WSG East Resources & Preparation

Take time to read and savor the information we have provided here on the ceremonies and elder offerings at this year’s Woman Soul Gathering East.  There is a lot of information, so you may wish to read it over a few days. However, there is no test and you will be welcome to attend the gathering even if you do not read the information.  It is here for you if you choose.  You may reach out to us with any questions at


Women of Soul in Circle Together

By Mary Shackleford

WWRL drumThe framing for this retreat rests within the beautiful and bountiful space of creative collaboration. It depends entirely on our willingness to lean in and engage; it calls on all of us to plunge into the deepest places we can reach to listen, speak, witness, encourage and share. Each of us is invited to step into the fullness of who we are in this moment and to take responsibility for our desire and commitment to the transformational possibilities we are unearthing for ourselves, each other and life.

This retreat asks for vulnerability and risk. To that end, we will cultivate a space of clarity, safety and respect. Here are some basic guidelines:

Using The Talking Stick

Our words in these circles are sacred. We honor each sharing and allow the deeper wisdom to shine through by attending to our listening and speaking skills.

  • After receiving the talking stick, the person speaking has the right to speak without interruption, and an obligation to speak in a focused way.
  • Each speaker takes a brief moment to attune – to allow the inner voice to speak spontaneously with clarity and simplicity. Each person is invited to share in an empowered way what truly has heart and meaning for them.
  • Sharing may be cumulative, building on what others have spoken. However, this is done with care to not comment directly on another’s experience, offer advice, fix anything or supersede another’s experience.
  • Silence is always honored. No one is required to speak. If one receives the talking stick and does not want to speak, simply hold the stick for an attunement moment and then pass the stick.
  • All others listen for the soul, release judgment and hold loving presence.

The time in circle can allow a more intimate sharing that outside of circle feels like an invasion of privacy. We ask you to take care in engaging a woman in her personal story outside of circle.

Creating Altar

By Mary Shackleford


Altars are created in most cultures around the world. There are many different ways and many different intentions that guide the creation of altar. Altars may be seasonal; they may honor celebrations and passages for individuals or communities. They may have a specific healing intention, or show respect and honor specific beings, ancestors or spirit guides. They may be casual and ephemeral; they may be formal and long-lived. They are created with joy; they are also created in sorrow.

Altars are a bridge to the sacred. We bring special objects – beings really – from our everyday lives to guide us and help us access and walk through the doorway into sacred space.

How we respectfully gather and put things together to create altar brings relationship forward with intention – relationship between many realms of being: with ourselves, each other, the circle, the beings that individually create the altar, the collective wholeness of the altar as one entity or energy, the earth, the sky, the 4 elements and the 4 directions, spirit, mystery.


When we create an altar, we make visual, energetic homage to enter sacred space; our attention and intention is called forward. Our awareness deepens, and we may move toward sacred realms. When we create or interact with an altar, we connect to the heart and move with care, attention, respect and humility into an open listening awareness of compassion for all life.

At Woman Soul Gathering, you are likely to encounter more than one altar. On some occasions, we have had grief altar, ancestor altar, an altar honoring women veterans. This spring at Woman Soul Gathering, we invite you to participate in creating altars to deepen our connections across time and space as we focus on our intention for coming together now.

These are extraordinary times. Women are called to awaken and be change-makers – to not just survive, but to thrive, consciously re-creating how we live in relationship with each other and with our beautiful planet, our home. Renewing. Re-membering.


For our collective, community altar, the elders of the gathering create altar in the center of our circle to honor Spirit, to declare and focus our collective Woman Soul intentions and to humble ourselves to the mystery of what is moving toward us, that which is already in our becoming. Prayers of gratitude and respect, requests for guidance, safety for all beings and a radiant weaving of the energies to flow out in a good way through all our lives may be part of what is brought to the energy of the altar.

All women are encouraged to active participation and interaction with altars at Woman Soul Gathering. Please consider. Before you pack, take time to listen within and let yourself be guided to bring some treasure or every day item from your life to place on any of the altars. It may be especially helpful, in the context of our Woman Soul energy and focus, to inquire and explore how the 4 elements: air, fire, water and earth and how the 4 directions: east, south, west and north show up in your life….if they do. Also your awareness of sky above with celestial possibility beyond imagination and land below, the ground of our being.

Come home to your heart. Open and listen; bring what will help you create a bridge to the sacred. It will create connection for others as well.

Wisdom of Medicine Wheel Teachings: The Four Elements and the Four Directions 

By Mary G.L. Shackelford4-directionswisdomteachings.jpgCAVEAT: The wisdom of the Medicine Wheel is incorporated into the life of many native tribes in this country. I honor and bow to the First People with appreciation for the guidance of their ways. I am not of indigenous blood, though my family has been in this land for more than 13 generations. I am one who since I was a young girl has been blessed with deep, embodied connection to the earth and all my relations. I am one who seeks to nurture and live from the indigenous soul. Following my own cultural heritage, I have visited the stone circles of Scotland and made inquiry into an array of cross-cultural traditions centered on the wheel of life, the four sacred elements and the guidance of four directions teachings. This wisdom tradition speaks to me in the most comprehensive and true way; my daily spiritual practice, my walk in life; truly who I really am in my ignited soul work is grounded and funded by my walk in the Medicine Wheel of Life. I offer the following with great respect and deep gratitude for the gifts and teachings that come to me from the ancestors and all the different wisdom traditions.

The physical manifestation of the Medicine Wheel is a stone circle with four gates: East/Air, South/Fire, West/Water, North/Earth. As we enter this ancient symbol of wholeness gifted to us by our ancestors,we turn towards the wisdom of indigenous peoples all around the world who call on the wheel of life to see the patterns in their lives and guide their inner transformation. When we meet in circle, side-by-side, facing the center, we are turned powerfully towards each other. The simple act of beginning in circle invites us to see, sense, honor and appreciate each other’s different perspectives.

Becoming aware of and exploring each direction in the circle can add rich meaning to the cycles of our day, month, season, year or lifetime. With each complete turn, we journey through a beginning, a passionate growth, a harvest of lessons, and each cycle ends in stillness, peace and transformation. This simple act of beginning in circle invites us to see, sense, honor and appreciate each other’s different perspectives.

The four sacred elements connect us with all life across time. The air of our breath, the fire in the heat of our blood, the water that comprises so much of our bodies, the minerals of our bones is the same air, fire, water and earth that is shared, used and given back by all living things since the beginning of time. We are stardust. The light of stars, moon, sun and that which is at the center of the earth reflects within us. Our breath is the breath of the spirit of life breathing through us.

Four directions practice is a way to renew and deepen our body/mind/spirit connection with the natural cycles of Gaia and the features of the landscape of our home. The actual symbols vary widely throughout indigenous cultures, tho’ worldwide, the basic practice is consistent: using the circle and the four directions orients us in our soul’s journey through time and connects us to the ground of our being. It’s a way of remembering who we really are and finding our way, as human being, to walk in harmony with all our relations. And it can also be a doorway to travel into mystical realms and find your way home again.

Some of us stand in the EAST – in beginner’s mind. Some of us stand in the SOUTH – passionately, playfully willing to take RISKS and grow, holding the fullness of woman’s body wisdom. Some stand in the WEST – going within ourselves to dream, harvest our intuitions and integrate what we are learning. And, some stand in the NORTH where our ancestors await us with blessings – silently tuning into our inner wisdom, reaching deep to do the bone work of transformation, letting go, opening to change, entering into new possibilities.

The Medicine Wheel holds the full journey of being alive – so in the CENTER of this circle, we call in the BEGINNER, the GROWER, the DREAMER, and the WISE ONE within each of us. For GREAT MYSTERY, flowing through the center of all, invites us to become aware that we are all teachers and learners – all at the same time – until we leave this form. Journeying with awareness, we can see the whole and arrive at the center of our being. Welcome home to our true selves.

This is compiled from work I did with Kristina Turner and Kelly Ziniewicz when we shared Medicine Wheel teachings as part of a Leadership Hoop produced by Woman’s Way Red Lodge in 2013. Kristina and I created the chart that follows as a way of bringing together cross-cultural symbols associated with the Medicine Wheel of Life. Please note that the colors and symbols for each direction are different among different tribes and fluid also for individuals using the Wheel. Concluding our Woman Soul sharing about Medicine Wheel teachings is a poem I wrote to open a dance performance created in 2007-08 by Stacey Hinden in completion of her personal transformation journey.

Grandmother Moon Bundle

By Barbara James Snyder; Bundle Keeper of the Grandmother Moon Bundle; Bundle Keeper of the Bow & Arrow Bundle; Co-Bundle Keeper of DeekWadap’ush Bundle; 
Giver to Sacred Sites; Pipe Holder


Summer 2001, I am visiting another bundle carrier and in the presence of a Sun Dance Sub Chief. During the night, I am unable to sleep as Grandmother Moon’s bright light shines in my vision. I seek council with the native elder; it’s clear to him that the subject of women’s moontime had come front and center. As a native woman from the Great Basin, it was my duty to share our ways.

So I brought the teachings of moontime to different communities, and as a bundle carrier, it is very important to uphold the protocols and respect these ways. I found myself in an awkward position as many of the people got impatient with my speaking of women’s ways.Years later, I am standing with Ella Larkin making offerings to the water of life at Greenkill YMCA in December. Grandmother Moon was full, the night sky clear, the air crisp and chilly. My prayers were to let go of teaching women’s way, especially the way of women’s moontime.

No sooner had I ended my prayer with relief, I heard “I hear your prayers, now receive the gift.” I knew for sure that it was Grandmother Moon speaking. As I looked at her beauty, my eyes followed her bright moonbeam through the leafless trees to the water; there in the water was a Heart Rock. My heart started beating faster as I called Ella to look. We gazed at the stone, and we smiled and hugged each other.

Ella asked me “what do we do?’

I said with excitement and gratitude, “We receive Grandmother Moon’s Gift.” So we made offerings and received the Heart Stone. This is a precious universal gift from Grandmother Moon and the start of the Grandmother Moon Bundle.

Our Woman Soul Gathering to ignite and inspire our soul’s wisdom will be opened ceremonially by the Grandmother Moon Bundle and Barbara James Snyder. The Bundle will hold us in blessing and well-being throughout our time together. Each woman is invited to bring a stone to create the Grandmother Moon Stone Circle.

Sister Circles

Sister CirclesTo support building intimacy and deepening connections between women, you will become part of a Sister Circle of 10 women, including one of our Honored Elders, when you check in upon arriving at Pilgrim Firs.

You will meet as a Sister Circle for the first time at dinner Thursday night, and from there you will schedule when and where you will meet again.  Your elder may not always be able to meet with your Sister Circle, and we encourage you to keep her informed as to when and where you are meeting so she can be with you as she is able.

The intention of the Sister Circle is to develop connection and intimacy with each other as you share your stories and witness each other’s experiences over the 4-days of the gathering.  You will also be going into the Spirit Bathing Ceremony with your Sister Circle group Friday morning.

When you check in Thursday morning, you will be given more details and an identifying adornment particular to your Sister Circle.

An Invitation to Experience the Truth Mandala 

By Mary Shackelford


In these urgent and turbulent times of change and great uncertainty, there is much about our world that is overwhelming. In response we sometimes grow numb. This numbness threatens our capacity to bring our full selves to participating in our changing world in a positive way, engaging all of who we are, all we have to offer.

Speaking the truth of how we feel is essential to dispel the numbness that threatens to immobilize us. Telling the truth about our fear, allowing ourselves to feel, speak and witness the suffering in the world and in our hearts and bodies stirs up our innate healing intelligence – our compassion – and brings clarity to our intention and impulse towards empathy and action.

In the flow of Woman Soul Gathering, in the spirit of inspiring and igniting our soul’s wisdom, we will join together to create a Truth Mandala, a ritual that comes to us from Joanna Macy. This clearing and purification ritual offers the opportunity to reflect, share, speak and witness the truth of what’s happening in our world – what’s unfolding around us and inside us. Its purpose is to clear the way for each of us to bring our gifts, willingness and commitment forward into our lives, into our communities, into our world so that we may fully engage with our changing times to create a new paradigm.

We will create the container for the Truth Mandala in the sacred space of a circle. Hope is the ground of the mandala, and a symbolic object is placed in each quadrant. Women move into the circle to speak one by one, if and when they are so moved. We take a symbol in our hands and speak, or move from one symbol to another. We let the ritual object focus our mind and heart and help us voice the truth of our own experience.


In the Truth Mandala, we speak not only for ourselves. It is the nature of ritual that it allows and invites us to speak archetypally on behalf also of our people, our Earth. We speak briefly; in brevity, words are powerful. The ritual requires the support of the whole group; after each person speaks, we say together, “We hear you.” and then we pause in silence. Typically there is a lot of silence and space that grows increasingly tender as together we deepen into the holiness, vulnerability and honesty of the ritual.

Each symbolic object is like a coin with two sides:

– The courage to speak our FEAR is evidence of the trust it takes to speak it.

– The GRIEF spoken is in equal measure love. We mourn that for which we deeply care.

– The ANGER we feel – what does it spring from but our passion for justice?

– Expressing our EMPTINESS makes space for the new.

Light Bathing Ceremony

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Wisdom Teaching Circles

June.Starfeather.Lorraine.croppedThis year, on Friday and Saturday afternoons, the following small circles are offered by elders who have been involved in manifesting the dream of our Gathering. You are invited to join as you are called. Times and places will be announced at the Gathering; some circles will be open-ended, others may last from one to two hours. A word to the wise, based on our experience: deep responses may be awakening in you. Listen and give yourself space and time for integration. Please be aware that offerings may arise or shift in response to elders’ sense of flow, desire and direction.

A Life with Spirit with Lynette Edge: I am going to share about how to live with your spirit. How to see, hear and listen to your spirits. How to protect yourself from harm. How to use spirit to guide you through life. How to use spirit to your benefit.

Especially for New Women with Uncle Debbie Guerrero: We will gather in a small circle to talk about being in Women’s Gatherings for the first time. I will share the compassion, wisdom, love and gratitude of being called by the Medicine when it is the right time. Each of you are here as your Spirit has led you to this incredible gathering of women. I welcome you all with an open heart and mind exactly as you are!

Grief Circle with Anne Baker: We’ll explore and express our grief, feelings we sometimes can get stuck in. Many traditional indigenous cultures hold that the ritualized sharing of grief provides a most essential glue for the connectedness of a community. Grieving is one way we express love for what we’ve lost; expressing it helps us ground in what matters most deeply to us. Whether it be from the loss of dear ones, cherished dreams, places and communities or from lost health, abilities and skills, dropping into the deep feelings of grief can be immensely restorative, particularly when witnessed, held and allowed with empathy and respect in a circle of mutual support.

The Sacred Art of Creative Expression with Starfeather: A brief gratitude prayer and guided journey will begin our time in the Art Room. We relax and open to the joy of our sacred feminine creative nature. In touch with our Divine Spirit, we enjoy the flow of creative magic as our heart and hands connect. Wonderful materials inspire us as we create in silence. Starfeather is on hand to assist you in any way needed with support and crafting knowledge. In our large closing circle Saturday evening, we may share our creation, our process and its gifts, if we choose.

Drum Stories: Join in a circle to explore and share our stories and experiences with our personal drums. Learn and reflect on drum protocol and care. Listen to the voice of each living drum. Open to drumming as a way of blessing and prayer, in ceremony and with song.

The Further Path with Mary G.L. Shackelford: Our experience at Woman Soul Gathering will stir and awaken us as the call to inspire and ignite our soul’s wisdom unfolds over the weekend. We’ll use Western wisdom teachings as a doorway into listening, reflecting and opening into what’s deepening within and how that propels us forward onto The Further Path.

Training for Vision with Barbara James Snyder and Lynette Edge: Visions are instructions of what you are to do spiritually for yourself, your family, the community, the Earth, the Sacred Elements. You are invited to come and share your visions, and we will help each other bring those visions to life and define what you are seeking. You are born into it.

Growing Our Connection

gifting and growing

WOMAN SOUL CONNECTS:  Our desire is to deepen the connection between us and encourage the growth of ongoing circles between annual Woman Soul Gatherings. These ongoing circles allow us to continue to feel connected, seen and supported in bringing our gifts into the world.  Woman Soul has created a group page on Facebook, “Woman Soul Connects” where you are invited to share with each other what you are doing and how we can support you!

You are also invited to bring your flyers, handbills, posters and cards to share with each other at the Woman Soul Gathering. We will identify a table where your materials may be left out throughout the time we are together.


IMG_8779GIFTING is a practice of the relationship of gratitude and reciprocity to the wellbeing of all life.  Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass writes:  “The essence of the gift is that it creates a set of relationships. A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your reckoning. Your only role is to be open-eyed and present. Gifts exist in a realm of humility and mystery.”

GIFTING PARTICIPANTS: You may want to bring a few items from home that have meaning for you to gift to those women you connect with deeply and who touch your heart in a significant way.  These gifts may be given anytime during the gathering.  We recommend not waiting until the end of the gathering so you have time and ease with each woman you gift.

GIFTING ELDERS is a tradition that honors and respects our Honored Elders who have so generously gifted us with their time and teachings over the 4-days of the gathering. Our elders have dedicated their lives in service to others, and many live simply on a limited income. Your financial gift provides real support for all they do for so many throughout the year. You may give your gift directly to the Elder at the Gathering, or you may give your gift at any time to the elder you indicate on the Woman Soul website here.