breaking free of the circles


“Casting circles” is not as ancient as many would like to believe. Wicca inherited circle casting from what has come to be known as the “Western Mystery Tradition” (WMT), a system of ceremonial magic thoroughly steeped in medieval Christian mysticism. There is no real evidence of the practice being used any earlier than this. This alone gives one pause for thought. Is it really even Pagan? The original purpose for casting a circle was to trap demons or to protect oneself from demons.

Of course, the reasons have changed for modern practitioners. One reason given for circle casting seems to be simply an update on the old “protection from demons” thing- it is to protect from vague negative forces/ spirits. My take on this is that whatever negative forces that are out there have no power over the deities and spirits that I am worshipping in my ritual. I am under their protection and they are powerful. They are not to be “summoned” or “dismissed” as is the practice in some traditions. Incidentally, this summoning and dismissing I speak of is also something that came out of the WMT- it was originally the summoning and dismissing of demons and/or angels.

Those who are well versed in circle casting will also tell you that the main purposes of the circle (or sphere as some would put it) are to create sacred space- a “world between worlds” and to “contain” energy until it is released. My point of view, however, is that Mother Nature creates sacred space. When I do ritual, I feel that the sacred state of being is not “between worlds”, but at the center of the worlds, firmly grounded in sacred reality. The real world is not illusion nor something to escape from- it is sacred and magical. And as far as the idea of building up and releasing magical energy goes- well, to each her own, but I just don‘t see magic as something that is done like that. I experience it as coming from the sacred center (as in the sacred fire, a well, tree, or all three) and radiating out. Natural magic has a flow all its own. It wasn’t meant to be trapped nor contained.

So what are the reasons why this form of ritual is so prevalent? I think its due in large part to the Llewellyn publishing company. Their books give the impression that the western ceremonial model is the only form of ritual out there. And what will it take for the Neopagan world to realize their freedom and break free of the circles?


6 responses »

  1. I love this line, particularly: “When I do ritual, I feel that the sacred state of being is not “between worlds”, but at the center of the worlds, firmly grounded in sacred reality.” I also believe that all is sacred all the time, even when it comes right down to the most mundane turd on the side of the road! 🙂 What changes, imo, is only our awareness of that sacred nature.

    I do sometimes use circle casting (not related to protection from demons, unless we’re maybe talking about my own personal ones, ha), but usually I only want it in some aspects of my personal practice for which it provides a tool/trigger for tuning psyche in to my work… I invoke myself and demarcate my own awareness and intention, more than I am invoking something that I believe is already there. 🙂

    There’s a really good article in a past Pangaia issue about this (invoking self) that really spoke to where I was at in my own practice (opens a .pdf):

    I do usually go along with circle casting in eclectic groups, whenever other participants are likely coming from paths and perspectives from which they are accustomed to circle casting and might feel psychically/energetically uncomfortable without one. I don’t usually offer to do castings, though, since it isn’t something I am 100% into for the celebratory style ritual I usually participate in with eclectic groups. I’ve learned to internally dial up (or ask for) the parts of ritual I need or want for my own experience and to dial down the parts that I don’t relate to. Such are the compromises of work in eclectic groups, I suppose.

    Very recently, though, the differences between compromise and collaboration have come up in my studies and this is an area I’m really curious about exploring when it comes to ritual or practices with eclectic groups… there’s a very different tone and intent between these two, and a happy, gelled eclectic group can be so hard to achieve… can it be achieved? Maybe developing “collaboration” rather than “compromise” could be a key.

    Anyway, great post… I love your blog and getting to share in your thoughts. I hope one of these days, we’ll be able to meet up over coffee, tea, or our kiddos on the playground now and then for real live conversations! 🙂

  2. Oh, you know… I should add to that, that while I’m often willing to play along nicely with some aspects of eclectic group ritual that I may not necessary be as drawn to as others… I do kind of resent whenever features of ritual practice are declared essential or correct in a one size fits all, or “it’s wrong” or somehow “not real” to do otherwise, kind of way. That usually seems kind of presumptuous and unfair to me in an eclectic group where not everyone is sharing the same tradition or perspective, but it is something I’ve run into a lot, especially with things like circle castings. That’s one reason I dig your post about this, since it helps point out that there are other approaches and perspectives.

  3. Thanks for the positive feedback Terrabeth! It would be great to get together sometime- email me!
    Somewhere along the way I’ve developed some negative feelings/ vibes for most of the ritual trappings (so to speak) of Wicca and Wicca-like traditions. This happened before back in 2000 when I was first dissolusioned about the origins of Wicca. I came back to Wicca a few years later, thinking that I must have thrown the baby out with the bath water. But the last year or so all the reasons that I became CR in the first place have been coming back to me.
    I don’t know if ecclectic groups are going to work for me anymore. Wicca-based and CR/ADF rituals aren’t just radically different in form, they are different in purpose… its hard to be in a ritual and realize that you’re “dialing down” the whole thing, to borrow your phrasing.

    • Yeah, no doubt… definitely don’t want to be in a ritual where everything has to be dialed down for you to enjoy it! I’m glad you’ve found something that works better for you, especially if you are lucky enough to have a group for it locally.

      I’ve been feeling pretty starved for the type of group ritual and tradition I love most, too. I’ve gifted myself with a year of diving in on site at Diana’s Grove, where my ritual heart most lies, but I’m fearful about not having this in the future, since they’re selling the land. There are prospects on the horizon for a new form for their work… meeting in other locations. I just hope it really will continue on and close enough to home that I can get that perfect (for me) ritual fix for my soul.

  4. I just had to share that I totally feel/ understand how you both feel cause i feel the same way. I am part of a Non-domination( sorry about spelling) pagan church. Was even on the board for three years but I work with the triple realms and well more cr/druidism/ hedgewitch way of doing and feeling things and I have just tried to float along showing some of my ways in ocassional rituituals and events. But the basic frame work of the rituals are Wicca/WMT/Hermetic. I just am not comfertable anymore with the frame work/ cosmology, though i still love the people. I have been Studying Druidry/ism, Northern Europian traditions, Celtic Recon and such creating a Hedge path for my self. I connect and work with Mother Nature whom I feel is Danu. I have sense other Deities and respect them but I have not had a connection with them the way I connect with Danu. Anyway, I too wish I could find others who would hold rituals without the circles/quarts and instend connected with Nature’s triple realms with out fear…with confidence and inclusion.
    Peace & laughter,

  5. Thanks for the feedback, Clove. I too have a deep connection with Danu, and have evolved toward a more “natural” way of ritual.

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