Festival Herstory

Elderflower Womenspirit was founded in 1988 by

Deborah Bender. When asked how she came up

with the idea for the festival, Deborah said,

"The Goddess told me to do it. One day I went

to a friend's birthday party and noticed that there

were Goddess figures all around the house, and I

realized that most women who had a spiritual

connection with the Goddess were going to small

private gatherings, or expensive events because

that was all that was available. That was when I came up with the idea for Elderflower. It would be a low cost, all woman, grassroots event with a connection to the Goddess. It would be open to any woman who was interested and women who attend the festival would share their skills and experiences by putting on workshops and rituals. Elderflower would also give women, new to women's spirituality an opportunity to spend time with long time members of the women's spirituality movement." 

Elderflower was chosen as a symbol of the festival because of it's associations with Venus and the Earth Mother. Its properties include protection, healing, prosperity, "Crone Magic" and more. The first Elderflower Womenspirit Festival was held in the summer of 1989 at the Mendocino Woodlands, which has been it's home ever since. It was organized by Deborah Bender and Rita Rippetoe.

By 1991, the festival had grown, it became more organized and women began to take on responsibilities as festival staff. After the 1992 festival, Deborah Bender and the staff realized that the organizational structure needed to be changed. Deborah no longer wanted to be totally "in charge" of the festival. Staff wanted to take on more responsibility and be more involved in decision making. As a result, the Core Committee (now the Council) was founded, and the responsibility for organizing the festival was spread out among a collective group of 5 women, including Deborah Bender. Each member coordinates the staff working on different aspects of the festival. Decisions by the Council are made by consensus.


After the 1993 festival, Deborah Bender decided to hand over the festival to the Council. The festival was transformed from a business owned by Deborah Bender to a congregation of the Association for the Integration of the Whole Person (AIWP). The festival continues to be run collectively by a Council of women who meet throughout the year.


Through the years, women at Elderflower Womenspirit have enjoyed drum and rattle making, face painting, art, music, dance, rituals, psychic journeys, belly dancing, martial arts, nature activities, rites of passage ceremonies, poetry, workshops on a great variety of spiritual paths, just to name a few! As Elderflower Womenspirit's herstory continues to unfold, we encourage you to get involved. The women who work on and attend the festival, are the festival. If you have enjoyed yourself at Elderflower Womenspirit, consider joining the volunteer staff and make it happen. Our different input and energies make the festival unique every year.