Circle Sanctuary

Circle Sanctuary One of the most active and well- established interfaith Pagan centers. Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan church, is located on a 200-acre nature preserve and herb farm between Mt. Horeb and Barneveld, Wisconsin. Circle was formed in 1974 in Madison, Wisconsin, by Selena Fox with the help of Jim Alan and a small group of Pagans. Fox continues to direct its activities with her husband, Dennis Carpenter.

Circle originally was formed as an informal coven, after Fox conceived the idea, name and logo in a meditation. Fox and Alan drew on their musical backgrounds to create a body of Pagan ritual chants and songs, which continue to be used by Wiccan and Pagan groups around the world. Circle quickly took a leadership role in the growing Pagan community, providing a national and international contact service, organizing and coordinating gatherings, and disseminating information to individuals and groups within the movement, the general public and the media.

In 1978, the networking activity led to formation of Circle Network, which has grown to include membership of thousands of organizations and individuals from Pagan and Wiccan traditions, magical traditions, animistic and shamanic traditions and others. Members are in more than 50 other countries. Circle’s guide to Pagan resources has been published continuously since 1979.

Also in 1978, Circle Sanctuary was incorporated as a nonprofit religious organization and a legally recognized church at the state level. A newsletter, Circle Network News, was started. It expanded to a magazine format, Cir- cle Magazine, in 1998 and remains one of the oldest and the largest of Pagan journals.

In 1980, Circle was recognized as a church at the federal level. The Pagan Spirit Alliance was organized as a special network within Circle Network devoted to fostering friendship among Wiccans and other Pagans through the mail. The Alliance eventually was folded into Circle Network.

Beginning in 1981, Circle began sponsoring the International Pagan Spirit Gathering, held each year at summer solstice at a private campground in the Midwest and one of Paganism‘s oldest and most established festivals. The church also coordinates or assists other Pagan gatherings held around the United States.

From 1974 to 1982, Circle was based in various homes. In 1983, the church used its own funds to purchase a 200- acre nature preserve in rural hill country west of Madison. The land has a rich spiritual heritage, and includes sites once used by ancient Indians. The region is said in local legends to be enchanted with trolls, fairies and nature spirits. Sightings of ghosts, spirits, Bigfoot, UFOs and other unusual phenomena are often reported.

But a year later, in 1984, local residents who were fear- ful of possible “devil-worship” at Circle raised zoning is- sues. After four years of legal battles, Circle won the challenges, and Circle Sanctuary and its 200 acres were zoned for church use. Circle became the first Pagan organization to achieve the recognition of Witchcraft as a legal religion by a local government in a public hearing. Circle was assisted by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Numerous religious, educational, therapeutic and spiritual training activities take place on, or are coordinated from, the Circle Sanctuary land. As ministers, Fox, Carpenter and others perform handfastings, child blessings, funerals and other “life passage” ceremonies at Circle and all over the United States. They also conduct Pagan seasonal festivals, full Moon ceremonies and a variety of training programs, including intensives for Pagan ministers and a School for Priestesses, established in 1986.

The church also does organic gardening, wild plant foraging activities and preservation work for frogs, toads, songbirds and other species, and for wetlands, woodlands and prairie.

Circle’s Lady Liberty League, founded in 1985, formerly known as the Pagan Strength Web, includes Pagan religious freedom activists who help Pagans who are being harassed or discriminated against because of their religion. Fox and Circle played leading roles in 1985 in a lobbying campaign against the Helms Amendment in the U.S. Congress, which sought to prohibited Wiccan churches from having nonprofit, tax-free status.

Since the late 1980s, Circle has achieved greater public recognition and acceptance as has Paganism in general. In 1988, Circle became the first Wiccan church to be listed in the religious directory of Madison’s leading newspapers. Fox also serves on the Board of Advisors of the Madison Area Interfaith Network.

In the same year, Circle established its growing inter- faith presence with representation at the World Council of Churches International Interfaith Dialogue Conference, marking the first time that Goddess spirituality and Paganism were represented at an international interfaith conference. Fox was joined by Margot Adler.

In 1991, Circle assisted other Pagan groups in defeating a proposed network television series unfriendly to Witches.

The Pagan Academic Network was formed within Circle Network in 1992, becoming Paganism’s first intertradition network of Pagan scholars. Circle participates in numerous international academic seminars, conferences and networking, in response to the establishment of Paganism as an area of academic interest. Circle provides academic archives and research assistance for scholars.

Circle joined other Wiccan-Pagan groups to lobby for the right of Wiccan-Pagan military veterans to have symbols of their faiths on their tombstones. The campaign, started in 1997, took years. In 1995, Circle Cemetery was founded on Circle land for cremains, the cremated remains of Wiccans and Pagans. The cemetery is now 20 acres in size. In 2007, three veteran gravestones with pentacles, among the first to be issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans, were dedicated.

Further Reading:

  • Circle Sanctuary Web site. Available online. URL: https://www. circlesanctuary.org. Downloaded September 23, 2007.

The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.

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