Finding them was the most challenging part of an otherwise tranquil, chilly evening in December. Thick fog partially obscured the oak trees in New Orleans City Park and cloaked a meadow near the art museum, where members of Crescent City Circle planned to gather.
Near the glow of candlelight next to a lagoon, a few adults sat quietly on blankets. Some were deep in thought with their eyes closed. Others whispered to one another or tapped on their cellphones. But they all were there to observe the new moon, hazy and high in the dark sky.
When I approached, organizers Hanna Hall and Leah Vautrot embraced me and welcomed me to my first moon circle meeting.
The Crescent City Circle usually meets twice a month in the park, for full and new moon cycles. It meets indoors in the event of inclement weather. Participants experience a guided meditation session, along with reiki and crystal chakra healings.
The group, like other moon circles around the world, is not associated with any religion. It welcomes people of all backgrounds and beliefs to foster a sense of belonging and friendship.
"People keep coming back because it makes them feel like they're a part of something," Hall says. "We're all interested in similar things, so that has cultivated a lot of relationships and a community outside of the circle."
Vautrot, an herbalist, aromatherapist and reiki practitioner, explains that the moon "governs your subconscious and emotions."
The early December gathering acknowledged the full oak moon in Gemini, a time when astrologers say people may feel restless and ready to wrap up loose ends. After receiving a chakra cleansing and a dab of lotus essential oil, guests were encouraged to reflect on their actions from the previous year and pinpoint the baggage that they'd like to leave behind.
"The full moon is a time of release, so it's a time to let go of things that no longer serve you," Vautrot says. "I want them to feel like they took positive action in their lives in terms of self-care, which often gets put to the wayside. Anybody who shows up here is really investing in their emotional well-being."
Traditionally, moon circles allow only female members into the group, but Crescent City Circle welcomes men and women.
"We wanted to create a space that was safe for everybody, because men deserve to witness their feelings and use the energy of the moon as well," Vautrot says.
Debra Delk joined the meetup nearly a year ago.
"I just like that it's inclusive," Delk says. "Hannah and Leah have such good energy. Since the very beginning, they've been inclusive of people regardless of age, race, gender and all of that. We've become a cohesive group that does things outside the (meetings). ... The regulars do feel that they've formed new friendships. We look out for each other."
As the meeting came to a close, guests took turns offering personal reflections, reassured that they were sharing those sentiments in a safe space. Hall hopes people leave the meeting knowing that they've been heard and accepted.
"Loneliness is becoming a huge epidemic in our culture," she says. "The aspect of community and going around the circle and acknowledging each person is a really powerful practice. That alone, I think, brings a lot of mental health benefits to what we do."
- Photo by Katherine M. Johnson
- Vautrot and Hall explain some of the terms and practices of moon circles.
Moon circles 101:
Leah Vautrot, a reiki practitioner, prepares for a crystal healing.
Reiki is a form of energy work, using a spiritually guided life-force energy to lower stress levels and release old emotions.
Chakras are energy centers that align with physical organs. Many cultures and alternative medicines recognize chakras and believe arranging crystals on those chakras allows them to heal.
Essential oil blends are unique to each gathering. Vautrot blends the oils based on the energy of the moon cycle and describes them as plant-based "spirit medicine." Specific oils are used to invoke deeper levels of meditation, release and joy.