“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?