How Women’s Circles can help you Manage Guilt

By Katie Carswell, Women’s Circle Holder, Mindfulness Life Coach, Reiki Healer, member of The Circle School Grove

Guilt. A small word that casts a large shadow.

Guilt is pervasive and insidious in can also be the master of disguise.Hidden in our sense of duty and obligation.

Guilt can keep you stuck, stop you from progressing, from doing things that you love or that you know will make you feel better.

We rationalise our guilt away as having no choice, it’s part of our human condition. 

Guilt can sit alongside people pleasing, loose boundaries and lack of self care/worth. 

Guilt is such a part of our everyday lives, many of us just live in a permanent state of feeling guilty – 

Guilty of having our own needs

Guilty for wanting time for ourselves

Guilty for asking for what we want

Guilty for taking time out for us

And more often than not, that sense of guilt is so huge, we let it win, even if it’s totally unfounded. 

But I wanted to write to you today about the fact that you have a choice and guilt is just a state of mind.

At the end of last year I sat in Circle with my gorgeous mentor Mitlé and other Circle holders, reflecting on our life and work during 2022, looking at things we might want to release as we move towards 2023.

For me it became clear that as a holder of many spaces, in work and life, for many people, I am rarely held myself. So I made the commitment to change that this coming year, to practise what I preach and fully embody my own beliefs about the power and medicine that can be found in Circle ~ but this time for me.

As it often goes in life, I went from making this beautifully empowered decision and gorgeous plans of how I would gracefully ease into 2023, fully embodying all the magic and wisdom of the practices I teach…to it being much different.

Life threw me a curve ball. 

A beautiful, fertile, nurturing one, but a giant one all the same. 

A large puppy bomb went off in our lives. Our beautiful Beddy Whippet, Daphne, had 10 pups on the first day of the school Christmas holidays. From 3.30am we sat with Daphne, as she started labour, watching her pace and 9.30am on Saturday 17th December the first little bundle of fluff eased his way into the world, with one pup following every half hour after that. 

It was both magical and humbling to witness our dogs’ natural instincts and know exactly what she needed to do. My husband and I had very little input but were on hand just in case help was needed. Two sadly didn’t survive, even with our attempts to save them but Daphne was an awe inspiring mum, birthing and feeding just as nature intended.

Christmas was quiet and not as we had planned but with a house full of pups our daughter was more than happy. And mum was doing brilliantly..but I had an inkling this might be the calm before the storm! On New Year’s Day we ALL ended up in the vets, mum with mastitis, we were told she needed time off from all feeding in order to heal, meaning my husband and I were now taking on that role. Since then we have fed 8 pups every 4-6 hours, day and night. It’s taken us back to when our own daughter was a newborn. The house has turned into a giant kennel. If we are not preparing to feed, feeding or cleaning up from a feed, we are washing and drying bedding and all of the other areas of care I had no idea would be needed.

All of this is just to give you a little insight into my world at the moment, life was full before, now it’s 8 times fuller.

We have all been in this situation, well perhaps not this situation, but a curveball one. 

Your own particular type of bomb. 

An illness, an accident, an unexpected life event.. but even without a monumental thing happening, how often do you find yourself prioritising other people / things before yourself?

 Life is busy for all of us and so many of us find ourselves prioritising others needs before our own, often through necessity but also because we don’t know any other way. It feels selfish not to.

All of a sudden the promise I made myself for 2023 didn’t just seem like an impossibility but one that I would be completely selfish to consider right now. 

This Sunday I had a chance to go to a Circle. My internal dialogue about whether I could or couldn’t, should or shouldn’t, was exhausting in itself. I noticed how, not being able to come to the decision myself, I reverted to asking my husband for permission, not that he ever asks me to or expects it, that’s purely my own thing. I knew he would say yes, in a way I couldn’t say yes to myself…why…GUILT.

There was too much to do

It was my duty to be here

What about time with my daughter

There are 4 piles of laundry to put away and another 4 lots to do

What about the puppies, will I be back in time to feed them

Is it bad if I leave my husband here whilst I take some time out

I’m holding my own Circles next week, will my family think I am always out of the house

And on and on it went. 

I almost didn’t go..mixed with a tired mind, the voice of guilt was almost overwhelming, luckily I have worked with her for many years and could recognise her for what she is.

So I tuned my head out and dropped into my heart..and what did my heart say…

It’s just a couple of hours Kate

Everyone will manage without you

You’ll feel better and be a better human to be around for taking some time out

The washing can wait.

You are not a bad mother if you take some time out for yourself.

And so I went to Circle and I am so glad I did ~ as I always am.

The Circle will always offer you what you need at that moment. 

For me I needed some time out, space to reflect and tune in. To stop the perpetual to do list and just be for a few hours. What felt self indulgent was so needed. 

Rather than pushing on through, I stepped back into my home just a couple hours later feeling like a totally different person, having charged up my batteries, filled up my own cup, so I was in a better space to pour all of the love, attention and care that the other areas of my life needed.

Not from a place of depletion but from a place of joy and gratitude. 

That’s the power of Circle, of time and space alone, it gifts you reconnection to you. 

So you can feel more balanced and then operate from that place, not from one where you feel so far down the pecking order in your own life, you are not sure if you are coming or going.

I know guilt, I understand her. Most of us have been raised in a culture that uses guilt and obligation as a method of control, so much so we don’t even stop to question why we are feeling it. We don’t pick it apart and see if it’s even ours or if it’s valid.

We are so caught up in the loop of guilt to even realise. Guilt keeps you stuck, repeating patterns of negative behaviour and thoughts.

If it’s something you struggle with too, next time you catch yourself feeling that familiar sensation, or listening to those thoughts swirling in your mind, I invite you to get curious for a moment..and ask yourself ~ Is this true? Is this mine? 

Then, acknowledge it but not let it stop you.

Quite often it’s just taking that first step, out of a comfort zone.


If you are feeling guilty this new year for taking time out for you, perhaps you have just had time off so taking more time for you might feel greedy, or perhaps it’s financial guilt about spending money on yourself…just know that the benefits of gifting yourself time and space for you have far reaching ripples, not just within your own life but of those who you love and those who witness you prioritising yourself..that is an inspiring thing to model to others, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

Remember filling your own cup first can only ever benefit others.

This was first published on Katie’s website where you can find out more about her work and her Circles. 

Guidance and Training as a Circle Holder

The Importance of Receiving Guidance and Training as a Circle Holder

Circles held by skilled and experienced Circle Holders offer powerful and transformative experiences for personal and community wellbeing. 

In my experience, holding circles can be an incredibly powerful way to connect with others, explore our shared experiences, and support one another on our journeys.

It is important to recognise that there are multiple facets to holding Circles; we are space holders, ceremonialists and facilitators (and more).

When I started holding circles I could find hardly any information about “how” to do it! A google search led me to a few short blog posts, but they weren’t really what I was after, and so I just began and learnt as I went. I have dedicated many hours (and money) to continually learning more about the origin, architecture and process of Circles, the systems they can function within and the communities they can serve.

I believe that holding circles is a calling for me, and I seem to have an innate capacity to do so (which has deepened and expanded over the years) and I also recognise that it would have been really helpful to have benefited from training when I began this journey.

Since 2018 I have been offering guidance and training to wellbeing practitioners, creatives and community organisers who feel the call to hold Circles, already have multiple modalities and skills to offer, and don’t want to spend years working out how to hold unique, transformative and inclusive circles.

By working with others, I have witnessed how guidance and training can support us in the art of holding space, teach us the craft of creating ceremony and enhance our Circle facilitation skills. The effect is to nourish our confidence as Circle Holders and nurture our willingness to show up and hold our Circles.

Here are a few reasons why guidance and training can be important:

  • Holding space requires a deep understanding of group dynamics and the ability to create a safe and inclusive environment. This is especially important when working with marginalised communities and those who may have experienced trauma or oppression.
  • Effective Circle Holders need to have a strong grounding in their own practices and rituals, as well as an ability to adapt to the needs of the group. This requires a deep level of self-reflection and an openness to learning from others.
  • In addition to the practical skills required to hold circles, training and guidance can also provide valuable support and mentorship. It can be difficult to navigate the challenges that can arise when holding space, and having a community of fellow Circle Holders can be incredibly helpful.
  • Holding circles that are inclusive and welcoming allows for a greater diversity of voices and perspectives to be heard, leading to more creative and transformative experiences for everyone involved. It is important to have guidance and training in how to hold circles which privileges diversity, equity, and inclusion.

By creating spaces that are truly welcoming and inclusive, we can support women and those marginalised by their identities, by providing a space for self-reflection, connection, and community building.

Ultimately, inclusive Circle Holding can be a powerful tool for creating a more equitable and just society.

By investing in our own growth and development as Circle Holders, we can create more meaningful and transformative experiences for ourselves and the communities we serve.

Through Circle School I offer self-led online courses and a membership for Circle Holders. These immersive experiences offer wellbeing practitioners, creatives and activists guidance and training to hold your own unique, powerful and transformative Circle experiences.

If you are seeking a practical and wholehearted circle training for rebellious facilitators, you can find out more about Circle School here and I invite you to join us in Circle Skills

*This is not a replacement for investing in anti-racism, accessibility and inclusivity training

What Circles and Fungi have in common

“Whenever we tend to a single strand, we are participating in the care of the whole.” Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy

Alice’s adventures in Wonderland begin with her falling down a rabbit hole and include her eating from the infamous toadstool with its’ cream coloured stripe and scarlet cap spotted with white scales. Spotting a Fly Agaric (or Amanita mascara) in the shadow of a Silver Birch on an autumn woodland walk took me down my own rabbit hole into the wonderful realm of mushroom-forming fungi.

After over a decade of living in Australia, my memories of British landscapes and their inhabitants had faded whilst I learnt new plants, new animals and new seasons. Now, back in the UK and making a new home in Devon amidst the restrictions and lockdowns of a global pandemic, I found myself with the time and space I craved to reconnect with the land of my ancestral lineage and cultural heritage.

As a Circle Holder, I am a space holder, facilitator and ceremonialist. My guiding philosophy is that Circles are not something we do, but who we are. By which I mean, that what we learn and experience in the Circle process, offers us a guiding map for how we live our lives in relation to each other and the more than human world.

I was reading fairytale stories, local myths and folktales, learning to identify trees and herbs and undertaking a Celtic Studies course. As I walked through local woodlands I was seeking to embody what I was learning and deepen my capacity as a gatherer of people, a guardian of this ancient circle tradition and modern circle movement, and a guide for those who wish to attend or hold circles.

If you are unfamiliar with attending Circles, I invite you to imagine gathering in a physical Circle with a group of humans (around a fire or a boardroom table) with a shared intention and purpose. Guided by a Circle Holder, you experience a deep connection with the other participants, you feel held by the circle energy, you share in collective ritual, you contribute a part of your story or an idea or your desires and are witnessed with love and compassion and acceptance. When the Circle closes, you are not quite sure what just happened, but you are changed and know that there has been a ripple in the field instigated by that experience.

I am on a quest to develop a Circle philosophy that supports us to reimagine our world.

I see the potential of Circles to provide us with an equitable, restorative and regenerative way of inspiring and creating connection and cooperation between humans. I hold a vision that Circles can be embraced by organisations, businesses, institutions and governments, as a process for reclaiming our innate capacity to communicate, collaborate and co-create, and meet our collective need for connection and ceremony.

The Celtic Mystery Tradition includes the three cauldrons of transformation, rebirth and inspiration. And on that woodland ramble, I was contemplating whether circles could offer us the cauldron we need.

In the time of a global pandemic, on the brink of the Anthropocene (or sixth) Extinction and in a world increasingly divided by conflict, the mushroom that caught my eye that day, symbolised how easy it is to privilege the seen over the unseen.

The striking scarlet and cream cap is the fruit body of a partnership between a huge underground network of hyphae working cooperatively. This was an invitation to gently dig deeper beneath the surface of my vision.

The hyphae are thin thread-like formations which form masses and create mycelial networks through the complex process of branching, fusing and homing. The hyphae need to find each other and they need to form relationships with other species. Through this process they break down and recycle nutrients from rotting trees, leaf litter and soil, many also work in partnership with trees and insects, and others are parasitic.

In the case of the Fly Agaric and the Silver Birch Tree, the fungus obtains its energy from the photosynthetic reactions in the tree’s leaves, and the tree receives nitrogen and phosphorous from fungal action in the soil in an association known as mycorrhiza. In this way, both the fungi and the trees survive and thrive as species, and support other species to do the same.

As modern-day humans, we are wired for connection with the capacity to cooperate with one another. The first wave of humans to move out of Africa were brought to the brink of extinction. The theory for their survival and subsequent successful migration across the world is that they learnt to prioritise their relationships with each other by forming family groups, tribes and clans, and learning how to work together.

The issue we seem to be facing in our current worldview is that we have forgotten (or are choosing to ignore) this and the dominant patriarchal culture engenders an environment of separation, oppression and harm.

Although we cannot know the importance of Circles in the societies of our ancestors, based on archaeological evidence from the middle and upper Paleolithic periods in Europe, we know that humans have been gathering for spiritual and ritual purposes for thousands of years.

When we look at living cultures around the world and the modern-day women’s circle movement, we see that they bring us together for a shared intention and meaningful purpose. As we gather in this way and share our stories, witness each other, partake in ritual and ceremony together, connect to the earth, sing and dance, we have an embodied experience of connection. They contribute to confirming the collective identity and contributing to community governance.

To make my vision a reality, I am continually learning more about the origin and architecture of Circles and the systems they can function within. This includes cultivating a deeper understanding of our interconnectedness with all beings and learning from our ancestral legacies.

In Emergent Strategy, Adrienne Maree Brown shares an organisation called Complex Movements; a Detroit-based artist collective supporting the transformation of communities by exploring the connections of complex science and social justice movements through multimedia interactive performance work.

They use an emblem system for learning the properties of nature and how they can be applied to our work. One of those emblems is mycelium, representing interconnectedness, remediation and detoxification.

When we come together in Circle we are remembering an ancient way of being; we instinctively recognise that this is how humans have come together throughout the world for thousands of years. We are reclaiming a way of being in community together and in relationship with each other which stirs a remembering of our interconnected relationship with all beings.

In the context of my work and drawing on the Celtic Mystic Tradition, Fungi and their mycelial networks act as a metaphor for the importance and potency of Circles for humans. Circles provide a process for the transformation of interconnectedness from an intellectual or spiritual concept to a lived understanding, for inspiration to collaborate and co-create remedies for our social and environmental challenges, and for cooperation and mutual empowerment to rebirth outdated systems into collaborative and regenerative practices.

As a Circle Holder, storytelling, traditional practices, ritual and ceremony are integral elements of my work. The striking scarlet and cream cap of the Fly Agaric is often depicted in books of fairytales with fairies and elves, lands of magic, adventurous heroes and heroines, and resilient villains. Seeing them always transports me through a portal to the Enchanted Forest, or to Baba Yaga’s house on chicken legs or to Wonderland.

In Alice in Wonderland, it is the mushroom that has the power to change her size, and it is an easy assumption that this is in acknowledgement of its’ psychoactive and hallucinogenic effects. Although in current mushroom field guides it is very definitely marked as poisonous and not to be ingested in any form, it must also be remembered that it has been revered as a ceremonial plant medicine in the British Isles. It was traditionally dried and made into a tea or smoked for rituals and ceremonies. There are stories of the Celtic Druids taking great care in its preparation and fasting before taking it. (This does of course come with a disclaimer “please don’t try this at home”).

My woodland walk with this beautiful mushroom as my guide took me into a world of interconnection, systems theory, network neuroscience, emergent phenomena, innovation, entanglement, communication, mystical experiences and collaboration.

The Biomimicry Institute states that biomimicry is about “valuing nature for what we can learn, not what we can extract, harvest, or domesticate. In the process, we learn about ourselves, our purpose, and our connection to each other and our home on earth.”

I believe that we can apply this principle to fungi and their interconnected relationships in woodlands, in many more ways than I have scope for here. However, what I have learnt is that we are only as powerful as our connections, we are only as strong as our community and we are only as resourceful as our capacity to cooperate. There are many ways to gather in Circle, but at their heart is connection and cooperation and this is what we collectively need.

That striking Fly Agaric pushing up through the earth served not only as a metaphor for Circles, but as a symbol of all that is magical, enchanting, mystical and wondrous in the world. It gifted me an illustrative reminder to listen to the land we live on and ground our Circle practices within our own cultural heritage, reclaim the stories and ceremonies of our ancestral lineage and reimagine them for these times.

Circles offer us a space to deepen into the innate value of connection, relationships and cooperation, so that we may reach across that which divides us and remind ourselves that we are one human family entwined with all beings. Think of the hyphae strands reaching out underground connecting, fusing and co-creating and hold in your imagination a scarlet cap, white scales and cream coloured stalk and see where it guides you.


Brown, A.M., Emergent Strategy, (Chico, Edinburgh, AK Press, 2017)

Sheldrake, M., Entangled Life, (London, The Bodley Head, 2020)

Starr, M., Wild Mercy (Boulder, Sounds True, 2019)

Sterry, P. & Hughes, B., Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms & Toadstools (London, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2009)