On Casting Circles

On Casting Circles and the Directions
Sacred Discourse, Cycle 4, Magic
Cypress Moon, Day 4, Aquarius, Year of Our Lady 10,005, Moonday
12/5/05
Updated 2/21/06 Laurel Moon Day 23

Moonflower mentioned that she wanted to start practising the five-fold way of casting a circle, so I thought it would be a good idea to tell you about this aspect of the Womanspirit teachings.
I didn't know about the practise of casting when I began on this path. Nor did I know much about the use of the four directions in the circle-casting process, although I had heard of them in relation to Native American beliefs.

I didn't know about the witch's "cone of power" either. My introduction
to Goddess spiritual practise was through music, ecstasy, and a passion for women and women's circles. This awakening occurred during the early 1970s.Up until that time I had been introduced to a variety of alternative metaphysical teachings and practises. I brought much of what I had learned into my Goddess practise, including chanting, mantra, tarot, prayer, visualization, affirmation, a smattering of astrology, and concepts like reincarnation, chakras and karma.
I was a veteran of the 60s and so had participated in many new age circles where Om was chanted, so I had already had a taste of the
altered state this could produce. At the same time I was experiencing the latihan in Subuud, a trance state that eventually became a part of my music.
My earliest circles took place in the Moonhut, a yurt in the rainforest in
the Santa Cruz mountains, where I was living with my children. Our little family was also a theatre troup called The Sybil, and we were performing in and around the area at schools, fairs, theatres, and sometimes on the street. We even did a piece for television once, but alas that film got cancelled.
I played my guitar and sang my mythical songs, while my children danced and mimed or pantomimed the lyrics. These presentations were not entertainment; they were a form of spiritual ecstasy. The three of us would go into a magical space together, filled with beauty, poetry, movement and revelation. I was in love with the process and dedicated my life to it. Sometimes, when the vibe was right and the people were open to it, audiences would join us in this ritual state.
Then I fell in love with the Goddess, and I realized that we had been
serving Her all along. It was around that time that women started coming to me, asking for teachings, and so the first women's circles began. Sisters would come up the mountain, up a horrendous dirt road full of potholes and obstructions, to circle with me in the Moonhut. We usually met on Monday, and that was when I started calling this day Moonday. It is still my favorite day of the week. :0)

We didn't need four or any other amount of directions. Just being among those redwood trees, in those beautiful mountains put us automatically into sacred space. All we needed was each other. And to hold hands, connect, breathe, look into each other's eyes, and chant Ma. And to focus. And to keep our hearts open in love and trust and sharing of ourselves. We went to those same exalted spinning spaces that I had been experiencing in the ritual theatre pieces I shared with my children, and had experienced earlier while singing and playing guitar on my own.
I'm sure the revelations I experienced during psychedelic trips I had taken in former years played a part too. (Ruth Barrett was a student in the very first of those circles. She would later bring the Ma and some of the energy we raised into her COA practises where the four directions are used.)
I had learned previously about the chakras and bringing the colors of the
rainbow into them. So when we chanted Ma we included our chakras and the rainbow. We sent the colors swirling through all of us and around the circle. We chanted higher and higher notes of Ma as we climbed up through our chakras. Perhaps we were making a cone at the time, though if we were, we didn't know. I remember just seeing us in a rainbow swirl together.
Later, when boundary issues came up, I developed the technique of each of us putting that swirl around ourselves individually, and then linking in to the circle-swirl.

ThenI heard about the wiccan cone and four directions; around the time
that I learned to call myself a witch. I was intrigued by the
direction concept, but I didn't practise it. Our circles were fine without
them.

But in later years, when I discovered that circles don't always fly, that
sometimes things could get in the way and block the energy, I began to
examine the concept. I attended some circles organized by other pagans who did formal castings with the four directions. My experiences in these circles were mixed andsome were lovely. But I have never experienced that kind of flight in circles where the four directions are cast. I concluded that the four directions, while they can bring a marvellous and anchoring stability, are too linear to allow for that exalted spin. One must either dispense with the direction idea
altogether, or at lease change the number. A five-pointed star can work; also three directions can work; or eleven. Seven is a help because it includes Above, Below and Within, and gives us a sphere instead of a flattwo-dimensional disk. But seven still gives that preliminary four on the ground, so it can also block the flow.
Sometimes we need to block the flow. Sometimes folks aren't ready for the wild spin. They need something that stays put. Sometimes I think the four direction idea is sort of like training wheels on a bicycle. Useful for a while, and for certain situations, but ultimately to be transcended when folks have gotten used to the vehicle.
Actually a circle can be seen to have an infinite number of directions.
Why limit ourselves only to the practise of four? We can play with this
concept and try different ones, depending on what kind of ritual or magic we want to do.
Well you probably all know by now that I tend to be a priestess who thinks out of the box. To me the four direction concept is a box. A very nice box that has many good uses, but a box nevertheless. Patriarchy is actually a box too; built on the gender split, on lines and squares, on oppositions and linearity. So, if we want to have a thealagie and a practise that gets us beyond patriarchy, I think we need to reassess the direction idea.
Another thing to consider is global awareness. North,South,East,West gets kind of relative when we remember our sisters in Australia while we live in North America. When we think globally everything tends to be more spherical and less linear.
It puzzles me why witches don't cast pentacle-style circles more. In so
many paintings of old witchy practises, we see the pentacle circle. I have kind of adopted this practise as a compromise. I figure since so many are coming from the four-direction approach, and since folks seem to need some kind of circle-casting structure, five makes a good bridge. As an odd number it allows for spin, and yet, as a number it offers structure and stability too. It doesn't work too well with North, South, East, West, however, so I usually dispense with those.

The Pentacle has so many layers of meaning; more than we will go into here. But one of its purposes is to express the cycle of manifestation. The idea is that all things begin in Spirit, become a little more manifest in Air with thought, image, and incantation; a little more dense in Fire with energy and movement and the expression of Will; most dense at solid, substantial Earth; then dissolving back towards Spirit in Water. This concept can be very useful in ritual magic.

Sometimes when I do a Pentacle circle, I bring five round signs, each
labelled with the name of one of the five elements, including a visual symbol. I hang these at five points around the space where they can be visible from anywhere within the circle.
After everyone has connected hands, done some deep breathing and grounding, the casting begins; usually with the Ma chant and the Rainbow Cone. This can be followed with:

The circle is cast
The spell is made fast
Only the good
Can enter herein
The magic is made
So let it begin!

Once this declaration is complete the five elements can be invoked. It's
nice to have five priestesses, one for each of the elements, and each can dance and move within the circle to express the energies of their part. (See our the Moonspells rituals for activating our Tools of Spirit, Air, Fire, Earth and Water for some spoken invocations of the five elements.)

My Pentacle circles actually end up being Eightfold, since I love to include Above, Below, and Within. Interesting that eight, even though it's an even number, can also allow for spin, perhaps simply because there are so many more points than in a four or a two.

I have developed an Eleven-direction circle too. This happened when I
started tinkering with the eightfold Wheel of the Year. I wanted to allign my holy days with my understanding of the casting of the circle, as well as with the Five Elements of the Pentacle. The seasons of the year are also a cycle of birth, life and death; or initiation, manifestation, and dissolution, just like the pentacle. This is also true of the Triple Goddess as Maiden, Mother, and Crone; or Birth, Life, and Death; or Beginning, Middle and End;or Life, Death, and Rebirth.
In an eleven-fold circle we can include North, South, East and West, as well as Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, and Southwest. Above, Below and Within complete the sphere. (For a lengthier discussion of
these principles, come to the Thealagie cave at my website Moonspell, and click on The Goddess Year.)
Or, we can simply use the concepts of Before, Behind, to One Side and the Other, Above, Below, and Within:

Let the path be clear before me
Let all go as I will
And the past be clean behind me
Let all go as I will
And the ones I love beside me
Let all go as I will
And the Goddess light above me
Let all go as I will
And the solid earth beneath me
Let all go as I will
And my own true self within me
Let all go as I will.

This directional format can include Time as well as Space. Before is the
future, Behind is the Past, Beside is the Present.

I've also done Three-sided circles, using Spring, Summer and Winter as
Sister Spring, Mother Summer, and Grandmother Winter:

I am Sister Spring. I am the windy element of Air; She Who flies in the outer and inner skies. And I am the flaming element of Fire, She Who fills the world with warmth, and fills women up with exhileration and wrath. I adore the truth and will fight for what I know is right, and I am tender, innocent, and ever-young.
I feel Reborn. I see the Imagined. I touch Freedom. I taste Delight. I smell the scented breezes filled with Flowering. I remember Justice. I hear my Mother Laughing. I know Play. I believe in Ecstasy. I walk on Air and on Fire. I say: "I Am Risen!"
************

I am Mother Summer. I am the burning element of Fire, She Who throbs with passion. And I am the steady element of Earth: She Who sustains and upholds all creation. I am She Who loves and protects her children fiercely; to the death if need be.
I feel Desire. I see Beauty. I touch the Manifest. I taste Abundance. I smell the moist earth of the forest floor. I remember the Blood. I hear the music of my Mother singing. I know Love. I believe in the power of Compassion. I walk on Fire and upon the Land. I say: "Come to Me!"
***************
I am Grandmother Winter. I am the surging element of Water; She Who rolls and flows with feeling. And I am the deepening element of Spirit; She from Whom all come, and to Whom all return.
I am the crack in the cauldron of the cosmos, through which we slip between the worlds. And I am the wise-ass Crone, the outrageous one, who merely has to lift her finger to start a revolution.
I feel Transcendent. I see Mystery. I touch Inspiration. I taste Power. I smell the smoke of Sage. I remember Eternity. I hear the prayers of the born and the unborn. I know Wisdom. I believe in Magic. I walk upon the Waters and in Spirit. I say: "The Spell is Cast!"
************
Threefold can also be done as a sphere:

Goddess in the Sky! (Reach upwards)
Goddess in the Ground! (Touch earth)
Goddess all around! (Spin)

Womanspirit tends to be inclusive rather than exclusive. The essential
message here is not that only one way is the right way, but rather that there are options. Four directions can be very appropriate in some situations. As can three, or five, or eleven, or thirteen; or no directions at all; just a powerful free-flying spin.
Within that flexible premise there can also be personal preferences. Some sisters may choose to stay with a five-fold circle; some a six or a seven. We can enjoy and accept one another's ways and keep
our minds open to all the possibilities.

My own favorite is still the no-direction spherical circle; the one I
stumbled upon so many years ago, cast by the presence, will, bodies, hearts, minds and spirits of women.
**************
Please respond to the above writings, and to the questions below:

What is the purpose of establishing directions when casting a circle?
Do you feel that these are necessary?
Are you in the habit of invoking directions? If so, how many?
Do you invoke Above, Below, and/or Within?
How do you feel about alternate practises?
Tell us how it feels to cast a five-fold, three-fold or seven-fold circle.
If you have never done any of these, try them and then tell us how it felt.
Now try a no-direction circle, and tell us how that feels.

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