Example: Casting a circle

Another example of something we might learn to do is casting a circle or getting started with ritual. For this page (unlike the candle page), I’m not going to give you all the information – but I am going to suggest some places to start, and an order to try learning about things in.

Learn about ritual:

You might ask yourself:

  • Why do people do rituals?
  • Which rituals are important to you? (Do you want to honor the Sabbats and Esbats? Some other combination? Something else entirely?)
  • What does a ritual in your chosen path normally include?
  • Why does it include those things?
  • What are some different ways people approach those things?
  • Are the rituals you’ve been reading about designed for one person? For a small group? For a larger group?
  • What might you need to adjust for your own circumstances? (Are you working in a small space? Do you have allergies? Do you have some other need that needs accommodation?)
  • What would make ritual most meaningful to you? (You may not know the answer to this one until you try different things out, but come up with a list of things you’d like to try out.)
  • What do you need to know to do an effective ritual?
  • And how would you know if it were effective?
  • Are there any important safety or practical considerations you should be aware of?
  • What are some different ways to do different parts of the ritual? When might you use an alternative? How would it fit with your other choices?

There are other good questions to consider, but that list will get you well on your way.

Figure out a basic version:

The most basic version will depend a bit on your chosen path, your other experience and learning, and a lot of things about where, when, and why you’re doing ritual. Because you’re learning a whole bunch of things at once, it’s probably going to take you a while to learn to do everything yourself. (This is one of the benefits of learning from someone else, or in a group: you get to participate in more complex rituals than you’re up for doing by yourself, and learn more by experience and observation.)

If you’re working by yourself, though, don’t worry: just take your time and only move onto the next step when you feel comfortable with the previous one. For some steps, that might mean practicing a couple of times. For other steps, it might be a month or two.

One common sequence goes like this: celebratory work, a simple circle, and then putting the two together for a more complex ritual.

A simple celebratory ritual for a Sabbat is often a good place to start. To do this, you might not even cast a circle: you might instead choose a very simple way to honor the season. You might cook a seasonal meal, make a seasonal craft, and spend a little time outside, looking for signs of the season. Since you’re not working specific magic, inviting the Gods in specific, or doing other things that might make a more specific prepared space useful, you don’t really need a circle.

For an Esbat, you could spend time under the full moon, do lighter meditation exercises, or try divination or other practices that don’t need to involve a circle.

You can keep doing simple celebratory work while you work on the next steps.

Simple circle work is probably a good place to go from there. When I learned to cast a circle, I was taught a little bit at a time. We’d learn each step during a class, and then have time to go home and practice it for a month (sometimes two) until we understood what we were doing, and how to do it.

(We didn’t have to be great at it to move onto the next step – that takes a lot more practice – but basically competent. Think of it like learning to drive: when you’re a new driver, you still have to pay a lot more attention to driving than someone who’s been doing it longer.)

First, we learned to banish unwanted energy from a space.

The next month, we learned to add the energy we wanted (blessing the space with the four elements).

We then learned to scribe the circle (create the energy boundary that divides what’s inside the circle from what’s outside the circle.) This is often one of the harder steps, because it requires some focused energy direction, and in many traditions (including mine), saying specific words at the same time. It can be a little like rubbing your stomach and patting your head while talking. Of course, since we have now learned to create a circle, we also needed to learn to open the circle at the end of our work.

Calling the quarters was next, and we spent more time on that too. Often, people will have one or two elements they find easy to call, and one or two they have a harder time with. Getting those balanced and even can also take some practice.  We also had to learn how to dismiss the quarters when we were done.

Finally, we learned about how to invite the Gods to join us – what sorts of things are polite and appropriate, and different ways to make that invitation. We’d been talking about relationships with the Gods all along (and participating in group rituals, of course), but we also had to think about developing our own relationships with the Gods we wished to invite, whether to our own personal circles, or to a group ritual.

Deborah Lipp’s book The Elements of Ritual is the best book I know to look at all of the details of creating a ritual circle in a witchcraft practice. Amber K and Azrael K’s How to Become a Witch has some good ideas and a simple process. You might check out the essay on Feeling Silly for some more thoughts that might help you out too.

Putting the pieces together is the next step. Once you’ve learned how to create a simple circle, you can combine that circle with a ritual working. So, you might cast a circle, and then do your seasonal celebration. This would also be a good time to start exploring spellcraft, if you’re interested in that (because you’ve now learned how to make sure you start with a clean space, and you’ve learned how to create a boundary between what’s in the circle and ouside it.)

From here, you can then add new skills, approaches, or techniques as you learn about them (if they fit together, of course!) Don’t just try things once (unless you feel very uncomfortable with them indeed). Give yourself time to get over the weirdness of trying a new thing, and a little time to get comfortable with it, and see what you think.

For example, some people feel very weird saying a text while scribing the circle – but there are ways it can be more effective for personal practice, and it’s definitely got some benefits for group practice. If you didn’t ever try it because it felt silly, you would lose out on those options.

Consider changes thoughtfully:

You’ll obviously continue to come across a wide range of other approaches, besides whichever ones you picked. You can try them out if that makes sense to you. The one thing that gets very complicated is combining pieces from different practices.

When you do that, sometimes they fit. But sometimes, they’re trying to do different things. Going back to the basics, figuring out what each piece is trying to do (and how), and seeing whether that fits into your overall goal for the ritual can be very useful.

You might find the following articles also of interest:

[last edited on January 3, 2011]