Remembering the Circle

“The talking circle has been used in all indigenous cultures in different forms. Among the Yupik, they have the Qus’iaq. Tlingit used the long houses. Unungangs (Aleuts) used the men’s and women’s house. Rita Blumenstein, a very respected Yupik elder and healer, says that “Unless we unburden our hearts, we cannot think clearly.”……. A talking circle is not a counseling session. It is simply a time to give anyone an opportunity to speak what is in their hearts and/or on their minds
in the presence of supportive witnesses
.
Larry Merculieff, Unungan Traditional messenger and teacher


We have been given to gift of Indaba by the keepers of the stories.  We are asked to hold the spaces for the retelling of these stories and to invite each person to share the story they carry within their soul.

Indaba is a Zulu word and tradition that means “I have something important to tell you.” The circle is called to guide the children to the dreamtime and to honor the Elders and Ancestors by retelling how they lived and died.  The circle is a way in which community is made and remade and through which investments of initiatory knowledge are shared for strengthening social agreements and engagements.  Each person is considered the beginning and ends of the circle and holds the task of asking for the highest truth for the wellbeing of the community.  The Sacred Center is home, the place of belonging for Spirit.  Indaba.
Orland Bishop, Legacy Holder and Teacher of African Gnosis


The circle and sharing stories arise inseparably together from the depths of the Hawaiian/Polynesian tradition. When humans were first created, their essential spirit was held in the umeke, the bowl that holds the breath of life.  The rim of the bowl represents the circle in which open, authentic dialogue—ho’oponopono—can take place to clear the bowl from human failings such as using free will as a weapon rather than in service of compassion.  The ubiquitous tradition in Hawaii of “talking story” grows out of the practice of ho’oponopono. In this sacred ceremony it is understood that everyone is telling their own story from their unique perspective and so differing points of view are welcome as critical information. 
Kahu M. Kalani Souza, Hawaiian Story Teller


“We live within the circle, the circle of life and the circle of death, we move within the memory of the past while moving toward the future. We bath in the light of the rising Sun and dream by the light of Grandmother Moon. We start over in a new day, a long week, another month, looking at a promising New Year. We learn, we laugh, we celebrate , we mourn. We stand in the center, we put all those that we know and love, we add those that do harm in this great circle. Above and below to the right of us, to the left of us, in front of us and behind us, we remember, we connect, and we let go of what holds us back. Everything that the world does is done in a circle.” 
Julie Tumamait, Chumash elder and story teller  


The beauty of the Circle is that we cannot see each other’s back; and the strength of the Circle is that we can only see each other’s beauty.
“Uncle” Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Eskimo-Kalaallit Elder


People from the earliest times have used Circles to attend to community matters. Circles of stones and wood can be found throughout Britain, Ireland and Europe. Some sites date back 5,000 years or more. Though much of this history has been lost, there is a record of Carleon’s Amphitheatre (1133); thought to be the place where King Arthur and his men met at the round table. Many meeting places were refreshed. For example Emain Macha was ceremonially cleansed by being burned down and rebuilt again. This makes it into double hill, layers and layers of burning so that the site is rekindled. These were traditional circles of communication and also the seat of kings. In Denmark each village had its ‘Ting’ (Council). There they negotiated/bargained on the village’s laws. The ‘Ting’ met around the Council Tree, which was surrounded by a number of boulders, one for each member. I feel privileged and deeply thankful to be able to carry the roots of these traditions into modern times.
Pippa Bondy, Guide in Wales


The cultural root images in almost all civilizations depict round, fourfold representations of a whole life: from the Tibetan Mandala to fourfold cosmotherandric designs of First Peoples; from the Celtic Cross to the Buddhist eightfold Wheel of Life; from the cosmology of the Bakongo People in Africa to calligraphic representations of the Prophet Mohammed’s name, to mention but a few. All of these highly aesthetic circular representations provided visual, spiritual, and philosophical guidance of what it means to live life in tune with oneself, with humanity, with earth, with cosmos. For all civilizations, such images played a most important role. They imprinted an ‘imago of the ultimately possible,’ served as a ‘living life compass,’ and spurred the imagination for crafting a ‘full-fill-ing’ life.
Alexander Scheiffer, “imago integralis”, Kosmos Winter 2016


Sufis meet, dance, pray, and sing in circles. They spin around at the center of the divine circle that has no circumference. They circle their heads slowly in zikr, repeating the prayer of unity, breaking open their hearts as their heads swing down to their chests. They count their prayers with prayer beads slipping through their fingers, each necklace of beads a circle. In our tradition the teacher may ask a question, and then each person in the circle will offer in turn their response. We also share “musical tunings” and “musical meditations” sitting in circles together, each one giving voice to the co-created prayer of their hearts, altogether, all at once. These are “prayer councils” without words, councils of deep communion.
Pir Elias Amidon, Sufi Way


Sápmi is the area in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia where the Sami live. Language and traditions differ but to come together in circles has always been important to enable everybody to see everybody else, feel safe and connected and to ensure that everybody “is ok”. Circles are mostly small groups within the family which sometimes may include a visitor and are used to tell fairy tales to children, storytelling and conveying manners and customs….. The typical round shaped (Goahti) Sami “house” is a given gathering place and the fire a natural center to sit around and to talk, but the area next to the fire used only for cooking is holy and may not be used for sitting or telling stories, neither to be stepped over. The “center” is not  decorated – either just the fire or simple nature if gathering outside. Councils are also held within working groups such as mobile teams following the reindeer, also bigger circles of 13 people were used in 16th and 17th century for jurisdictional councils.
Håkan Håkansson – Council facilitator, Sweden


Alevism comes as one of the two main branches of Islam, based on the more esoteric tradition from Sufism. ‘Alev’ means fire and light: that who comes from light. Alevis have elders called Dede (grandfather) and Ana (Mother) and who facilitate the ceremony or ‘CEM’ for worship, women and men sitting in a circle, which can also have different kinds of intention. Cem means coming together, being one, but before Cem all the people are supported to leave their identity for becoming equal, to be contented with everyone. If not, they share what is their challenge or need for the Elder to facilitate, with twelve helpers in service to the Elders for the process. In completion, every one needs to be ok with the solution, so that then the Cem can continue with prayers, music, dance (SEMAH, simulation of planets turning, crane bird…), eating together (LOKMA). These prayers are not for winning paradise or avoiding fear of hell, but more for healing and being a good human. İnsan-ı Kamil is the word for this but the translation above is insufficient to convey the deeper meaning. Alevis say that ‘Love is our belief, with light.’
Asil Dugan – Council Carrier, Turkey



Ancient Greek Circle

“Couparaki” is a form of traditional “circle”, coming from the village of Avlona, S-W Peloponnese. Its name, “coupari” or “couparaki”, means coupa or cup. Mainly a toasting ritual or custom performed during small or bigger gatherings, such as weddings etc, one person of respect, usually the home-owner or elder, starts the “coupari” by lifting up a “cup” (glass) full of wine. He commands everyone’s attention to then recite a wish or toasting, for somebody he wants to honor. He then drinks, but before finishing up he has to “order” (choose) the next person to take over the “coupari” – thus the cup becomes a kind of “talking stick”. During the transition between talkers, people start singing a “table song” (tis “tavlas”), an acapella traditional song, i.e. without instruments accompaniment or dance. I’ve participated once in a “couparaki”, during an open-air big table for the Easter celebration (2005) with relatives originating from the village…and experienced the high spirits and joyful atmosphere it brings out. I still remember the red faces, of people first being shy, see they were called to talk kind of “publicly”, then, when they finally did, bursting out laughing! The couparaki has definitely this precious element of freeing and opening up people to their wider community…”
Marios Desyllas – Permaculture Instructor, Greece


“Pigadakia”. This is a modern and spontaneous “political” council, which flourished in the streets of Athens during the late 70’s – early 80’s after the fall of the military junta and the restoring of democracy (1974), with people’s heart being on fire for societal change. Two or three people, who do not know each other (!), meet in a central square, and start arguing about something. The discussion is vivid and intense, since participants usually somehow hold different views, although they are not normally polarised. Passers-by may join in to form a kind of “standing circle”, usually five or a few more. “Pigadi” is the Greek word for water well, and while people are standing in circle forming a kind of well, the metaphor being as digging for the truth on a given subject… A number of more pigadakia, for instance 3, or 5 or more could form at the same time; when one decided his circle was boring he would shift to the next one!
Marios Desyllas – Permaculture Instructor, Greece


Kirykion, or Kerykeion is the Herald’s staff, the talking/listening piece used more notably by the God Hermes (in latin, Mercury) but also, and some say predated by, the Goddess Iris. It is a golden wand with two snakes entwined on it creating seven circles and often crowned by two wings, symbolizing the flying messager of the gods and similar to the eagle-spirit of the east. The Kirykion is spirit talking, bringing a ‘connecting message’ from the spirit world to the inner life of humans. He/she holds the kirykion, (in latin the Caduceus) symbolising the end of fighting to bring armistice, amity and unity. Later the Kirykion was also recognized as a symbol of commerce and negotiation, two realms in which balanced exchange and reciprocity were recognized as ideals, carried by ambassadors and negotiators, but also merchant travelers in the ancient world. It was an indication of coming in peace and mutual reciprocity (ayni). It was also used by Kyrikes in ancient Athens, who were making public announcements.
Thomas Anemos – Way of Council Facilitator, Athens, Greece


The Diwan: Palestinian society’s form of the Council circle  

In our day to day life, as children we would sit in a circle round the fire as grandmother would tell us stories. As women we sit in circles, singing all the while, while preparing a wedding feast.  In my research on the local and tribal customs in my society, I found some astonishing intersections between the “Diwan ” which is the local form of both parliament and court, and the council principles, such as patience, perseverance, compassion, confidentiality, responsibility,  and  containment.

Within the Arab society in Palestine, a form of a parallel law, alongside (and regardless of) the state law, has emerged. Since it was unacceptable to solve local disputes at the occupier courts, people invented their own law and courts. One of the most splendid facts about those courts is that they are “round”: People sit in a circle so everybody can be seen and heard.  Participation in this forum is usually for males only, although, in certain cases, female healers and elders could attend. Permission to speak is given to older attendees. While children are allowed to attend and listen, they are forbidden from participating in the discussions.
Itaf Awad, Palastinian Elder



Standing on the Threshold

The beauty and teaching of the vision fast is that when we stand tall in our own uniqueness and add our voice to the whole, the voice of the land becomes stronger.   When we step across the threshold of ceremony we enter the rich voice of the land, and the land speaks in council. Taking our place in the council of all beings is our task, responsibility and blessing as human beings. We belong here.
Meredith Little,  Founder The School of Lost Borders

 


Holy listening—to “listen” another’s soul into life, into a condition of disclosure and discovery,
may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.
Douglas Steere, author, teacher & Quaker Elder


A circle of trust has no agenda except to help people listen to their own souls and discern their own truths…Its singular purpose is to support the inner journey of each person in the group, to make each soul feel safe enough to show up and speak its truth, to help each person listen to his or her own inner teacher.

Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places…Yet despite its toughness, the soul is also shy…A circle of trust is a group of people who know how to sit quietly “in the woods” with each other and wait for the shy soul to show up. The relationships in such a group are not pushy but patient; they are not confrontational but compassionate; they are filled not with expectations and demands but with abiding faith in the reality of the inner teacher and in each person’s capacity to learn from it.
Parker Palmer: A Hidden Wholeness


“When you find your place inside the circle, you are surrounded by a community that practices a willingness to provide you with a patient, loving, compassionate understanding of who you are, and the circle is committed to a relationship with you,
and with each other, that will help you on your life’s journey.”

Jeanette Acosta, California Traditional 


In mystical Judaism, known as the Kabbalah, the essence of spiritual practice lies in listening. “SHMA Yisroel!” the Torah tells us, “Listen, all you who wrestle with the Infinite!” The tradition tells us the voice of the divine Feminine, the mythic Bat-Kol, is speaking to us at all times, if we can still ourselves long enough to hear her. She whispers to us through our world, our dreams, and each other. And her voice is strongest when we sit together as one, pray, sing, chant, and then simply listen. The beauty and teaching of the vision fast is that when we stand tall in our own uniqueness and add our voice to the whole, the voice of the land becomes stronger.
Rabbi Tirza Firstone, PHD


“Council allows us to go deep into areas of our life that we never thought would be possible; it’s a way to heal the shame that has bound us up and kept us from being our true self. Center for Council allows us to feel like we’re human beings, not just inmates.”                  

 James, Inmate Council Program Participant at Ironwood State Prison