In May this year I joined 26 other women for an amazing week of training with Bad-Ass Warrior Priestess Sora Surya No. I was there to learn about Womens Circles, and like many of the women in the room, I was expecting a kind of how-to guide and maybe a manual at the end of the week. This did not happen. In the morning of Day 1 we were informed that the internet was full of useful advice on running womens circles, but the only way we could really understand the power of circle was to experience it. And experience it we did.
We started gently, with meditation and grounding, introducing ourselves and getting comfy with the feel and flow of circle. Sora guided us gently through the etiquette and ritual of sitting in circle with a group of women. We joined her in opening space and listened as she shared her intention for our time together. It was inspiring and beautiful. There was talk of love and compassion and standing strong in our feminine power. There was hope for the future and the belief that we as women could rise up and lift other women in the process. I liked being part of a collective that was harnessing love and women and bad-ass priestess power in the fight for humanity. There was a sense of fate in my being called into this space, and I was grateful to be there.
The light seeped into my bones as I was wafted in the smoke of Palo Santo and immersed in the sparse, white beauty of the Shiva Temple at Prana House. I felt my heart soften and open to the possibility of allowing a deeper spirituality into my life. Not the kind of organised, hierarchical spirituality that religion has always meant to me, but a more personal version of spirituality than comes from within. I have always been a seeker of meaning, especially so in the last ten years, as we have journeyed through Scott’s cancer, my own health struggles and the general rollercoaster of life. In pursuit of happiness and health I’ve dabbled in alternative healing modalities like kinesiology, homeopathy and energy healing and added meditation, oracle cards, intention setting and journalling to my self development tool kit. It’s been a gradual letting go of my practical, cynical outer shell, to discover the little girl inside who still believes in magic.
And she does. This little girl believes in magic and our ability to create it, harness it and use it for good. She always did, but she thought you had to grow out of magic to operate successfully in the grown up world. As I shared space with a room full of beautiful, grown up women, all of whom were living successfully in the real world, I felt my perceptions subtly shift. Why did I have to suppress that part of me? These women were standing proud in who they were, and if I was honest, I could see myself reflected in their images. I saw them with their crystals and their wands and their essential oils and their candles and I wanted to race home and get mine. Because of course I have them. I’ve always had them; these crystals and candles and little wooden boxes and ceramic bowls that I knew I’d need, for something, one day.
Slowly I let go of my resistance to words like prayer, ritual and altar. These are not Christian words, though they always have been for me. A prayer is a statement of hope and possibility that you want to bring into reality. I realised there was no need for me to associate the word ‘Prayer’ with the idea of speaking to a Christian God (although it can certainly be that, I’m sure, if that’s your thing!). A ritual is a beautiful act performed regularly, with deliberate, thoughtful steps, carried out with intention and mindfulness. Rituals are a beautiful way to bring meaning, beauty and self-care into your life. Making tea, lighting a candle and sitting in a comfy chair while listening to relaxing music can be a ritual. Rituals can involve chocolate. Ergo rituals are awesome!
Altars were a bit trickier for me. In ancient times altars were often stone platforms on which sacrifices were made. I’m not so into sacrifices. These days an altar is more likely to be a space upon which offerings are made for worship or for devotional purposes. As a non-worshipper, I really had trouble relating to the idea of an altar. But Sora’s altar was lovely. It was laid out in the centre of the room on a printed mandala and spread with colourful and beautiful items. I spent a week gazing upon flowers, crystals, candles, bowls, incense and beautifully illustrated cards. It was not an unpleasant experience! The items on Sora’s altar were there for specific reasons. Many of them honoured nature (also referred to as Mother Earth or Gaia) and the elements of Fire, Air, Water and Earth. There were crystals and items from nature that Sora and the other women associated with a particular meaning or person. Items are placed on an altar for a specific purpose or to honour or connect us with something meaningful. Crystals can represent love and compassion. Shells evoke the memory of the ocean. Oracle cards remind us of an intention or goal. Candles represent fire and White Sage is there to burn and clear the air.
Gazing upon the altar in the centre of our circle reminded me that I’ve always loved these kinds of beautiful things and that somehow I’d lost sight of that as I grew up. I thought about all the pretty things I’d collected as a child and a young adult, and wondered how many of them remained, tucked away in boxes and cupboards. Why shouldn’t I bring all the beautiful things out and create a dedicated space for them? Why shouldn’t I sit beside my beautiful things and reflect on what they mean to me, and what is important in my life. And, perhaps the most important question, why do we feel the need to disconnect from joy and from the earth and all its beauty and magic as we enter adulthood. We are drawn so intuitively to it as children, collecting stones and flowers, wrapping ourselves in ribbons and sparkles, climbing the highest trees, pressing our skin against the earth, dancing to the music in our heads. Perhaps if we adults had spent more time honouring Mother Gaia, gazing upon altars that celebrated and worshipped her beauty and wonder, we might have taken a little more care of her, and each other.
Sora was the ultimate space holder. For five days she kept us feeling loved, safe, nurtured and engaged. Her laugh was contagious and her stories compelling. When she danced, we danced. When she shared, we shared. We played with flowers and coloured yarn, adorned ourselves in gold and silver decoration and gave each other massages. We sat together in groups and pairs, sharing our dreams and our struggles and our deepest desires. We learned what it felt like to be heard without judgement or advice from another. We spoke into the hearts of sisters who held our stories quietly, reflecting them back to us so we could see ourselves more clearly. We always knew what to do and how to do it and I barely noticed as she nudged us deeper and deeper into reflection, connection and communion. Before I knew what was happening I found myself curled in the lap of a loving sister, sharing my deepest fears and feeling as cosy there as I was on my couch at home. And that was only Day 2! I was in awe of what can happen when a group of women are guided to share openly, honestly and authentically about our lives and our dreams. We felt supported, held and loved unconditionally. I don’t know about you, but I have rarely felt this way in the company of a group of women, especially 26 women I’ve never met before!
On Day 3 we held a ceremony in celebration of the work we had done together, and to honour the connections that are made when we join together as sisters in circle. It was a simple yet beautiful process that we moved through together; a meaningful ritual that we had planned in advance and rehearsed. I could not have imagined it would be so powerful. The experience of participating in ceremony with other women felt like coming home. There was nothing unusual or grandiose about the steps involved. Only a few days earlier it might have been a little out of my comfort zone, but not dramatically so. There was smoke from palo santo, flowers and beautiful music. We sang a short song we had learned together, and moved around the circle to music, greeting each woman individually with a ritual greeting we had practiced. We took turns moving to the altar, smudged ourselves with sage and used a flower to splash water droplets on our heads to symbolise being cleansed of negative energies. That something this simple could feel so sacred and powerful blew me away. It felt familiar and important, as though this kind of experience was an essential part of being a human being. It left me with an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness that most of us no longer have anything like this in our lives.
Over the course of my week in circle I heard tell of women and witches, mothers and daughters, priestesses and ceremonies. I learned of ancient civilisations that revered women, whose goddesses sat on pedestals alongside their gods. I reflected on a time in our deep past when women were priestesses and leaders and valued members of their community, honoured for their important role in creating life and balancing the divine feminine with the divine masculine in all the ways of communal life. I began to embrace the idea of the divine feminine, not as some abstract concept involving sweetness and floral tones but as the essential counterpart to the divine masculine. And I saw, with sudden clarity, that a gaping imbalance between the masculine and feminine is the root of all the problems; ALL the problems we are facing here on our fragile planet at this time.
I fell headlong into the story of my female ancestors, and felt deeply the grief, loss, violence and fear that they experienced over the last 5000 years. I had always known of the witch hunts across Europe, but had never considered the impact and scope of them, and how they might be a part of my own personal history. As a white woman with ancestry leading back to parts of Britain and Europe, it’s almost certain that my own ancestors were subjected to the fear of the witch burnings in their homes and villages. If my ancestor was not burned herself, it is certain that her sister was, or her mother, her neighbour, her friend, her daughter.
I began to conceive of what happens when generations of women are frightened into staying silent, staying small, and isolating themselves from their sisters. First, the women who knew of herbs were burned, and the ones who tracked the earth’s cycles and knew the turning of the seasons and the habits of the animals. The women whose wisdom led to a good harvest were accused, found guilty of witchcraft and burned to their death. As were the wise women, the outspoken women and the keepers of ancient knowledge, stories and lore from times gone by. An entire generation lost their midwives and their healers, their leaders and their carers and the women who guided them through birth and death, loss and grief. Scared for their lives, women isolated themselves, and turned in the ones who gathered in groups, for they were surely covens of witches, or at least up to no good. And so we lost the women who held space, the women who sat together in solidarity, the women who sat in circle. Witches, all of them. Murdered, all of them. What happens when generations of women are frightened into staying silent, small and isolated? What happens? This happens. This. This world that we live in right now is what happens.
I joined a course a few years ago that guided me to identify my core purpose in this life; my WHY; my reason for being here. At the time I was able to articulate my purpose as this: ‘I am here to bring people together and help them live more meaningful lives.’ Back then, those were the only words I knew, to capture the feeling I had about where my life was headed. It felt right, but incomplete, and I had no clarity about how I might step onto that path. After spending a week in circle with Sora Surya No I walked away with the details filled in, and a sense of purpose infused in my being. I know now that I am here to support women and help them remember their connection with each other. I am here to restore the sisterhood and support the rise of the divine feminine. I am here to play my part in bringing balance back to humanity. I am also a bad-ass warrior priestess ready to shine my light in the world!
Some of the details are still a little hazy but I can see the first steps clearly, and already I feel my energy rising. Last week I decided I was ready to begin sharing the magic of circle in my own community. It will be a gentle start, assuming that many women in my world are, like me, a little hesitant to embrace spiritual concepts like prayer and ritual. There won’t be any singing or dancing in my circles, at least not for now! We’ll simply gather and share, talk and laugh. I’ll lead meditation and encourage my sisters to slow down and find the joy in their lives. We’ll drink tea and there will definitely be chocolate. I’m working on my own self care too. If I am to be of any use to other women, I need to be strong, clear and comfortable in my own skin. I’ve started training in Reiki and am learning and expanding every day into this new way of being. I am reading entire libraries of books and embedding new habits and practices in my daily life. As I shared in my last post, my growth game is strong. If you know me based on who I was a year ago…. you may have to reacquaint yourself!
If all of this has sparked your curiosity about Womens’ circles – and you’re in Melbourne’s Inner North – you could come along to one of my Northside Womens Circles. I’m very excited about them! Or if that doesn’t work, let me know below where you are and I can put you in touch with women in your area who are holding circle. Because they’re everywhere. Once you have eyes to see and ears to hear, circle will come to you. All you have to do is stop thinking and follow your intuition. It worked for me!
It goes without saying that I recommend working with Sora if you are feeling the call to hold circle for the women in your life. She is the real deal; an authentic, open, loving space holder who embodies the Priestess archetype while imbuing the role with her own very special blend of sass and sparkle and simmer. Sora is back in Melbourne to run this course again in February 2018, and I will be doing her Level 2 course. If the in person training is not possible for you, Sora has just launched an amazing online programme called The Sacred Circle Foundation so you can go on this incredible journey no matter where you are in the world. Finally, all the amazing photos in this post are taken by Fi Mims Photography who has most certainly captured the feel of the incredible week I spent in circle with Sora and all the beautiful women you see in these images.