Many, many teachers and authors emphasise the need for creating a circle when performing ritual, or doing inner pathworking, or meditation, and so on. My first steps on the pagan path were Wiccan, and creating the circle is a large part of any ritual action. I cringed, and still do, at any mention of creating a circle with salt – especially out of doors – it’s something that lacks all common sense in a nature-based spirituality; let’s protect ourselves by throwing salt down on the ground and potentially killing all nearby flora and fauna. But I digress – the question is, how important is the creation of sacred space?
One of my patron goddesses is Nemetona, the goddess of sanctuary. She is the representation, the embodiment of sanctuary, a place where we are held; a safe place. She is a goddess of transformation, for in a safe space we are able to explore, to try new things, to grow. Much as under our mother’s watchful eye, we can learn and develop as human beings. However, we must also push the boundaries in order to develop – we must leave the protected and safe spaces to discover our own, to create our own.
When I perform ritual by myself, I don’t see the need to create a circle. For me, either in my home or outside, the creation of a circle is setting a time and space outside of time and space, and this is not something I want to do. I want to be wholly in this world, grounded and interacting with it. When performing rituals for others, I always respect their wish to create a circle if they so choose, for that is their path. For me though, it just isn’t necessary.
Inner pathworking is simply done, without the complex or simple creation of a safe place where I cannot be harmed by outside influences, or where my own energy can harm others, for I don’t believe energy works this way. Much like a curse, it only has an effect is the cursed believes in said curse. I don’t believe that external energies are grasping and clawing around the edges of my circle, trying to get inside my mind as I undertake an inner journey, or that there are things crawling around the boundaries of my circle in ritual; demonic forces waiting to get in and cause havoc. I also don’t believe that I can unwillingly send energy in ritual, thereby needing a circle to contain the energy until I so choose. It’s something that some pagans agree with, but many do not.
In public ritual, I have also often found that the creation of the circles is merely words and actions – there isn’t any actual manipulation of energy behind it; the circle isn’t really created, as far as I’m concerned. Someone may walk around saying the words, then consecrating however they choose, but there is no energy in it – they are simply going through the motions. That, a circle does not make. Just walking around in a circle doesn’t create magical space unless there is sufficient intention behind it.
My home is a sanctuary. It is a blessed and sacred space. If I choose to do an inner pathworking there, “unguarded from external forces”, I don’t believe that they have the capability to do any harm. In fact, I don’t believe in them at all. My home is sacred because of the way I feel about it, the way I honour the spirits of warmth and energy, of rest and play, of love and laughter that occurs within those walls. I feel the same way about ritual outside in the wilds – the circle is unnecessary, for nature is simply nature. Were I to work outdoors in the city, perhaps, where the human threat of physical violence must be considered, then perhaps I would create a “magic” circle. Most likely I would simply find a safer place from physical harm.
I’m currently reading a book on Druidry that does quite a bit of inner pathworking as part of the suggested work. This book is fraught with warnings, about when something happens in your inner pathworking that you don’t like, that you don’t control – people entering, things not going according to plan. I think that the mere suggestion of the possibility of this is leading people to self-sabotage their pathworkings – if you believe it, then chances are that the suggestion planted in the subconscious can and will emerge when we feel most vulnerable. Suggesting that we must protect ourselves, that we are vulnerable when we perform these actions – to me this is nonsense. If these suggestions had never even been made, then most likely “bad things” would never happen in pathworking. I have done many pathworking, and undergone hypnosis – both in classes teaching it and myself being a subject to know what it is like. You are fully in control, as if you were not “under” hypnosis. It is merely a state of relaxation where you can access parts of the brain that the “conscious” mind just shouts over. I know that many would disagree with me – again I will reiterate that this is simply my personal opinion, and that others will have their own equally valid opinions. The whole subject is subjective – and what works for you may not work for others.
I suppose sacred spaces for me are those places where there is no need, no desire to protect myself from outside influences, at least those that I believe in. My rituals are open to the world, so that I can connect fully and wholly with the world around me. The intention behind my rituals, behind the way that I live my life, is what matters most – and that does not include creating spheres around me for protection. It’s all a bit Hollywood for me – I just don’t believe in it. I do, however, believe in sacred space, in the sanctuaries that we create, or that we come across – a grove in a forest, a clearing on a mountaintop, a space behind a waterfall, a corner of the bedroom – all these places that sing to our heart, these are our sacred places. I feel no need to fence them in, in the physical or the spiritual sense. I am a part of them, wholly influenced and touched by them when I am sharing their space and time. It is a gift, and one that I accept wholeheartedly.
Many Pagan traditions outside of Wicca see no need to create a circle. Wicca is about the only “version” of Paganism in which circles are cast. The public rituals of ADF (the Druid organization of which I am a member) don’t even involve cast circles.
Many books about pathworking and such today mention that if anything happens that make you feel uncomfortable, you have the power to dismiss it yourself. There is no need for protective measures.
Just wanted to throw those tidbits in there.
Funny, I have never thought of circles as being about protection from eeeeeeeevil forces. I think of circles as being symbolic representations of our lives, the seasons, and the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. Like anything in ritual, for me, the circle is a bit of theatrics that helps set the tone for what is to come (this is sacred time, now is not the time to think about work.bills etc). Your mileage may vary, of course, and I agree that the whole world should be seen as sacred space.
Yes – it’s like stepping into a separate space where you can relax – creating a sanctuary. Good words!
I am totally with you on this. Personally, for me, it always seemed a bit counter-intuitive to first assume that there was a reason *not* to feel safe, or protect against something. I have seen it done with great serious ~ritual~, and I have also seen it done openly, as a simple agreement that was fun and joined a community, as a light and fun activity. I understand that there are those who feel this is a necessary thing for them as part of their workings, and I will respect that. But for me, I am, live in, and carry, a sacred space. Thank you for addressing this.
Hi Jennifer! Indeed, for me sacred space is all around, and personally I feel no need to create one in order to practice my religion. But to each their own! x
My own, “outsider’s”, view of circle casting (I’ve never done it or attended one) is that it’s the means by which people set aside a space in which they have fewer distractions. I’ve always thought that the barriers they put up to keep things out or in operate internally. The circle they make is in their mind, which is where our awareness of reality is created.
From an external viewpoint, I don’t think they make a space sacred by their actions, they simply recognise it as such. One definition of sanctify is “to recognise as sacred”, not as many seem to think to “make sacred” – as if we have the power to make something sacred rather than just to recognise that it already is; how anthropcentric!
As to where people choose to recognise these external sacred spaces; just as each person has a preference for a style of art or music or some need silence, others chanting or music, it seems to me that different people tune in to different physical environments. Some like cathedrals and man-made structures, some forest groves, some hilltops, some rivers and lakes.
What intrigues me is whether repeated use of a particular site as a sacred space makes it easier for others to recognise that space later. Do we leave something of ourselves there that makes it easier for others to access? Have some places become “more sacred” (easier to access the gods from) with use and time?
Yes, I’ve often wondered that as well – does the energy, intention, whatever you choose to define it as, in ritual, leave behind some sort of residue, like songs on the wind? Is is something akin to our own blood, sweat and tears that we leave on the soil, but on an etheric, astral level? Or is it all just in our heads? I know that I’ve felt something in neolithic stone circles used by ancestors for thousands of years, as well as feeling something very similar is spaces where no human remains are left – those truly wild places.
As a Gwyddon we do not cast circles. Bceause we don’t want to keep anything out or anything in. To truly merge with the Divine All, we believe everything needs to be open, no paths blocked.
Yeup – I agree 🙂
I agree with this as well. I don’t cast a circle when doing my own work. In public ceremonies what we have done in order to try to bring together the idea of an open circle (which we announce prior to the ceremony — also that anyone can leave at any time without overstepping any sanctions) and at the same time respect some people’s uneasiness at the idea of an open circle is to go ahead and do a water and fire blessing of the individuals in the circle, then have someone stand at the center with an athame and point at the horizon as they turn in a circle and say, “This is sacred time, this is sacred space.” IThat all helps to bring the group’s focus and attention together and to ground them to the present. At the end there is no circle to uncast, because we have cast none to begin with.
Great post…gonna share with my group. Thanks!
Yes – open circles in group ritual seem to be the preferred method! x
I often work without feeling any need to create a circle. Like you I don’t believe there is anything that really needs to be kept out or in, or indeed that a circle would achieve that if there was. There are times though, almost always when working indoors, when I do feel the need to make one – this is usually when I am going through a bad time at work or at home and am very distracted. I make a circle, visualise it strongly and then imagine that the outside world falls away and I’m in a bubble or on a magic carpet floating down to my fantasy world of visualisation. I find it works well to stop my mind thinking about my problems in the “real” world and lets me get on with whatever spiritual work I want to do.
Yes, many people have commented that it creates a sacred space away from our problems in the “real” world. I understand, and have done so myself many times. The question I would pose, is that can we ever truly escape the real world problems, and should we? Could we not meet these problems head on in ritual? It’s giving me plenty to think about lately on the nature of ritual – and all these comments are brilliant – thank you all! x