Why should you “pass the rattle” at a Red Tent or women’s circle?

May the circle never be broken  hands
May the earth always be whole
May the rattle ever be shaken
May the goddess live in our souls.

Shekhinah Mountainwater, Ariadne’s Thread

Why pass the rattle at a women’s circle?

Passing the rattle gives each woman in the circle an equal voice and an equal opportunity to be heard. The woman who has the rattle, has the “floor” and the other women in the circle give her their full attention. In spontaneous or non-organized groups of friends, we are all aware that not everyone experiences an equal opportunity to be heard. This can be due to personality type and preference as well as to simple logistics (such as presence of one’s children), but also due to people with larger voices or presences dominating the setting and the verbal landscape. In hierarchical and patriarchal settings, individual women’s voices may be actively silenced, oppressed, or dominated.

One of the hallmark qualities of a women’s circle as a part of feminist spirituality is the creation of new traditions, sometimes in direct, conscious contrast to the dominant culture, sometimes as an effort to reclaim or re-invent a concept that has been lost, sometimes to make an intentional statement about the potentiality of a more cooperative world. If we are taking a stand for a collaborative, cooperative world in which decision-making is shared and experiences are co-created, everyone needs a voice. If we are birthing a partnership model of interacting, founded on an ethic of care, and based on relational reality, each person gets a turn. If we are speaking up for safe and sacred spaces for women in which their individual journeys, stories, and paths are honored, each woman needs a chance to speak her own truth. If we are making a statement that women’s voices matter, we need to be able to hear them.

While some groups have adopted use of a “talking stick,” adapted from Native American traditions, many women’s circles and Red Tents instead, “pass the rattle.” Rather than appropriate a tradition from another culture, passing the rattle, creates its own tradition, rooted in the guiding wisdom of the values and purposes of a sacred women’s circle. Passing the rattle draws on the wisdom of council-based, collaborative, cooperative sharing, while also making a statement for a consciously created world and process of interaction.

I first heard of passing the rattle in SageWoman magazine, where the final section of each issue is titled, “The Rattle.” Known in other publications as letters to the editor or letters from readers, in SageWoman, The Rattle is the section where each woman’s voice can be heard. The rattle is metaphorically “passed” with each issue and if someone is called to contribute, she can do so.

How does passing the rattle work in a circle?

Passing the rattle can be completely open ended or be associated with a specific question. Anyone who is ready to take the rattle, takes it, and January 2016 016speaks for a few minutes about what she needs to share. It can be a response to a question or prompt, or spontaneous, based on her needs. In the Red Tent I facilitate, the most often prompt I use is: “Red Tents are safe spaces in which we can share the things we might not talk about in other settings, the things we might want to be able to share, but don’t know how, the things we want to celebrate or mourn, or simply have witnessed. So, as we pass the rattle, take your turn and share what it is that you haven’t been talking about, for whatever reason…” The rattle does not go around in the circle, but is instead passed to the next woman who feels ready to speak—so, it may move in a criss-cross motion across the circle.

It is important to acknowledge some opening guidelines before beginning to pass the rattle:

  • Speak for yourself, tell your own story (rather than talking about someone else).
  • Keep what is shared by others in the circle safe in your own heart, rather than repeating it outside the circle.
  • Something I may forget to say is that women can have the opportunity to “pass” and not take a turn. I was reminded of the importance of including this recently when someone in the Circle said they felt pressured to talk (which is never how I want anyone to feel!). So, “feel free to pass” and “don’t pressure someone else to share,” may also be added to the opening guidelines. There is a tender line between holding the space for someone who feels tentative to share and “pressuring” them. Sometimes I mis-read the cues—is she looking for the opening or option to take her turn to speak, or is she feeling pushed/pressured…

 A powerful way to indicate that she is finished speaking is for each woman to state “I have spoken,” after her turn with the rattle. This technique is used during salt bowl ceremonies taught by the Sacred Living Movement and it encourages women to take mindful ownership of their own voices.

Passing the rattle also helps signify that we are moving into a different type of communication than we’re used to—rather than the back and forth dialog of casual conversation, or a question and response format in which each person is thinking about their own response, rather than what the person in front of them is saying, this is an opportunity for conscious witnessing. Despite the type of communication we’d like to model in a women’s circle, it can be easy to slip into old patterns and habits of communication. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a Red Tent or women’s circle where everything was “perfect” and no one slipped up or was difficult in some way with communication. It is part of the messiness of holding a face-to-face circle instead of a virtual circle. It is really easy for many women to slip back into “socialize and chat mode,” so having some structure defined and prepared (as well as someone willing to hold the space as priestess/facilitator) is really important. I find this can often be overlooked in other resources for women’s circles—almost like structure is a “bad word”! But, it truly makes a HUGE difference. And, I am 100% certain that regardless of the things that go “wrong,” it is still completely worth trying and trying again and trying again…

Companion post: How to Make a Gourd Rattle for Your Red Tent or Women’s Circle

If you’d like to explore more of the messy, beautiful real-life work of practical priestessing with me, I invite you to join me in our seven week Practical Priestessing or Red Tent Initiation courses.12795206_1712346025644279_6245997511251569389_o


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