Traditional and Alternative Methods of Claiming Space
Casting a Circle is often believed to be a necessary step in the foundation of modern ritual. I would like to provide you with some alternative methods of ritual commencement and space-claiming which may assist in inspiring your creative exploration of the ritual world.
Firstly, sacred spaces are not always circular, and various structures hold differing symbolism which can be applied to the scene of the ritual or spell. For example it is not uncommon for neo-Pagans to use a pentacle as their sacred spacial structure, or for modern-Kabbalists to use a tree of life or a star tetrahedron. As for magic being used in a ritualistic format in the first place, it is by no means a necessity. In fact some spells are best performed in the presence of everyday atmospheres. Much magic can occur without conscious intention, if we are going by Frazier’s definitions of magic as mimicking or imitating an action with the expectation that like produces like, or as a contagious substance with which the treatment of an object holding the contagious essence of the subject results in like treatment of the subject. The two clearly coalesce. As a scorned lover would throw away trinkets from one who has left them, and with those trinkets (hopefully) their feelings, so sympathetic and contagious magics are at work in our everyday lives.
Now, there are still quite a few times when ritual and sacrament hold their place, of course, and I’m only barely touching on the importance and usefulness of ceremony in magic. Setting or claiming space is a universally acknowledged step in the process of magical and religious ritual. You should NOT however feel the need to abide by the popularized methods of circle-casting or space claiming. The structure of a circle with four main focus points and a central pillar has been used by various shamanic traditions from every corner of the world for as long as any can remember. The Golden Dawn order was one of the first to publish their Hermetic practices where the Western public could easily access them, so their method of calling elements from East/Air, to South/Fire, West/Water, to North/Earth is frustratingly common. It works great for some, but it doesn’t work as well for others, especially the magician who aspires to expand the forms of their ceremonial structures. One could subtly change that common method by substituting other deities or personalities into the structure, or mixing traditions. For example, calling down stars instead of elements, or adjusting the elements location to fit your hemisphere etc. I find it best to put it aside altogether.
Other, less contemporary methods might be more effective for you, as they have been for me. For example sprinkling parts of plants in the space around me, lighting candles simply, presenting a dumb supper, beating the bounds, calling the spirits, bawming the thorns and briers, saining the participants, making rough noise, sweeping, treading the mill, smudging or meeting at a sacred place naturally made, rather than creating your own; e.g. crossroads, mounds or sacred groves or lakes.
Beating the bounds is a way of raising energy and setting your territorial boundaries. One would take a sacred bough, branch, broom, cane, thyrsos, rattle, or scourge and walk the boundary of their sacred space, making a point of beating the space with their tools in the process. A less common and more cthonically inclined method would be urinating the boundary, quite literally marking your territory.
Saining is an umbrella term for, essentially, liquid blessings, flung upon the participants with some sacred tool (again a bough, branch, wand or a staff) similar to how a common Chrisitan priest would bless a house with water. Holy Water is, blatantly, a ritual tool that predates the rise of the Christian empire, however it was not only water that was used to sain. More often than not, it was the blood of a sacrificed animal. Blood-saining, or Bleodsaining, would involve dipping the sacred tool into the revealed blood of the sacrificed animal and anointing the participants with its mark via whatever flinging tool is acting as mediator.
Calling the spirits goes by different names depending on the method, one Cornish method is swinging a bull-roar around a few times which makes a loud droning sound. This noise echoes across hills and valleys far off. Other methods, such as the blowing of bone-horns or the playig of reed pipes, can be used and often include a repetitive, trance-creating movement or a loud or long noise.
On the topic of loud noise is Rough Music Making, which is actually used to chase unwanted or harmful things away from the space (or the village on a larger scale) by making a huge ruckus with whatever instruments are available, even one’s own voice.
Dumb Suppers are invitations to specific spirits or personalities by seating around a table which has set on it a place for an “empty” chair, to be filled by the spirit or personality. All the food set out on that place is for them to enjoy to whatever end they wish and various methods of disposal correspond. In neo-pagan ritual, this is a widely used practice on the eve of Samhain, because of its relationship to ancestor-worship. However, many examples of dumb suppers can be seen around the world separate from this British holiday.
Bawming the Thorn–A kind way of setting space is bawming the area around it, otherwise stated as decorating or dressing the surrounding undergrowth or branches. Hanging flowers, ribbons and bells is a sweet way of creating the ambiance of a lively or gentile ritual.
Treading The Mill is a term with a depth, but just on the surface it is often practiced as a space-claiming, energy raising dance. In one form of this dance the congregation would begin by clutching each other, hands to shoulder or elbow, turning outward to face away from the central pillar, and galloping or lame-stepping in one direction or the other.
Smoke Cleansing is very common and just involves the burning of various plants or other materials to permeate the air with the intended energetic senses, generally for cleansing and protective purposes.
It is important to try things out and see what works for you. I think when the appropriate time for a sacred space arrives, a well done space should protect, mediate, and give success to the operation at hand. See what types you can find or think up which do these for you.
-Dianaandpansson, July 29th, 2012