Guidelines For Circle Casting & Circle Work
These notes have been especially prepared for people considering participating in either Workshop Circles or regular Coven Circles. It looks at: What you can expect Circle casting and work to be like; Some general conventions; What expectations I have of participants; and finally An introductory ritual.
The Circle casting and circle work is designed to give you relevant theoretical and practical training in contemporary Witchcraft and Magick. The tasks undertaken are not unlike the experience you would expect to encounter in a typical Coven Circle that I might run, albeit in a somewhat more concentrated form. It should go without saying that the comprehensive experience of many years cannot be substituted in one day by a workshop or even several introductory sessions. It is my hope though that the level of your knowledge will be greatly improved and that you will be inspired to continue your studies in earnest. The material in the workshop will cover some of the core principles and extend your general experience of practical Witchcraft.
These notes are intended to familiarise you with the introductory ritual practices and some Wiccan conventions. A few people may find the practices initially challenging, but I would encourage you to allow yourself the opportunity of the experience. This especially applies to the Wiccan practice of ‘skyclad’ ritual; hopefully any concerns you may have will be covered in these notes; but please don’t hesitate to ask about anything you feel is not covered.
I should add that I don’t use skyclad ritual initially, this is usually reserved for a Coven Circle, or else as preparatory ritual working to joining in Coven practices. More about this later.
To assist in making your experience significant and authentic there are two things which I ask. The first is to be open to new ideas or approaches to the subject; some of which may be different to what you have read. The second is to be willing to participate and to give things a try, even if you should find things challenging.
You will have by now read at least one of the ‘classical’ texts on contemporary Witchcraft (eg ‘What Witches Do’, etc).
Your next immediate task is to continue with further reading – see the recommended reading list below. You will notice that this list branches out into parallel areas of study. These include the areas of mythic and psychological studies. It is important to read in areas indirectly related to the practice of Witchcraft. Probably one of the first things I’ll be asking you about at the workshop is “What have you been reading?”
GETTING STARTED WITH CIRCLE CASTING
There are several things you might consider acquiring. Although these items are not absolutely necessary to getting started, they are useful and if you were to participate in a regular Circle I would certainly expect you to have these items. (If you have any of these items then please bring them along to use in the workshop.):
1 – A Robe or other suitable ritual attire;
2 – A Cord (generally a white silken Cord, 9 feet in
3 – A ritual knife, known as an Athame (usually black-
4 – A Diary and pen with which you can record notes
and diarise experiences;
5 – A folder in which to keep the notes I give out
(could be combined with your Diary).
See below for more detail on these items.
WORKING IN A CIRCLE
The following are some of the basic conventions and expectations in behaviour I have to you working in a Magick Circle. You can expect these principles to be applied even in only the workshop.
1. Be personally responsible. This means that you agree not to do anything which might endanger either yourself or others at the workshop. Your behaviour should always be polite and considerate. If you have a concern please do not hesitate to discuss this with one of the facilitators.
2. If you need to leave either the workshop space or the Circle you do not need permission, but you will do so in such a way so as not to disturb or disrupt others. It is generally courteous to have the acknowledgment of the facilitator. If a ceremony is under way this will mean ‘breaking’ the Circle. This can be done by opening and closing a ‘gateway’. You do this by visualising a veil at the edge of the Circle which you ritually render open with your hand gently and closed again behind you.
3. Respect the wishes of someone if they do not want to be touched, especially in a skyclad ritual (see below). If someone’s hands are touching you too intimately for your comfort you should let them know immediately. This doesn’t have to be awkward, you can simply make your feelings clear by taking hold of the person’s hand and moving it elsewhere. That way, neither one of you have to convey a stilted verbal message, or feel as though you are disrupting the general flow – especially if it occurs during ritual.
The same principle applies for the traditional Wiccan convention of passing the ritual Cup of wine with a ‘kiss’. The ‘kiss’ is intended to be much like the French greeting kiss, ie. a kiss on the cheek. A kiss on the lips is okay only if it is mutually agreeable.
4. A tolerant and respectful attitude toward the beliefs of others should be in evidence and practiced by the way you communicate to others. If you have a criticism of someone or another group it should be confined to a clear cut critique, rather than merely some personal dislike. Gossip will hold no weight or respect in the Circle.
DANCE AND CAULDRONS OF FIRE
Witchcraft has a number of simple techniques which enable us to connect with the ‘witch-within’. Dance is one of those techniques. Circle dances are used to distract the conscious Self and then when combined with rhythmic drumming, the dance enables us to directly experience the instinctual nature of the Self.
The dances are usually performed around a central Cauldron in which a fire has been lit. Fire is naturally a wild and elemental substance, even when physically contrived as in the cauldron. Even if it is only a simple candle flame its use is create a centre of focus for group mind of the Coven. When a central fiery Cauldron is used and then coupled with other Witchcraft
practices, such as the ritualised circle dances or chants or spells, all this serves to create a powerful focus for accessing the personal Unconscious. This can occur spontaneously in any individual and especially in ritual involving the whole Coven where the collective Unconscious is touched.
The Unconscious is perceived as being the repository of our most primitive and instinctual powers. When I use the term ‘Unconscious’ I am simultaneously referring to the mythic reality known also as the ‘Underworld’. Our intuition, the so-called ‘sixth sense’ is one of the tools or functions of the Unconscious side of ourselves. In fact, many of the techniques used in Witchcraft seek to directly stimulate this latent power.
SKYCLAD POWER RAISING
In the practices of Witchcraft the use of ritual nudity, referred to as being ‘skyclad’, may be combined with ritual dancing around the Cauldron.
The use of skyclad ritual is probably one of the most ancient and direct ways to connect to the ‘sacred primitive’ in ourselves; and for this reason has long been used in Witchcraft. The combined use of skyclad-ritual-dance is applied as a chief technique to access the forgotten or
instinctal powers of the Witch-within.
The ritual dance when properly performed around the Cauldron of fire can also be used to focus the collective elemental energy of the Witch and Coven. Energy raised using this method is called ‘raising the cone of power’. When the ritual is connecting well this normally purely psychic phenomena may take on physical form. It does this by spinning the fire in the Cauldron
into a ‘tourbillion’, a whirlwind which forms into something like an upside down tornado and reminiscent of the ‘witch’s hat’ caricature.
In practice, it is mainly during the ritual dances that we work skyclad. On a practical note, if one is getting cold after dancing you do not need ‘permission’ to re- robe (or disrobe for that matter in the Circle).
The resultant effect of raising this energy or the ‘cone of power’ is a psychic reflex which may manifest in the Witch in a variety of ways.
On a metaphysical level this psychic reflex is identical to the Eastern Tantric experience of raising the ‘Kundalini’, the so called Serpent powers. The overall effect is the charging of the Witch’s subtle body, and once mastered can result in many spontaneous psychic experiences. These include such experiences as clairvoyance, psychic projects of wish fulfilment, shape shifting into animistic familiars, past life memories and the like. However, the psychic reflex is more commonly experienced as feelings of ecstasy and exhilaration. The phenomena can have an intoxicating effect much like drinking.
The combination of fire, dance and the added sense of the sacred ritual, produce powerful changes in consciousness. In such circumstances it is not unusual to experience some highly charged emotional feelings both during and after the rites. It is very important to remain in touch with your feelings during such psychic and emotional stresses.
Emotional stresses released are like an ‘occult barometer’ of the energies at work within us. It is
important to share these experiences and give acknowledgment to them. One way to do this is to record your experiences in a diary or by share experiences in the Circle. There is usually a period set aside in Circle to do this. While others in the Circle are sharing their experience, participate by asking supportive and inquiring questions.
Finally, treat the experiences shared by others as the intimate and sacred mysteries of the Circle. While I never ask people to keep anything ‘secret’, I would ask you to keep these things ‘sacred’. A few words of advice – you’ll save yourself a lot of heart ache if you only share these experiences with people who have the maturity to appreciate such things.
Traditionally Witches applied special unguents to the body to awaken psychic experiences. These unguents, concocted from traditional recipes, are commonly referred to as ‘Sabbat ointments’ or ‘Sabbat oils’. Invariably these unguents had quantities of herbs with a highly narcotic, hypnotic and hallucinogen effect. I also use a ‘Sabbat oil’. I use recipes which have been inspired by the traditional Sabbat oils, but have none of the narcotic ingredients or their side effects. The ingredients used promote a pleasing, aromatic and stimulant effect, invigorating the body and senses.
The Sabbat oil is also used as an aid to the subtle energy flow. Just as in traditional massage, physical contact arouses a flow of energy or ‘chi’ in the subtle- body so does the application of the Sabbat oils in ritual. At the same time this practice reinforces the Wiccan sense of celebrating the sacred in the body and prepares the Witch to enter the rites.
ROBE OR RITUAL ATTIRE
If you intend to do anything more beyond this workshop you will certainly find you need a robe or other suitable ritual attire. The style is entirely up to you. The robe from a magickal point of view, is an extension of your metaphysical auric field, therefore choice of colours should have significance for you. On a practical note it is a good idea to have more than one for
indoors/summer and one for outdoors/winter. If your robe needs a belt around the waist, it is customary to use the ritual Cord (see below).
I generally suggest nothing be worn under the robe. This is because quite apart from the use of skyclad workings in many of the rituals, tradition requires that ‘nothing’ ordinary should be brought into the Circle.
The ritual Cord is usually a thin rope of silken cord (about 1cm in diameter) and measuring exactly 9 feet in length, from knotted end to end. This length holds great significance because it is a harmonic ratio to the radius of the Moon. This means when it is used to mark out the perimeter of the circle it can accurately trace the rim of the Witches’ Circle as a true Luna temple. White is the correspondent colour of the Moon and is an appropriate colour to use for the Cord, although other colours may be used.
This is the ritual knife, customarily black hilted and used by Witches in all ceremonial rites. The Athame is used even in the most basic of rituals, such as Circle casting, and hence is an hallmark of the Witch. Like your robe, it is serves both a symbolic and metaphysical role, in this case representing your focussed Will power; something no Witch should be without. As one of
your major Craft working tools it should be ritually consecrated and charged (empowered)
BASIC CIRCLE CASTING RITE
The following is a Circle Casting ritual. You may want to familiarise yourself with.
The MC (Master/Mistress of Ceremonies) sits or stands with the others in a circle. It is helpful to have the floor or ground marked (suggest using flour if outdoors, masking tape, a silken cord, a rope or a specially design ritual mat if indoors). If using a ritual Sword it is passed around the Circle, from one person to the next person. As the Circle is formed, the ritualists should visualise an electric-blue light of etheric energy building around the group to form the Circle.
Words for the Circle Spell by the MC. are:
“Sword cuts a circle round about;”
The response then by circle members is:
“Power stay in, world stay out.”
The spell is repeated atleast 3 times, or until the sword is returned to the MC.
The MC. then seals the circle with the words:
“The Sword has cut a circle round about;”
And the response is:
“A world within, a world without.”
The four elements are now in turn past around the Circle from person to person. Using each of the elements in turn the spirit names (or essences) of the four elements are resonated as they are passed around:
“NANTA” (earth – pantacle of earth);
“HCOMA” (water – chalice of water);
“EXARP” (air – censer of incense); and
“BITOM” (fire – bazier of fire + metho).
As each element is passed around, the circle members try to acquire some of the qualities of the element they are holding:
Earth – heavy and solid;
Water – cool and fluid;
Air – light and expansive;
Fire – warm and energetic.
In general, when building the Circle using this method, it is useful to think of the elements in the following way:
As the Sword is passed around, this represents the ‘Will’ of the Coven to define a ritual space. As the Earth Pantacle is passed – this is the material base, our bodies and physical presence which manifests the Circle. As the Cup of Water is passed, this is the crucible of emotions, our feelings and desires. As the Censer of Air is passed, this is our charged thoughts, the group mind and the Coven’s creative impulse. Finally, as the Brazier of Fire is passed around the Coven members ‘inflame’ the Circle with the spark of life and vitality.
Circle Casting & Circle Work Tim Hartridge <ozpagan[at]ozpagan.com>