How To Cast a Circle

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The size of your circle will vary depending on your needs and available space. Image by Wendy Ashton/Imagebank/Getty Images

Why Cast a Circle?

A reader writes in with a good question. He asks, "Can you tell me if it is necessary to draw a circle every time one uses a wand to cast a spell? I'm a little confused."

Much like many other questions in modern Paganism, this is one where the answer really depends on who you ask. For me personally, I always cast a circle prior to formal rituals, but usually do spellwork on the fly without the use of a circle -- and this is partly because I keep my entire home designated as sacred space, so I don't feel the need to cast a brand new circle each time I do a spell.

Obviously, your mileage may vary on this. Certainly, in some traditions, the circle is required each and every time. Others don't bother with it at all.

It's important to remember that traditionally, the use of a circle is to delineate sacred space. If that's not something you require before spellwork, then it's not necessary to cast a circle.

If, on the other hand, you think you might need to keep some icky stuff away from you during your working, then a circle is definitely a good idea. If you're not sure how to cast a circle, try the method below. Although this ritual is written for a group, it can easily be adapted for solitaries.

How to Cast a Circle for Ritual or Spellwork

In modern Paganism, one of the facets common to many traditions is the use of a circle as a sacred space. While other religions rely on the use of a building such as a church or temple to hold worship, Wiccans and Pagans can cast a circle pretty much any place they choose.

This is particularly handy on those pleasant summer evenings when you decide to hold ritual out in the back yard under a tree instead of in your living room!

Bear in mind that not every Pagan tradition casts a circle - many Reconstructionist paths skip it altogether, as do most folk magic traditions.

  1. Start by determining how big your space needs to be. A ceremonial circle is a place in which positive energy and power are kept in, and negative energy kept out. The size of your circle will depend on how many people need to be inside it, and what the circle’s purpose is. If you’re hosting a small coven meeting for a few people, a nine-foot-diameter circle is sufficient. On the other hand, if it’s Beltane and you’ve got four dozen Pagans preparing to do a Spiral Dance or a drum circle, you’ll need a space significantly larger. A solitary practitioner can work easily in a three- to five-foot circle.

  2. Figure out where your Circle should be cast. In some traditions, a Circle is physically marked on the ground, while in others it is merely visualized by each member of the group. If you have an indoor ritual space, you can mark the Circle on the carpet. Do whichever your tradition calls for. Once the Circle is designated, it is usually navigated by the High Priest or High Priestess, holding an athame, a candle, or a censer.

  3. Which direction will your circle face? The circle is almost always oriented to the four cardinal points, with a candle or other marker placed at the north, east, south and west and the altar in the center with all the necessary tools for the ritual. Before entering the circle, participants are purified as well.

  1. How do you actually cast the circle? Methods of casting the circle vary from one tradition to another. In some forms of Wicca, the God and Goddess are called upon to share the ritual. In others, the Hight Priest (HP) or High Priestess (HPs) will begin at the north and call upon the deities of the tradition from each direction. Usually this invocation includes a mention of the aspects associated with that direction – emotion, intellect, strength, etc. Non-Wiccan Pagan traditions sometimes use a different format. A sample ritual for casting a circle might take place like this:

  2. Mark the circle upon the floor or the ground. Place a candle in each of the four quarters – green to the North to represent Earth, yellow in the East to represent Air, red or orange symbolizing Fire in the South, and blue to the West in association with Water. All necessary magical tools should already be in place upon the altar in the center. Let’s assume that the group, called Three Circles Coven, is led by a High Priestess.

  1. The HPs enters the circle from the east and announces, “Let it be known that the circle is about to be cast. All who enter the Circle may do so in perfect love and perfect trust.” Other members of the group may wait outside the circle until the casting is complete. The HPs moves clockwise around the circle, carrying a lit candle (if it’s more practical, use a lighter instead). At each of the four cardinal points, she calls upon the Deities of her tradition (some may refer to these as Watchtowers, or Guardians).

  2. As she lights the candle in the East from the one she carries, the HPs says:

    Guardians of the East, I call upon you
    to watch over the rites of Three Circles Coven.
    Powers of knowledge and wisdom, guided by Air,
    we ask that you keep watch over us
    tonight within this circle.
    Let all who enter the circle under your guidance
    do so in perfect love and perfect trust.

  3. The HPs moves to the South, and lights the red or orange candle, saying:

    Guardians of the South, I call upon you
    to watch over the rites of Three Circles Coven.
    Powers of energy and will, guided by Fire,
    we ask that you keep watch over us
    tonight within this circle.
    Let all who enter the circle under your guidance
    do so in perfect love and perfect trust.

  4. Next, she circles around to the West, where she lights the blue candle and says:

    Guardians of the West, I call upon you
    to watch over the rites of Three Circles Coven.
    Powers of passion and emotion, guided by Water,
    we ask that you keep watch over us
    tonight within this circle.
    Let all who enter the circle under your guidance
    do so in perfect love and perfect trust.

  5. Finally, the HPs goes to the last candle in the North. When lighting it, she says:

    Guardians of the North, I call upon you
    to watch over the rites of Three Circles Coven.
    Powers of endurance and strength, guided by Earth,
    we ask that you keep watch over us
    tonight within this circle.
    Let all who enter the circle under your guidance
    do so in perfect love and perfect trust.

  6. At this point, the HPs will announce that the circle is cast, and other members of the group can ritually enter the circle. Each person approaches the HPs, who will ask:

    How do you enter the circle?

    Each individual will respond:

    In perfect love and perfect trust or In the light and love of the Goddess or whatever response is appropriate to your tradition.

  1. Once all members are present within the circle, the circle is closed. At no time during ritual should anyone exit the circle without performing a ceremonial “cutting.” To do this, hold your athame in your hand and make a cutting motion across the line of the circle, first to your right and then to your left. You are essentially creating a “door” in the circle, which you may now walk through. When you return to the circle, enter it in the same place you exited, and “close” the doorway by reconnecting the line of the circle with the athame.

  2. When the ceremony or rite has ended, the circle is usually cleared in the same manner in which it was cast, only in this case the HPs will dismiss the deities or Guardians and thank them for watching over the coven. In some traditions, the temple is cleared simply by having all members raise their athames in salute, thanking the God or Goddess, and kissing the blades of the athame.

  3. If the above method of casting a circle seems boring or dull to you, that’s okay. It’s a basic framework for ritual, and you can make yours as elaborate as you like. If you’re a very poetic person who likes lots of ceremony, feel free to use creative license – call upon “the weavers of the wind, the breezes that blow from the East, blessing us with wisdom and knowledge, so mote it be,” etc, etc. If your tradition associates various deities with the directions, call upon those Gods or Goddesses in the ways that they expect you to do so. Just make sure that you don’t spend so much time casting the Circle that you don’t have any time left for the rest of your ceremony!

Tips:

  1. Have all your tools ready ahead of time -- this will save you from scrambling around during the middle of the ritual looking for things!

  2. If you forget what you mean to say when casting the circle, improvise. Talking to your deities should come from the heart.

  3. If you make a mistake, don't sweat it. The universe has a pretty good sense of humor, and we mortals are fallible.