Women hoping to learn about medicinal herbs and plants were sure to find plenty of course offerings this Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Southeast Wise Woman Herbal Conference in Black Mountain. However, with belly dancing class in the morning, a sexual archetype seminar after lunch, and a “Healing the Wounded Queen” workshop before dinner, the weekend-long conference places just as much emphasis on the “wise woman” as it does on the herbs.
“I think there is a different kind of energy and experience that happens when there is this amount of women together,” says participant and work-trade member Anna Ehredt, who spent her afternoon snapping photos of participants holding plants for a body image-focused photo series depicting “real women” at the conference. Promoting healthy body image was a prominent and welcomed theme among participants, where even the bathroom breaks provided attendees with positive affirmations. Printed signs — “This is what a woman looks like,” and, “I am so much more than my appearance” — decorated the bathroom mirrors.
“There is a definite change of energy,” says Ehredt of the all-female environment. “I feel less awkward and less nervous than the way I would feel if it wasn’t all women.” Ehredt lives in Asheville and says she is “amazed” by the woman-centered community offerings in the area. “I go back home to Richmond, Va., and I’m kind of bogged down. There isn’t that same energy and awareness that exists here in Asheville.”
Michelle Dionne, a faculty member at the conference, also emphasizes the need to create a space and culture where women can come together. “It’s important for women to reclaim their right to safety and connection with each other,” says Dionne. “In this safe space we can inspire each other to bring the feminine into balance with the masculine.”
Dionne teaches belly dance classes at the conference and has apprenticed and worked with the event’s founder, Corinna Wood, for the past 11 years. According to Dionne, belly dancing is much more than baring the midriff and circling the hips. “It’s about women getting deeply into their bodies and reclaiming their wisdom and the healing power inside the bod. That is really what the whole conference is about, as well as the connection with the earth and with the feminine.”
In addition to leading belly-dance classes, Dionne helps to coordinate the conference’s “Wise Maidens” program for girls ages 13 to 17 years old. “It’s partially educational and partially a heart-sharing space,” says Dionne. “There are a lot of talks … about body image and teen sexuality. There is also a focus on nature connection to help the girls receive guidance for their path in life.”
Teenagers and “Wise Maidens” Amber Gilson and Daisy Gould agreed that they “felt less self-conscious” at the all-female conference.
“It’s been really fun,” says Gilson. “We had discussion circles yesterday on body image and today we talked about what makes a good partner and choosing intimate partners … lots of cool stuff.”
Rebecca Savidge, a massage therapist from Annapolis, Md., attended a wide range of workshops with titles such as “Herbs for Immunity,” “Claiming Sexual Power,” and “Food as Medicine.”
For Savidge, all of the learning and discussions work towards the same goal. “I just think that it’s important to come together as a community and to talk about the work that needs to be done to heal ourselves as individuals and to heal the earth from all that we have inflicted upon it,” she says.
Lea McLellan is an Asheville writer.