Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down!
Do I use a circle in my private Craft workings? How do I cast a circle? Why? Is there a difference in group and solitary work?
Sometimes. It varies. Because reasons (see below). And yes.
The Purpose of Casting a Circle
For me, the purpose of casting a circle is fourfold.
First, it provides a meeting place, a doorway or gateway, to meet with the Spirits and/or deities. Although it sets up protective space, it becomes a gateway, in itself. It’s as if one is crossing the hedge, or more straddling the hedge, being in two worlds at once. I read somewhere once that casting a circle causes us to “suddenly appear” in the spirit realm, like a point of light in the darkness, which attracts spirits likes moths to a flame.
Hence the reason we may need protection from outside entities who may want to do harm to the participants, such as deception, or just to foul up the magic. And protection is another function of the magic circle.
Third, it creates a space in which magical energy/power can be gathered, held, and programmed towards a goal, until such time as it is released to the do the work. Casting a circle of power helps to hold gathered or raised power.
And that’s so because it sets up a microcosmos within the macrocosmos, placing emphasis on the fact that we are actually gods ourselves. It reinforces the idea or belief that we are causing change in our individual universes by harnessing the ability to create. I tend to focus more on this as the purpose of a circle when casting for my individual, solitary practice.
My Coven’s Practice
As I understand it, what my Coven does is sort of modern Wiccan technique. It comes from the combination of two different Traditions, one which considers itself Wiccan, and the other which considers itself pre-Wiccan Witchcraft.
One of the differences, which I’ve only seen with a couple of modern Pagan groups here locally, is the call and invitation of six “elemental” guardians, not just four. In addition to the Guardians of the East, South, West, and North, we also call Above, and Below. This completes the protection of the sphere in which we’re working.
We aren’t just protected from the four corners, but all the way around. But calling the Guardians as part of our circle casting also acknowledges all of our Deities (above) and our Ancestors (below). It also completes the microcosmos within the macrocosmos, creating a multi-dimensional universe in which we are operating, rather than just the four points around a seemingly flat compass.
Another consideration is that some groups actually don’t allow participants into the ritual space until after it is fully cast/completed. For some Gardnerians, for example, the High Priestess casts circle before anyone else may enter.
For us, this is not the case. Everyone present at a ritual participates in the opening of the sacred space so that everyone present can carry the ritual from beginning to end. This is so that participants learn not to rely on someone else to hold up sacred space throughout the entire ritual.
My Private Craft
For myself alone, I’ve developed different procedures for creating sacred space. Which one I use (or the lack of said procedure) depends on the purpose of the ritual. And no, my private ritual circles are not the same as with the Coven.
To simply provide a meeting place (or open a gateway, or straddle the hedge), I don’t actually cast a circle of power. I lay down a physical circle, usually with a rope, but no power/energy circle is created. In general, this is just for me and the Spirits I already know well. I can tell if a presence is a strange one and will immediately banish it, unless it’s something that seems of import to me.
If I’m doing magic for a purpose – seeking after a result – I don’t always cast a circle. At times, I’m just doing some fast, one-off folk magic, so I don’t always bother with circles for that.
But, if I’m really focusing on a result – if it’s more than an experiment and a real need is had – I will cast a circle. It aids me in focusing, and it helps to store up power for later release. Also, the I’m-a-god-thing mentioned earlier.
This latter type of circle, for magical purposes, is slightly different from the one the Coven and I use for our regular celebratory rites.
Usually, I will lay down a rope in a circular formation and sprinkle some salt on top of the rope (following the circumference). Whether it’s salt or some other substance depends on the general purpose of the rite. Then I raise power through chant and rattling, and then cast a flame of power about the circumference, again following the rope’s trail. Most times, this type of circle is cast widdershins (counterclockwise) for me.
While the variation is small, there is a difference in my Coven circle-casting procedure and my solitary one. I don’t always use a circle, but whether I do or not, I have specific reasons as to why. I think most Witches probably do.
Why the nursery rhyme at the top of this post?
Just because some believe it is of Pagan origin. Supposedly, some believe that it’s associated with dancing round a rose-bush or some form of tree, and that the “all fall down” part was a curtsy or a bow to the tree. “Nothing is true and everything is permitted,” as the Chaos Magicians say, so that explanation is just as freaking feasible as any.