Practical Magic: Circle Casting

If you’re brand new to witchcraft, you’re probably seeing this phrase left and right: casting the circle, or circle casting. For some, it seems fairly obvious, because casting circles is often represented in pop culture, from the Devil’s Traps in Supernatural to the circle of brooms in Practical Magic. 

However, what purpose does casting a circle serve? How do you cast a circle? Why does it have to be a circle and not, say, a square? And do I always need to cast a circle when working magick?

Well, we’ll take this in small bits!

Why should I cast a circle?

A circle serves several different purposes in witchcraft. For some, it’s a means of protection. To others, it’s a means of magnifying ritual energy. For still others, it encourages slipping into meditative consciousness. Whatever the reasons for the tradition, it remains a rather good way of getting the spell started.

In terms of protection, the circle acts sort of like a bubble. After all, it’s not just a cylindrical wall. When a witch casts the circle, he or she is envisioning the energy rising up from where it had been cast on the floor and forming a dome over the ritual space, and below the floor to encase the space in a bubble of intent. For many witches, this forms a sort of shield from outside spiritual influences, and to enter the circle after it’s been cast would require cutting a doorway into it.

As you cast your spell or work your rite, the energy you send out interacts with your altar, your tools, yourself, and your ritual space. The circle acts sort of like a can of soda that’s been shaken up. It holds in all of that energy, allowing it to increase in concentration and potency, allowing it to continuously interact with all ritual components, including the witch casting it. When the rite is done and the circle is opened, it sends all of that energy out into the world with extra force and intent, allowing it to more effectively do as the witch desires. This is particularly useful for rites and spells intended for someone else, or for spells intended to cause large changes.

Furthermore, casting a circle is usually the first or second act done in a spell - often a witch will cleanse a ritual space by asperging or smudging before casting the circle. As a result, casting the circle is an ideal start to a rite because it begins to set you into the state of mind you need for spellwork. By channeling intent and starting up the circle, you get your magical energy moving so that by the time the ritual starts, you’re already warmed up (like an athlete taking a couple of laps around the track so she can be warmed up and ready to go for practice or for the game). 

Why does it need to be a circle instead of another shape?

This largely is rooted in tradition. If you really feel that a different shape is more sacred than a circle, you’re welcome to use that instead in your practice - some cultures believed in triangles being the shape of perfection. However, in most cultures and beliefs, the circle is a rather sacred shape. We see it everywhere, the only shape that can truly be called perfect - no corners, no sharp edges, no beginnings, no endings. It is a symbol of eternity, and reflects the shape of Mother Moon and Father Sun.

The circle also has another impact in witchcraft in that it can be seen as a fertility symbol - representing the full womb. 

When casting a spell and beginning with a circle, you’re creating a sphere of energy - a magical manifestation of the principle of “as above, so below.” In a sense, you’re not casting a circle, but instead casting a sphere. It allows you to encompass your ritual space in a way where the energy can flow smoothly and freely like water. In general, other shapes don’t allow this kind of movement. Just like in Feng Shui, corners collect energy, prohibiting it from moving freely and causing it to grow stale and potentially sour into negative energy. Without the corners, you don’t have to worry about stale energy.

Do I always need to cast a circle in order to work magick?

The simple answer is no. The more accurate answer is that it largely depends upon the tradition you follow and what brand of magick you work. There are witches out there who will absolutely refuse to cast any kind of magic without the protection of the circle. Meanwhile, there are witches out there who only cast the circle for esbats and Sabbats. What feels best for you should be what dictates how frequently you cast your circles.

In my case, I always cast a circle when I am doing a full rite. Since many of my spells are done on the fly (intuition is key for me, so I don’t always write out elaborate spells), I don’t cast a circle for every working I do. Instead, with some spells I make use of circle imagery in order to provide the same effect - the pentacle is basically a mini circle. If you’ve seen the picture I showed of the protection altar I made for a friend of mine, you would notice that I have the pentacle there, but on either side of the pentacle are crystals pointing outward - through the use of imagery, and by using the crystals to project the energy, I’ve managed to cast my circle in the process of casting the spell.

When I’m working in my kitchen, I never cast full ritual circles - the pots and pans provide the shape, and I can cast the circles in the bottoms of those utensils if I need to empower the food.

I do, however, recommend casting circles any time you wish to work with spirits or any time you perform divination or healing spells. This is as much for empowerment as it is for protection.

How do I cast a circle?

Casting a circle can be as elaborate or as easy as you feel it needs to be. It can make use of actually drawing a circle on the floor, or it can be entirely energetic and felt. Ultimately, like any aspect of magick, the circle should be cast in the way that you feel it should be. The guidelines I give here are exactly that: guidelines. Work with them however you feel works best for you!

Step One: Cleanse your space

Cleansing your ritual space is necessary for any magick, depending  upon your craft. When doing a ritual spell, I always smudge with sage or asperge with holy water. When you feel your ritual space is cleansed of all negativity, you’re ready to begin the casting of the circle.

In my practice, I go around the circle a total of three times. The first time is when cleansing the space. In addition to smudging the room, I smudge the circle in a clockwise direction, stopping briefly at each cardinal point to allow the smoke to linger in the space. For me, this helps begin the process of casting, and enhances the visualization.

Step Two: Physical Representation (If Any)

I don’t often draw a circle on the floor. This is largely because most of my magic is intuitive. However, when working with the coven, we sometimes do lay out a circle depending upon the rite we’re working. Especially for new witches who struggle with visualization, laying out a circle can be very nifty and helpful. As such, if you’re new to witchcraft, I do recommend laying out a circle if you feel it helps. If you’re still in the broom closet and want to cast a circle discreetly, you may have to rely upon visualization alone.

Regardless, there are a couple of ways you can lay out your physical circle. The first is to only provide representations at the Corners, or Cardinal Points - North, East, South, and West. If laying out the circle is ritualized for you, it is often recommended to start in the East and move clockwise around the circle. When providing only representations at the Corners, you can either place candles in each direction, or you can provide something that represents the element associated with it (a feather for air at the east, a candle for fire at the south, a glass of water at the west, and a jar of salt for earth at the north, for instance). My coven has considered casting spells at the beach, and we all loved the idea of taking tiki torches and setting one up in each corner, lighting them as we greet each guardian.

The other way of laying a physical circle is to actually draw out the whole circle in some way. If you’re at the beach or in an area where you can draw a circle in the earth, you’re set. But other times, you may be in an area where there’s a bit of foliage, or you’re indoors and don’t have the luxury of scratching a circle into your apartment’s carpet. Depending on what kind of surface you’re using, you can pour salt around the ritual space as a circle, or you can use a protection powder (such as ground eggshells, or ground cinnamon). If laying down something that’s granulated or powdered is a bad idea, because carpets, some witches will use ribbon instead.

One of my favorite moments with my coven was when we had cast a circle on a hill for a Sabbat rite. The hill was rather overgrown, and we were working in a small, grassy clearing. Since the rite was for Imbolc, we had decided that spring flowers would be beautiful. So we took flowers and laid them out in a circle around our ritual space.

Whatever method you use, it is often easier to lay out the physical circle before casting it spiritually.

Step Three: Greeting the Quarters

The second pass around the circle is done as a means of welcoming the Quarters. If your tradition does not have guardians at the cardinal points, you may substitute as needed (welcoming the Faeries, or welcoming deity, for example) or you may omit this step entirely.

Starting at whatever direction is traditional for you (I always start in the north, but many witches prefer to start in the east), greet the guardian, welcoming it to the circle. I do this with an invocation and with the ringing of a bell. Something to the effect of:

I welcome the element of Earth to the North, that it strengthen the circle.

Or

I welcome the Guardian of the North, that it may bear witness to my work. Come in peace and love, so mote it be!

You would move in a clockwise direction around the circle, stopping at each cardinal point and welcoming its guardian or spirit in turn.

Once done, return to the altar.

Step Four: Casting the Circle

My third pass around the circle is the actual casting of it on a spiritual level. Depending upon your tradition, you would do this with a staff, sword, athame, or wand. My personal tradition is flexible - cast it with your hand if you feel that is more effective. I do, however, often cast the circle with a wand - the quartz in my wand helps to empower the circle, and I love encouraging that as much as possible.

With whatever implement you prefer in your casting hand (some traditions emphasize casting hands, others don’t; in general, your casting hand is your dominant hand or whatever hand you use to write with most often; if you’re ambidextrous, this could be either hand), start with the point you began at. Point the implement toward the floor at that point (physical circles help with this - point at the border you’ve created) and begin moving clockwise about the circle, envisioning your energy flowing outward from you, through your implement/fingertips, to the floor and creating a barrier.

Personally, I always tend to see energy as being like slow, fire-like mist that glows blue. I see it coming outward from my heart, traveling down my arm, through the wand (glowing brighter as it passes through each crystal) and then passing onto the ground where it ignites like a little wall of fire. Every witch sees it differently. That’s just how I visualize it.

Some witches will see the circle forming a sphere on its own. Great! If you feel you need to shape the sphere yourself, you can do so. Once you’ve cast the circle, go back to the altar and lift the energy upward from the floor until it closes above your head, creating a dome, and then push it downward in the same manner so that the sphere encloses the space below ground.

Visualization is key.

Congratulations! You’ve cast your circle. Some traditions will mark this in the ritual format: “Here is the border where the circle is cast none but love may enter, none but love may leave” or “The circle is cast in the presence of Goddess and God, so mote it be!”

When doing a simple spell and casting a circle for it, I acknowledge the casting quietly before setting to my work.

In Conclusion…

As you can see, casting a circle is something that can be very elaborate or very simple. It can be required for all workings or it can only be required for some. I feel that the way you cast your circle is often deeply personal. For that reason, in the steps I gave as an example above are only some of the key parts of how I cast the circle without revealing any personal details of what I do for it when not working with the coven.

Every tradition, every path, every witch casts circles differently. If you are starting out as a witch, I greatly encourage you to create your own, personalized method of casting the circle. If you keep a Book of Shadows (as most witches do), the way you cast your circle should be one of the first things that you write down in it.

All that said, may all your circles be unbroken!

Blessed Be! )O(

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Witchcraft Aesthetic // Autumn Witch

October’s got those orange eyes but somehow I still lost sight
When you lifted the lid off of my pumpkin head and kissed me goodnight
So bundle up and come with me now
Down the road where to the burned down barn
We could make a blanket of coats
And breathe our souls into the neighbor’s front lawn

🌿 WITCHY ART CHALLENGE ~ Day 2 ~ Altar 🌿

Here is a random altar I wanted to animate~ I drew things I found very inspiring and that I love ♥ 

One of the hardest lessons to learn when it comes to altars.

If there is any object,substance,idol etc on that thing that doesn’t make you overcome with joy that its there. Then it doesn’t belong there. Keeping things on YOUR altar simply because “that’s the way its done” is a dangerous mindset in magic. You’re basically putting it out there that you don’t trust yourself to make your own choices, that instead you need to hold on to something that you feel no connection to simply for the sake of tradition.

When making an altar. There are three important questions to ask when building.

1. Does this item serve the purpose I want it to?
2,Is this purpose something I actually want/need?
3. Does this item empower me?

Its your space, its your choice. Not Raymond Buckland’s, not your coven’s, not your family’s and certainly not stuck up diva witches on tumblr.

If you don’t like the dual gendered aspects found in many traditions, then don’t include them. If athame make you uncomfortable, then don’t use them. If you find that a WWE wrestling action figure somehow adds to your space in a manner you enjoy. Then put it on there. If that angel figurine your grandma gave you makes you feel happy even though you don’t work with angels, then put it on your altar. You don’t answer to anyone but the person in the mirror. Your space, Your rules.