Casting circles for spells and rituals is something practiced by many branches of witchcraft and Paganism. The purpose and necessity of casting a circle is something that will vary between practitioners and covens.
Some believe that circles are cast to create a protected area in which to practice magic. Others see them as a way of building magical power and focusing it into the ritual that is being carried out. There are others that believe they are a way of acknowledging, paying respect to, and thanking the deities and magical energies that are present during rituals and spells.
As you can imagine, due to the difference in believes as to what a circle is for, there is also a large sliding scale as to how important and elaborate a part of rituals it becomes.
Personally, as a Hedge Witch, circle casting as we know it today isn’t really a big part of my chosen tradition, but it’s still something I often do. Granted in a very short simple format, but I find it creates a nice start and finish point to spells. This may sound a little strange but after a day at the office or running round after children having something you do as a regular prelude to workings is a good way to enter the right mind set and clear away the cluttered thoughts that may distract your concentration.
Below is a very simple example of circle casting, as with all magical workings it’s best to come up with your own adaptation and make it personal to you.
The circle itself may or may not be marked out physically. This can be done with anything you choose but rope and salt are common choices. Sometimes candles are used to mark the directional correspondences on the circumference of the circle, (Green for North, Yellow for East, Red for South and Blue for West). Sometimes representations of each element is used to mark directional correspondences, either around the circumference or on an alter within the circle, (Earth for North, Air for East, Fire for South and Water for West).
Before the circle is cast the person leading the ritual will welcome the Lord and Lady, or specific deities that they wish to be present.
They will then walk round the edge of the circle in a clockwise direction (traditionally starting at the East) marking it out with either an athame, a staff, a wand or simply their finger. They may stop at each compass point to welcome the energies / God / watchtower, or they may complete the circle and then welcome them. An example of what they may say would be:
“Energies of the East, I ask you watch over this rite with powers of knowledge and communication, guided by Air, I bid you ‘Hail and Welcome’,
Energies of the South, I ask you to watch over this rite with powers of strength and will, guided by Fire, I bid you ‘Hail and Welcome’,
Energies of the West, I ask you to watch over this rite with powers of peace and emotion, guided by Water, I bid you ‘Hail and Welcome’,
Energies of the North, I ask you to watch over this rite with powers of prosperity and stability, guided by Earth, I bid you ‘Hail and Welcome’.”
Once the circle is cast it is generally believed you should not cross it’s boundary, and break the circle, if it can at all be helped. Some practitioners will cut a doorway in the circle if someone needs to leave by using whatever they used to draw the circle to mark two small lines across the boundary of it. Once the person has left / re-entered they then re-connect the two edges.
One, if not the, most important part of casting a circle is for all the participants to visualise it as clearly as they can. For most people this will be a circular wall or sphere of light, but it is a very personal thing and will vary for everyone.
Once the spell or ritual has been complete, it is important to then take down the circle. Confusingly this is often called ‘opening’ the circle as people often visualise the energy or light dissipating outwards, rather than falling in on itself.
To do this the person leading the ritual will walk around the circumference in an anticlockwise direction tracing the outline of the circle. Either whilst they are walking and reach the compass points, or after they have finished they will say something along the lines of:
“Energies of the East, thank you for joining me in this rite, stay if you can, go if you must, I bid you ‘Hail and Farewell’,
Energies of the North, thank you for joining me in this rite, stay if you can go if you must, I bid you ‘Hail and Farewell’,
Energies of the West, thank you for joining me in this rite, stay if you can go if you must, I bid you ‘Hail and Farewell’
Energies of the North, thank you for joining me in this rite, stay if you can go if you must, I bid you ‘Hail and Farewell’.”
They will often use a similar statement format for thanking and saying goodbye to the Lord and Lady or other deities, which they will do next.
As I said previously this is a basic outline of how circles are cast. Some are much more complicated, and by the same token some or much simpler. Some plainly consist of visualising the circle and mentally acknowledging the different elements and directions associated with them.
However you choose to embrace this practice, like all things magical, it will develop personal power and meaning the more you do it.