A magic circle is a sacred and purified space in which Rituals, magical work and ceremonies are conducted. It offers a boundary for a reservoir of concentrated power and acts as a doorway to the world of the gods. The magic circle is an archetypal symbol of wholeness, perfection and unity; the creation of the cosmos; the womb of mother Earth; the cycle of the seasons and birthdeath-regeneration. Within the circle, it becomes possible to transcend the physical, to open the mind to deeper and higher levels of consciousness.
Circles have had a magical, protective significance since ancient times, when they were drawn around the beds of sick persons and mothers who had just given birth to protect them against Demons. The remnants of stone circles in Britain attest to the importance of the circle in ancient pagan rites.
Sacred circles used in contemporary Paganism and Witchcraft are derived from Western ceremonial magic. There are similarities, but some important differences.
In ceremonial magic, the circle represents a sacred space in which the magician conjures and commands Demons and spirits that are dangerous and difficult to control. The circle provides protection against them and must be cast carefully. The magician must never leave the circle during a ritual nor even inadvertently swing his arm outside it, lest a conjured Demon grab him and strike him down, or something unpleasant happen.
Grimoires and other magical teachings give detailed instructions for casting the circle with consecrated ritual tools, such as a dagger, sword or wand, during certain astrological conditions and hours of the day or night. The circle is drawn on a floor that has been carefully cleaned; Salt may be sprinkled around its perimeter to reinforce the boundary.
The magician’s circle is nine feet in diameter, or a double circle of eight feet within one of 10 feet. The circle is inscribed with magical symbols, words and Names of Power. In casting the circle, the magician moves deosIl, or clockwise, the motion of the sun, moon and stars through the sky. For negative magic, the magician moves wIddershIns, counterclockwise. He leaves a small opening, then steps inside, closing the opening very carefully to prevent unwanted presences from entering. The magician consecrates the circle with the four elements, Earth, Air, Water and Fire, and invokes the guardian spirits who watch over the four quarters of the sky (the cardinal points) and the four elements. The circle is entered in anticipation of uniting with the gods and the forces of nature in a harmonious relationship, not to conjure or control spirits. The deities are invited to witness and participate in the rites; all spirits are treated respectfully.
In contemporary Paganism and Witchcraft, circles are cast according to available space, size of group and purpose. They may be traced on a floor or measured out with cord, or may be established by walking the perimeter. Circles outdoors may not be perfect circles.
Negative energy is banished prior to casting a circle. In Wicca, it may be symbolically swept out with a broom by the high priestess. The consciousness of participants is prepared through meditation, visualization, breathing, drumming and other esoteric methods.
The altar and ritual tools—such as a wand, pentacle, censer, cauldron, scourge, athame, chalice, cords and other items—are placed inside the circle area. Witches and Pagans working alone may have fewer tools. Candles, stones or other objects are placed on the floor or ground at the four quarters, or cardinal points.
The circle is ritually cast deosil with an athame, sword or wand. As the circle is cast, a field of psychic energy is visualized. The working space of the circle actually is a three-dimensional sphere. Participants are invited inside
through a gate, which is then closed. The circle is consecrated with the four elements or symbols of the elements. The guardians of the four quarters and elements, called the Lords of the Watchtowers (a Freemasonry term), or the mighty Ones or the Guardians, are invoked. If the ritual takes place outdoors, nature spirits are invited to participate. God and Goddess are invoked through ritual. Offerings of food, stones, crystals, flowers and so on are made. The purpose of the ritual—such as magic working, a handfasting, or seasonal festival—is stated and the work is carried through. The circle may be opened at any time for exit or entry, then closed again. At the close of rites, food and drink is consecrated, offered to the deities, and shared by all (see Cakes and Wine). As a final release of energy, the spirits and deities are bid farewell, candles are extinguished, and the circle is ritually banished. It is important to close a circle in order not to leave the ritual space psychically active.
Circles can be cast for protection, for example, to ward off psychic attack or protect a home against intruders. magic circles do not last indefinitely; protective ones must be periodically recharged through ritual.
The term circle also refers to Wiccan or Pagan meetings. Some Wiccan covens offer training circles for individuals who are in training to become witches and be initiated into the coven.
The Four Quarters
Each cardinal point of the magic circle is associated with a guardian spirit, an element, ritual tool, colors and attributes; correspondences vary among traditions.
To ancient pagans, the north was the source of great power. The heavens spun around the North Star, and the ancients aligned their temples and pyramids to the star. North, the cardinal point never touched by the Sun, was associated with darkness, mystery and the unknown.
Perhaps because of the pagan reverence for the north, it became associated with the Devil in Christianity. Cemeteries were seldom placed on the north side of a church, which, if used for burial at all, was reserved for unbaptized children, criminals, reprobates and suicides. many old churches throughout Europe and the British Isles have north doors called “the Devil’s door,” which were opened after baptisms in order to allow the exorcised Demon to escape. most of these doors have long since been bricked over. The reasons are obscure. Perhaps witches and pagans who were forced to or dared not attend church deliberately entered through the Devil’s door. The clergy then blocked the doors in an effort to stamp out lingering paganism.
The north is associated with the element of Earth, the new phase of the moon, the pentacle, secrecy and darkness, the colors gold or black and death and rebirth. Some traditions of the Craft align their altars to the north. In masonry, the north represents the condition of the spiritually unenlightened.
The quarter of enlightenment, illumination, mysticism and the eternal. It corresponds to the element of Air, the athame or sword, the colors red or white. Traditionally the altar is aligned to the east. When a circle is cast, the high priestess or high priest leaves an opening, sometimes in the northeast portion, depending on the tradition, as the gate for other coveners to enter. The northeast is the symbolic dividing line between the path of darkness (north) and the path of light (east). In masonry, the east represents mankind’s highest and most spiritual consciousness.
Solar energy, the Sun, the element Fire, the colors blue or white, and the magic wand are associated with the south. This is the quarter of the will, the direction and channeling of the energy forces of nature and the psychic. South-running water has long been attributed with magical properties, and was used in medieval times by wise women and folk witches in preparing medicine and in anti-witchcraft spells. In masonry, the south is the halfway meeting point between the spiritual intuition of the east and the rationality of the west. It represents the zenith of intellectuality, as the sun attains its zenith in the southern sky.
The quarter of Water, creativity, emotions, fertility and courage to face one’s deepest feelings. It is associated with the chalice, the symbol of female creative power and fecundity, the after life, and the colors red or gray. In masonry, it represents reason, common sense, and material-mindedness.
- Buckland, Raymond. Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1986.
- Crowley, Vivianne. Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millennium. revised ed. London: Thorsons/Harper Collins, 1996.
- Green, Marian. A Witch Alone: Thirteen Moons to Master Natural Magic. London: Torsons/Harper Collins, 1991.
- Starhawk. The Spiral Dance. rev. ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989.
- Valiente, Doreen. An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. 1973. reprint, Custer, Wash.: Phoenix Publishing, 1986.
A Magic Circle is a sacred, purified, and protected space in which magical Rituals are conducted. The magic circle provides a boundary for reservoir of concentrated power and acts as a doorway to the realm of the gods. A circle symbolizes wholeness, perfection, and unity; the creation of the cosmos; the womb of Mother Earth; the cycle of the seasons, and birth-death-regeneration. Within the circle, it becomes possible to transcend the physical to open the mind to deeper and higher levels of consciousness.
Circles have had a magical, protective significance since ancient times when they were drawn around the beds of sick persons and mothers who had just given birth, to protect them against DEMONS. A magic circle protects a magician against negative spirits and influences and creates a symbolic barrier against the magician’s own lower nature.
In ceremonial magic, the circle provides a defined space for the working of a ritual. It symbolizes the infinite and also the astral sphere or cosmos of the magician, outside of which nothing exists. The circle also corresponds to the Ain Soph of the kabbalistic Tree of Life. The center of the circle is the Self, and in the process of magical workings, the magician expands himself or herself to the circumference of the circle or to the Infinite.
The magician enters a magical circle in anticipation of uniting with God, the gods, Angels, and the forces of nature in a harmonious relationship of ecstatic union. If the magician performs a ritual calling for the Conjuration of Spirits which are dangerous and difficult to control, the circle provides protection against them. The magician must never leave the circle during a ritual nor even so much as swing his arm outside it, lest a conjured demon grab him and strike him down.
The Four Quarters
Each cardinal point of the magic circle is associated with an Element, a guardian spirit or an angel, a ritual tool, colors, and attributes; correspondences may vary among traditions.
North. North, the cardinal point never touched by the SUN, is associated with darkness, mystery and the unknown, the spiritually unenlightened, the element of earth, the new phase of the Moon, the PENTACLE, secrecy, and the colors gold or black.
East. The quarter of enlightenment, illumination, mysticism, and the eternal, humankind’s highest and most spiritual consciousness. The east is associated with the element of air and the colors red or white. In most traditions, the magical altar is aligned to the east.
South. Solar energy, the Sun, the element of fire, the colors blue or white, the WILL, the direction and channeling of the energy forces of nature, and the psychic. South is the halfway meeting point between the spiritual intuition of the east and the rationality of the west. It represents the zenith of intellectuality, as the Sun attains its zenith in the southern sky.
West. The element of water, creativity, emotions, fertility, reason, common sense, material-mindedness, and courage to face one’s deepest feelings. The west is associated with the chalice, the symbol of female creative power and fecundity, and the colors red or gray.
Casting a Magic Circle
The circle is crucial to the magician’s well-being and protection and must be cast carefully. Grimoires and magical traditions give detailed instructions for casting the circle with a consecrated ritual TOOL such as a dagger, a sword, or a wand during certain astrological conditions and hours of the day or night. The traditional magician’s circle is nine feet in diameter or maybe a double circle of eight feet and 10 feet. The circle is inscribed with magical Symbols and words and names of power, which are appropriate to a particular ritual. A geometric figure pertaining to the nature of the ritual—such as a square, a tau cross, or a Magic Triangle—is inscribed within the circle.
In casting the circle, the magician moves deosil, or clockwise, to the motion of the Sun, the Moon, and the stars through the sky. For black magic rituals, the magician moves widdershins, or counterclockwise. He leaves a small opening and then steps inside, carefully closing the opening to prevent clever demons from slipping inside. The magician consecrates the circle with the four Elements and invokes the guardian spirits who watch over the four quarters of the sky (the cardinal points) and the four elements. (See Lords of the Watchtower.)
The Astral Magic Circle
The physical circle is matched by a duplicate astral counterpart, which also must be fortified against the invasion of negative forces, including the magician’s own lower THOUGHTS. In actuality, the real magical work is done on the Astral Plane within the astral circle. The physical circle is symbolic of the astral one. To prepare and fortify the astral magic circle, a banishing ritual should be done daily for months in advance of actual work (see Pentagram). The magician also infuses the astral magic circle with a subtle spiritual essence and imbues it with a brilliant flashing light.
You may be also interested in :
- Bardon, Franz. The Practice of Magical Evocation. Albuquerque, N.Mex.: Brotherhood of Life, 2001.
- Cicero, Chic, and Sandra Tabatha Cicero. The Essential Golden Dawn. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2004.
- Regardie, Israel. The Tree of Life: A Study in Magic. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1969.
Back to Magic Glossary
Back to Magick and Spells