A new weekend festival aims to empower, connect local women
Three years ago, six Chico-area women caravanned to the Northern California Women’s Herbal Symposium, a popular, thrice-yearly women-centered campout in Mendocino County that features workshops, networking and celebration of all things female. Kristin Oldham, one of the Chico cohorts, returned home inspired.
“When women gather intentionally, something magic happens,” she said. “They can let go of their societal images and just be themselves, whatever that looks like for each woman, for a few days.”
Oldham’s inspiration turned into a vision, which was shared and built with a dozen others, and is coming to fruition this month, with Weaving Women’s Wisdom, a weekend campout (Sept. 27-28) consisting of workshops, ceremonies and celebrations, at Lake Concow Campground.
More than 100 women—almost all of whom are local—already have registered. They join the 13 organizers, 20 children (who will be attended to thanks to free child care offered during workshop hours), and the 25 presenters for the event, which already has gained a nickname, Wewowis—pronounced “wee-woh-wizz”—and which organizers hope will be an annual offering.
Recently, several of the organizers met under the shade of the large walnut tree at the GRUB Cooperative to paint massive papier-mâché masks for the event’s opening ceremony. “We’re going to bust into dance” with the masks, said Jessica McDougal, who, as an artist, has taken the lead in the mask-making task. “It’s a kooky theatrical opening,” she added, noting that the ceremony, like the whole gathering, encourages participation by attendees as well as organizers and presenters. After the opening ceremony, participants will break off into workshops.
Communal meals, evening “creative offerings around the fire” and night “heart songs” follow. The second day will feature another round of workshops and meals, a ceremony to celebrate women at various stages of their lives, and a closing circle.
The Northern California Women’s Herbal Symposium has run successfully since 1991, and its structure has partially informed the creation of Wewowis. “It feels so good to try to get something like that in [the] Chico [area]—so we don’t all have to go there,” said co-organizer Francine Stuelpnagel, who is assisting with child care at the event.
In February, Oldham sent out a call to Chico-area women in an attempt to create a gathering. Out of that initial meeting, 13 women, who “all feel passionate about building an inspirational culture for women of all ages and backgrounds to join in and learn and grow with each other,” came together, Oldham explained. Initial team building, “democratic, consensus-oriented” visioning meetings, and the formation of subcommittees with names like “Sharing the Wisdom” (in charge of workshops) and “Sharing the Excitement” (responsible for promotion) followed.
“We have already received a great deal of support from local women. For instance, we chose 25 amazing workshops from over 40 applications,” Oldham said. The instructors, from Butte County or nearby, will focus on a wide range of topics: herbal medicine, earth skills, writing and leadership development, lacto-fermentation, dance and seed-saving—to name a few.
“The workshops are chosen to appeal to a lot of people,” explained Oldham, noting that the presenters will be businesspeople, Chico State and Butte College professors, and others who have practiced in their fields for years. They hope that the breadth and quality of offerings will encourage local women of all walks of life to join.
Inclusivity was a cornerstone of the organization of Wewowis, Oldham said. “That’s really our goal, to create a place that’s inclusive, that whoever chooses to join is welcome and has a feeling of belonging,” she said.
Kelly Munson, a co-organizer and presenter who will lead a crafts workshop for young women, agrees. “Not everyone will be drawn to camping in the woods and spending two days with 100 women of all ages who they may not know well,” she admitted, but she said she hopes Wewowis will attract “women who feel drawn to one or more of the many aspects of this gathering.” Her list of those aspects goes beyond the titles of the workshops and includes: connection with nature, personal exploration, learning new crafts and developing deeper connections with other local women.
While many women-only groups—from menstrual-cycle-focused “moon circles” to book clubs to professional conferences—already exist locally, “this gathering is just one more way for women to connect and deepen relationships,” Munson explained. Its “women’s only” focus has drawn groans from male friends and family, some of the organizers admitted, but the group maintains its desire to appeal to only women. “This is not a separatist movement in any way,” Oldham said. “Women gathering together is just natural for us—whether it is for a knitting circle or political activism, women have a great deal in common, and we thrive when we feel connected, seen and understood by each other.
“When women feel empowered and supported, they will likely bring that positive energy home to their families, their social circles, their professional lives and any other community involvement they have.”