Women have gathered in sacred circles – beside fires in prehistoric times, in 1970s rec rooms in consciousness-raising groups, and today online – to share their lives, listen to one another’s stories and spiritually connect in community.
That’s the intent of the Sisters’ Gathering in Spokane, a group that has met monthly on a Saturday evening since early 2014, said Chenoa Durheim, one of the group’s creators and facilitators.
“We wanted to create a space where women could get together and talk about our lives and the world at large, and share in community,” Durheim said. “We were concerned about how disconnected we all were, and we wanted a space to get back together.”
Durheim noted that the group is not pagan or Wiccan or an earth-based religious group; nor do all members share the same religion or spiritual path.
“We don’t have set beliefs,” she said. “The group tends to lean more liberal and toward women’s rights, but … we’re all trying to find our way in the world.”
According to the SHE Sisters’ Gathering Facebook page, the group is “a safe space for women to connect in meaningful ways. Through conversation we explore, discover, and share new depths of ourselves. Our mission is to grow a network of local women that support and love each other as sisters.”
On a recent Saturday evening on Spokane’s South Hill, a group of 10 women gathered in a circle, casually chit-chatting and sharing a potluck meal. Deborah Elaine, the night’s designated facilitator, explained how the night’s discussion would go for new members.
“We’ll do a talking stick ceremony, which is based on ritual from many different Native American tribes,” Elaine said. “It’s just something physical to denote who is talking … the person holding it has the space to talk. You don’t have to talk, you can pass and we can come back to you.”
As facilitator, Elaine chose the topic for the evening – hope.
“Last month’s discussions led me to thinking about hope and optimism,” Elaine told the women, and then shared some of her personal struggles before passing the stick.
Allowing one person to talk without interruption is a critical part of the process, she said.
“It feels like sitting in a room talking with friends, but we put a little more structure by using the talking stick. I share things here that my best friends will never hear come out of my mouth. It’s amazing what people will share within this structure,” Elaine said. “We ask who are you in terms of the topic and then we go deeper into it.”
As the stick moved around the circle again and again, the women shared stories of their experiences in relationships, the daily trials and tribulations of motherhood and life in general, as well as their hopes and dreams. The mood shifted as each woman held the stick and told her story, from light to heavy, from tears to laughter and back again.
“The person holding the stick has complete freedom to say what they feel, and those not holding the stick practice actively listening to the person speaking,” Durheim noted. “It’s unlimited and uninterrupted. When we are not holding the talking stick, we don’t talk and we actively listen to the person speaking.”
Durheim said the topics usually are about self-awareness, self-growth or a common theme about women’s lives. The group also participates in different arts projects as well as group activities. Durheim said she hopes members will branch outside the circle to do things like hiking and other outdoor pursuits.
During next month’s meeting women will create vision boards – tools used to help clarify life goals and aspirations by the creation of visual images of them.
The group attracts between eight and 15 women each month, Durheim said.
“I think the most we’ve ever had is about 22 women here,” she said. “We’re still in a growing stage with this network of women. It feels very powerful and very ancient to have women meeting together in this way.
“By sitting in a circle, we are all equal in the value of our voice. The benefits from participating in an event like this can include emotional healing, more energy, renewed passion for life, motivation, inspiration, a deeper sense of self worth and of course new friends.”