Room Set Up
The main altar, at least here in the United States and in our tradition, is in the North. This altar should at least your athame, the cakes and wine, and possibly some decorations appropriate for the season, candles, or deity statues. If possible, the altar can be decorated for the current holiday, and kept as is until the next holiday. (eg: The Samhain altar is decorated and stays decorated for Samhain until the day of Yule when it is redecorated for the Yule ritual.) A pentacle is also typically on the altar, but it is only required to be on the altar for initiation. Any other tools appropriate to the working should also be on or in front of the altar, depending on the layout of the room.
If the space allows it, each element should be in its respective direction (incense in the east, a candle in the South, bowl of water in the West, bowl of salt in the North). If using the elements this way, the candle in the South should be lit prior to the casting the circle and is used for lighting all the other candles in the room. If the room is too small, all of the elements can be put on the main altar. However, when bringing the elements around the circle, always start and end from the appropriate direction. Always be aware of safety when using incense and candles (flaming pagans are so 16th century).
Altars for each direction are nice if you have the space for it, but not necessary. Having a representative candle in each of the other directions and candles on the main altar are really nice, especially for doing trance work or mirror divination. Don’t hesitate to use lights, however, if you need light to walk around or to read scripts.
Ritual Dress and Working Skyclad
We generally do not work skyclad (naked, except for jewelry and initiation cords), unless all participants agree to do so for a particular working. We also do not have a particular “dress code” for working in circle, but most people wear socks or go barefoot. Generally, any comfortable clothing that is easy to move around in, from robes, to sarongs, to sweatpants, is perfectly acceptable. Robes are particularly nice to have during the rainy season (or in snowier, colder climates), and sarongs or other cooler clothing work nicely in the summer. Going topless is not typically considered skyclad (and is much more comfortable when the temperatures are in the triple digits). Again, consent of everyone in the circle about dress (or lack therof) is a very good idea.
Typically, movement in the circle should be deosil (clockwise/sunwise), unless someone is aspecting a deity, banishing, or closing the circle.Most Wiccan/witch groups in the United States keep this as a general rule, and when in doubt, we suggest moving in that direction. There are always exceptions to this, depending on the working, the tradition, or global location.
Typically, we do not work with a cauldron (or fire) in center of the circle, but it can be used if desired. At the end of the circle, it is best to put out the candles with a candle snuffer, as it is more respectful to the element. But if you must blow the candles out, doing so and saying a thank you to the Fire would be polite.
At the start of the circle, everyone except the Priest casting the circle is normally seated or standing close to the center, leaving enough room on the edges of the circle for the Priest to move without tripping over anyone. ALWAYS be aware of the space you are in and, especially if using public space, obey the laws, fire codes, and land rules of your local government. Tools, fire, incense, and other items can always be substituted with alternatives that will work in the space.
Casting the Circle
What follows is a circle casting that is generally used by the Circle of Cerridwen, and is a somewhat common type of casting. This is, in fact, a version of the circle casting that was taught to Rev. Gina in her former coven. It is by no means the only way to cast the circle, and is presented here mostly as an example. Also, this type of casting may not be useful for certain types of workings. We like to encourage all our members find their own circle casting that works well for them, or come up with castings that suit the work being done.
This ritual assumes Feminine Deity in the form of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. You are welcome to use any deity you wish.
(Using broom, staff, or wand, circle once widdershins around the circle saying:)
All negativity will leave this magickal space!
(Stop in the North) Begone, or you will be cast out to the mighty darkness!
(Stop in the West) Begone, or you will be drowned in the watery abyss!
(Stop in the South) Begone, or you will be consumed by the flames!
(Stop in the East) Begone, or you will be tossed by the whirlwinds!
(Circle widdershins for each line:) Once round I go for the Maiden. Once round I go for the Mother. Once round I go for the Crone.
(Sometimes this can be completed by shouting “Begone!”, or you can go right into casting of the circle, or, if using a staff, you can pound it three times in the center of the circle. It’s up to you how you want to end it. Whatever feels right to you. It is also rather fitting, to use a broom/besom to sweep while doing the banishing. Besoms are traditional, but we have seen regular store brooms used with great effect.)
(Move deosil from this point on. Pick up the athame, which should be on the North altar, and circle, starting in the East saying:)
I conjure thee, o Circle of Art, to be our temple between the worlds, wherefore shall we bless and consecrate thee, So Mote It Be!
Response: So Mote It Be!
(Move to the center, and point athame upwards:) As above us,
(point athame to the floor) So below us
(Bring athame to heart) As within,
(open arms wide) So without!
(Move deosil back to the East and sing:)
- Soaring Eagle on the wind
- from your lair new visions bring
- lift our voices as we sing
- enter us powers of the East (1)
(perform invoking pentacle while singing the last line of each verse)
- Mighty Lion of the sun
- burn our hearts and will as one
- flaming strength and passion
- enter us powers of the South
- Ancient Serpent of the deep
- in your waters lets us weep
- wave your mystery here to sleep
- enter us powers of the West
- Dark Bull of the Mother Earth
- Winter’s cave that gives us birth
- feed our knowledge of your worth
- enter us powers of the North
(Move to center of circle and kneel, then sing:)
Hear us! Spirit!
(Circle back to the east. Pick up the incense and say:)
By the powers of Air, I (We) scent this magickal space.
(Carry the incense completely around the circle and return it to it’s place in the East, then move to the South.)
By the powers of Fire, I (We) warm it.
(Light all the candles in the room, using the lit candle, starting with the candle/altar in the South, returning the candle to the South. The original candle should be used to light any other candles needed for working, since it is representing the power of Fire. If there is a center candle, or cauldron in use, light that as well. Then, move to the West.)
By the powers of Water, I (We) cleanse.
(Take up the bowl of water and sprinkle water as you go around the circle and return to the West. Then move to the North.)
By the powers of Earth, I (we) purify.
(Take up the bowl of salt and sprinkle salt around the circle. If people are naked, and the salt is chunky enough to cause discomfort, then just sprinkle it in each direction as you pass it.)
Calling of the Gods/Goddesses
Call respective gods as you see fit, or that are necessary for the particular working you wish to do. This is done from the center of the circle.
Whatever working is do be done is done at this time, including initiations. This also includes sacred bullsh*t (talking about the working), if needed. A word of note and caution: It is not wise to lie about yourself or others while the circle is cast. (Most people actually find it impossible.) This is a space where you are psychically and emotionally wide open and vulnerable, and any deception will disrupt the balance and energy of the circle, especially during any of the initiations. This can be especially difficult for those who have any significant mental illness, and should discuss their situation with the coven leaders before doing this path or asking for initiation.
Cakes and Wine
(At the North altar, hold up the plate of cakes and the goblet of drink and say:) Blessed be the fruit of the fields and blessed be the fruit of the vine!
This can be modified to suit whatever you have in the cup or on the plate. (These days, we generally do not use actual wine because we have members in recovery.) First pass the plate of cakes around the circle, each person taking a piece and setting aside a piece on the plate for the spirits, then taking a piece to eat. Then pass the cup around so everyone has a drink. The cup can be passed around again, if people wish it. Any leftovers should be given to the Earth later.
(From the center:)
We thank all the gods and goddess (can also be by name, or be done by the people who called in a particular deity) for their presence here tonight. Go in peace, and blessed be!
Response: Blessed be!
(Pick up the athame from the altar and move to the East, widdershins, and say:)
We thank the powers of the East (or Air) for their presence here tonight. Go in peace, and blessed be!
Response: Blessed be!
(Make the banishing pentacle while you are saying “Go in peace, and blessed be!” Repeat for North, West, and South.) (Return to the center.) The circle is open, but it is never broken. For we Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again. Go in peace, and blessed be!
(At this point, everyone gives blessings, usually hugs, and says Blessed Be! To each other, and the circle is now closed. Also, any excess energy should be given to the Earth. Excess energy that is still with people can have ill effects if not released somehow, including illness and insomnia.)
(1) The quarter songs are said to be from many sources, the most prominent being from the EarthSpirit community and MotherTongue in eastern Massachusetts. If anyone knows more information about the creation of these chants, please let us know.