For centuries women have been coming together to celebrate the highs of life, commemorate the low ones, and generally strengthen the bonds of sisterhood through conversation and shared experiences.
But as society has become more fragmented, and the pace and demands of life have become ever more hectic, it’s increasingly harder for women from all walks and stages of life to converge and share a space where they can grow and learn together.
According to figures cited by the Campaign to End Loneliness a higher percentage of women than men report feeling lonely some of the time or often. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health also highlighted that having a wide circle of friends was crucial for midlife wellbeing in women, and unlike men, this played an even more central role than having a network of relatives on hand for support.
It’s no wonder then that an increasing number of women’s circles are cropping up to meet the demand for female kinship and a shared life journey.
Online groups platform MeetUp.com lists 210 women’s circles worldwide with a combined membership of more than 30,000 members.
A 2017 study on Women’s Circles and the Rise of the New Feminine by the Centre of Research on Culture and Gender at Ghent University confirmed the draw of women’s circles, saying, ‘Women’s circles seem to appeal to a variety of women, both those who had lived in more ‘traditional’ feminine roles, due to either their generation, personal, cultural, class or religious upbringing, and those who had walked the modern gender liberal (or postfeminist) route towards ‘having it all’ (autonomy, achievement and/or personal fulfillment and professional success).’
What is a women’s circle?
A women’s circle is essentially a safe space where women of all ages can come to share their life stories, express their full gamut of emotions, embrace the ‘divine feminine’ – not so much relating to gender as it is to an innate pool of wisdom and spiritual energy – set positive intentions, and harness the collective power of a group of like-minded individuals who are attuned to their need for connection and, in some cases, healing. Activities during a women’s circle – which are generally not connected to any particular religion/movement – can include anything from guided meditation and sound healing to rituals observing the cycles of the moon.
Who leads women’s circles?
Women’s circles are generally led by a variety of spiritual practitioners who have experience of one or more healing modalities such as shamanism – an ancient healing tradition that connects spirituality and nature.
Fiona Reilly, 44, works as a counsellor, postnatal doula and reflexologist. She lives in Edinburgh and has been facilitating women’s circles for the last six years
I facilitate women’s circles and retreats and am passionate about preparing and eating healthy plant-based food. I also worked as a facilitator and retreat host with a spiritual community for over 10 years.
Women’s circles vary hugely and what works for one person doesn’t work for another. Some people like big groups, others like small gatherings, informality resonates with some, while others like structure... and so on. I celebrate the wide variety of formats in relation to women’s circles and would encourage anyone who feels drawn to participate in one to find one that is a good match for her needs.
Originally I got interested in women’s groups as my partner at that time was part of a regular men’s group and I could see the value it had in his life. I knew I wanted to establish my own women’s group, but it took a few months for the right people to ‘show up’. I was clear that I wanted it to be a closed group of 4–6 people (so that we could build up trust and intimacy) and that I didn’t want to lead it. It was a place where I felt I could equally give and receive. We would gather together once a fortnight and share together. We would begin with a few minutes silence to allow ourselves to settle into the space and then usually have a check in.
Each of us would have the opportunity to share where we are at in our lives; sometimes we would have something specific to focus on, an activity or theme to explore. We sang a lot, and the group found its own rhythm. We altered location among women’s homes. Creativity and sharing food was often part of our circles, it’s nice to have activities that aren’t based around chatting and facilitated connection in other ways.
That first group was about six years ago and I now participate and host groups and retreats in various forms, such as for women without children, as part of the Scottish Doula Network and with a closed group. Typically, there is a beginning, middle and end to a gathering. The beginning usually involves some sort of arriving ritual and introduction/planning, the middle a sharing and then a closing ritual. I feel that the group should be empowering for the participants and a space where a good leader fades into the background.
I think the benefits of being part of a women’s circle are different for each person, for me it’s having a space where I can hold and be held. It’s a space where I am fully accepted. Where I can cry, play and laugh and its all ok. It’s very powerful to share your experience with others and have it witnessed and often brings new insights and clarity.
I believe women’s circles bring us community and support. They are a space where we can connect and share our experiences. A place to recognise that we are not alone, a place to meet the sacred within us. I feel that being in a same gender group is important as there is a deeper understanding of each others’ experiences. I feel that women’s circles are important at this time as society is so fast-paced and focused on achieving things. Women often give hugely to the world and don’t allow time for themselves. Women’s circles are also spaces where women may celebrate, nurture, and replenish themselves.
Andrea Takacs-Carvalho, 44, – aka The Gaia Healer – is originally from Brazil and now lives in London.She is Sacred Feminine Priestess, Spiritual Healer, Shamanic Practitioner and Women’s Circle organiser, and hosts women’s circles both in the UK and other locations
I’m trained as an electrical engineer, but I have walked many different religious and spiritual paths, and learned tons of self-development techniques.
Shamanism came to me when I was in my late teens and I met a Brazilian shaman who trained me and initiated me. In 2015 I completed a Womb Awakening apprenticeship that expanded my tools to work with the Secret Feminine energies.
In 2013 I joined a well-known and respected Shamanic organisation that had been offering the NYC community the chance to experience shamanic journeys and healing for more than 20 years. As a volunteer and core member, I was part of a small group who created up to four gatherings per month, for groups of 30+ people. Shortly after I joined them, I was selected to run the 13 year-old monthly Women’s Circles. The first time I stepped up to the role of Women’s Circle organiser, I felt like everything that had happened in my life had prepared me for that moment, and I had finally found my life purpose.
I usually explain at the beginning of my circles that a women’s circle can have many flavours, and the ones I organise include elements of shamanic practices. I create an altar at the centre with lots of flowers, an oracle deck, chocolate, fruits, sacred objects, and candles. I smudge the participants with sage or Palo Santo to cleanse the energy and open the circle with an invocation to the Divine Mother, our ancestors, our guardian spirits, and the elements. Then each participant introduces themselves and has their name repeated and their presence acknowledged and honoured with a Namaste. They do a Shamanic Journey while I drum, based on a theme that I give them, which I usually receive in a transmission before the event.
The women who attended range in ages from 20 to 60, but are often in their 30s and 40s. The women are often warm, but have often lost connection with themselves, a community, and a spiritual path, and they find all of that in one single event. They are strong but don’t find validation of this in our culture, and they don’t feel safe to open up about their true feelings.
The modern women who attend the circles – a tradition that has been around since ancient times – identify a part of themselves that had been dormant, and awaken a thirst for being in ceremonies, connecting with their unique spirituality. Sacred circles have always existed and will always exist, and right now Priestesses like me are again revealing the power of being a woman, in an often male-dominated world.
I usually receive a couple of notes after the events from women saying they feel centered, empowered, with a more balanced sense of wellbeing. ‘Happier’ is a word that has often come up in conversation with people post-circle attendance, describing a clearer understanding of their own lives. Most also experience healing from their feeling of disconnection and sense of not belonging.
Zoe Phillips, who’s in her 40s, is currently unemployed but usually works as an executive global marketer in pharmaceuticals. She attended one of Andrea’s circles
I was drawn to attend one of Andrea’s circles because of my state of mind following a six-month job hunt that still hasn’t resulted in a role. My boyfriend had also left me for someone else, and I felt that I had lost everything and couldn’t help but ask the Universe ‘what will become of me?’.
I do a lot of yoga and when I was emailed about the new schedule at Battersea Yoga and this class intrigued me. It felt right, and I just so happened to be free that Saturday night.
Attending felt like a relaxing and magical way to escape from the normal humdrum of life, it’s expectations and the social media circuit. It’s a complete a sanctuary with just women, and it’s great to spend a weekend evening on a restorative activity that doesn’t involve drinking.
I went with an open mind, and it felt almost primal, getting back to our roots, a private – yet protected space – where I could be who I am and could find out about myself.
I had plenty of ‘aha’ moments during the circle. I realised I don’t necessarily need to stick anyone in the 'bonfire', but that I need to stick all the negativity about me that was in my head into the bonfire and realise that I don’t need the ex boyfriend, I don’t need the attention of so-called friends that feel like they have deserted me, I don’t need his new girlfriend, I need me, just me. It may sound obvious but it was revelation that came to me during the circle meditation. It was a very powerful evening.
Sophy Mills, 34, a yoga teacher, also attended one of Andrea’s circles
I decided to attend the circle out of a desire to be part of a supportive and safe space for (intergenerational) women to share their experiences. I feel that there were so many benefits to being a participant: feeling closely connected to the other women; a sense of kinship and community – all without feeling judged. This was on top of the passing down of wisdom between generations. It’s changed my life in many ways, including the fact that I met Andrea – a beautiful soul and inspirational woman who will be a part of my life going forward.
I would highly recommend to any woman wanting to feel supported to come and be a part of it.
Miriam is a regular contributor to womanandhome.com, with specialisms in all things health and wellness. She has worked with the brand for over five years now, and previously worked on the women's lifestyle magazines Woman and Woman's Own.
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