Round in a Circle
One of the most difficult concepts for me to understand when I was new to Wicca was the casting of a circle. Most religions have a designated place, usually a building, set aside for worship, but we have the ability to create our own. Some books tell you to cast a circle and how to do it, but do not always explain how to move the necessary energy. Some Wiccans don’t cast a circle and still have meaningful rituals and effective magick. Like many other elements of our practice, there are aspects that are standard and those that reflect personal tastes and spiritual path. Let’s put aside any confusion and look at what a circle is, how it is set up and taken down and what it does.
A circle is a magickal space created by the witch or coven in which ritual takes place. By this act, we are effectively erecting our own sanctuary and taking it down when we are finished. We start fresh every time, yet as with other workings, there is a residual energy left which can enhance future workings. A circle is more properly a sphere or bubble. When created, it touches the ground or floor in a circle but the web of its energy arcs above us like a dome. It is also a place where we can meet the gods and goddesses and other magickal beings. It is said to be a place out of space and time. By that, I do not mean that it is some kind of fourth dimension, but it is a place where we leave our worries and mundane life at the door, instead concentrating on our spiritual life and being at ease. It is a sort of transparent curtain; marking off a place for ritual, but not cutting us off from the world. The physical process of creating the circle shifts our mood into our working so that we mentally and emotionally put behind the day to day routine and stress, giving us a break and enabling us to better focus on what we are doing in the circle.
In late night B horror movies as well as old artwork of witches and wizards, we see circles painted on the floor, often surrounded by astrological symbols or containing a pentagram. I have never heard a reliable account of this happening, nor has anyone with whom I have spoken. Perhaps this has been done in film and art to provide a physical representation of the circle so that the viewer can see it or maybe it is just one of those things like the pointed hat that is associated with witches in the popular imagination. 1
Stone circles are found at widely separated locations. Whether they were meant for astronomical observations or religious purposes, they have been found in the UK, Ireland, France, the American west, western Africa and Turkey. In this spirit, some modern Pagans have erected stone circles as ritual and meeting areas. 2 3
The casting of a circle follows a sequence of events, although there is room, as with many things in Wicca, for individual variations. First, the area is cleansed to remove negativity. This is traditionally done by adding salt to water and sprinkling around to incorporate the elements of water and earth, then passing around burning incense which incorporates the elements of fire and air. It is certainly acceptable to pass each element around the area separately. Also, a besom can be used to sweep the ritual area at this time, keeping the bristles just above the floor.
When projecting the energy to create the circle, it is important to ground and center. If you are just using your personal energy, it will be draining on you. You become aware of your own energy and pull it compactly around you (center), then send down roots into the earth, finding energy there and pulling it up inside you (grounding). I would recommend finding information on this to better understand it, then practicing just grounding and centering until you can do it easily. It is necessary to move energy through you to create the circle. Most witches do this by starting at a certain point, usually north or east, then walking around the path that is to be the perimeter of the circle in a clockwise (deosil) direction while sending energy out through their athame or hand to form the bubble. Some walk the circle once, while others do it three times, once each for the Lady, Lord and the All. If you do not have an athame, holding your hand with your third, fourth fingers and thumb on your palm, like the Boy Scout salute, works just fine. If you cannot walk the circle, it is possible, although taking more concentration, to cast the circle moving the athame above your head in a circle, projecting the energy out to the desired location or forming it as a bubble inside you, then expanding it out until it reaches the desired size. It is important to feel the energy and “see” the circle. In a group situation, especially when there are enough people to form a human circle in the area, it is also possible to cast a circle “hand to hand”.
Once the circle is formed, it is best not to cross it, because this can weaken and disrupt it. If you must leave the circle or let someone inside, the usual method is to cut an arc, like unzipping a tent flap, with your athame, then reversing the direction to close the opening. 4 It is best to check that everything you need for ritual is within the area of the circle before anything starts. If you touch the circle with your hand, you may feel tingling or warmth.
Once the casting is complete, it is time to call beings to your circle. Normally, something corresponding to each element is called to each quarter to guard the circle. This can be the guardians of the watchtowers, who personify each element, fae representing each element, or the energy of the elements themselves. Some witches also draw an invoking pentagram in the air at each quarter at this time. There are plenty of different chants for this which can be found online or in books, or you can write your own. Then, you call any other beings you wish to include which are not deities. Finally, you call the Lady and Lord and any particular deities you wish to invite to your circle. Once this is complete, continue with your act of magick, celebration, divination or whatever else you have planned.
When your working is over, it is preferable to take down the circle. This is done as a mirror image of the steps involved in erecting it, except that you do not do a cleansing and it will probably go faster, as the mind can come out of an altered state quicker than it can go into one. First, you thank the Lady and Lord, then any other beings you have invited, and finally dismiss the elements in the reverse of the order in which you called them. Some Wiccans say, “Go if you must, stay if you will,” at this point, but that leaves the door open for them to stay around which can make you feel unbalanced, ungrounded or cause magickal mischief. If you drew invoking pentagrams, draw banishing ones at this time. Earlier, you invited “guests” to your “party”, now is the time to let them know it is over and thank them for coming.
Some feel that simply ending the ritual or walking through the circle, takes it down, but usually it is done as a conscious step. Traditionally, this is done by walking the circle in a counter-clockwise direction (widdershins) holding out your athame and drawing the energy of the circle back through you, returning it to the ground. It is important at this time, to remain grounded and centered in order for the energy to flow properly. In her book The Elements of Ritual, Deborah Lipp makes an argument that taking down the circle in a widdershins motion is disruptive and irreverent, so it should (in her opinion) be done deosil. 5 If you created the circle by expanding it outward from you like blowing a bubble, logically you would take it down by drawing it back into you. Once the circle is gone, ground any excess magickal energy within you, then pull up the roots you put down earlier or else you may feel spacey, unusually bouncy or like you have had too much coffee. I speak from experience here. Again, I would urge you to do research into finding or writing appropriate words for these actions.
Since there are witches, especially of the non-Wiccan variety, who do not use circles, you may be wondering why you should go through the work of casting then taking down one. A circle serves a multitude of functions namely: altered consciousness, temple/sacred space, protection, magickal filter, power concentrator (cauldron for energy), place between the worlds, representation of the cyclical nature of the universe, redefining reality in space and time, crucible and catalyst for change, and an extension of your personal aura. 6 I have conducted ritual and performed magick, especially that of a folk variety without casting a circle, but find that it is more fulfilling and usually more effective when I do so. The steps, both words and actions involved, build up to a spiritual experience and have a familiar feel when done repeatedly, much as a Catholic following the stations of the cross or praying the rosary. May your circles be your groves and temples where you meet the gods, find peace, energy and inspiration in this place that is not a place in the time that is not a time.
1 Magic Circle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_circle
2 Rending the Veil, Circles of Stone and Dancing Rings http://www.rendingtheveil.com/the-magic-circle/
3 Stone Circle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_circle
4 Circle Casting 1: Cutting a Doorway http://www.controverscial.com/Circle%20Casting%201.htm
5 The Elements of Ritual, Deborah Lipp, Llewellyn, 2003, pg 244
6 What is a Magick Circle? http://www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk/an_introduction_to_paganism/what_is_a_magic_circle.asp