The circle is a universal symbol for unity and wholeness, and the form of meeting in circle is ancient. Each of us has ancestors, no matter what your ethnic or racial background, who sat around a fire together, drumming, singing, playing, dancing, telling stories, praying, grieving together, solving the problems of everyday life. The memory of this connection to the circle is in our bodies, in our psyches.
The political foundations of North America were shaped by two strong circle traditions: the British and the Native American. One of Britain’s most enduring stories, originating in Celtic mythology, is that of King Arthur and his Round Table. The knights took an oath to serve not only the other table members, but the kingdom as a whole. Their covenant promised a humane safety net for even the most vulnerable members of the society.
When we read the history of the U.S. Constitution, we learn that this document was based on the model of the Iroquois Confederacy, a system of separate tribal councils that met as a Grand Council every five years with the responsibility for the welfare of the whole. Members of the tribal councils were chosen by the Council of Matrons, the oldest women of the tribe, who met in circle.
Since the times when people sat around the tribal fires, we have developed many variations of the circle: support groups, dialogue groups, group psychotherapy, Bible study groups, twelve-step groups, consciousness-raising circles, men’s and women’s groups, to name a few. These are people actively exploring what has meaning in their lives by pursuing personal and social transformation.