The circle is a magical construct used in Wiccan rites. However it is not limited only to Wiccans; it is also often used by witches and ceremonial magicians. Although their purpose for using it is slightly different. A Wiccan uses the circle to create a scared space, a sort of personal temple, in which to perform a rite or cast a spell. For a ceremonial magician, the circle is used to create a safe working space. It is used as protection from any external forces.
Personally, I use the circle to create a sort of sanctuary. It is a quiet, peaceful place I create within my normal environment. It is also my temple, my personal place of worship. It is portable, not tied to any one specific physical place. I often find that once I dismiss my circle, I carry with me the feeling of peace. It is as if the circle remains a part of me.
I see the casting of the circle as a way to set yourself apart from the regular world, your cares, etc. It is a signal to yourself that something special is about to happen, and your full attention to these matters are required. The outside world will be there when you are done, but it does not need to be brought into the circle.
A circle can be seen as representing completion, the infinite, and protection. This symbolism is used in such diverse things as tarot, mandalas, and spells. The circle can also be seen to represent the Wheel of the Year or the cycle of life.
When are They Needed?
There are no hard and fast rules for when a Wiccan should cast a circle. However, it is generally accepted that they are used for Sabbats, esbats and magic working. I think that if you are trying to create a sacred space, a temple, then it is an appropriate time to cast a circle. And remember, a simple circle ritual is just as effective as a complex one. Don’t skimp on casting a circle because you feel it is to much work! It is probably time to write a simpler ritual if you feel that way.
Some people, Wiccans and others, will cast a circle for tarot reading and other divination, meditation, etc. Personally, I don’t think this is necessary, unless it is a very special meditation or divination session. I feel that the use of conscious relaxation and breathing to clear your mind and/or envisioning a white light surrounding you are generally sufficient for these acts.
Size and Shape
The “traditional” circle size is 9 feet in diameter. In my opinion, this size isn’t always needed, nor is it always practical. Your circle should be large enough to hold all the ritual participants, altar, tools, etc. If it’s just you, and you don’t plan to dance or anything else fancy, then a small circle is just fine. You can always test out different sizes of circles. If the one from your last ritual felt to big, try a smaller one next time, or vice versa.
When you are creating and visualising your circle, keep in mind the shape as well as the size. Remember that your circle isn’t flat. It is actually a sphere that extends both above you and below you, possibly through the ceiling, and definitely through the floor. In some cases, especially in tiny rooms, your circle may even clip through a chair or a table. I don’t see this as a huge problem. While it is ultimately best to have a clear area, as long as you can keep up the visualisation, then a little clipping through objects is fine.
In simple terms, a circle is cast by walking on the inside in a clockwise, or deosil [day-o-sil], direction. The circle is usually walked one or three times using either your right hand or a ritual tool (athame, wand, or another tool depending on the tradition) to trace the circle. It is usual to visualise a white or blue light coming from your hand or tool, and it is this light that marks the circumference of the circle. Your circle can also be laid out ahead of time using string, coloured yarn, paint on the floor, a circle in the earth, with dried herbs, or any other way you can think of. However, this is only a physical presentation of the circle, you will still need to empower it through ritual.
Circle rituals vary, with some being complex and others being very simple. They all generally contain a request for the presence of the elements, and for the attention of the deities. Not all traditions recognise the elemental spirits, whereas other traditions treat them almost as lesser deities. In my circle, I invite in the positive aspects usually assigned to the elements and directions. (I do not call on the elemental watchtowers, such as you might see in other Wiccan/Pagan circle castings. The watchtowers are actually Christian constructs from Ceremonial magic.)
My Circle Ritual
This is the circle ritual was adapted from one of my first circle lessons for Coven of the Far Flung Net.
- place your altar in the centre of the area where you will be casting your Circle; I like to have my altar facing North, but some traditions perfer East
- place any representations of the elements, Lord, Lady, or working tools on your altar
- sit in from of your altar and take a few moments to relax and think about what you are planning to do
- light a candle and position it in the centre of your altar
- walk to the East and invite the powers of AirMay the power of Air be with me.May your speed and purityBe present in my Circle.
- walk to the South and invite the powers of FireMay the power of Fire be with me.May your energy and creativityBe present in my Circle.
- walk to the West and invite the powers of WaterMay the power of Water be with me.May your emotion and protectionBe present in my Circle.
- walk to the North and invite the powers of EarthMay the power of Earth be with me.May your stability and solidnessBe present in my Circle.
- walk one more time around the Circle, clockwise, using your hand to draw the Circle
- imagine a white light coming from your hand, forming the edge of your Circle
- return to the centre of the Circle
- take a moment to feel the presence of the elements
- when ready, light the two candles representing the Lord and Lady
- raise your head high and your arms (if so inclined) and invite the Lord and Lady into your Circle (use specific names if desired)Lord and Lady, I, your daughter/son, invite you into my Circle.I invite you to join me in my works and celebrationSo that I might feel your presence and You may feel my love
- state the purpose of your Circlefor example: “Today is the day we celebrate Beltaine. I have cast my Circle so I might celebrate the Lord and Lady on this day.”
- end with “This Circle is cast, my place of peace, my sacred space. May no one come to harm from the work I do within it.”
- perform your ritual, work, or celebration
There are several methods to close your circle before you begin your ritual proper. The one that I have heard most often is “as above, so below”, sometimes followed by a foot stomp. (I think the reason this is the one I’ve heard most often is because it is advocated by Silver RavenWolf.) I also like “My circle is closed, and my work/ritual will now begin.” In my circle ritual I use “This Circle is cast, my place of peace, my sacred space. May no one come to harm from the work I do within it.” Whatever you use is really up to you, or dictated by your tradition, but it should be something to help mark the transition between circle casting and the ritual or spell working.
Cutting a Door
Sometimes it is necessary to leave your circle after it’s closed. Maybe you’ve forgotten something in the other room, or the call you’ve been waiting for all week finally comes. Sometimes it is best to dismiss the circle, or to finish your ritual or spell then take care of whatever you need to do outside of the circle.
When you need to leave the circle, it is possible to cut a “door” in the circle. This is usually done in the East. Take your hand, athame, or other tool and cut the shape of a door into the circle. Step through your doorway. Turn around and close the circle by using the reverse motion. When you come back, do the same thing – cut a doorway, step through, close the door behind you.
Releasing the Circle
When your ritual is complete, it is time to release your circle. This is important because it provides closure and helps to clear up any energy you may have left floating around. Releasing the circle can be done by simply walking around the circle and drawing the energy back into the tool you used to cast the circle. I also like to thank the elements and the Lord and Lady for joining me in my circle. Notice I say “thank”, not “dismiss”. I do not command the elements or the Lord and Lady to come to my circle. I invite them to join me, and I thank then for being present. There are many phrases that can be used to mark the releasing of the circle. Two I particularly like are “My circle is broken, but not unbroken,” and “Merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again.” “So mote it be” is also used fairly often, but I find it a little to pseudo-archaic for my use.
My Circle Release
- Stand in the centre of your circle, or before your altar
- Thank the Lord and Lady for joining you within your CircleLord and Lady, I, your daughter/son, thank you for joining me.May I carry your love within my heart until I next cast a circle.
- walk to each of the four directions and thank the elements for their presence
- walk to the East and thank the powers of AirThank you, Air, for joining me.May your speed and purity
Be with me always.
- walk to the South and thank the powers of FireThank you, Fire, for joining me.May your energy and creativity
Be with me always.
- walk to the West and thank the powers of WaterThank you, Water, for joining me.May your emotion and protection
Be with me always.
- walk to the North and thank the powers of EarthThank you, Earth, for joining me.May your stability and solidness
Be with me always.
- pick up your athame or other tool and walk around the parameter of your circle, counter-clockwise (widdershins) this time, drawing in the light you used to create the circle
- declare your circle openMy circle is open, but not unbroken or some similar phrase
- tidy up your tools and altar and doing something grounding, such as eating, to help you move back into the regular world