What is a Talking Circle?

We establish a talking circle whenever a mutually respectful and protected dialogue is desired. It allows for each member to be heard as equals, able to express themselves safely and freely. All in the circle are being held, supported, and respected by their community. A moderator should be designated at the onset of the meeting to ensure these rules are followed and that time sharing is equitable. A moderator should recuse themselves from participating in the conversation during the formal part of the meeting. However, a moderator can ask another member of the circle to fill their position, when they wish to contribute during the formal conversation.

Talking Circle Guidelines

The following are basic guidelines that are universal and allow for a talking circle to function as intended. These guidelines apply to virtual talking circles as well and are easily adapted.

How to Prepare a Talking Circle

The moderator is encouraged to open Sacred Space in a mutually acceptable manner. Generally, sacred space involves calling aloud to each of the Cardinal directions, i.e. (I call to the winds of the East, etc.) as they are associated with the Elements and universal forces of Creation. The Earth is honored, a giving of thanks and gratitude for sustaining our lives. Finally, attention is then directed to the Sky above, the Universe, Creator/Source, Great Mystery, Great Spirit. We acknowledge the unknown in an inclusive manner, all may silently acknowledge the Divine according to their own personal beliefs, in a moment of silent prayer. Opening of Sacred Space sets the tone and intention, providing protections to all members of the Circle.

Candle- Lighting a candle at the onset of the meeting and placing it at the center of the circle is encouraged.  The element of fire is highly symbolic. The candle at the center of the circle can hold many meanings. One of which is a place holder for the eternal soul, acknowledging our Ancestors and departed loved ones. Some may see it as a Portal to which eternal wisdom may be accessed.

Smudging-  An Indigenous tradition recommended at the onset of talking circles. Smudging with dried plants such as Sage, Cedar, or Palo-Santo are traditional choices. Using a Feather, gently fan the smoke starting at head down moving down to feet of each individual. This is to cleanse any negativity they may be carrying with them. A smudge stick should remain burning for the duration of the meeting. When emotions are intense, it’s especially important to use this plant medicine to ward off any negativity.

The Organizer/ Moderator- will share aloud the following guidelines at the onset of each talking circle. All participants will be seated in a circle, turns go in a clockwise fashion. The Moderator will use the same clockwise order of speakers for online gatherings. General time allotments are established, based on total expected meeting length. Limiting speaking times, (1-2 minute blocks of time, for example) maintains the flow and ensures all members will have equal opportunity to share within the Circle. Experiment and adjust accordingly.

Guidelines for Participants

1) Only one person may speak at a time- which is the person holding the talking stick, feather or any object recognized symbolically by the group. Moderators of online circles ensure the order and equitable time for each of the participants. Conversational exchanges are not part of a formal talking circle. However, time may be allowed at the onset or conclusion of the formal meeting for exchanges. For Virtual meetings, the same applies with the exception of the talking stick, the moderator serves on its behalf.  The Speaker will let the circle know they are finished talking, saying “A-ho” is a traditional way of concluding one’s words. The moderator will keep each speaker to their allotted time, preventing interruptions and keeping the conversation moving according to the guidelines established at the onset of the Talking Circle.

2) Introduce yourself- it’s a general custom to begin by introducing yourself in the first round. Introductions are a respectful and polite way to begin sharing one’s perspectives. Use your given name first, followed with any other (spiritually) significant names you may wish to be known by.

3) Speak from your heart- the speaker addresses the entire circle, coming from heart space, with honesty, integrity, and respectfulness. The Circle will establish how long each member may speak on their turn, which is necessary when time is limited. It is important to have respect for the time of others, ensuring all have an opportunity to speak. When finished speaking, pass the talking stick to the person to your left. Moderators will ensure time allotments are adhered to.

If you do not wish to speak at that moment, simply say “I pass” and hand the talking stick to the person to your left. For virtual meetings, moderators, maintain the same speaking order and establish a clockwise movement within the circle, calling on the next speaker. The speaker will say aloud that they’re finished speaking to avoid confusion and delay.

4) Listen with respect, and be present- All members listen attentively and give their support to the speaker. Listening with your heart allows you to hear and feel the speaker’s true intentions. Listen to the speaker in the same manner that you wish to be heard.

5) Do not repeat what was said in the Talking Circle – Depending on the intention of the circle, what is said within the circle stays confidential. This is especially true when the circle is being used for healing. If the circle was used to arrive at a decision, then it’s the final unified decision that is to be shared freely.

6) Speak in the first person narrative- When speaking in the circle, state your feelings and thoughts using “I”, speak for yourself in the first-person narrative. Avoid speaking for others.

7) Do not speak directly to the comments made by another speaker- This includes direct criticisms or even compliments of other speaker’s words. It is best to echo the comments of another if you feel aligned with them. When you disagree with a statement made by another, only offer your own perspective and feelings on that subject.

8) Be humble and respectful of all in the circle –Avoid criticizing or negating the words of others, We are all Equals in the Circle. Speak instead of your own ideas and feelings, I feel- followed by your own perspectives.

Conclude each talking circle by closing sacred space, if it was opened. The organizer should say aloud that the Talking circle is now closed. At this time, conversations may take place or simply conclude the gathering with any final messages. If additional guidance on sacred space, Talking Circle etiquette or any questions, the author (Leslie Hart) is very happy to provide additional assistance.