Ten years ago I had the courage to attend my first Womongathering. Womongathering was a four day women’s spirituality festival in the woods of Pennsylvania. I had been reading about it since 2001 when I found the Womongathering newsletter at a local pagan store. It was a dark time in my life. I had nightmares almost every day, suffered from panic attacks and saw my therapist at least once a week. Some times I saw her more often, especially if I had a mental breakdown that week.  Mental breakdowns consisted of me crying hysterically, afraid to leave my room, and could be brought on by almost anything. I desperately needed to go somewhere safe. I needed to find the strength to continue. I remember my now ex-husband dropping me off at the gate. I was terrified making my way into the festival without him. I was so afraid to be alone back then. All the women at the festival were so friendly, but I was too scared to notice.


I spent my first night at Womongathering curled up in my blankets, clinging to my teddy and crying. Here I was, twenty-five years old with my teddy bear as a lifeline. No one could have guessed that the bulky book bag I took with me everywhere wasn’t full of books-- it held my teddy bear. I was doing a lot of inner child work and dealing with the memories coming up because of it. So with my therapist’s approval I was at Womongathering looking for something to switch on inside me. I hoped that an event full of women honoring Goddess energy would give me the change I was looking for.


I was desperate and exhausted from the work I was doing with my therapist. All I seemed to feel during my sessions was fear. I shook with it, cried and sweated in that horrible way that makes you stink. Often my therapist would have to envelope me in a blanket, massage my ears with alcohol to calm me down, rock me and tell me I was was safe. This was the hurt and, in my eyes, broken person who attended that first Womongathering.


My second day at the festival was the Inipi sweat lodge ceremony. Looking back, I am surprised I chose to participate in this ceremony. I was going into a dark lodge, naked with more than fifteen women and a lot of heat-- not ideal conditions for my fearful self. Yet I held down the panic and  remember Beverly Little Thunder explaining about our sweat lodge as a mother’s womb. Beverly explained that we were returning to the Great Mother’s womb and it was okay if we needed to leave early. In that case we would be preemies, sitting by the fire and connected via a spiritual umbilical cord to the lodge. I remember women I did not know holding my hand as I cried in the darkness. I remember women giving me more room to lay my head on the dirt floor and breathe in the cooler air. I remember not being afraid in that dark, hot space and being surprised when I made it through the whole ritual.


I came out of the lodge and received my hug from Beverly feeling reborn. The fear was still there, but a small fire of hope had sparked inside me. I had gone into the dark and did not find monsters and my bad memories. Instead I experienced the love of my naked sisters, their prayers, their hands comforting me, my sweaty body and healthy tears. Though I left the festival early that year, I came away with new friends and a renewed sense of hope. I could go into the darkness and come out again-- greeted by the warm embrace of the Mother Goddess.


In the space of ten years, there has been a lot of change for me and Womongathering. I still attend the festival, now known as Where Womyn Gather, but instead of being a fearful supplicant I am now facilitating workshops. I can now hold other women’s hands in the dark and support them in finding the spark within.


For those of you interested in Women or Goddess centered festivals, I have put together a list: http://goddessspiral.com/festivals

So far I’ve only attended Where Womyn Gather but the rest are on my “will attend in the next five years” list. Perhaps I will see you at one of them!