Since time immemorial, in cultures that span the globe, women have gathered in menstrual huts during their bleeding time. Here in North America these places are often referred to as moon lodges. Though on the surface it may appear as though this ritual was forcing women into isolation, quite the opposite is true. The menstrual huts were/are sacred spaces specially designed for menstruating women to come together for self-care. In traditional societies, in a time before night-time light pollution, women often bled in sync with the new moon, when the night is the darkest. This was no coincidence, as that part of the lunar cycle is a time of rebirth and new beginnings, just like menstruation. Bleeding, in-of-itself, is a time of great spiritual power, and women understood the great significance of this part of their cycle. This time was respected, protected, and revered. Women retreated from the outside world, so that they could go deep within themselves, and connect to the spirit that moves through all things.
The moon lodge served many roles in women’s lives. It allowed a menstruating woman to take a break from her daily duties, and relax in the company of friends and family. The bleeding woman was fed and cared for, so that she could immerse herself completely in prayer, ritual, and story telling. I am sure many of us today can relate to this desire to be cared for and to retreat from the world during that time of our cycle! Moon lodge allowed women of all ages to share sacred space with each other, and provided a safe space for elders to pass on their knowledge to the younger generations. Newly menstruating girls could also learn about their wombs, about how to care for their menstrual health. Girls were taught to take pride in their blood and in their female cyclical nature.
Today, the desire for woman-only sacred space has re-awakened across our beautiful planet. The energy is shifting, women are coming back into their power, and are breaking free from the shackles of patriarchy. Women are beginning to understand that true feminism and equality is about a lot more than just laws and employment – it is also about women being free to express themselves and celebrate their womanhood without fear, shame, judgment or repression.
In communities throughout the world, women are recreating the menstrual huts and moon lodges, and they are often called red tents. These sacred women’s circles generally meet every month – some meet on the new moon, some meet on the full moon, and yet others have a permanent, dedicated location where women can gather more regularly. Moon lodges are safe havens where women of all ages, religions and backgrounds come together to share their journeys and support each other. Most circles are non-religious, but are deeply spiritual. In these modern menstrual huts, women are not required to be currently bleeding to enter. Participants may share songs, dance, stories, laughter, crafts, silence, tears and so much more.
The moon lodge and red tent movement is transforming women’s lives, empowering them to connect to the primal, wild part of their being. The deeply spiritual part of their feminine nature.
It is not a stretch to say that moon lodges absolutely revolutionized my own life.
But if you had told me a decade ago that I would one day facilitate women’s circles, I would have most likely laughed. The idea of sharing intimate space with a group of women for the specific purpose of opening up to each other and telling our stories would have been far too intimidating for me to ever consider attending such a gathering, let alone lead one!
Like so many women in Western culture, I grew up mostly disconnected from my female ancestors, and from the long line of strong women that came before me. I was not passed down all the incredible information I now know should have been gifted to me as young girl entering menarche. I began my cycles as a teenager with very little information about what to expect physically and emotionally. Instead of feeling pride and joy in my womanhood and in my sexuality, I felt ashamed of my blood and fearful of cyclical changes I did not understand.
These kinds of experiences create a deep cultural wound – an emptiness that, for many of us, translates to dreading menstruation, wanting to hide our blood, and using pharmaceuticals to stop our natural cycles. The most organic part of our female nature is perceived as weakness and gets pushed aside. Unfortunately, what happens is that this disconnect from our bodies and cycles inevitably leaves us feeling disconnected from other women.
When I look back, I realize I always held an invisible wall around me, built up to protect myself against an imaginary enemy… perhaps to protect myself from my own strength. I struggled with embodying my femininity and accepting my vulnerability. I felt fragmented.
Thankfully, in my 20s, I began to deconstruct these feelings and beliefs as I did more and more inner work, and spirituality began to take root in my life. I was uncovering my true self, and coming into my power. I realized I had a deep longing for sisterhood that had been mostly silenced my whole life. Pandora’s box was slowly opening up, but what really blew the door wide open for me was the first time I ever attended a moon lodge.
In 2009, I was going to spend a weekend at Susun Weed‘s Wise Woman Center to study herbalism with her. Susun was the closest embodiment of a witch that I had yet to come across. She is a wise and fierce woman, and an incredibly gifted teacher. She offers workshops and apprenticeships on her land throughout the year, and once a month, Susun also holds a moon lodge that is open to all women. It so happened that I would be visiting on the weekend of a moon lodge! I was rejoiced. From what little information I had gathered about these gatherings, I was thrilled to get to experience something so special. But also quite apprehensive. I was thirsty for the experience of women’s sacred rituals, but had absolutely no idea how things unfolded in moon lodge. My fear of the unknown was tangible.
On that faithful night, I stood outside in a circle with Susun and many other women I had never met. Susun herself can be quite intimidating in her strong, crone presence. I felt my heart rate go up, my palms were sweaty. I knew I was standing on the edge of something huge, something incredibly potent… but what was it?
Susun opened moon lodge with a song and dance that was passed down to her from Grandmother Twylah Nitsch, who was a Secena elder. It is a beautiful song about the moon in the Seneca language. That song resonated with me on a soul level, like I was remembering a song long forgotten. After singing, we sat down in a circle for the ritual of talking stick. This is a practice that also comes from Native American traditions, and was used in certain areas as a foundation for their form of governance. In moon lodge, a stick or other sacred object is passed around the circle, and each woman takes a turn holding the stick. The only rule of talking stick is that whoever holds the stick must speak, and everyone else must listen. That’s it. The woman holding the stick may talk about anything her heart desires – accomplishments, grief, questioning, fear, joy, life changes, etc… truly anything goes!
Talking stick began, and I immediately worried about what I would say when my turn came. What could I possibly share with these strangers? I felt my head spin… But thankfully, before I could go down that rabbit hole of fear, something incredible happened. My worry was replaced with a profound peace and happiness as I listened intently to each woman. I felt my heart completely open, feeling each woman’s energy and emotions. I was amazed how much I could relate to each and every one of their stories, even though on the surface I would have surely assumed I didn’t have much in common with any of them. I let my guard down, and felt open and receptive. The rest of the world soon faded away – I was in a trance.
When the stick was finally handed to me, I was completely imbued with the energy of all these women. Without conscious thought, I began to speak from a place deep within my heart. It is difficult to put into words the relief I felt from being able to be completely raw and vulnerable in that moment. No fear, no worries, just truth and freedom. I let the tears flow. I shared things that I had never spoken aloud until that moment. Worries, dreams, my deepest truths. Trusting these women to hold that sacred space for me to be completely open was profoundly healing and empowering.
After the stick went around the entire circle, the night continued with more songs and dance, until we eventually all parted ways. I felt so alive, so real, so present in my own body. Moon lodge had light a fire within me. I felt transformed, awakened. I had uncovered something so absolutely profound that I knew I had to share the experience of moon lodge with other women.
That same year, I began organizing women’s circles in collaboration with others. We had really wonderful gatherings, though it ebbed and flowed a lot, and sometimes things fizzled out for months at a time.
In February 2014, after a long hiatus, I got a message from the universe, loud and thunderous – I shouldn’t ignore my calling any longer, I had to commit 100% to holding sacred space in moon lodge for all women who felt called to it. I made a vow that I would bring women together on every single new moon, no matter what else may be going on in my life. If I didn’t do it, who would? This needed to be a priority – this was my calling. I knew how much my soul longed for moon lodge and knew that countless other women must be seeking this as well. And so, Thunder Springs Moon Lodge was born.
In the moon lodges I facilitate, I still follow the format I learned from Susun Weed, including teachings and rituals passed down from Twylah Nitsch. Talking stick is always a staple of our gatherings. I really treasure that ritual because of how transformative I know it can be for women to be heard and witnessed by their sisters. We live in a society that is increasingly fast paced and disconnected. How often do we share with others and feel that they are truly 100% present and listening to us with their whole being? Not nearly often enough. That connection is vital, and moon lodge is an amazing vessel for this shift to openness to take place within each of us, and within the female community at large. When women heal the connection to their sacred feminine nature, they heal the world around them.
One by one, women in our culture are embracing the sacredness of the feminine with rituals and rites of passage that celebrate bleeding, menarche, pregnancy, birthing, and menopause. Women are hungry for more, hungry for depth and meaning. Gatherings like moon lodges are changing lives – I see it first hand month after month. It is extraordinary. I am absolutely filled with gratitude that I have been called to do this work, and to serve women.
I believe we all have a deep burning desire to connect to the sacred sisterhood that is our birthright. It is time to come together. It is time to rekindle our feminine power and womb wisdom that has been silenced for far too long. Will you come join me in the moon lodge?..
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Strength in dark places
Just as the moon transforms from bright & luminous
to being dark and mysterious,
you too cast a shadow, deep and veiled.
Do not fear this darkness, my dear sisters,
for it is an intrinsic part of who you are, of your cycles.
Your shadows can hide great strengths,
do dive in, face the darkness, dive deeper..
From the time you were a young girl
you have hidden pieces of your soul, fragmenting your reality,
silencing yourself, reluctantly.
You saw the feminine is not valued in this culture,
so inward you go, swallowing those emotions,
biting your tongue, watching your step, sighing..
Traditionally, we received support for this difficult work.
Gurus, teachers, elders, seers, healers –
they could look right through us, perceive that which is hidden from us,
our deepest truths, our deepest mysteries.
We were never meant to do this difficult work alone.
The tide has been shifting, oh dear sisters,
as we realign ourselves to the rhythms of our grandmother the moon.
We are slowly remembering our power.
Our light has become brighter, bursting through the cracks..
it can no longer be contained.
And that lingering doubt you sometimes feel?
This is your shadow, beckoning you, pulling you under,
for it is inseparable from your sacred light.
Release your need for control, dive in with me..
The time is now, women are gathering, praying, chanting.
Explore the dark recesses of your soul,
your deepest desires and fears, your unexplored fantasies and dreams
Release any shame or doubt – set yourself free!
For you were created perfectly from the light of a million stars.
Allow this new moon’s darkness to envelop you with love.
Know that as you clear and heal your shadow aspects,
you are also healing the collective feminine experience.
The time is now, my dearest sisters.
(This is the edited version of an article that first appeared in Holistic Parenting magazine, Issue No.9, May/June 2015)