Right now, I spend a great deal of time operating in circles. I think in circles, move in circles, dance, draw, & breathe in circles. I create new circles, consider what I can do to sustain existing ones, and now here I am– writing in circles, too.
This is not a process mainstream First World culture values. We want results. We want to start at Point A and get to Point B as fast as possible with quantifiable results. Keep it clean. Yes. No. Black. White. This end or that of whatever polarity spectrum is in question. Measurable gain or loss. The End. But couldn’t we work in other ways? Aren’t some of us already working those ways? How long have women, in particular, been engaged in this circular dance?
The short answer? Centuries.
We take the word “mandala” from the Sanskrit language and apply it cross culturally now when we talk about sacred or meditative circular designs. We use it to describe rose windows in medieval European cathedrals, Medicine Wheels of Indigenous North American traditions, megalithic standing stones in Celtic landscapes, symbolism in Aboriginal Australian art, Tibetan sand paintings, Carl Jung’s daily sketching, & the reemergence of the Labyrinth as a ritual tool. But what does this word mean, really?
Suggestions vary from the simplest translation (mandala = circle) to more complex suggestions. Perhaps “manda” means essence and combining this root word with “la” or container, creates a word that suggests a mandala is a container for the essence of something. This meaning is reflected in the Tibetan Buddhist use of sand mandalas as containers for Divine resonance. Carl Jung suggested they were representations of the unconscious- a container for the essence of the unrealized Self. Artist & author, Susanne Fincher, calls them “magic circles” filled with personal spiritual potential.
Sometimes, though, I forget the nature of mandalaic magic. I get caught up in trying to produce a measurable, linear result. I get angry and frustrated when I feel like all I am doing is spinning. When I feel like there is just so much ugliness in the world and I long for the most direct route to making the largest possible positive difference right now- right this very minute. This, however, is not within my power at this time. Neither is it, I suspect, the way of the All. The Great Work is not linear. It requires us to spin; to work in circles.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the suffragettes made use of working in circles. So did the consciousness raising groups of the 1960s & 70s. So does today’s Red Tent Movement. Indigenous women know this energetic well- sitting in council. Western Women’s Mysteries Traditions dance within magic circles. Heck, so does my local book club- which is composed of strong women who can take the themes of the month’s literary selection and weave their way through an examination of everything from small life experiences to giant global challenges. If I look closely, feel closely, re-attune myself to circular work, I can begin to re-establish my faith it in. It is not speedy, instantaneously productive work. But it is sacred movement in its own right. It fills the magic container with the essence of the kind of world we are striving for together.
This lunar cycle, the Sisterhood of Avalon is working with Arianrhod, who I consider to be the Queen of Mandalaic Magic. She comes to us at all full lunar eclipses- Moons of Cycle. She is my Great Teacher in Her Spiral Castle. She reminds me of the importance of spinning in circles- of dancing with the Silver Wheel, of the Spindle’s ability to craft a strong, yet supple thread, of the essence of learning these circular lessons.
Women work in circles. We always have and always will. We leave traces of mandalaic movements in our wake, still detectable today for those who go looking in myth, in art, in the landscape, in sacred spaces and more. And as difficult as it may be in many moments, we will produce more of the essence of the world we long for if we work with the rhythms of Creation’s Mandala, than if we struggle against them.
During this lunar cycle Arianrhod challenges me to experience what happens when we build these magic circles, these containers and begin to fill them with our chosen essences of change? When we create living mandalas among us? How can you and I answer the charge to create, sustain, & expand circles of powerful women? For in the revolution of every spinning circle, sustainable change will be born.
Kate Brunner is a writer, healer, ritualist, & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, studying at the Avalonian Thealogical Seminary. She is an American expat, living in Queensland, Australia and homeschooling her children, with the world as their classroom. Before motherhood, Kate earned a Bachelor of Arts from Tulane University, while studying Economics, International Relations, & Religion. She served four years as a logistics officer in the US Army, after which, Kate became a doula and holistic birth educator. She is a regular contributor to The Sisterhood of Avalon’s online journal, The Tor Stone and is active in the Red Tent Movement. Kate volunteered in Houston as a presenter for monthly Red Tents and semi-annual women’s retreats before relocating overseas. She enjoys international travel, perfecting her cooking, reading great books, & having fascinating conversations with friends, old or new.