Note: I wrote this post at the request of several friends who have left these “Women’s Wisdom Circles aka Women’s Gifting Circles aka Fire Circles, etc…” that have spread like a virus throughout the spiritual & personal development communities internationally. A great exposé of the “circle” culture can be found here.
Perhaps you, like a number of creative and spiritual women, have excitedly joined a women’s gifting “circle” to help you manifest your dreams and move into greater abundance within a loving circle of like-minded sisters.
Much later, you realize that you were engaging in an empowering support network built on top of an unsustainable, predatory pyramid scheme.
This realization may be shocking for you and trigger feelings of betrayal, anger, guilt and shame. It can shake many women to their core.
The further realization that engaging in a pyramid scheme is a felony fraud offense (and is currently being investigated on the West Coast by the FBI) can terrify a lot of women who have been convinced that their gifts were legal and/or assured that the circle was not a pyramid scheme. You are not alone in this!
Once this realization happens, some of you will feel stuck and not know how to extricate yourself with as much grace as possible. The more times a woman has moved through to “dessert”, the more challenging it can be, since she has woven an interdependent network of friends and strangers, some of whom she may have invited in and some of whom she may have sponsored.
How can you step out without destroying all of your relationships?
If a woman has gifted her money, but has not yet received, she may not want to walk away from the circle unless she can get her money back. She may also feel pressured by her circle sisters to stay involved.
NOTE: The gifting statement means NOTHING in the court of law. Women who want to get their money back need not be afraid of the threat “you signed a gifting statement, I have it right here.”
Here are my suggestions for how to step out with integrity, legalize your monetary exchanges and harmonize connection with your sisters in and out of circle, as much as possible. I consulted with an attorney who agreed that this would be the best way to stay safe with regard to the legal ramifications. (Though I cannot guarantee that you would be exempt from prosecution, so please obtain legal advice for yourself.)
1. Love yourself! Everyone gets wake up calls in life and most of us have had experiences of betrayal, feeling deceived, and feeling guilt or shame. You will survive this and it will be much easier if you have compassion for yourself in the process.
2. Seek support. Though the secrecy required by being in circle is hard to break, you need to reach out to others outside of circle who will help you through this rite of passage. Just having someone to listen as you grieve, rage, and share your fears will ease the process. Some of your friends will be able to do this, some may be triggered by your participation in circle. Find the ones that can listen.
3. Feel free to share what you have discovered with other women in the circle, but do not harbor expectation that they too will leave the circle. They may not be open to hearing anything from you once you leave.
4. If you have not yet received, let the circle know you are leaving and want your gift returned. There is no need to walk away without making this request. You do NOT need to honor circle guidelines. Don’t let them shame you into doing so. If the women are truly in integrity, they will return your gift or make arrangements with you to pay the money back. Get a promissory note, preferably notarized, for this situation. You can download promissory notes for free on the internet and any bank will have a notary on hand.
5. If you have been gifted, return as many of the “gifts” as possible. Get written statements/receipts from the women you are reimbursing to have a legal paper trail.
6. If you have spent the money, make written payback agreements with the women who have gifted you, complete with notarized promissory notes. This will also help you to avoid prosecution, should the FBI discover your involvement. If women don’t want to be paid back, then write them a promissory note anyway and if they still want you to keep the money after a year, then tear up the note and report the money as income on your taxes, so as to stay clear with the IRS.
7. If you have sponsored/backed women, you are still legally liable for participating in felony fraud. Get your money back, or sign a payback agreement with the woman who received the money from you. If you received half of the “dessert” takings from the woman you sponsored, then you need to return that money to the women who “gifted” it.
This is not a simple or easy path, but it is the best way to ensure that you can sleep at night with a clear conscience, look your sisters in the eye, AND have no fear of the feds knocking on your door.
There are many alternatives to the current illegal and unsustainable structure of womens gifting “circles.” See the below links for more information.