According to Hopi Prophecy, “When the women gather the world will heal.” This embodies the concept of the need for divine feminine energy in communal leadership, after centuries of patriarchal control. In order to shift global perspectives and interactions from a masculine competition based system to an egalitarian, communal, and nurturing system, we need divine feminine energy in our leadership roles. As always we should clarify that both men and women all embody some combination of masculine and feminine energy traits, and the energies are not exclusive to genders. But under a patriarchal society we tend to value masculine energies/ values and ways of leading more than feminine.
If we truly hope to make a lasting impact on making the world around us better, we must begin by bettering ourselves, and for women this can be facilitated by regularly communing with like minded women to help heal our wounds, build each other up, and collaborate on bettering our communities. One powerful way to do this is by hosting or joining a women’s circle, or as Kellee likes to call them, Goddess Gatherings. Kellee was first introduced to women’s circle through an offshoot of Gather the Women, a global network that facilitates women’s circles.
Women’s circles help to provide a safe space for women to share their true selves, where they can find their voice, reclaim their power, and remember their self-worth. Together you can celebrate your unique diversity, while honoring the universal divine feminine energy to foster self-growth and planetary transformation.
While you can host a women’s gathering in any fashion you like, it’s helpful to follow some basic principles of women’s circle from indigenous cultures. These guidelines were developed around the feminine energies of equality, nurturing, and creating to successful host a gathering of women that will impart lasting impacts on the individuals involved and their communities.
A History of Women’s Circles
From Worshipping the Divine Feminine to the Patriarchy
Before the rise of patriarchy, religion and community was matriarchal. After all women create life and their innate abilities revolved around keeping the tribe alive and nurtured. Evidence of communal circle gatherings dates back to prehistoric times. There is pre-historic art and ritual relics representative of the honoring of the divine feminine and in fact the primary representation of divinity was feminine. Societies were more communal at this time, and communing in circles for ritual, story-telling, dance and singing was commonplace.
Of course with the rise of patriarchy and its impact on religion, these traditions were lost and the emphasis shifted to more linear and hierarchical thinking. This shift transformed the communal egalitarian way of living to a more divisive competitive way of living. Today many indigenous groups still live communally and gather in circles as a part of their culture. These cultures still value the potent healing and enriched communication these gatherings bring.
As the women’s liberation movement grew, and evolved into the feminist movement, around the early 1980s, women’s circles were paramount to their success, as women from Western culture and all around the globe, either consciously or unconsciously remembered the power of meeting in circles. This has fostered a growing movement of women’s circles over the past thirty-plus years.
What is a Women’s circle?
Why should we gather in circles?
This collaborative, versatile way of communing and communicating in a non-hierarchical way fosters equality, respect, and connection. Circles can be used to:
Share individual stories around a chosen theme
Celebrate in share ritual
Discuss important topics and share important information
Learn new skills or ideas
Be in ceremony
Honor the cycles of the Earth like the moon phases
Prepare food and meals
Sing and dance in community
Discuss community needs
Work through and resolve conflicts
The basic structure of the circle gatherings is to honor each individual’s voice. This moves away from the patriarchal / hierarchical system of leaders ruling and making decisions on behalf of a group or community.
How to Organize a Circle
Steps before and during circle building for a successful gathering
Before hosting your first circle there are some important steps and decisions to make. Once these are decided there is a general way of hosting the circle to honor each participant.
Before you Begin:
Set the intention of creating the circle and the general intention of the group: Begin by planting the seed of your intention to commune, and determining the goals of your gatherings. This is the first step in attracting the outcomes you hope for.
Find a location: The location should be convenient for all participants, and spacious enough to accommodate everyone comfortably. To save money different members with the space can take turns hosting the circle, or one member may sponsor a space if they are able if it’s the best option.
Choose a theme: You may have an overarching theme for your group or special themes for each meeting, perhaps seasonal themes, or discussing specific goals in relation to community engagement, betterment, or conflict resolution. You could choose the theme of honoring a specific goddess, or each participant may choose their favorite Goddess, or similarly focus on spirit animals, or having each participate choose a different oracle card.
Invite the participants and advertise to like minded individuals: Clearly communicate the time, place and intention of your meeting and promote this in your community to attract like-minded participants.
Day of Preparation:
Set up the space: Provide a chair or cushion for the participants arranged in a circle. It is important every participant is included in the circle equally, and that all participants can see each other when they speak.
Prepare the room: Some find it helpful to cleanse the space with sage, or incense, and light candles. It may also be helpful to prepare the circle’s center with an “altar” highlighting things of meaning related to the circles theme, where the participants are also welcomed to leave a token of their intentions. This space can hold photos or statues of Goddesses, divination cards, talisman, books, feathers, shells, sacred water, items representing the 4 elements, crystals, or personal artifacts. Fresh or dried flowers, plants or herbs could also be used. Some groups chose to change the center each meeting based on the them, some choose to keep it consistent. Some prefer a simple center like a single candle. Some provide a box of items for each participant to choose something to add to the center so everyone feels included. There is no single right way to do this, just choose what feels right to the group.
Welcome each guest with a smile :) Make every guest feel welcome to set a positive tone for the gathering
During the Circle:
- Welcome everybody and thank them for attending.
- Open the circle (hold hands, short meditation, read a poem or other activity).
- Check in... Allow each woman to speak her name and answer a simple question.
- Share your circle guidelines/principles.
- Introduce the theme/ why you’ve gathered.
- Circle commences.
-Check out... Again each voice is heard.
- Close circle.
Every circle, under the Gather the Women guidelines should have each participant responsible for holding the circle. But it is also helpful to have roles of Facilitator and Guardian which can be rotated amongst participants if you choose. The Facilitator keeps the circle flowing, initiating the opening of the circle, sharing the agreed upon intention or themes, and starting the check in process, etc. The Guardian’s role is to monitor the mood of the circle and conversation, and call for moments of silence when needed. They can hold a small bell or chime to call the group’s attention, for example when the conversation digresses or moves off topic. Other participants are welcomed to request the bell, and this can also be helpful during deeply moving or emotional moments for everyone to pause and reflect on them. Once the moment of silent reflection is complete the bell is sounded again to commence sharing. The Guardian can also be helpful in facilitating conflict resolution. Some groups choose not to incorporate a Guardian role and some will combine the responsibilities of Facilitator and Guardian for one person.
Welcome Everyone: Once everyone has arrived and is seated, welcome everyone and thank them for attending.
Open the circle / Shared ritual: Some women find a formal opening such as casting a circle, calling on the four directions, singing a song, mantra, or sharing a “prayer” is a deeper way to initiate the gathering. You may choose to hold hands and do a group meditation, read a poem based on the theme, do a shared movement, like dance or yoga stretch, or even breathing exercises. Some women choose to cleanse each participant with sage. Some groups may choose to pass out individual instruments for each participant, even as simple as small drums or bells to participate as a group in making music together. This ritual, whatever you choose it to be, will help unite and connect the group in a shared ritual experience to establish the connection of the group.
Checking in: A fundamental rule of being in circle is for every voice to be heard. This is to dissolve any hierarchy, and establish equality amongst the group. Checking in should begin simply, sharing each participants name and perhaps answering a common question or speaking on a shared prompt related to the theme. It’s helpful if this check in is kept shorter.
Review Process: After the check in it’s important to review the circles guidelines and intention or reason for coming together.
Sharing in the circle: The Talking Piece is an important element in any circle. This piece can be of your choosing, a sacred object or a simple everyday item like a feather or crystal, that is passed around as people share. The talking piece identifies the person holding it is the current speaker, and everyone else should be actively listening, and not just waiting to respond. It can be used in two ways, it can be passed clockwise or counterclockwise in order, or it can be placed in the center and whomever feels called to speak can pick it up to speak and replace it once they are done. The way in which way you choose to use it can greatly shift the flow of conversation, so choose whichever is best for the group. It is important to note if anyone chooses to pass on speaking they are welcome to do so and in passing the piece circles they may be offered it again in case they found something to share since their turn was passed.
After check in how the circle unfolds will depend on the intention and guidelines of your group. Some circles choose to break out into smaller circles to allow for deeper sharing, followed by coming back together to check out. Some may choose to have the whole circle delve deeper into the current theme- whether that’s what you’re working to improve in your life, what challenges you are facing, what ways to help your community, or just reading an oracle card you’ve pulled and sharing what it’s interpretation means to you. Others may choose instead to share a group song or dance together in ceremony. Some groups find it helpful to have a set time for the circle meeting as a whole or individual’s sharing times to keep the sharing flowing.
Every group can define their own set of guidelines unique to their goals and intentions. Those guidelines will be a shared set of beliefs on how the group will communicate or a “code of conduct” if you will.
The Millionth Circle guidelines, for example encourages each woman to speak and listen from the heart, encourage and welcome diverse points of view, to listen with discernment not judgement, decide together what is to be held in confidence, and to open and close each circle by hearing each person’s voice.
Peer Spirit’s guidelines includes a set of shared agreements, principles and practices.
Checking out: After the circle sharing ends, it’s important for everyone's voice to be heard again, or they check out. This is a great time to reflect on what has just been shared, or what they are taking away from this gathering, they may choose to share something they heard in sharing that really resonated with them, for example.
Closing the Circle: By closing the circle in a ceremonious way, you are marking the shift from sacred sharing to a more social time. This can be as simple as thanking everyone for sharing and stating the circle is closed, to a more involved ritual that balances how you chose to open the circle, like calling the directions again, sharing a chant or meditation, etc.
Due to its very inclusive and creative nature, circles can be customized to your groups needs and preferences. These guidelines are simply a helpful template that has worked for others, in some cases for centuries. What’s most important is to come together to share, heal, and grow together, with a unified voice and practice, where everyone is heard and honored, and no hierarchy exists. Try your best to stray away from patriarchy principals and use your circles as a way to define and embody what the divine feminine is to your group.
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Lani Redinger is a professional writer, editor, and bibliophile from Pittsburgh, PA.