other, but then after, they become friends on FB or are out having tea because they really resonated with each other’s stories. Then it becomes a healing experience, or they find someone who helps them on their journey through womanhood. They might also realize and hear and discover that they can really start to value themselves in a different way and they can start to think and question cultural beliefs about who women are and what a menstruation should be, what births should be like, what’s a good mom and a bad mom … so it kind of broadens their perspective,” Chowdhury said.

Globally, women who are starting their own Red Tents hope that the rituals help women realize that only through sisterhood, not competition, can they find comfort in others who share their life experiences. The Red Tent Temple Movement is a global project, working to raise red tents in villages and cities across the world.

“Raise Up a Red Tent Temple. Raise Up a Woman. Together we are building with our collaborative support a woman-honoring culture for our daughters, grandmothers, mothers, sisters, selves in every village, city and town,” said movement supporter Alisa Starkweather.

As for Chowdhury’s tent, all women are welcome, as well as honored and respected, she said. To learn more about her free community Red Tent event on March 23, visit her website at www.birthsongmidwifery.org or her FB at Birth Song Midwifery & Botanicals.

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