A circle is a safe, sacred space that we create. It is "between" the worlds, the magickal and the mundane worlds. It marks a "place that is not a place, in a time that is not a time". What we mean by this is that it is sort of a nexus, a place that can touch and reach all other places and people in time and space.
How does this happen? By intent and the will of the person or people who "cast" the circle. This vision is created so strongly on the astral plane that we can manifest it in the physical plane, and it creates a boundary past which energy will not pass, unless you send it out. The circle is used as a container, to hold the magickal energy that you raise (also called the "cone of power") until you are ready to send it out for a purpose. Ceremonial magicians will also use a circle at times for protection, to keep unwanted energies or spirits out. I use a circle more for containment rather than protection, but the protective element is good to have there anyway.
There are many reasons to have a circle, but they pretty much boil down to one
Work would be magick, healing, self inner work such as meditation, or whatever you are doing that has a specific purpose, and these circles would mainly be done at the times of the Full Moons, New Moons, or Dark Moons, and are called Esbats.
Worship can be done at Esbats as well, but is always done for the Sabbats which are the Wiccan Holidays, and there are eight: (see the Sabbats Menu for more detail on these) the four greater Sabbats and the four lesser Sabbats. We believe in our tradition that we should avoid doing magick for personal gain at the Sabbats, but that magick for greater spriritual growth, and growth in our lives, or for healing the earth is all right. On these eight days, we give back to the Gods thanks for the blessings that we receive.
And to play, well, those circles are mainly for fun, or learning, and can be done at any time. They are also called Esbats, and can be done anytime and anywhere you like. Wicca is a religion that allows for play, indeed ritual is mostly to have younger self come out and play and be active.
So now you may want to know how to actually cast a circle for yourself. Well, there are dozens of books on the subject, all giving you different directions for the four elements, and all giving you different words to say, etc. I have to tell you that the directions of the elements and the words used to cast the circle don't really matter - what matters is what goes on inside of you!
What should be going on in YOUR head is a strong visualization of what you are doing, not worrying about if you have gotten the words correct or not. Words do not cast a circle, strong intent does!
Before I begin to give instructions on this, I have to emphasize that each group
that I have circled with does things their own way. No one way is always right.
I will be telling you what MY tradition follows, without giving away anything
that I have vowed to keep secret, and offer you some ideas for words that you
can use. Please do not email me to tell me that I am doing it wrong!
You should always cleanse yourself and your ritual area before beginning any ritual. To cleanse yourself, take a ritual bath. To cleanse your ritual space, you will take a besom (or broom) and astrally "sweep" the space clean of any unwanted energy. This is especially important if you are using a room that is otherwise used by the family, such as your livingroom, or bedroom, or office. Start at the back of the room, and going widdershins (or counter-clockwise) and visualize and clouds or muddinesss in the atmosphere being swept away, take it all around the room, to the door, and sweep it all the way out the front doorway. If there is a lot of negative energy in the area you need to use, then go around first with sage, burning it strongly and smudging the area well prior to using the besom.
There is a chant that our group uses for doing this:
"Tout, tout, tout
Within and without
Get out, out, out."
Another verse I have heard used for this purpose is a bit longer:
"Besom, besom, long and lithe,
Made from ash and willow withe,
Tied with thongs of willow bark
In running stream at moonest dark,
With the pentagram indited as the ritual fire is lighted.
Sweep the circle deosil,
Sweep out evil, sweep out ill.
Make the round of the ground where we do the Lady's will."
"Besom, Besom, Witches broom,
Sweep out Spirits, sweep out doom.
Rid the Lady's Hallowed ground of demons, imps, and hell's red hounds.
Then stand thee down on her green earth,
By running stream, or Mistress' hearth
Till called upon for Sabbat's rite,
To cleanse once more the dancing site
To guard us all from evil might."
I suggest using something simple, along the lines of the first one, for Esbats, and if you have others present, or are doing a more elaborate Sabbat ritual, you might want to use the first, or both, verses of the second invocation. (I do not know the author of the second set of verses, and if you do know I would appreciate an email so that I can give proper credit to the author. Please use the email link on the home page.)
Next you can set up your altar area, being sure to double check that you have everything you plan to use in the ritual. It interrupts the energy flow if you suddenly find you forgot something. Don't worry, it won't "ruin" it, it is simply better if you have everything at hand.
Think of ritual work as if you were cooking from a recipe. You read over the recipe first to see if it sounds good to you, then you check your cupboards to make sure you have all the ingredients before you start. Ritual is the same way! Read it over first to be sure it sounds good to you, then assemble all the "ingredients" so that you know you have everything the "recipe for ritual" calls for.
One other note here, the steps above are not necessarily done in that order. For example, often I will get the altar and all the tools ready first. Then I will take my ritual bath, then cleanse and besom the area. Sometimes I assemble the tools, then cleanse the area with my besom, then to relax and get in a completely magickal frame of mind, I will take my bath last. The order, in other words, doesn't matter. Do it however it feels right. If you use the same room over and over again for ritual, and it rarely gets used for any other purpose (like a spare bedroom), then you can forgo doing the besoming every time. The room will remain cleansed and charged from all the rituals done in it. You may want to besom the room again after someone else has been in the room, though. If you show it to friends, or if you do end up having to use it for when company sleeps over. Take a moment to stop and FEEL what the space feels like. You can tell if it needs to be cleansed or if it is fine. Use your own judgement - that is how you will develop your knowledge of these things. If it feels fine to you, then it probably is. If you are unsure, then besom it anyway.
Now you are ready to begin.
The circle is usually cast three times, once with the staff or
the athame, then again with the salt and water, then a third time around with
incense in the censor. Start in the east and walk slowly, deosil (clockwise or
sunwise) around the circle, and say something like:
"I cast this circle in power and strength
To be a place between the worlds
For all who worship the Old Gods."
Then next you will go around with the salt and water, completely around the circle
and you can say the same thing again, or something different, like:
"I cast this circle with water and salt,
That it shall be cleansed and purified."
Then lastly you will go around with the incense in the censor (you CAN use a
potholder if this thing gets hot - just consecrate the potholder also!) and
say something like:
"I cast this circle with air and fire,
That it shall be cleansed and purified."
While you are doing this, it is most important for you to SEE in your mind's eye the power or energy flowing out from your staff or your athame, and creating a blue or blue-white "flame" or barrier, which is the boundary of the circle. You will see this boundary being created each time you go around and cast the circle. And remember, that this circle is not a flat two-dimensional circle on the floor, but a complete globe that encircles the entire room, both below your feet and also over your head. Make sure that your visualization is complete in that respect. And remember, practice makes perfect.
Casting the circle is the beginning of the ritual, and so by definition has more power the more often you do it the same way. If you are working alone, this is no problem, you just find a way that you like to do it, and memorize that way. Do it the same way every time, and soon you will feel the words and the power flowing out without any trouble at all. When you decide to work with a group, however, you will all need to be casting the same way, so that all can participate in your "vision" and help create sacred space. So, whatever way you decide to do this as a solitary practitioner, don't get so "set" in your ways that you can't change or adapt later if you happen to find a group you want to work with.
Now that you have cast the circle, you will want to purify yourself. The space has been purified by your actions, (and you may have swept the space astrally beforehand with your besom or broom as well.) Some groups do this after they call the elements, some do it before. Either way, it is done BEFORE you would invite in the Lord and Lady.
To bless and purify yourself and the other participants, you can use oil mixed
with salt water, and mark a pentagram on your forehead and ask:
"May the blessings of the Lord and Lady be upon you."Or you can say other words that are appropriate to the rite you plan to do. Either way, this is a simple blessing, which is sealed with a kiss, say "Blessed Be" and hug. Our group does a much more formal and head to toe blessing in which we annoint each other starting at the head, and bless each part of the body for the purpose it was created, and then also end with a "Blessed Be" and a hug. In most groups with both sexes, the men bless the women and vice versa. If this isn't possible, it's ok to have the same sexes bless each other. The power and magick in Wicca is traditionally passed on from one sex to the other and uses the power of the sexual tension thereby created, however, as in everything else, different groups will have their own way of doing things, and this is also fine.
After the Ablutions (the blessing of the participants), then you can call in the elements, or rather, we call in the Guardians of the elements. You see, the elements, or elementals, in their natural state, can be difficult to control by a novice, or even a long time initiate at times. So for our own safety, we call upon the Guardians of the Watchtowers of each direction to which we have assigned an element in our tradition. So, for example, we would call (starting in the east) the "Guardian of the Watchtower of the East, the power of Water." (Our tradition differs with many published books regarding the placement of the elements in the directions, but there is no ONE right way to do this!) We will also list some of the attributes we wish to share, or say a few words regarding the rite or the magick we are about to do. We ask that they come at our command, and we end with "So mote it be", a phrase which means "so it must be."
Go around to each of the directions in the circle, the east, south, west and lastly north, and call upon the Guardian of the element you have assigned to that direction, according to the system you have decided to use. When you have finished, return to the center of the circle, or to the place where you have set up your altar.
Calling for the presence of the Lord and Lady is different than the elements. We "command" the elements to come, but we invite the Lady and the Lord, or the Goddess and God. They are actually always with us, within us, and so we are actually evoking from inside of ourselves their presence so that we can feel them manifesting in the circle. This can be a very powerful and strong feeling, and the more strongly you can evoke these energies, I believe the faster your spiritual growth can progress. To invite the Gods and Goddesses, we will sometimes use poetry, sometimes read something beautiful and reverent or just close our eyes and say the words from our hearts. The last method is the one I prefer for private worship and for my group's inner circles, but for Sabbats I will often use poetry or read something. That way all who attend can participate and call upon the Lord and Lady also in their own ways, privately.
Now that the God and Goddess are present, this is the time that you would do the work, or the purpose for which the circle was intended. Magick, healing, psychic readings, private meditations, inner work with the Goddess, creating something, channeling poetry or songs; whatever your purpose for the circle will be done at this time. You are only limited by your own imagination!
After the work is finished, you will need to ground and center, to start to bring yourself out of the "altered state" of the circle and back into the mundane state of regular day to day living. This is best accomplished by sharing what is commonly called "Cakes and Ale" or "Cakes and Wine". This is where you will bless and consecrate the wine (or beverage) and the cakes (or food) that you are going to eat and share with all the participants. Before you eat, however, many use this time to perform the Great Rite symbolically.
The Great Rite is the union of female and male that is sacred to all life, and is the basis for all life. This is done symbolically in the circle by using the symbols of the athame to represent the male, and the chalice to represent the female. Wine (or some beverage) is poured into the chalice, then both are held up for all to see, with the two people preforming this rite (usually the High Priestess and the High Priest) facing each other in front of the altar. The athame is plunged into the chalice, but gently, and this symbolizes the sacred union. There are many, many different words that can be said at this point, and most will be along these lines:
"As the athame is to the male
So the chalice is to the female
And joined together, they are one
For the greatest magick is Love."
After this is done, the cakes are also blessed, and the wine and cakes are passed out to all participants. Many people will say as they pass them out "May you never hunger" or "May you never thirst" which comes from the book by Robert Heinlein called "Stranger in a Strange Land". These are used by many groups, and are wonderful for the message they convey. Other groups may simply say "Blessed Be". Use what you prefer, or create your own special blessing. This is also a time for sharing, and bonding, for telling stories, for laughter, and for answering any questions that might arise. Don't be fooled into cutting this time short, this is an important part of the ritual too, and should be enjoyed to the fullest.
Now that the work is finished, you are properly on your way to being grounded, it is time to thank the Lord and Lady and give them leave to depart. This is done respectfully, and often with a wish that they aid us and guide us in the work we are doing, or in the coming season. Remember we don't command them, we simply invite them.
To dismiss the Watchtowers is next before the circle can be opened and completed, and this is done in the same manner as they were previously called. Some groups will start in the North and go widdershins (counterclockwise) to do this, and some groups will still start in the east and end in the east as they did for casting the circle. Use either way, whatever feels right and comfortable for you. Please do be sure, however, to thank the elements and to send them safely on their way. Failure to do that can sometimes result in "accidents" happening for a few days around the house, depending on how well you called them in. Our group also adds a "harm ye none on your way" to the end of our dismissal, and end this with "So Mote it Be".
To dissipate the energy of the circle, to take it down, or open it, is to visualize the energy that you put down, either being expanded out and into the earth to be absorbed and used by the earth, or as being taken back into your tool (staff or athame) and being absorbed or stored there. Both are valid, and are used by different groups. We send the energy out to the outer edge of our "covenstead" to protect our members as they drive home, and then to dissipate naturally into the earth from whence we called it forth.
At this point, you have started in the east and ended in the east and taken up or opened the circle, and the rite is ended. Many people will use the traditional:
"The circle is open, but never broken,Which is also followed by a lot of hugging, and saying "Blessed Be" to each other, and in general making sure that everyone gets hugged. It's also customary after Sabbats and sometimes Esbats to feast. This is because you should eat very lightly before a circle where you plan to do magickal working, or even fast for a time (not long, consult your doctor if you have any health concerns). And magick is hard work! Raising energy and sending off that cone of power is a lot of work, and a hearty appetite is usually to be expected after a long circle, so feast is pot-luck and self-serve most often.
Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again!"
Circle etiquitte is pretty elementary, and usually just plain common sense and
consideration. Unfortunately, some people leave that at the door when they come
to circle, or so it would seem. So here are a few do's and don't's:
A word now about children... they are our future, and they should certainly be invited to attend outer court Esbats and Sabbats, when they are old enough to know what is going on and to behave accordingly! If you do bring your children to circles, please do not expect everyone else to keep an eye on them. They are your responsibility, and your problem. Before anyone gets put off by my attitude, please be aware that I am a mother, and a grandmother, and my children have always attended any circles that they were allowed and asked to attend. AND they behaved themselves. Children can either be the most wonderful addition to a circle, or the most disruptive. You as the parent have the obligation to see that they know what is going on beforehand and will be comfortable with it. If they are disruptive, and won't behave, and are bothering other people, then please ask for a door to be cut in the circle and take them out, and go with them to supervise them. If the circle is not appropriate for children, and they are old enough to be left to their own devices for the time, maybe they could watch a movie that would be appropriate for them, or have some kind of activity planned for them.
Some groups with lots of young children take turns in supervising activities for them that are Wiccan related, while the other adults have their circle. I have also done circles exclusively for the children, and they have been some of the most fun too! In one we "pretended" we were each of the elements in turn and acted as we thought that element might act. In another, each child had a percussion type instrument, like maracas, cymbols, drums, etc, and we had our own "cone of power" through chanting nursery rhymes and drumming. These directed activities will be more meaningful for your child than a ritual aimed at adults, and are a wonderful way to introduce the "sacred circle" to them, before you expect them to be able to sit or stand still for any length of time. These work for very young children as well as for older ones.
In closing, I would just like to emphasize again, that these are the practices that our coven chooses, and in no way mean that you can't do/see/feel something very different! The strength of Wicca, in my opinion, lies in it's diversity, and in the ability of the practitioners to adapt to whatever circumstances they need and abilities they have. So use this information in whatever way is useful to you, and don't use whatever doesn't feel right to you. Most importantly to me, though, is that you ENJOY your circle! Remember that things can and will go wrong, people will forget what to say, and the Goddess will not strike you with lightening for it. (grin)