It is from a place of deep respect, love and concern for all the women I met and the connections made and opportunities created, that I write down my experience with a Mandala Women’s Circle. My concern stands for the potentially harmful scheme in the disguise of Sisterhood, empowerment, social support and a promise of turning dreams into reality. You might heard of these circles as “Loom,” “Gifting Circle” or “Lotus” Groups.
In 2019, a wonderful, successful, trustworthy and intelligent friend of mine invited me to a “non-hierarchical, feminist, spiritual, secret-society-esque, women’s empowerment weekly emotional support group” called Mandala Women’s Circle. I will find my best friends here and spiritual, emotional support and even make money while growing in many ways. It will transform my life. Don’t worry, it’s not a pyramid scheme—she said. I was urged to keep it private, especially from men, and told not to read anything online about the circles. I should have been suspicious there, but I was not.
The pitch is designed to make you feel valued and like you’re special to be invited to such a secret group. As most women who are invited to such women circles, I was at a very vulnerable state of my life—I’d just broken up with my narcissistic fiancé which made me a perfect target for manipulation, I was broke and left alone with barely any friends living locally to support me. I did not really care that I had to pay money to belong to this secret community of women who were all welcoming me on our first introductory meeting. I just wanted to belong somewhere. I suspect most circle members (including me back then) don’t realize what they’re participating in. Other members joined the group because they became unemployed, had to pay off student loans or had 4 hungry little belly to feed on their own.
My friend originally invited me because we started to work together on a business and these mandala groups had helped her many times out when she needed money to invest in her own business, so she thought it would be a great opportunity for me, too. I received a beautiful video about the history of Mandala Circles which told me about the African origins of the group and how women used it to help each other to build their houses or whatever they needed at the time. So the original goal of a women’s circle was to support each other, which is wonderful and should be done everywhere in my opinion but a bit differently.
Everyone who enters the circle had to bring their unique gift, which could have been anything that was needed at the time. A person in the middle of the circle would receive the gifts and when the gift is received the circle splits so it can grow. In our modern times these groups are limited to one gift everyone has to bring in: money.
Later I joined a Zoom call with my soon-to-be Mandala Sisters, which was wonderful and actually felt empowering and cherished and accepted. Then I received an introductory document sent via an encrypted email address that stated: ‘By joining our circle of women you enter a magnified creative field where the art of giving and receiving is balanced and aligned to support the flourishing of our soul’s purpose and deepest heart’s longing’. I also received a long document attached that contains all the rules of the mandala.
How does the circle work?
The circle starts a previous circle has been split when it reaches the maximum 15 members. The new mandala has seven women in it: one in the middle receiving (usually called water element or lotus), two around her supporting (basically the 2 women the middle person had to bring in, called blossoms or earth element) and four around them (recruited by blossoms, also called as seedlings or air element) attracting.
The woman in the ‘receiving’ position acts as a moderator or leader of the group, leading weekly support groups or meetings in person or online. The women go about recruiting new members to so-called giving positions (fire element or seeds). These new ‘giving’ members all gift a certain amount of money to the woman in the ‘receiving’ position. Our groups worked with angel numbers and there are different groups working with smaller or bigger amounts. But don’t worry—everyone who joins will, at some point, become a lotus, the center of the mandala and cash in on 8 times as much as she paid in. The whole thing is “cyclical” and “non-hierarchical.”
As these giving positions has to fill up in order for the Group (and the cash) to flow, the members continue with their weekly meetings. Frankly I really loved our meetings (and sometimes I still miss them). I loved and made friends with so many people in our group who had such a wonderful spirit and loved our sharing circles, meditations, and yoga classes together. We often had moon ceremonies and other celebrations as well. Once our Mandala was complete, the receiving member finished with her circle experience (read: she got her money). The remaining 14 women branch into two new groups of 7. Everyone levels up. The two former ‘supporting’ women become ‘receiving’ facilitators in their new circles and usually give a lovely name to their groups. (We also had a WhatsApp chat with the same name, where we shared daily inspirations, stories, music, experiences or actually supported each other with our problems.) ‘Attracting’ members are now in ‘supporting’ roles, and the ‘giving’ members are now ‘attracting.’
Why is it a pyramid scheme?
The defining feature of the pyramid scheme, and its scheme relative, the Ponzi scheme, is that no actual value is being created. Money from the majority at the bottom of the ‘Circle’ is simply redistributed to the minority at the top—exactly the hierarchical structure the sisterhood wars against. Many other women-centric multi-level marketing companies have also been exposed in recent years as pyramid schemes, such as LuLaRoe and Scentsy, to name a few.
Pyramids Schemes are inherently exploitative structures which are illegal in most of the world. Now, in these groups the same pyramid shape is present in the new form of a mandala or lotus or something else. But if you re-organize it, you’ll see how there is on person on top and as it levels down there are more and more members, who shape a pyramid.
The level of growth of these groups is impossible to sustain in the long run and collapse is inevitable. Generally, the well-connected and charismatic women—the spiritual leaders of the sisterhood—are the ones who complete their circle and “blossom.” It’s the women who come in late, and often out of desperation, who are usually are left hanging, losing their money.
So it happened in our group. I joined in before our group split into two and was left with the members I least liked, with a woman becoming the lotus or water element, who only cared about quickly receiving her money. This ruined everything. She didn’t fulfill her role as the leader of our group, so often we organized our meetings for ourselves, simply for fun and to chat, share, meditate together. This caused a lot of tension in our group as we mainly just engaged with each other and rarely invited a potential new member in. This led to many fights as our leader of course, wanted to receive her money and without new members there is no flow, so she insisted we invite new people in. Which we did. I introduced amazing women to our group who were all in for the empowerment and support and connections we shared, until our sister started to talk about money which scared every new member away.
I eventually left the circle, not caring about ever seeing my money again because our leader was personally harassing me and the other members as well, with long messages and voice notes because according to her, we did not do our “job” properly, did not invite enough women, nobody joined under us, our negativity is affecting the group and our lack mindset stopped the flow of abundance. She threatened me with kicking me out of the group so I knew it’s time for me to let this sh*t go.
Even when circles work perfectly and there is so much we can take with us from these groups (and so did I while I was participating) I believe this is not financially empowering women. It is rather exploiting every member. If everyone would bring in their unique gifts and share those with a small circle of women without the continuous need to grow and split the group, it could work perfectly. As we did when did not care about the flow of money, we shared our gifts with each other—someone led meditations, others breathwork or yoga, some simply helped us with their amazing life advices. There’s so much we can bring to the table, share and grow together as a Sisterhood without exploiting each other for money. So why do we still do it?
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Photo: Becca Tapert via Unsplash