Book Review: Red tents by Mary Ann Clements and Aisha Hannibal

There hasn’t been a post in a couple of weeks – sorry about that. I’m still working on mental health stuff and feeling very grateful to have the facility to take the time off the day job to do this. I think things are improving – I am after all reading again! – but there’s still a journey ahead of me. In the mean time, one of the books I’ve read, just finished this morning in fact, is Red Tents: Unravelling Our Past and Weaving a Share Future by Mary Ann Clements and Aisha Hannibal.

Image of the Red Tents book by Mary Ann Clements and Aisha Hannibal, a red book with a scene outlined in red and white showing a city scape in the foreground and a nature scape in the background with a crescent moon on the right hand side of the sky and the rest of the sky filled with stars

I have run red tents in the past, but I stopped because I couldn’t match my own development of understanding of things like gender and oppression and equality and inclusivity with what I saw as a very binary situation. I tried for a while to reconcile these and eventually I gave up. But this book answers a lot of the questions I had at that time and then some.

The book is split into 4 parts. The first goes through the history/herstory of red tents, as well as the authors vision for the future of a more inclusive and accessible gathering. Part 2, the longest part, is about the mechanics of starting a red tent, what you bring to the table, what’s the vision, looking at collaboratively and collectively creating the space and the guidelines and the finances and the boundaries. This section is hugely helpful if you are thinking of setting up a red tent but have no clue what to think about or where to even begin. Part 3 is about the fundamentals of each session and different explorations of what can work, what might not work, how flexible it needs to be, etc. Part 4 is about dealing with challenges and growth and closing or stepping away from a tent.

I was genuinely surprised by the book. I was worried it was going to be more of the same with regard to “white woman spirituality” but it wasn’t – or at least it didn’t read like this to me. I am of course open to being corrected by those who would know better. The authors have dug deep into their own experiences and the experiences of others who have run red tents through interviews, as well as looking into research, academic work, academics speaking on matters of inclusivity, whether it be welcoming BIPOC )black indigenous people of colour) or non-binary gendered people or those less financially well off into the circle. They also bring up issues of accessibility, not only those with physical differences, but childcare issues, locations, public transport, length of time. To me is seems like a comprehensive look at what can stop people availing of the support a red tent can offer – along with prompts for questions to ask ourselves along the way.

I am sure there are things that are left out – there is the constant consideration that red tents happen all over the world, within different cultures, and this needs to feed into the process. They also being up the topic of cultural appropriation as well, which was good to see and specifically address the issue of smudging as a problematic topic, while also allowing the space for the members of the red tent to bring their own cultures and traditions into the space.

The authors are pretty clear on the fact that there is no One True Way to run a red tent – the tent must be flexible to deal with the needs of the people attending at the time. And those needs would change according to the composition of the group as well.

I think for those who are thinking of starting a red tent or a women’s circle or some sort of talking/being space, it’s a really useful handbook to have in the back pocket. If you have no interest in starting a space like this, but want to join one – again, this is a useful thing to consult to make sure you’re joining a group that coincides with your values and needs at this time. Even if you don’t want either, but want to develop yourself or get clear on what you think and feel about certain things, I think a lot of the prompts/ self reflection questions will help you gain that clarity. I know I will be revisiting them in the future to help me regain where I stand on certain topics.

I feel that Brigid could support a red tent as is outlined in this book, in ways she couldn’t support some of the red tents I’ve attended in the past. This is outlining a vision of inclusivity, learning, growth and development that will lead us to look at communities and groups differently and hopefully promote a better outlook on how we run things in the future.

Added to note: following a discussion in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group, I want to acknowledge and note that the book doesn’t acknowledge the origins of the red tent within the Jewish tradition. This was something I missed in the post and my apologies for it!

Book review: Mary Magdalene Revealed by Meggan Watterson

This book on the surface may not seem like it has much to do with Brigid… but well, there’s a load of stuff in here that just spoke to me. Plus, Mary Magdalene gets a raw deal from the Catholic Church so I like to speak about her positively.

I will say, I didn’t realise the author is the same woman who developed the Divine Feminine Oracle, but she is and I find that oracle deck very interesting and useful. It also speaks to me in supporting the advance of the divine feminine, which Brigid ties into as well. Not that I necessarily agree with the notion that all goddesses are one goddess, but I do believe that Brigid has an interest in getting people in the notion that female can be divine as well as male. Or indeed, any being on the spectrum of gender can be divine, without being either male or female…

Anyway, on to the book. This book is not a detailed discussion of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, although it does provide good insights into the gospel and discusses in detail the author’s responses to the contents. Essentially this book takes us through the seven demons that Mary Magdalene is said to have cast out.

Mary Magdalene Revealed by Meggan Watterson: Contents page

I don’t think letting ye know the contents page is unreasonable since it gives an excellent overview of what’s in the book and saves me typing out the seven demons 🙂

There is an overarching message through this book and that message is of looking within and tuning in to that part of ourselves that we know to be true. Now (UPG alert) Brigid is always on at me about this – tuning into myself and sinking into that part of me that isn’t bothered with anything that isn’t me. It sounds selfish right? And sometimes it is, but sometimes we need that selfishness.

The most important part of this book (and it’s repeated a few times) is the quote from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene: The Saviour replied: “There is no such thing as sin.” This is a major departure from the teachings of modern Christianity, certainly the Catholic Church. I mean, the Catholic Church, as it stands today, was built on the notion that we must be saved from sin, original sin, our own sins, all sin. It’s groundbreaking.

Any yet, it shouldn’t be. Many of the sins the Church is most vocal and worried about are those to do with sex. And Jesus didn’t talk about sex. (We should note at this point that there are elements of sex, particularly nonconsensual sex that the Church stays quiet about or victim blames or forgives abusers on… I may at some point have more to say on this, but for now, I just want to acknowledge it and say this is shit.) But back to the book. These is some discussion on sin in this book but mainly due to defending against the modern Church views rather than content of the Gospel.

Mostly, what this book asks us to do is to be true to ourselves, authentic human beings. And honestly, I can’t argue with that. Of course, we can always strive for improvement, learning from mistakes and regrets, but we can also stay true to ourselves. To stay true to ourselves, we must know ourselves, we must recognise ourselves, we must spend time with ourselves to learn about ourselves.

And really, no book that asks us to do that will get a down vote from me. And that’s one of the first things Brigid will be asking you to do. If you don’t know yourself, you’ll be less useful to her. So… get on with it!

Book review: Brigid of Kildare by Heather Terrell

I came across this book on Amazon, thanks to a Christmas voucher from my baby brother (he knows me so well!!) Usually, I wouldn’t bother buying fiction about Brigid, because I’ve come across such rotten examples over the years, but I’m glad I picked this one up.

It is definitely a work of fiction, switching between modern Ireland and 5th century Ireland. The main focus of the work is the story of Brigid, a royal princess in Ireland and the story of how she was baptised, ordained as a bishop and how she set up her famous abbey in Kildare. The story also investigates a very demure and innocent “romance” between Brigid and a Roman monk, Decius, as well as a story in the modern day of a major historical find in Kildare.

Predominantly, the book reads historically accurate, if cleansed for modern eyes. A few mistakes crop up: Brigid was not ordained by Patrick, but by Mael, who afterwards claimed the mistake must have been organised by God. Also, Brigid’s mother is presented here as Broicsech, Dubthach’s wife, whereas usually in the hagiographies, Brigid’s mother is a slave. These details didn’t aggravate me too much though, since I enjoyed the story.

It’s a gentle, rolling story, rather than an action-fest. The characterisation is good, the pacing is consistent, the story is interesting. There is a lot that can’t be verified of course, and I would warn against taking this as historical record (I can be certain if there was a Brigidine relic found in Kildare in the last few decades such as is described in the book, we would have heard about it 🙂 ) Equally, the only even remotely romantic exploits ever even hinted at in any of Brigid’s stories is one with her anamchara, Darlughdach. It has been suggested elsewhere that this relationship was romantic in nature, but I think this may in part be to a misunderstanding of the term anamchara (literally: soul friend, but I will do another post on this soon). Hence the relationship with Decius didn’t ring true for me. I would encourage reading it though, for a pleasant afternoon’s reading.

It is written by an American, but she has managed to get the locations right anyway, something not always guaranteed in either fiction or non-fiction. The attention to details like Kildare not being in Dublin is important!

Overall – I’d say read this novel for the enjoyment of it. I wouldn’t depend on it for history, but for entertainment, it’s a lovely book. I was initially unsure if it was intended to be YA (young adult) but that could be just the lack of sex (which maybe says more about my usual reading materials than anything else!!)