The Hive: A Circle of Sisters
The Hive is a new, rapidly growing group for self-identified women in Hastings. Founded by Sarah Bullock, a veritable powerhouse of embodied creative energy, it meets weekly on Tuesday evenings at St Mary in the Castle. HOT’s Xaverine M A Bates tells us more.
Sitting in circle
One dark winter’s evening, I swallowed my fears and stepped for the first time into the Hive: A Circle of Sisters. I had long been looking for a place where I could feel emotionally and spiritually connected to other women locally, had searched online through feminist channels, but nothing I’d found seemed quite right. I soon heard about the group through a couple of friends, but met a deep resistance within myself, despite a long-standing yearning to belong and an innate curiosity on encountering similar groups at university and festivals in the past. An obscure but discernible fear rose up when confronting the thought of being in circle with a group of women – a sense of mistrust, apprehension, fear of judgement, of letting go – a kind of icky revulsion that my inherent vulnerability would be judged, that I would hate the touchy-feely-ness of it all.
This sentiment was echoed by Cath, one of the women who has been attending the Hive from the start. “Up until last summer, if anyone had suggested a women’s group I would have run a mile! But I went along out of curiosity – I didn’t know what or who to expect and the group was bigger than I’d imagined. I found connections straight away – there was an atmosphere of trust and respect from the 26 women there. Being in the Hive is like speaking a different language, often that ‘language’ is silence, heart to heart communication and an absence of judgement. This has given me freedom to engage and explore, boosting my self confidence and taking risks. The Hive has given me safety, freedom to be, fun and a new bunch of soul buddies to do stuff with. I feel more alive when I go to the Hive!”
A chance meeting with a friend convinced me to come along. “It’s so nurturing,” she told me. “Very real, creative, honest – you’ll love it.” She was right. The scent of incense greeted me at the door, followed by a beautiful candle-lit tableau surrounded by a gently inviting circle of cushions. Since that moment, I’ve been hooked. It’s the one thing I absolutely have to do and has led to all sorts of creative connections. It has kickstarted my artistic and writing practice, which had lain dormant for over a year; I have drummed, hummed, danced, written, drawn, collaged, massaged, cried, laughed, shared deep dark secrets all within a safe, womb-like space quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. It is deeply addictive, utterly safe and wonderfully healing.
The Hive’s founder, Sarah Bullock, is a specialist in women’s health using Amatsu, Energy Healing, Nutrition and Psycosexual Somatics. She is one of just 200 people in the world with permission from Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estés to run courses based on her transformational book, ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’.
She also runs a weekly dance on Monday mornings at Christ Church Courtyard, London Road, St Leonards. A community class funded by the Lottery Big Fund, is open to all and she encourages anyone “that loves to move or is even a little curious, those that wish to get active and artistic.” On top of all this, she is also currently studying for her MA in Dramatherapy at Roehampton.
I asked Sarah about her motivation for setting up the Hive. She told me, “Fundamentally I wanted to set up A Circle of Sisters because I know the power of circle. I love sitting in circle with women. I have done some of my major growth and healing from sitting in circles. To be witnessed, supported, held by a group of women is powerful and transformational. There is a need for women to gather. To network. To create together. Within such communities we can explore, express and experience what it is to be truly a woman. To know we are not alone in life. Traditionally women always worked, cooked and lived together, it is only through the ‘modern’ family structure that we have lost this connection.
“I wanted to gift this to both myself and the women in Hastings. I see a lot of women through my work who are lonely and often suffering, thinking they are the only ones. To gather in community shows us how there are others having similar experiences. We learn from each other and grow stronger as a result. The women who have spoken at The Hive have stated what a transformational group it is, how they now feel more confident, less alone, more supported and are experiencing new and exciting skills that they never would have tried before. It is an honour, privilege and very humbling to sit within a circle that touches so many lives and know that it has grown from a small idea through a ceremony in Dorset some four years ago.”
On her vision for the Hive’s future, Sarah envisages, “Ideally I want it to grow, so that we can lead Rites Of Passage events for all women, to deeply heal wounds and welcome ourselves fully into our bodies and lives. To create a community for the younger women in Hastings and to create a platform for this to be rolled out to more towns and cities. Cities need circles! We are so inclusive and I feel so honoured that we have a few transgender women within our circle – this inspires me and illustrates just how inclusive we are and accepting of each other. This gives me hope, for if we grow in ourselves, we then mirror to our children and girls the potential of what it is to be a truly empowered, embodied and connected woman. This doesn’t necessarily mean burning bras and running around with placards – it means support, connection, respect, acceptance and full expression of one’s beautiful self.”
Each week, a different woman from within the group leads the session. Each gathering is structured with a quick check-in at the beginning, in order to help us leave anything behind and be fully present in the space; and again at the end, to ground us and hold whatever may have come up for us during the evening’s activities. This gives each woman the time and space to say whatever is going on for her that day without fear of judgement or recrimination. The sessions have been incredibly creative and have included a wide range of activities, many of which have allowed each of us to try something new for the first time, despite the uncomfortable feelings of breaking out of our comfort zone.
We have listened to and joined in with feisty feminist songs, written poetry, drawn from a life-model, created vision boards through collage, crafted gift bags, danced, drummed and chanted, learnt about nutrition specifically to address symptoms connected with hormonal fluctuations, experienced the transformative power of Kundalini yoga, been enveloped in a healing sound bath and much more.
Lucy, who recently ran one of the sessions, told me, “The Hive is a unique reflective safe space for local women to ground and share their own wisdom and vulnerability. It provides a platform for sharing skills and wholehearted community both in circle and online that you might otherwise never access, with several off-shoot groups and events already happening. I ran a life drawing evening which was a new and moving experience for many women. It was delightful to be able to share this opportunity with such passion, joy and trust with such a large group. I have since invited the group to celebrate a Bloomsday event on 16 June by reading the last chapter of Ulysses which is dedicated to the female voice of Molly Bloom.”
Each month, to coincide with the full moon, Sarah runs a Red Tent session. Traditionally, Red Tents were a space for women to come together to celebrate pivotal points in a woman’s life in a safe, nurturing environment. Currently, Red Tents are a global movement of women gathering to simply just be, meet others in their community and enjoy the opportunity to share more deeply than they might usually do. These sessions so far have included aromatherapy massage and a wonderful Valentine’s celebration where we were encouraged to dance and embody what it would feel like if we truly valued and loved ourselves – something that is easier said than done.
“Some years ago I came across the idea of The Red Tent for women, an ancient kind of space in which women come together in sisterhood to share their experiences, thoughts, sorrows and joys,” remarked Julie, a regular Hive attendee. “Although I had friends and wasn’t lonely, I longed for the opportunity to meet other women in a space such as this. What I was missing in my everyday relationships was a sense of something sacred happening, when women meet and share the secrets of their hearts. The first meeting of The Hive I attended, in the autumn of last year, was exactly what I had been yearning for. I find the meetings give me courage to say things I never thought I would share with a group and I know I am not alone in finding the non-judgemental support I receive from my sisters uplifting and rejuvenating. Each week I come away calmer, at peace with myself and the world, and longing for the next week to come round quickly! The Hive gives me a space to find and celebrate the sacred in my everyday life. It gives me a place in a sisterhood when I had previously found relationships with other women difficult. It gives me a space in which to share my gifts with others, and to receive the many blessings of the gifts other women bring to share. Above all, it gives each of us a space in which magic can happen, transforming our experiences into something beautiful and spiritual and sacred.”
The Hive meets at St Mary in the Castle on Tuesday evenings 7-9pm. Its previous home was at the church hall of St Mary Madgalene, but we were politely asked to find another venue after the spiritual leaders of the church, when looking at their hall letting policy, felt that we were not quite aligned with their faith. In our new venue, we are keenly aware of the spirit of Muriel Matters, Australian-born suffragist extraordinaire, who among many other radical escapades, took flight in a dirigible air balloon in 1909 in order to shower the King and Houses of Parliament with Women’s Freedom League pamphlets. Her spirit most definitely echoed with us last week when we celebrated our arrival in the new venue, drumming magnificently under the domed roof of St Mary’s – a circle within a circle – goosebumps prickling our skins and souls.
Global sisterhood: A day without a woman
International Women’s Day this year saw the birth of #ADayWithoutAWoman in the USA and beyond, which encouraged women to go on strike in any way they could in protest against the terrifying misogynistic, racist and fascist policies of Donald Trump. This could be taking the day off work, refraining from housework or childcare, declining to spend money in large commercial outlets, or simply wearing red in solidarity for the plight of all women around the world. As Annie Lennox, who led the sister march alongside London Mayor Sadiq Kahn in London on 8th March 2017 said, the controversial ‘locker room banter’ of the new POTUS has become a catalyst for the women’s movement. “In a weird kind of way, that […] actually catalysed the issue for a lot of girls and women in a particular way that became very strong. All of a sudden, there were a lot of people putting on pink pussy hats, and saying No.”
This feminism is wholly inclusive in a way that previous feminist movements have struggled. It really is feminism for the 99% , not just for the privileged few, but to include people of all genders, races, religions, sexualities and abilities. This sense of belonging is echoed by those who attend the Hive. Shelley, one of the members of the group, told me, “Since joining the Hive, I have found a true sense of belonging. I’ve realised how much was missing from my life by not ‘being held’ by other women. With no judgement. Nor preconceptions. Just sitting in circle, supporting, learning and pushing boundaries together. We must encourage and teach our daughters that community and sisterhood is so very important when striving to be strong, independent women, A Circle of Sisters and the Hive has taught me this.” The Dalai Lama famously said that “the world will be saved by the western woman,” at the Vancouver Peace Summit 2009. Groups such as the Hive, which celebrate sisterhood rather than victimhood, collaboration rather than misguided competition based on internalised patriarchal misogyny are arising around the world, gently coaxing a revolution of self-love and acceptance amongst women globally.
My feminist journey
It is no secret that I am an ardent feminist. Spurred on by the birth of my daughter eight years ago, latent feminist passions that had never fully been harnessed due to the bad press and negative stereotyping of the movement in the 1980s and 1990s, came to the fore when the realities of being a mother in 21st century Britain became all too apparent. However, unlike the feminist wave I tapped into a few years ago – with its focus on leaning in, deep political rage and what-the-f*ck-ness – the spiritual connection with other women, the open, frank, raw honesty, the ability to laugh hysterically, cry the tears of our souls in circle with other women, to witness and be witnessed, is intensely powerful and deeply healing. It can also be quite overwhelming – the thought that this is too good to be true, there must be a catch, that something must surely spoil this awesome magic – has occurred to me more than once. One regular Hive-goer, Anna, told me, “I just feel really supported and that I’m not alone in my female experiences. I also find it grounding, empowering, nurturing, energising and exciting. There’s a sense of possibility and expansion. It’s also really fertile for ideas, connection and creative magic. I come home to myself.”
Spring Equinox fundraiser
Along with funding from the National Lottery, the Hive is able to grow thanks to donations from those who attend, on a sliding scale of what they can afford. Sarah also organises fundraisers to encourage the project to become self-supporting. Her next fundraiser is a Spring Equinox Celebration: an evening of dance and artistic creation in collaboration with art therapist Anna Atkinson, at the Stade Hall, March 22 7-9.30pm. She says, “In this dance you will be guided to pick a Victorian botanical flower image and its meaning and questions will invite a dance of reflection and curiosity. Each flower will contain different medicine and healing. Join Anna and Sarah to dance and plant seeds of dreams and desires in an evening of creativity and celebration, to welcome the light, the new life, new beginnings. A time of renewal.”
The Hive: A Circle of Sisters on Facebook
A selection of activities available locally led by women in the group
Women’s circles around the world
Also in: Community Arts
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