Women's Circles - what to expect, rituals & trauma informed practise.
Taken from an article written for Kindred Spirit Magazine June 2023 by Ruth Cato.
"Women have sat in circles for many thousands of years.
We’ve sat in circles for many more years than we have not.
When we first sit in circle again a great remembering happens. It feels familiar.
All of our ancestors have been sitting together in this way, in every indigenous culture all over the world. Jean Shinola Bolen calls a women’s circle a ‘Cauldron of co-creation’, and today more than ever women are being called back to this ancient way of being together, of healing and of remembering.
The women’s circle represents not just the lunar and menstrual cycle, it holds the energy of the cycles of our lives and the seasons of the year. It represents the feminine circular drum and the bowl that holds so many stories and meals. A women’s circle is not just about a menstrual cycle so everyone is welcome, menstruating or not. The women within the circle hold their own stories, and their own cycles. These women are both themselves and the circle as a whole. Each person represents something to the other women, they will support each other, celebrate each other and yes often they will trigger or activate something in another woman as well. Recognising that each woman’s story is their own and also the story of the circle as a whole is a powerful moment for our modern solo brains stepping back into community.
The alignment of female menstrual cycles with the lunar calendar means that historically women in smaller communities, living closer to the earth and without electrical light would have menstruated in cycle with the moon. The menstruating women of the tribe would have been ovulating together and bleeding together, meaning the rhythms of community were clearly aligned with the energies of the moon. During a dark to new moon the women would have been in their inward phase, dreaming and magical, bleeding out energies that are no longer needed for the community. Sat together in the Moon Lodge or Red Tent, menstruating women would not have to participate in the business of community life, instead they would take time to rest, bleed into the earth and dream up the visions for the rest of the community. Then on the opposite side of the wheel during the full moon they would have been ovulating and have a celebratory, external energy. Our cycles may have changed but we still need the same seasons of rest and activity, the former being something our modern society is not very encouraging of.
Women’s Circles offer so much to women today. The resurgence is important and I urge anyone who feels the call to set one up or join an already established circle. Observing the cycles and what they can offer us is a simple and beautiful way to help us heal from modern life. A rest from busy life is an important part of a monthly women’s circle. Knowing you have some space, each month, to escape and feel supported is essential. In the past we would have had these rest periods built in, so to find the time to commit to them now is so important. Nature rests each night and each winter, and we are nature, we must rest too.
The support of a women’s circle is such a powerful thing helping us to come back to community rather than try and do it all ourselves. I observe many women discover a renewed trust in women after being a part of a women’s circle. Patriarchy has pitted us against each other, but in circle we are all equal and rediscovering trust and care for each other. The thing that always amazes me is just how enthusiastic women are to share these things, so building trust again comes easily once it’s been suggested.
A space to ‘let go’ of feelings, energy and tension is rare. Women’s circles are usually held on a dark or full moon, which are excellent times to release. Releasing the feelings that you’ve been holding on to for fear of judgment is so important and to be witnessed in that is incredibly powerful. Shame starts to melt away when we observe others being vulnerable or when we are observed and still accepted even in our darkest moments. Like an emotional shake out of all your muscles, letting go of stored emotions is incredibly cathartic.
Rituals to help release are extremely powerful especially if held during the times of the moon when this energy is heightened. Here are some suggestions:
- Burning up. If you have access to an open fire, a circle around a campfire can be very healing. Reminding the circle of their ancient ancestors sat in the same way, staring into the flames. Fire burns up all we no longer need and turns it into light. A beautiful metaphor you may want to speak on. The circle can write the things they intend to let go of on some paper and throw them in the flames.
- Earthing down. The earth composts up everything we may think of as rubbish. Gifting these things to the earth is a grounding and loving way to release. Women may choose an item from nature and hold this as they have their share, blowing the energy into the item. After everyone has shared they may all bury their items, casting off the energy, giving gratitude to the earth for transmuting these feelings.
- Dancing. Holding some space for ritual dancing after the circle is a beautiful and enlivening way to release tension and energy. Setting an intention before you dance to release all energy that no longer serves, and the energy to be reused in loving ways for all.
How to join your first circle, things to check, do and think about.
Joining your first circle can feel intimidating, who are these amazing women who seem so confident and able to express themselves? Everyone felt this way before they joined a circle. Spend some time journaling or speaking to a loved one about how you feel, what your worries are and what your intentions and hopes may be. Start to notice what the subjects are that feel scary to you and see if there are some limiting beliefs there that you want to confront or that you want to hold a boundary around. For example ensuring you can take a break from the circle if you need. Ask the space holder of your local women’s circle any questions you have about attending and see how you feel about joining. If you have a choice of local circles see if they are held on different phases of the moon. Notice if a Dark/ New Moon circle feels most helpful for you or if a Full Moon Circle suits you more.
A circle should feel safe to you. Ask yourself how safe do you feel, and follow what your body is asking of you. If you do not want to share you should always feel welcome to give this a miss, and maybe at the end you may feel you are ready. Spend time working with your breath having long exhales to help you feel more grounded, so you can then see if you are able to regulate yourself more and potentially join in.
Safety is earnt, it’s not a given. This means that only over time can you feel fully safe. We observe how a space is held and that gives us clues as to whether we are safe. One promise that should always be verbally shared and discussed is confidentiality. Opening up space to talk about what that looks like for the circle is important, so if someone has a need that can be helped by the circle being aware of it and then potentially including that into the promises. I like to say I’m aiming to hold a ‘safer’ space, so each women can judge for themselves how safe they feel. If you say to a traumatised woman ‘this is a safe space’, they are going to spend the evening looking for every way that the space is not safe.
Practising non-judgment is a really powerful way to help women feel safer in circle. The fear of others judging us is enough to stop us feeling safe. So bringing in a practise of non-judgment is a wonderful way to help this. This is not about pushing away judgement but noticing what it feels like when it arises. In everyday life, noticing when you feel judgment of someone or a topic, get interested in your response. What does it feel like in your body? What are the topics that make judgment arise for you? Noticing it’s not the person you are judging but something about how they say something or what they’re talking about that brings this feeling up for you. Once you know the feeling you can be aware of it arising while in circle and either practise putting it to one side or journaling on why you are feeling this way.
A women’s circle is the basis for so much healing. I wish for every woman to have access to a circle each month so the world can once more start turning in harmony with the seasons and cycles of nature.
Ruth Cato is a Shamanic Priestess, Initiating and Rebirthing Women on the Shropshire/ Herefordshire border. She runs Dark Moon Women’s Circles and also a Year Long Shamanic Initiation both in person and on line for women to discover their magic. www.ruthcato.com