a.k.a. Magic Circle, Magick Circle, Working Circle, Circle of Being
In general terms, a protective area or the boundary of a sphere of personal power cast by Wiccans, ceremonial magicians and the like before performing their rituals.
These rituals are usually performed within these magical circles.
Circles since ancient times have been reputed for magical properties. They were drawn around beds of the sick and mothers who recently bore children to protect them from demons. Their remnants which are seen in the stone circles of Britain give credence to the importance of the circle.
In Wicca, perhaps the most important of all magic rituals is the Casting of a magic circle, the function of which is to both concentrate the user's powers and to protect against psychic entities or forces that, although not neccesarily considered malignant, may interfere with the ritual or magical work to be performed. The circle is symbolic of wholeness, perfection and unity; the creation of the cosmos; the womb of Mother Earth; and the cycle of the seasons and birth-death-regeneration. Within the circle it is believed possible to transcend the physical, to expose the mind to deeper and higher levels of consciousness.
The 2.7 m (9 ft) circumference measured and cast with the Athame at a meeting of a Coven, and which generally includes an Altar.
In most forms of Wicca, a correctly constructed Circle possesses two outer rings, each 2.4 cm (6 in) apart, so that the third circle has a diameter of 3.3 m (11 ft).
A Pentagram may then be cast within the circle, with the object being to gather and concentrate cosmic powers and thus to provide an interface between gods and mortals.
In Wicca, positive or desired deities are invoked, invited, and rather than commanded as they may be in Ritual or Ceremonial Magick, evoked, to witness and participate in the rites. The circle also serves to protect those within it from negative spirits and energies. The circle is been thoroughly cleansed of all unfriendly spirits and negative energies, witches frequently symbolize this by sweeping the space with a broom.
The circle passes through four cardinal points each guarded by a spirit, the Lord of the Tower, or 'Watchtower' who is invoked at the outset.
Of the cardinal points, in the Northern hemisphere North is usually linked with Earth, East with Air, South with fire and West with water, though in the Southern Hemisphere North is more often linked with Fire and South with earth, East with water and West with Air.
In my old Coven, which was on the West Coast of Australia, we linked North with Fire, South with earth, West with water and East with Air, with the Centre respresenting 'Aether' or 'spirit'.
When the circle is drawn the Goddess and/or god is invoked and it is customary at Esbats for the High Priestess to 'draw down the moon' while at the same time taking on an Altered State of Consciousness and becoming the earthly presence of the deity.
Part of a Circle Casting
as performed by
my old Coven,
'Circle of the Mystic Moon'
(photo digitally altered
to protect the privacy
of the individual)
The Circle is formed tangibly by the device of witches joining hands, starting in the east where the priest or priestess normally stands (though invocations are normally made towards the earth quarter, which is associated with the Mother Goddess).
In most Wiccan Traditions, such a Circle allows users to move in and out of it and may be symbolically 'opened' and 'closed' with the 'cutting' of a 'doorway' with the Athame.
This constrasts strongly with the circle used by ritual magicians which is considered essential for protection from hostile and malignant powers outside its circumference and once closed tends to remain so until the end of the ritual. (see RITUAL or CEREMONIAL MAGIC)
At the end of the meeting it is necessary to break the circle, effectively deconsecrating the place where it was made, and the Guardian Spirits must be thanked. The priestess cuts the periphery of the circle with her Athame.
Since the circle may be raised and then deconsecrated at will, it may technically be made in a place which is not kept specifically for the purpose, either indoors or outdoors, though my old Coven ('Circle of the Mystic Moon') had a permanently set-up indoor temple area, as do some others - though this is the exception rather than the rule...
see also: LESSER BANISHING RITUAL, The; FOUR QUARTERS, The; WATCHERS
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.
Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans. Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.
Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church. Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.
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