I've been saying for a few weeks that I wanted to write a post on how to cast a circle. Despite the fact that I rarely use this form of magic myself, it can indeed be useful, and after referring to this practice in my post on how to cast a spell, I figured it'd be a good topic to cover.
I hope to cover a few things today: exactly why should you cast a circle, if this indeed is your wish; and how can you do so?
Unfortunately there's no simple answer, since it depends on your magical path. However, I'll do my best to discuss this practice in the context of several magical paths, at least to the best of my knowledge.
Why You Might Want to Cast a Circle
There are several reasons you might want to cast a circle in your ritual workings.
For myself, as I've said before, I tend to do things pretty simply. I set the intention in my mind, give it energy and will, and let it go out to the Universe. This works for me.
However, sometimes you might want to perform a more complex working. Maybe there's an especially big desire that you want to give a lot of energy. Perhaps your mind is rather distracted and the circle helps you to focus. Perhaps you just like the drama of casting a circle and going through all the steps of ritual.
The first reason you might cast a circle is to create sacred space.
What exactly is sacred space? It is simply an area that is set apart for a magical working. It is an area that has been cleansed of all extraneous influences, and dedicated for the purpose of some magical task.
In fact, this is why it is recommended you have one particular space you use for your rituals. The more you practice magic in this area, the more of a natural sacred space it becomes.
This is generally why you can feel an other-worldly sense about certain ancient spaces. Either a lot of magic was worked there, or simply in some way a lot of energy raised, and this leaves an indelible imprint on the astral energies of that space.
The last house that Christine and I lived in had a finished basement where we used to perform rituals. So many rituals were performed there, that even to just walk into that space, you could feel that it was different. It felt in its own right almost like a temple.
It's not only ritual that leaves an imprint on energy. Any high-emotional task will leave an energetic imprint, because the astral is the realm of emotion. This is why you'll feel something very similar in areas where battles were fought, murders committed, etc. This is not, of course, a “sacred space” exactly, but it is a space that definitely has a different feel about it.
When Christine and I first got married, we used to fight like cats and dogs. Always for a time after a major argument, you would feel that negative astral energy just hanging around that area. I'm very sensitive to energy so I would always be able to feel it long after the fact. Eventually it disperses, fortunately.
I say the above to point out that all actions have an effect on the physical and astral space in which the action was performed. This is especially so when the action is paired with high emotion.
A sacred space, then, in terms of ritual and magic, is a space where this principle is intentionally used to create a space that is imprinted with the desired energies.
Strictly speaking, a circle isn't necessary to create sacred space: it is just the simplest method for doing so. Even just practicing magic repeatedly in a certain area, which is set aside for that purpose, will naturally create sacred space.
Another reason you might cast a circle is for the psychodrama of the ritual.
What's this mean exactly?
The role of the subconscious mind should never be underestimated in magic. If you're going to perform a ritual, you want your subconscious mind to be behind it 100%.
The subconscious mind is all about practicing magic, or at least effecting change on the objective universe. However, it needs its own sacred space of sorts.
What I mean is that the subconscious mind needs you to get into the proper mood for the ritual. If you go into the ritual thinking about what you had for dinner, what's going to happen at work tomorrow, etc, it's really not going to have the desired results.
Stepping into a ritual should almost be like stepping into another world. Your life outside of the ritual ceases to be important.
When I say “psychodrama”, I mean that the ritual itself is really not important in a magical sense. As chaos magic has shown, you could more or less use any symbols, any wording, any deities you like, and as long as you believed in it, at least for the duration of the working, the ritual would work.
To get the point of this, think of a wedding. For most people, it's about more than just the piece of paper that says that you're married now. There needs to be a real psychological shift. So we have the bride come down the aisle, the exchanging of rings, the kiss, the reception afterwards with all of its strange customs, and then the honeymoon.
Whether or not this is how your wedding actually looked, how many of you would be happy with just going to the courthouse, picking up that piece of paper, and moving on with your day? Like, just another task to check off after work? It'd leave something to be desired, to be sure.
But why? The effect is the same. But, not so to your subconscious mind. You need all that psychodrama in order to really make this a special experience, and denote to yourself, at least, that something has happened today.
And so it is with ritual. Some people, such as myself, are happy to just set the intention and know it is so. But most, I think, need the psychodrama of the ritual to really set this apart—to really tell the subconscious mind that something has happened here. Real change has been effected.
If you have ever watched a magical ritual on Youtube, such as the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram, or any other, you'll see that the magician doesn't just speak the words and perform the actions. In magic there is a way of speaking called “vibration”, usually used when enunciating a god name. The magician will chant the name or phrase in a loud, powerful voice.
Why? Are the gods deaf? Obviously not. They'd hear it even if you just recited it in your head. But that's not the point. The psychodrama is the point. It makes it more believable, as though something has to happen because it was spoken so powerfully.
So when you cast a circle, this serves as a differentiation between your everyday life and the time of the ritual. Strictly speaking, of course it is not required. But, it is convincing to your subconscious mind.
A Container of Energy
The most practical purpose of a circle is simply for containing energy.
Usually you really don't need that much energy for your magical workings. However, sometimes if your desire is especially big, or if your ritual is especially complex, you'll need the circle to contain that energy while you focus on other things.
Without a circle, you always have to have a hold on that energy. In most cases this is fine, but if you need to be focusing on doing the ritual just right, it's easy to lose track of it, and to allow that energy to be dispersed out into the surrounding environment.
The circle gives you a safe zone where the energy can be stored for as long as necessary, while you do all the work you need to in order to raise as much as you need, then to direct and release it.
It is also useful, as mentioned, when a lot of energy needs to be gathered. There is a limit, depending on spiritual development, to how much energy the human aura can contain. At a certain point, it begins to become uncomfortable.
For the beginning magus, you're probably not going to have to worry about that, because it also takes extraordinary focus to raise that amount of energy. For the beginning magus, your main concern is with using the circle to keep the energy focused so that it doesn't disperse. It's especially useful since your focus isn't going to be very constant. If your focus slips, then the energy is still there, though you should still strive to not allow your focus to slip.
The path of the magus is all about the mastery of will. To me, this means relying on as few external props as possible. But, especially to begin with, these will be required, or at least extremely useful.
There is a final reason that circles are used, but I disagree with this reason, so will not discuss it at length.
It is a reason only used by the right-hand path. On the left-hand path, it is unnecessary.
The theory is that when you cast a circle, it can protect you from forces from outside the circle, in particular malevolent forces that might mean you harm.
Similarly, if you are deliberately invoking a demon, the circle can keep the demon on the inside, while you remain on the outside, keeping the demon bound to your will.
I say that this is unnecessary from the left-hand path perspective. First of all, the magician's will should be strong enough to prevent any undo influence. If there is conflict, it is a manifestation of the magician's own subconscious resistance, and he needs to gain control over that.
Secondly, a left-hand path magician would never try to force their will on a demon for control. If indeed a left-hand path magus would call on a demon, it would be in partnership, not in the attempt to control or compel. Therefore, there is no need for protection.
This page on protective circles from the left-hand path perspective I find very interesting, and can clarify this further if necessary.
How to Cast a Circle
So now we've discussed the reasons why you might want to cast a circle. Now we'll discuss how to actually do so.
As I said before, there are many different ways to cast a circle, depending on the magical tradition. I will try to give a general summary of a few different techniques.
In general, it is very simple to cast a circle. There is no right or wrong way, though each magical tradition seems to think there is. 🙂
What matters the most is that you believe in it, and that it is suitably impressing to your subconscious mind. I'll discuss some general templates here in this post, and you can modify it from there.
The most basic method I've heard of is more of a cleansing than a circle, but it still works just as well. Essentially you take a bell and ring it several times in each quarter (east, south, west, north).
The order of the directions I gave is traditional, but not always practiced in this way. Some left-hand path practitioners will cast a circle in a counter-clockwise direction (east, north, west, south), and may even begin from the west instead of from the east.
So, you do it however you want to. This applies to not only the method of ringing the bell as discussed above, but every casting method out there. Generally they function in all four cardinal directions, but where you start and which direction you move is your decision.
Another simple method I heard recently is to take some magical tool, either something as simple as your finger, or something like a wand, a staff, or an athame (double-edged knife), and simply point it at the ground as you spin around the circle. As you do so, you imagine a bright beam of light etching itself on the ground, forming a circle. Then you vibrate the names of the god(s) you wish to work with.
What's important to point out is the correspondences between each direction and the elements. Later I will give correspondences for archangels, if you like the Christian tradition, and demons, if you are on the left-hand path.
Here are the directions and their elements:
- East: air
- South: fire
- West: water
- North: earth
This is almost universal in magic, which is why I mention it here. I suppose that if you are south of the equator, you could reverse earth and fire for obvious reasons.
Traditional Method to Cast a Circle in Witchcraft
In witchcraft, particularly in Wicca, it is a bit more formalized.
Traditional Wicca dictates a diameter of 9 Ft for the circle. In my opinion, it doesn't matter at all, and personally I find that kind of space hard to find without going outside.
In Wicca / witchcraft, you'll generally start in the east and cast the circle clockwise (deosil). In some traditions, you simply draw the circle as discussed above, without stopping at each direction. In almost all traditions, you go around the circle three times.
The most common method I've seen is to call on the quarters at each direction. You might call on the guardians of each direction, or the rulers of each element.
So for instance, in the east, you might say, “Guardians of the Watchtowers of the east, come forth and arise, to protect and empower this sacred circle.” (Wording taken from this page as an example).
Notice the flowery language as an example of psychodrama in action. 🙂 It's better than, say, “Hey guardians of the Watchtowers of the east, could you come hang out to protect my circle for a while?” Just doesn't have the same oomph. 🙂
Always remember to end at the direction at which you started, to complete the circle. I find it surprising that people forget this sometimes.
Many witches will have some item in the circle that represents that element. You might have incense in the east, a candle in the south, a bit of water in the west, and maybe salt in the north.
After the circle is cast, I find it useful to say something like, “This circle is now closed.” Just seems to transition nicely into the main body of the ritual.
After the ritual is done, you'll want to reverse the directions from the start of the ritual. Start in whichever direction you began in, but then traverse the circle in the opposite direction. If you went clockwise, then go counter-clockwise. if you went counter-clockwise, then go clockwise. Dismiss the beings at each direction, if you called on them in the beginning.
Note the importance of the above. You generally don't want beings hanging around after the ritual, so be sure to dismiss them, as well as any deities you called upon.
At the end you can also speak, “This circle is now open,” or wording to that effect as you choose.
Now I'll cover some of the high magic traditions, including classic ceremonial magic, as well as left-hand path magic, which is my own path.
In ceremonial magic, you'll traditionally use something like the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram. The pentagram is a great symbol for banishing superfluous energies out of your space. The LBRP sets up a circle of pentagrams around you, which functions the same as the other methods to cast a circle.
I won't discuss it at length, because you can easily find the LBRP with a few seconds of Googling. Plus it uses Christian symbolism, which I'm not a fan of.
However in brief, it begins and ends with the Qabalistic Cross. This technique sets up a cross of light which runs through the entire body, and out to infinity.
- You start by pointing at your forehead, seeing a light come down from the Universe from infinity down to that point, and vibrate, “ATEH” (ah-teh).
- Draw that light down to your solar plexus (some say point to your feet), and see the light traveling down in a light to infinity beneath you. Vibrate, “MALKUTH” (mahl-khoot, where the kh is an aspirated k sound).
- Point to your right shoulder, seeing that beam of light traveling from the center of your chest, out to your right to infinity. Vibrate, “VE-GEBURAH” (vay-Guh-boo-rah).
- Point to your left shoulder and see a beam coming from the center of your chest, to your left out to infinity. Vibrate, “VE-GEDULLAH” (vay-Guh-doo-lah). Now you should see a radiant cross of light intersecting in your body.
- Clasp your hands at your chest, and vibrate, “LE OLAHM, AMEN” (lay-oh-lahm, amen).
These words are Hebrew, and mean: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Then you perform the main body of the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram.
You begin in the east (definitely in the east for the ceremonial magic version). At each direction, you draw a pentagram in the air, either with your finger, an athame, or wand. You start drawing from the bottom left, for this is the banishing earth pentagram. After you draw it, you stab into the center of the pentagram, stepping your left foot forward, and vibrate the god name associated with that pentagram.
The god name correspondences are as follows:
- East: YHVH (Yahd-Heh-Vahv-Heh)
- South: ADNI (Ah-Doh-Neye)
- West: AHIH (EH-Yeh)
- North: AGLA (Ah-Gah-Lah)
Be sure that between each pentagram, you imagine drawing a brilliant line of light connecting the center of one pentagram with the next.
After doing this, and ending at the east again, you return to the center of the circle. Now you should imagine all four pentagrams around you, with a circle of light connecting them all.
Now you call on the archangels. Put your arms out to form a cross, and announce:
“Before me: RAPHAEL.” (Vibrate the name in caps). See Raphael in yellow robes, with wind blowing around him.
“Behind me: GABRIEL.” See Gabriel in blue robes, perhaps standing atop the sea.
“At my right hand: MICHAEL.” See Michael amidst flames, in red robes.
“At my left hand: URIEL.” See Uriel in green or brown robes, standing on the earth.
Loudly announce: “For about me flames the pentagram, and within me shines the six-rayed star.”
Then you repeat the Qabalistic Cross from above.
Now if you walk the left-hand path, or simply don't want to use Christian symbolism, you have a few choices.
One option is to replace the Hebrew god names with deities of your choice. If I wanted to make this Greek, I might put Apollo in the east, Hades in the south, Poseidon in the west, and perhaps Demeter in the north.
Generally you'll just eliminate the archangels altogether.
You'd also have to find a way to replace the Hebrew in the Qabalistic Cross.
Another option I've seen is to call the demon associated with each direction. The correspondences I've seen to this are as follows (source):
- West (because you begin in the west): LEVIATHAN
- South: SAMAEL
- East: LUCIFER
- North: LILITH (or BELIAL)
The pentagrams are also drawn inverted, as is common on the left-hand path.
The same source provides a replacement for the Qabalistic Cross as follows:
- Instead of “ateh”: AZAZEL
- Instead of “malkuth”: BELIAL
- Instead of “ve-Geburah”: ASMODEUS
- Instead of “ve-Gedullah”: ASTAROTH
- Instead of “le olahm, amen”: BAPHOMET
I don't use this one personally. The segment of the left-hand path I've been looking at most is the Temple of Set, which does not use Luciferian imagery, and I don't even think their rituals involve actual circles as such, though they do use the pentagram.
However, I just wanted to point out that there are many formulas of the above rituals, and you can adapt them to your needs.
No matter the method you use here, generally you only have to do it at the beginning of the ritual. If you desire to perform the same ritual at the end, you may, to clear out any remaining energies. It is also a great ritual to strengthen your aura, so you can perform this ritual on its own, without any other ritual after it.
Bringing It All Together
In this post, I wanted to give a general overview of why you might want to cast a circle. Then, I tried to give several techniques that can serve as a foundation of developing your own method.
There's really no right or wrong in all of this. Whether you choose to keep it simple, or to make it more drawn out and dramatic, that is up to you. The symbols you use, the direction in which you traverse the circle, etc, is all up to you.
Some traditions will say, “You have to start in the east.” Others, just to be contrarian, will start in the west. Some will insist on going clockwise. Others will go counter-clockwise just because they can. It all seems to work equally. The Universe at large doesn't seem to care how you do it, only that you believe it'll work.
At first, you might feel a bit silly with the psychodrama of it all. However, much of being a magus is the drama of the ritual, and convincing your subconscious mind that something is happening. That feeling of silliness will pass.
In the end, whether you choose to cast a circle for your workings or not is up to you. But, the more magical tools you have at your disposal, the better equipped you will be for any working you might desire to perform.
How About You?
Now it's your turn. A lot of this information might be quite new to you, so I am willing to answer any and all questions. However, keep in mind that you are the sole arbiter as to what symbols precisely will work for you. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments.