THE PLACE BETWEEN THE WORLDS
©By Anna Franklin
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“I conjure thee, O circle of power, that thou mayest be a meeting place of love and joy and truth….”
So begins the invocation off the magic circle. It is well known that magicians and witches work within ‘magic circles’, but very few people realise why – including many who use circles on a regular basis.
When the magician casts a circle, he or she creates a space apart from ordinary life: an interface between the mundane plane of waking consciousness and the realm of the gods and spirits, which we might call the Otherworld. When he or she enters the circle he leaves the ordinary world behind and enters a domain apart: a realm of sacred space and time. Indeed, time often flows differently in the circle, and when the magician leaves it after what may seem a few minutes, many hours may have passed in reality. This recalls stories of sojourns in fairyland – another word for the Otherworld.
When the magic circle is properly built, cast and invoked, it becomes the universe in microcosm i.e. it creates in miniature the entire cosmos. The complete circle represents its oneness, while the divisions of the circle stand for the passing of time and the seasons, the space in which the universe exists, and the substances and energies of which it is made. Every item used within the circle has a symbolic and magical resonance that reinforces these ideas and connections.
Whatever the magician performs within this magical microcosm will be reflected in the macrocosm, or in other words, each ritual act will be made manifest in the macrocosm, whether it is the re-enactment of a seasonal myth or an act of sympathetic magic. Since the circle is also the externalisation of the inner world of the magician and intimately connected with him, any act performed within the circle causes deep changes in the consciousness of the magician him or herself.
THE PERFECT CIRCLE
The circle is always a place of power, from the wheel of the chakra to the sacred ring of a stone circle. It is a universal symbol of wholeness and completion. When Christian missionaries reached the Native Americans, they asked the people how they saw God and, in answer, they drew the circle of the feathered sun, red feathers pointing both inwards and outwards, showing energy moving both in to the centre and outwards to the circumference, containing everything. In Buddhism the circle developed into the mandala, used for contemplation and visualisation. It represents everything and is a maze through which the meditator travels. The centre of the circle is the sky-door which is a means of reaching heaven or Nirvana.
The whole circle symbolises continuity, eternity, completion and spacelessness: the absence of time and space. As it symbolises what is complete and unbroken, it also symbolises the Deity.
But the circle can be divided: halved, quartered, or separated into degrees and so on. However, far from symbolising dissolution and imperfection, when these fractions are contained within the circle they represent the balance and harmony of such divisions. Think of the famous yin yang symbol, which represents the reconciliation of opposites within the whole. Within the circle, opposites [such as day and night, summer and winter] are united. Within the circle their division is not absolute, but each gives rise to the other, reconciled in the circle of unity.
The Celtic cross [a circle with an equal-armed cross within it] is a pre-Christian symbol representing the circle quartered through the compass points of north, east, south and west. It is an ancient symbol of the sun, which appears to us as a circular disc, passing through each house of the zodiac during the year, strengthening and weakening as it goes, spinning through time and each of the seasons in turn. Thus, the quartered circle represents movement, time, and the passing of the four seasons. It is equal-armed and characterises the balance and harmony of these within the unity of the circle.
THE CARDINAL POINTS
The four main compass points of the circle are called the cardinal points. When the magic circle is drawn, it is aligned to the cardinal points of the compass- north, south, east and west. This is not merely symbolic, and the east of the circle should be aligned with the real east and so on. The flow of earth power is north to south. The North Star stands still at the north of the circle and for the Celts it was Caer Arianrhod, the Castle of the Silver Wheel, the entrance to the Otherworld and the place of death and rebirth. The circle must be oriented with the energies of the cosmos.
When the circle is cast by the magician, each direction is invoked in turn and the circle is thus spatially orientated. This operation is often called the summoning or invocation of the Watchtowers.
Each position around the perimeter of the circle represents a position in the station of the sun throughout the year, a stage in the cycle of life:
The north is the point of the circle associated with the winter solstice [Yule], cold, darkness, midnight, starlight, old age and death. However, it is also the point of regeneration, rebirth and life through death, as it is at the winter solstice that the sun is reborn. It then gains strength and grows stronger up until the summer solstice. The north is associated with the element of earth.
The east is the point of the circle associated with the spring equinox. The east is associated with sunrise, dawn and gestation, the beginning of growth; a time of green youth. It is connected with the element of air. In a stone circle oriented to the vernal equinox, the sun will rise directly in the east, over the east stone at the equinox.
The south is the point of the circle associated with the summer solstice, with the zenith of the sun’s strength, midday, with things beginning to ripen, with maturity and the prime of life. It is connected with the element of fire.
The west is the point of the circle associated with the autumn equinox and the completion of the harvest, with twilight, sunset, completion and decline. It is associated with the element of water.
THE CROSS QUARTERS
Though there are possible correspondences for every degree of the circle, witches generally concern themselves with four more, the cross quarters:
North east marks the point of Imbolc
South east marks the point of Beltane
South West marks the point of Lughnasa
North West marks the point of Samhain
THE DIRECTIONS OF ABOVE AND BELOW
It should be obvious that there are more than two dimensions possible within the circle. The celestial realms of above, and the underworld realm of below stand above and below the circle, and their powers are called upon, drawn through the axis mundi of the circle as the first step of its casting. Thus the invoked circle is not a two dimensional object, but a sphere, extending below ground and above, in which the magician operates.
THE CENTRE OF THE CIRCLE
The central point represents the place where all powers meet, where all times and places are one. For the Celts it was the spiral or glass castle, a place of regeneration and rebirth. The axis through the centre links all the realms and times. The cardinal points are often called the quarters, which are further associated with the four elements. These are invoked when the circle is cast, so that the ring becomes a place of balanced energies.
The four roads [the four Royal Roads of Power] coming from the cardinal points meet at the centre of the circle. This point becomes the axis mundi, the centre of all things where all times and places are one, from which all things are accessible. It may be symbolised by the pillar, the shaman’s ladder, the world tree or cauldron of renewal. The centre is the place of initiation and rebirth. The spiral or maze dance within the circle moves to the centre, representing death, to the centre to the point of renewal, and outwards again in rebirth.
CASTING THE CIRCLE
[This is only one method of casting a circle, and there are many others, but the principle of establishing a boundary between the mundane world and a sacred space where ritual acts are carried out remains the same.]
Set up the altar in the northern quarter of the circle. A low table or chest can be employed as an altar. This should be placed in the north [you might need a compass to fine the cardinal points]. Cover it with a white cloth. Place three candles in holders on the altar. A dish of salt and a dish of water are placed near the front. You will also need a knife which you keep for ritual purposes, which some people call an athame. You can also decorate the altar with seasonal flowers. Place a dish of incense on it.
A candle is placed in each of the quarters, the colours chosen help to resonate with the vibration of that quarter- green for the north [earth], yellow for the west [air], red for the south [fire] and blue for the west [water]. If you can’t get these you can use white candles, but the more you can re-enforce the imagery the more it helps your visualisation. Some people also like to place something that represents the elements in the quarters- a dish of earth in the north, the incense in the east, a flame or candle in the south, a dish of water in the west.
Check that you have everything you need within the circle [remember the matches!] before you start, as once the circle is cast, you will not be able to leave to get it.
CASTING THE CIRCLE:
Light the incense. The first act that must be performed is to establish the boundaries of the circle. Take the knife and beginning in the north draw the circle round the room. Remember where the point of the knife draws will be the edge of the circle. Include in the circle all the things and people you wish to be within the circle.
I conjure the O circle of power that thou mayest be a meeting place of love and joy and truth a boundary between the world of me and the realms of the Otherworld, containing the power that we shall raise within thee, but a shield and protection against our enemies, both visible and invisible.
Take the knife and place the tip in the bowl of salt saying:
Be this salt dedicated to the Lord and Lady [or whatever deities you call upon] to keep us from evil and protect us in this time.
Take the knife again and place the tip in the bowl of water:
Be this water dedicated to the Lord and Lady [or whatever deities you call upon] to keep us from peril and to purify this place.
Tip the water into the salt and mix them together. Sprinkle clockwise [deosil] around the circle saying:
May we cast from us all evil and darkness, viciousness and malice. May we become that which we must be before the Lord and Lady [or whatever deities you call upon], seeking ill to no one. May we be clean within and without so that we are acceptable before them.
Finish by sprinkling each person in turn.
Next connect the circle to all three realms. Take the knife and stand in the centre of the circle. Point it above and say:
Powers of the worlds above, I do summon, stir and call you up to guard our circle and to witness our rites.
Bring the knife down in a straight line and point it downwards. Say:
Powers of the worlds below, I do summon, stir and call you up to guard our circle and to witness our rites.
The watchtowers are then invoked. Take the knife and begin in the north. The casting of the circle is always begun in the north as this is the place of power that flows from north to south, so the power gateway is opened. Many people do not begin the invocations until reaching the east, as this is the direction of vocalisation. Draw a pentacle in the east and say:
Oh mighty powers of the east, I do summon, stir and call you up to guard our circle and to witness our rites.
Repeat this in the south, west, and north.
Return to the altar and consecrate the altar candles with the words:
I consecrate these candles that they shall represent light and knowledge within this circle.
Light the candles and take one round to light all the quarter candles. If you wish you can carry the dish of incense around the circle.
The work of the ritual is now performed.
DISSOLVING THE CIRCLE
When all is finished the circle is dissolved. Take the knife and cut through the boundary of the circle near the east and say:
Mighty powers of the east, thank you for guarding our circle and for witnessing our rites. I bless you in the name of the Lord and the Lady [ or whatever deities you call upon].
Repeat in all the other directions. Cut through the centre and thank the powers of above and below.
Put out the candles and dismantle the temple.