Musings on the Circle Way

I’ve been circling for a long, long time.

I began with women’s circles in the early 80’s (unless we go back to childhood and count the circles sitting around the fire in Campfire Girls). In those women’s circles, I learned about building an altar in the center, about passing a talking stick as each woman had a turn to speak, about each of us taking a turn at being the facilitator — the one who says “we’re going off-topic here” or “let’s do a time check.”

I learned about ceremonial circles too, about calling the directions, about ritual etiquette, about building energy in a clockwise direction and releasing it in a counterclockwise direction, about making sure one grounds post-ritual by running your energy into the earth and then eating some nourishing food.

When I read The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler and Dreaming the Dark by Starhawk, I came to a greater understanding of the difference between the shape of the pyramid (a hierarchical flow of power, from those on top with lots of power to those on the bottom with very little) and the circle (power shared with others). Starhawk coined the terms “power-over” and “power-with” to describe these two very different ways of operating in the world. Riane Eisler named the power-with circle model The Partnership Way.

I helped to form a collective of women who published a women’s spirituality magazine (The Beltane Papers) and, when I left a few years later, I swore I would never be part of a group again who made decisions by consensus. So enticing as an ideal, to difficult to implement well.

When I began teaching classes on Goddess Spirituality and the tarot in the early 90’s, we always sat in a circle. It never occurred to me to have the students sit any other way.

I became aware of Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea’s PeerSpirit work with circle in the mid-90’s, about the time I met them at a Vicki Noble retreat at Chinook Learning Center on Whidbey Island. Christina’s book Calling the Circle came out about the same time. I was intrigued by the way they were taking circle process into mainstream settings, but for some reason I didn’t really catch the vision of what exactly was possible.

aldermarsh prayer flags

I never realized how powerful the PeerSpirit structure of circle process could be until I went to Christina’s “Self as Source of the Story” writers’ retreat in December 2012, and she came to my Gaian Soul Retreat in February 2013. Then I got it — oh! Listening with attention and speaking with intention — oh! The rotating role of guardian, the one who watches the energy of the circle and rings a chime or bell to call for a pause whenever it’s needed — oh! Putting our deep emotion into the council fire at the center of the circle, instead of expecting others to take care of us — oh! Sinking into slow time — oh! Coming up with great questions for rounds of storytelling — oh!

I devoured Ann and Christina’s newest book, The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair, underlining many passages and writing notes to myself.

I began to incorporate more and more elements of PeerSpirit circle process into my retreats and workshops and online classes. I received help and feedback from James Wells and Bev Haskins, two tarot friends who have taken advanced circle training with Ann and Christina. The more I learned, the more questions I had, and the more I realized how much I needed to take the training in person.

Christina & the circle-sphere

And so, I arrived at our beloved Aldermarsh (where I hold my own retreats) last week, to spend six days in circle training with Ann and Christina. There were twenty of us strangers who gathered the first night, both men and women. At the end of the week, we were all each other’s new best friends.

I am coming away from the training with a deeper understanding of the Circle Way, with some very specific questions answered. But more than that, I am in awe of those who are taking circle process into schools, hospitals, and corporations — including very tense situations — and who are literally changing our institutions, slowly but surely, from the inside out. Power-with instead of power-over. The partnership way.

The Circle Way.

(If you are intrigued and want to know more, I invite you to watch the following video and to download this free PDF from the Circle Way site on basic circle guidelines. Blessed be!)

2 thoughts on “Musings on the Circle Way

  1. Thank you for sharing your inspirations and some of your journey. You have offered some great resources for exploring. And it’s so nice to hear about some ways to make group process more authentic and functional.

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