“Human connections are deeply nurtured in the field of shared story.” –Jean Houston
“The universe of made of stories, not of atoms.” –Muriel Rukeyser
This month I went searching for a quote for one of my Red Tent Initiation students. She had shared some powerful reflections about the vulnerability required to reveal our personal stories—there can be a lot of risk, sometimes shame, and more, bound up in our ability to uncover ourselves and speak our truth. What I wanted to communicate with her was the idea that in sharing our stories, including the painful pieces, we free other women to do the same. Our courage to be vulnerable, to be naked, to be flawed, to experiment with ideas, concepts, or ways of being gives permission for other people to do the same.
In 2012, I went to a dancing workshop at Gaea Goddess Gathering. The facilitator mentioned that when facilitating ritual, you have to be willing to look a little ridiculous yourself, have to be willing to risk going a little “over the top” yourself, because in so doing you liberate the other participants—“if she can take that risk and look a little goofy doing so, maybe it is okay for me to do it too.”
After a lot of digging around, I found the quote! I should have known it was from one of my favorite authors and sister FAR blogger, Carol Christ, who said:
“When one woman puts her experiences into words, another woman who has kept silent, afraid of what others will think, can find validation. And when the second woman says aloud, ‘yes, that was my experience too,’ the first woman loses some of her fear.”
This is part of what makes Red Tent Circles so powerful. When women are willing to dig into the questions, activities, and processes, to turn them over, to explore how they work in their own lives…they lose some of the fear and they encourage others to lose their fear too.
A few years ago, I was preparing for a ritual and was getting a “family fireside circle” song sheet ready for it. Looking over my shoulder, my husband asked a question about one of the lines in one of the chants…I am a strong woman, I am a story woman…
“I’m not sure about this,” he said, “what is a story woman anyway?” I wasn’t able to give him a solid answer in that moment, but guess what, I am one.
I remain firmly convinced of the power of story. Story shapes our world. And, reality is socially constructed in an active process of storying and re-storying.
“Power consists to a large extent in deciding what stories will be told.” –Carolyn Heilbrun
“The one who tells the stories rules the world.” –Hopi Indian Proverb
“We feel nameless and empty when we forget our stories, leave our heroes unsung, and ignore the rites of our passage from one stage of life to another.” –Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox
We need to hear each other’s stories. We need to hear each other into speech. We need to witness and be witnessed. We need to be heard. When we hear the experiences of other women, of other people, sometimes it lights something in us and we are able to go forward in a way in which we would not have done without that story.
The same afternoon of our story woman conversation, we had an ugly, sad, overtired, family-wide meltdown about homeschooling. I don’t want to bother reliving the agony by typing up everything that happened, but it was really the same old story. Parent suddenly gets bee in bonnet that kids (who are perfectly happy at the time pursuing their own interests and living robust lives) “should” be doing something different. Kid doesn’t live up to expectations and is, in fact, so unable to perform a very simple, basic task, that questions arise in parents’ minds about kid’s mental capacities. Parents feel personally responsible and like homeschooling parent failures as well as annoyed with kid who should know this already. Brief ranting and raving ensues along with hurt feelings. Sweeping pronouncements are made about what needs to happen to transform all of our lives into properly performing homeschooling bliss.
During this time, I abruptly decided this was IT, I HAVE TO STOP BLOGGING. I cried and cried. I didn’t want to quit, but, as the mental story went, if I can’t “do” homeschooling properly I certainly don’t deserve to be a blogger. I remembered my quotes about stories and I especially remembered this one:
“As long as women are isolated one from the other, not allowed to offer other women the most personal accounts of their lives, they will not be part of any narratives of their own…women will be staving off destiny and not inviting or inventing or controlling it.”
–Carolyn Heilbrun quoted in Sacred Circles
And, also this one:
“Telling our stories is one way we become more aware of just what ‘the river’ of our lives is. Listening to ourselves speak, without interruption, correction, or even flattering comments, we may truly hear, perhaps for the first time, some new meaning in a once painful, confusing situation. We may, quite suddenly, see how this even or relationship we are in relates to many others in our past. We may receive a flash of insight, a lesson long unlearned, a glimpse of understanding. And, as the quiet, focused compassion for us pervades the room, perhaps our own hearts open, even slightly, towards ourselves.”
–Robin Deen Carnes & Sally Craig in Sacred Circles
That night, I got a beautiful thank you note for a Mindful Mama essay that I wrote in 2008 and that was updated and published back in 2011. My stories, my words, were serving as “medicine” for another woman while I was cooking dinner, even though I actually wrote them several years before. That is story power. I am a story woman.
One of the things that was really special for me about GGG this year was having women visit my booth, pick up our goddesses and ask me, “what is her story?” Once I told the story for one, they would start asking, “how about this one, what’s the story for it?” And, I even had a woman stop by and say, “I remember you had stories for these last year, can I hear them?”
A couple of weeks ago, I came across a blog post I’d written based on a journal entry about my daughter when she was one month old. This is exactly why I write and why I’m not going to stop. Re-reading what I wrote that day in my journal brought that one month old treasure of a baby girl back into my arms for a few moments in vivid clarity, rather than just as a hazy, distant recollection. It isn’t that you truly forget without having written it down, but that in the reading of your old story, a powerful, stored, storied memory that you had forgotten how to access fully is reactivated.
I am a story woman.
And, I’m not quitting.
Molly has been “gathering the women” to circle, sing, celebrate, and share since 2008. She plans and facilitates women’s circles, seasonal retreats and rituals, mother-daughter circles, family ceremonies, and red tent circles in rural Missouri. She is an ordained priestess who holds MSW and M.Div degrees and she is currently writing her dissertation about contemporary priestessing in the U.S. Molly is the author of Womanrunes: a guide to their use and interpretation, Earthprayer, Birthprayer, Lifeprayer, Womanprayer, and The Red Tent Resource Kit, as well as three social service oriented booklets and a miscarriage memoir. She has maintained her Talk Birth blog since 2007 and writes about thealogy, nature, practical priestessing, and the goddess at her Woodspriestess blog. Molly and and her husband Mark co-create original birth art jewelry, figurines, and goddess pendants at Brigid’s Grove.