I belong to a band of mothers that likes to gather in circles. Like ancient wise women circling the fire, we convene around makeshift altars, kitchen tables and beach blankets. We talk about our children and homes, our dreams and plans, our fears and frustrations… In this age-old form of gathering, we each have a voice and each of our faces can be seen. Each woman is recognized as part of the tribe.
And a diverse tribe of eight we are; among us is an energy healer living in a two-mommy household, a midwife married to a local politician, and a toddler-toting self-employed businesswoman. However, despite our differences, there are strong common threads that run among us: we are all mothers, homemakers, practitioners of natural parenting and mindful living enthusiasts. Our likenesses are what led us to one another, and what bring us together in circle, again and again.
Our gatherings began shortly after we met through a local birthing center, just over six years ago. We would congregate in casual mommy-baby playgroups where spontaneous nursing circles formed as we simultaneously brought our new babes to breast. We shared our ups and downs with one another and together traversed the bumpy landscape of new motherhood.
Time went by and our friendships blossomed alongside our families. When three of us were expecting again, we called a series of powerful “birth story circles,” intended to offer healing and release before the arrival of our second children. At these gatherings, held in the safety of one another’s company, we each shared the intimate tale of our initiation into motherhood.
Soon, we gathered again for ceremonial Mother Blessing circles to honor and celebrate each expecting mother’s journey into a new phase of motherhood, and to welcome three new members to our clan, including my second daughter. Over time, the births of several more second and third babies have been welcomed with Mother Blessings.
In addition to our ceremonies, playgroups and occasional crafting circles, our band of mothers formed a New Moon circle. We gather each month, as the moon enters a new lunar cycle, to share our intentions and hopes for the month ahead. It is during this powerful circle that our sisterhood truly shines. I notice our energies wax and wane together as we follow the pull of the moon and the seasons in unity.
Over the years, our circle gatherings have built the foundation of a community that continues to develop and grow. We have formed a village of families, of which we are the modern-day wise women, convening to support one another through the life changing and the mundane.
Creating a Sense of Community
While our circle came together quite naturally – or supernaturally I sometimes believe – women around the world gather in similar groups, formed intentionally to connect to a sense of community often lost in our modern world. Erin Goodman of Exhale. Return to Center hosts mothers’ circles at various locations throughout southern New England. She says, “I love coming together in community to nurture myself and others, to take down the walls that we too often let divide us, and to support and learn from each other. I want mothers to know they are not alone, that none of us is perfect, and that taking the time to nurture and care for ourselves is essential to our physical and emotional well-being.”
Erin organized her monthly circle to incorporate guided meditation, journal writing and a sharing circle. The format draws from her background as a yoga teacher, writer, healer and community organizer. She feels it’s developing into a micro-community that transcends typical barriers among mothers, such as parenting styles, and decisions to work or stay-at-home, breastfeed or bottle-feed, etc.
“Friendships are being formed within the group. Life decisions are being made, inspired by things that are shared in the circle,” says Erin. “We are really connecting at a soul level and supporting each other on our journeys as mothers and women.”
Connecting to the Divine
When gathering in circle, we also have an opportunity to connect to the sacred through ritual and ceremony. My mothers’ circle assemblies borrow elements from a wide variety of traditions and disciplines to create a feeling of sanctity.
At any given New Moon or Mother Blessing, you’ll find an altar at the center of our space – usually a coffee table or ottoman – adorned with candles, a colorful cloth or mirror and some meaningful collection of fresh flowers, crystals, small statues, shells or other symbolic objects.
And then there’s the juju, the term we have grown fond of using for our ritual and ceremony essentials. Beyond candles, this often includes smudge sticks of dried sage, a ball of red yarn, henna, beads, essential oils and offerings of food and drink. All of these magical elements are incorporated into our ceremonies, connecting us to the cross-cultural and ancient roots from which they derived.
My clan typically opens the circle with a centering meditation, and then we smudge one another to clear away any negative energy. This is followed by candle lighting and calling upon the spirits of each direction to guide us in our ceremony. At Mother Blessing circles, we also each light a candle for our maternal ancestors.
The use of rituals such as these help us focus and get centered, better allowing us to express ourselves, whether setting positive intentions on a New Moon, or offering meaningful blessings to a mother-to-be.
Erin’s circle also uses ritual and ceremony to connect to the sacred, incorporating elements from yoga training, drumming circles, energy training, moon circles and experiences at her Unitarian Universalist church.
“At first I was very nervous about picking and choosing ritual elements, rather than following one specific tradition, but I have talked with many spiritual leaders from a variety of traditions about this and, in one form or another, all have shared the same message: Allow your open heart and pure intentions to guide you.”
Elements Erin incorporates include the lighting of a candle that sits within a circle of women carved in stone, and the chanting of OM at the beginning and end of each circle. She adds, “We also close by saying Mamasté – the mother in me recognizes and honors the mother in you.”
Expressing through Equality
While my mothers’ circles gained structure over time and continue to evolve, the constant is a foundation of security and equanimity. It will always be a safe space where each of us knows we will be heard and our story honored.
Our New Moon gatherings accomplish this through a balance of honest communication and compassionate listening. Once we have performed the opening rituals, whoever is moved to speak may begin, signified by taking possession of the “talking book.” This is our version of the ancient “talking stick” symbol, which gives the person who holds it the speaking floor. Our book is simply a blank journal where we record our monthly intentions. While someone is holding the book, all others are to practice kind-hearted and non-judgmental listening.
In her sharing circle, Erin uses a “speaking stone” made of amethyst, which is said to aid in clear communication. “I invite people to share what is in their heart and on their mind and remind everyone that what is shared in the circle is to remain in the circle,” she explains. “There is no pressure to talk; if it doesn’t feel right they can simply pass the stone on to the next person.”
There is no hierarchy in circles. When following the way of this primary feminine symbol, sitting around a sacred center, every mother can see and hear each other equally. This fosters equanimity amongst the group and builds confidence and trust both in individuals and as a whole. The security to express openly in this environment offers opportunities for release and clarity, as well as for unconditional support and love.
Embracing the Magic of Motherhood
When closing our Mother Blessing circles, my tribe weaves a web of womanhood amongst itself. Beginning with the honoree, a sacred ball of red yarn is passed from person to person, each woman wrapping it around her wrist or ankle a few times. The yarn symbolizes the connection of the blood from mother to baby, as well as the blood that runs through the veins of every woman. Once we have woven ourselves into this web, the yarn is cut and everyone ties off her section to wear as a symbol of support until the mother gives birth.
For years, I’ve almost always had a length of this red yarn tied around my ankle, as amongst the eight of us, we now have 18 children and one more on the way. And so, over time, it has grown not only to represent the support I’m offering, but also to serve as a loving reminder of the support I receive as a mother.
My involvement in a mothers’ circle has provided me a community like none other, a revered connection to the sacred and invaluable insight into myself. I can’t imagine experiencing and sharing the magic of motherhood in any other way.
Creating a Mothers’ Circle
When forming a mothers’ circle, or when bringing the circle format to an existing mothering group, implementing a mix of age-old and modern principles, traditions and tools can add to the magic and ensure success.
* Create a sacred center, or altar, in the middle of your space to help build a connection to the Divine.
* Pull elements from ancient traditions and disciplines to create rituals, unique to your circle, which will unite and center your group.
* Employ a talking stick, or similar symbolic item, to designate who is speaking. When a member holds the talking stick, all others should be engaged in compassionate listening.
* Encourage honest communication by speaking one at a time and affirming each member’s contributions.
* Bring on the juju – light candles, adorn yourselves in essential oils, chant, sing or drum together, work with henna, meditate together – anything that speaks to your group can be a force of magic and healing.
* Remember to have fun; incorporate a potluck or a delectable snack; do crafts or handiwork together; laugh, share & revel in each other’s company!
Elizabeth Sniegocki is a freelance writer and mother of two girls, Selby (6) and Sage (2). She is working on a memoir chronicling the friendship of her circle of mothers. She blogs about her community, mothering, writing and mindful living at A Natural Nester.