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"Syracuse 'Red Tent' celebrates feminine, honors popular book at Nov. 7 event"

by Amber Smith/The Post-Standard Amber Smith/The Post-Standard

Published: Monday, November 01, 2010, 8:43 AM
 

 

"The Red Tent" resonated with women, becoming a popular book club choice after it was published in 1997 and sparking a national movement.

 

Cherie Ackerson and Tracey Baum-Wicks are part of that movement. They're opening their Red Tent of Syracuse to the public Sunday for a day of Sinking into Stillness. They plan monthly gatherings to coincide with the cycle of the new moon, to honor women and the cycles of their lives and bodies.

 

"We might sit in silence, sing, write in a journal, drum, or simply lay a head in a sisters lap," says their invitation. "In the sacred space of the red tent we have a chance to get still, to breathe, to sink into our own truths and into nourishing connection with our sisters."

 

The red tent is a room on the second floor of Sanctuary Spa, a house at 3200 W. Genesee St. Red quilts cover the ceiling, and red sheets and tapestries drape the walls. Daybeds covered with red pillows circle the room, giving it the feel of a tent. A basket of drums sits in the middle. A statue of Kwan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion, occupies one corner.

 

 

Its sacred and its spiritual without being religious, says Baum-Wicks, 50, who lives in the house.

 

Ackerson, 54, of Pompey, says the whole idea of the red tent is for women to focus on being rather than doing. Reading "The Red Tent" book is optional, and not a prerequisite.

 

"Sometimes we meditate. Sometimes we sing, and drum. Sometimes we sit and tell stories about our lives," she says. At a recent gathering, we helped a woman who was grieving the death of her mom.

 

"We laugh a lot and cry a lot and talk a lot.

 

"Sometimes women just need to come and feel cared for and nurtured, and then were there for each other."

 

"They are organic," Baum-Wicks adds. "They grow out of the women who are present."

 

Ackerson attended red tents at womens festivals and spiritual gatherings elsewhere before staging one in Central New York about four years ago. She and Baum-Wicks have been hosting regular red tents during the past two years, first monthly and then quarterly. Now they are going back to a format that follows the cycles of the moon, with meetings on Friday evenings close to the new, or dark, moon.

 

In older times, before light pollution, the moon had a stronger pull on our bodies, and menstruation was synchronized with the cycles of the moon, says Ackerson.

 

"I love a full moon, but its important to honor the new moon," she says. "It's great to honor the emptiness. Its filled with possibility."

 

The red tent welcomes women in all cycles of life, from maidens who have just begun to menstruate to mothers and those who have gone through menopause. Its a place of education about menstruation, to help women recognize their cycles as beautiful and sacred.

 

Some women arrive saying they hate their periods.

 

Ackerson does not argue. Instead, she says, 'that must be really hard, every 28 days or so, to be experiencing something that happens that you hate.'

 

"We listen to each other," she says, "and often discover some internalized misogyny or sexism that causes shame about menstruation."

 

She says modern medicine does not help matters by offering treatments designed to reduce or eliminate periods. Menstruation, she says, is not the problem. Monthly bleeding is only a problem if a woman is going away on a business trip, or expected to be on her feet all day.

 

Ackerson has a solution: "Think about if a woman could say, 'I'll see you in three or four days. I'm off to the red tent.' "

IF YOU GO

What: Sinking into Stillness, a retreat in which the first 15 minutes of every hour will be spent in silence.

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 7.

Where: The Red Tent of Syracuse, in Sanctuary Spa, 3200 W. Genesee St.

Fee: Donations are requested.

Details: sanctuaryspasyr.com

 

What is The Red Tent? In the historical fiction novel "The Red Tent," author Anita Diamant retells the story of Dinah, who is raped in the Bibles book of Genesis. Diamant changes the rape to a love affair and retells the story from the point of view of Dinah and the women around her.

 

In the book, the red tent is a place where women gather during menstruation and childbirth, and Dinah is a midwife. Diamant says I did not find any evidence that women in this period of history in this place (ancient Iraq/Israel) used a menstrual tent. However, menstrual tents and huts are a common feature in pre-modern cultures around the world, from Native-Americans to Africans. The rendering of what happened inside the tent is entirely my own creation.

 

The Red Tent ($15, Picador) has been published in 25 countries and translated into 20 languages.