For as long as humans have roamed the earth, women have bonded for child-rearing, spiritual growth, and social and intellectual causes. Cavewomen raised their children together in extended families. Ancient Chinese women shared their intimate selves through Nashu, a secret script that men could not decipher. Medieval women gathered in work and religious groups. Prairie women drew together to raise their children, quilt and socialize – a way to banish some of the isolation of the pioneer life. Twentieth century women bonded to advocate for the right to vote; they formed groups to support civil rights and rights for equal pay.
Modern women gather for spiritual and artistic endeavors. They gather in discussion, support, and political advocacy groups. Lisa Johnson, administrative assistant at Federated Church of Orland and chairperson of Morning Star Circle says, “It’s mentally uplifting and healing to sit in circle with women. We are different creatures, and it’s nice to sit with women to work and be understood in a healing environment.”
In Judith Duerk’s book Circle of Stones: A Woman’s Journey to Herself, she says, “How might your life have been different if there had been a place for you, a place for you to go to be with your mother, with your sisters and the aunts, with your grandmothers, and the great- and great-great grandmothers, a place of women to go, to be, to return to, as woman?”
Johnson answers that question by saying, “In a circle of women, we are free to be who we are. We are not told how be a woman, as can occur in the greater society.” Often women in circles refer to each other as sisters. A bond is formed that many women report feels closer than the bond they share with their birth sisters.
When women see a need, they often step forth and create a way to fill it. Fourteen years ago, Claudia Mansfield of Mt. Shasta began contemplating the aging process. “As I began thinking about aging,” she says, “I wanted to approach it with joy and be surrounded by women who felt the same.”
She started the Ageless Spirit circle in her home with 22 other women. In time, a self-selection process took place and Ageless Spirit now has 13 members. Mansfield and other participants see the value of the circle as being a willingness of the women to be open and honest with one another and to experience, in a safe setting, the highs and lows of their lives. “It gives us a place to come to honor each other and ourselves,” says Mansfield.
When women want to become part of a circle and can’t find an established one, or one that fits their needs, there are steps to take to create one that enhance the probability of its success:
- Determine a focus or purpose for the circle. Be as specific as possible. This helps in the selection of participants and provides the foundation for the group structure. A book group, for example, will be structured differently from a ritual circle.
- Determine where the meetings will be held. A home, church or community room can work, depending on the focus. Will handicapped access be necessary? Will a kitchen be required? Think comfort. The kind of seating, lighting and room size all play a role in setting the tone from the first meeting.
- Decide whom you will invite to the founding meeting. Will it be a group from one segment of your life, such as your workplace, or will it be women from several walks of life? Those whom you invite will depend on the focus of the group. Twelve is about the maximum number of women for an effective group. Six or seven the minimum. Consider inviting more women than you anticipate will continue through the initial stages. Not everyone will find that the group is a fit.
- Create the agenda for your first circle. It may simply be to meet and learn about each other, to introduce the purpose, and to seek ideas. If you have a clear picture of what you’d like the circle to look like, present it. Introduce expectations and standards. An important element for success is a trust in confidentiality. Assuring each other that “what is said in this room stays in this room” starts the process of bonding and intimacy.
- Develop rituals for the circle. A ritual can be as simple as the protocol you will follow at each meeting, or as refined as the special way you will open and close each meeting, where you will place a centerpiece or altar, and particular words you will use to begin and end the meetings. A ritual is simply a predictable way to run the group.
Sitting in circle with other women is powerful socially, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Current scientific research shows that oxytocin, a hormone that is released during touch, kissing, sex, labor, birth and lactation, is also released when women talk. This hormone influences our ability to bond with others. Gathering with women in circles is good for health!
When considering joining or creating a women’s circle, reflect on these words from Judith Duerk: “How might your life have been different if there had been a place for you … a place of women, where you were received and affirmed.” Each woman needs this to grow and to give.