The Sacred Circle

The following essay is one I submitted when pursuing clergy status within the Correllian Nativist Tradition of Wicca.

On of the most important symbols for Wicca, the circle represents oneness and the ever-moving wheel of time and life. Wiccans meet in circles, a protected sacred space, to show each member is an important part of the whole, and a part of the magic ultimately created.
~Patricia Telesco, Your Book of Shadows

The First Degree training defines the Magic Circle as an “energy construct that serves to amplify energy and also to confine and thus intensify it.” In layman’s terms, this is a circle that is created either by picturing it in the mind or drawing it out around a space so that, within that circle, energy can be accumulated and focused on a specific magical goal or purpose. 

The reason a circle is drawn, rather than another shape like a square or triangle, is because occult practitioners and those connected with the earth have long regarded the circle as the perfect shape. It is the shape that has no angles or sides, it never ends, and is organic in creation – seen in the joining of hands of people or in the shape of the moon and sun. 

The Purpose of the Sacred Circle

There is a differing of opinion among magical practitioners and community on the purpose of the sacred or magical circle. 

Raven Grimassi, in The Wiccan Mysteries, explains that the purpose of the Circle of the Arts is “to separate the mundane from the sacred…Once established, the ritual circle serves to accumulate energy…allows one to become aligned with the frequency or vibrational rate of the current of energy present within this circle.” 

However, some practitioners believe the circle’s main purpose is to protect. Some use it to protect those within from entities, energies, and people without. Others use it to protect those without from the energies within. The latter is seen in Ceremonial Magic texts wherein the magician will be in one sacred geometrical shape, controlling a demon or spirit within the sacred circle. Today, the protective circle is mostly experienced in television such as shows like Charmed and Secret Circle or movies like Hocus Pocus.

Finally, the Circle as a means of Sacred Space can be used for healing. In Introduction to the Healing Arts, Lesson 5, sacred space is said to do the following to the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies:

Physical:

  • Relaxes muscles and relieves tension 
  • Activates the immune system 
  • Stimulates sexual vitality and the endocrine system 
  • Increases circulation of the blood 
  • Opens nerve pathways 

Emotional:

  • Creates peace and security 
  • Provides comfort and unconditional love 
  • Inspires feelings of belonging and oneness 
  • Releases pain and fear 
  • Relieves guilt and grief 

Mental:

  • Releases painful memories 
  • Facilitates problem solving 
  • Transforms negative thought patterns 
  • Enhances decision-making capacities 
  • Awakens universal knowledge 

Spiritual:

  • Facilitates telepathic communication 
  • Stimulates visionary power 
  • Facilitates healing by spirits 
  • Accentuates awareness of oneness 
  • Activates higher consciousness 

History of the Sacred or Magical Circle

The use of the sacred circle, like many other aspects of magical practice, is purported to have started long before the written record of time. 

Silver RavenWolf in her book on solitary witchcraft explains the use and need of the magic circle by telling the story of Honi the Circle Maker, a Jewish tale that dates back to 65 B.C.E. In the tale Honi is asked to make it rain during a time of drought. He tries and it doesn’t work because he did not make the circle. When he makes the circle, the act works. The tale goes into more depth on the purpose and act of ritual and prayer but the important part for now is the act of circle making and its necessity when performing a magical or spiritual act. 

Casting the Magic Circle

Like all magical undertakings, the erection of the magic circle may involve certain physical actions, but it truly takes place inside the person doing it – on an astral, or energetic, level.
    ~Rev. Don Lewis-Highcorrell, Witch School First Degree

Before casting the circle, as with the casting of any spellwork, decisions must be made. Over time, such decisions become second nature for many magical practitioners. The purpose of the circle, how the circle will be made, what tools will be used in the casting, etc. For some, this is not decided but is set already in ritual practice, tradition, and done the same way every time for that group. 

Each circle can be different. There are many ingredients and tools that can be used, as well as there may be no ingredients or tools might be used at all. 

One big decision that is made is whether the circle will be created with tools or only with energy and whether or not the circle will be visible to the physical eye. 

Judika Illes says, in regards to visibility of the circle, that “visible circles aren’t necessarily more effective, however, their clear boundaries may provide additional peace of mind for the person within as well as security.” I agree with this statement. When we use tools in magical work, all of it is used to shift consciousness. Being able to see the boundaries of the magic circle aids in the shift. When I see the magic circle I am able to think, “It is there, I can see it as well as visualize it. It is right there. It exists.” 

Choosing Sacred Space

Any place can be chosen to create a sacred space. However, a few things should be taken into account before casting a circle:

  • Will you be interrupted? Should a “Do Not Disturb” sign be placed over a door? 
  • Is this a public place? Is the work you are about to do ok for public onlookers?
  • Is it legal? Are you trespassing?
  • Is it safe? Could small children or animals or unknowing passersby be harmed by tripping over a lit candle or crystal or pick up and eat an herb or incense that is poisonous?

For some practitioners, creating sacred space is an automatic thing no matter where they are. If your practice uses little tools, or none at all, and you won’t be working skyclad or in any ritual garb that isn’t out of the norm, doing a circle in the middle of a supermarket is possible. All of it relies on the witch and the nature of their practice. In the examples following, however, space, privacy, and comfort are, in many cases, necessary. 

To Cast the Circle

The tools and actions used to cast the circle are numerous. Each is chosen and used for its protective, sacred, or cleansing properties. 

  • Circle Dance – an ancient form of ritual and casting of the magic circle. According to First Degree lessons, “People joining hands and moving in a circle is a simple, yet as profound, a way to raise energy as one could ask for.” 
  • Visualization – picturing the formation of the circle, its boundaries, color and strength in the mind and feeling it spiritually. This is creating the circle on the astral realm, which is as real as the physical. This may or might not be aided by physical action. 
  • Athame/Wand – another part of visualization is with the use of a tool. While the Athame or Wand (or Sword or Staff) does not necessarily mark the boundary physically (unless it is used to dig or scratch a mark into the ground) it allows the practitioner to focus the line of that visualization while creating the circle. 
  • Holy water, of various sorts ranging from that blessed by Catholic priests to water collected from rain storms or sacred springs or wells. Some simply use the holy water created at the time of ritual by a witch by mixing blessed salt and blessed water. 
  • Salt – a long held tool of purification and protection. 
  • Quartz Crystals – this is a practice that was popularized during the airing of the television show Charmed, wherein the sister-witches would use crystals in a circle to contain spirits and malicious entities.
  • Candles – a circle of fire created by candles certainly has a dramatic effect visually. For this reason, a candle circle is used in many movies from Lo to Hellraiser. Other ways to create a circle of fire include the use of alcohol that is poured in a circle and then lit. The fire does not last long but acts as a purifier and protector. This is one of the more dangerous ways to cast a circle and should only be done with strict attention to fire safety.

Once the purpose and tools are decided upon, then there is the act of circle creating itself. Here tradition or purpose may dictate what is appropriate. Some traditions say to begin in the north, others in the east. In the Correllian tradition, the circle is begun in the east, the realm of beginnings and thought, and by going through the south, west, then north one goes through the phases of creation; from thought or conception through to the realm of the physical and stability in the north. 

The Magical Door

After deciding on where to begin, some circle creators decide to leave a door open and invite in other attendees of the ritual. Others close the circle and then cut a door later, if needed. This door cutting allows for those attending to see the circle opened but still in-tact much like a room might have a door but the opening of which does not make the room any less stable. 

Grimassi advocates creating the door in the northeast as “north is the realm of the power of the gods, and the east is the realm of enlightenment. Thus to enter and exit at this point is to symbolically meet with the gods in power and enlightenment.”

Patricia Telesco offers another use for the doorway in the Dedicant ceremony from her book Advanced Wicca. She says that the circle should be set up “so that the entryway and exit are across from one another. This way, you can go out opposite from where you entered (symbolically denoting a change in your path’s focus.)” I feel this would be a helpful aid during initiatory circles or rites of passage, and, if done so, should be explained aloud so that people can enter and exit with that in mind. 

I have been in two public circles that necessitated a door. The first was a Samhain circle wherein those officiating meditated and created the circle first, then opened the door and blessed each person entering, closing the door behind them. This allowed for each person to enter into sacred space rather than having the officiants struggle to create the circle around so many (there was something like 40 participants). 

The second circle was at Ostara. The circle was created around those present, however, during ritual, the radio that was needed to play the music we would be circle dancing to was plugged up outside of the circle and needed to be turned on. Dedicant Gina obliged by cutting a door where she stood in the northern quarter and then turning the music on for us. She closed the door after she returned. 

Ritual to Cast the Magic Circle

The circle is real, the walls are there, concentrating the power within them and shielding those within it from outside energy influences. ~ An Introduction to the Healing Arts, Lesson 5

To perform this ritual, the tools needed include:

  • A space to perform the act in that will not be interrupted during this act. 
  • A Besom (broom)
  • A bowl or vessel of water (preferably spring, glacier or other clean, purified water)
  • A bowl or vessel of salt (sea salt, Celtic salt, or Fleur de Gris)
  • Chalice or Bowl to mix the salt and water into (you can also use the vessel holding the water)
  • Incense – a cleansing Air blend such as white sage, palo santo, and/or lavender.
  • A lighter or matches (it is important that they work)
  • Athame
  • A paper with chants and blessings written on it for memory aid

Set up all tools within the circle space. Arrange the altar, with all of the tools on or around it, in the center of the circle. 

A way to cast the magic circle is as follows:

Cleanse the sacred space, the space in which the magical working will be done. This will rid the space of negative, non-beneficial, harmful, or simply unfocused energy that could affect the magical work being done. Do this by clearing, releasing and grounding the self. Follow this by physically and/or spiritually cleansing the space with the besom – sweeping the area and its energies in a counter-clockwise motion and towards the door or an opening away from the space. 

Next, create holy water by blessing the water and salt and mixing it. 

Bless the water, then the salt, by holding each, one at a time, and visualizing it being filled with white light. The white light is a purifying visualization that at once has no color and yet contains all colors of the spectrum. 

Asperge the area with the holy water, both continuing to cleanse and also to consecrate or bless the area for magical working. Do this in a clock-wise motion or by walking the circle area clock-wise. 

Return the water to the altar 

May the circle be open, but unbroken. 
May the love of the Goddess be ever in your. 
Merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again.

Bibliography

Witch School First Degree by Rev. Don Lewis-Highcorrell
Witch School Ritual Theory and Practice by Rev. Don Lewis-Highcorrell
An Introduction to the Healing Arts via Witch School (no author listed)
Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells by Judika Illes
Advanced Wicca by Patricia Telesco
Your Book of Shadows by Patricia Telesco
The Wiccan Mysteries by Raven Grimassi
The Grimoire of Lady Sheba by Lady Sheba
The Ultimate Book of Shadows for the New Generations Solitary Witch by Silver RavenWolf
The ABC of Witchcraft by Doreen Valiente
Covencraft by Amber K
Wicca: A Year and a Day by Timothy Roderick
A Witches Bible by Janet and Stewart Farrer