Someone asked me whether it is necessary to cast a circle before doing magic and, if not, why witches bother.
It is an interesting question that got me thinking - and browsing the internet - to try to find an answer.
The answer to the first part of the question is, no, a circle is not essential. Plenty of people cast spells, perform rituals and do very effective magic without being in any kind of circular area.
You only have to look at temples in ancient Egypt and Greece - which are mostly oblong - to realise that. Some are circular, but not the majority, and if circles had been vital for magic then cultures that were heavily influenced by magical belief would certainly have created round ritual spaces.
Of course, Stonehenge and similar ancient stone structures are arranged in rings. The reason for that may have been magical. Or it may just have been that stones in that formation make ideal sundials. Greek theatres were round too, but that is because amphitheatres are a good shape for a performance, allowing the audience to gather at the edges to get a decent view.
Nevertheless, the fact that plenty of ancient structures were designed for religious, magical and ritual purposes seems to suggest that people have always found it helpful to define some sort of space for work that was beyond the mundane.
Modern pagans, however, seem to like to get out of doors whenever possible. As soon as sun peeps from behind the clouds and the weather turns vaguely warm and dry, we are outside cavorting in whatever wild spaces we can still find within our concrete jungles. Perhaps that is because, for us, big buildings are the norm, not the novelty they might have been for our ancient ancestors.
Yet, out in Epping Forest, Oxleas Wood or Hampstead Heath, witches will cast a circle to in which to work magic. It isn't a physical structure, but it is a perceived barrier to outside interference and a container for the energy raised for the work to be done. They usually do this by mentally visualising it, dancing or walking around it, or indicating it with the pointy end of a sword or athame or just some stick they've found lying around.
So why a circle? Well, it is simpler and easier to imagine than a square, oblong, triangle or whatever. Symbolically, it has no beginning and no end. It has strength and unity. It looks neat.
Most if not all cultures have given circles some symbolic significance. For example, the top of the Celtic cross is a circle divided into quarters and Buddhist mandalas, designed as aids to meditation, are circular.
However, if a circle doesn't seem appropriate to you, you don't have to use one. Some people imagine a barrier around their body before sitting down to meditate or to work magic, so their sacred space would be person-shaped. You could imagine a barrier around the edges of your room or around the woodland clearing or garden you are using for your ritual. Or you could just clear your mind and cast your spell without being in any specially-prepared or defined area.
In my experience, though, the location you are in can affect the spell you cast, so it is worthwhile considering creating a sacred space before doing magic if possible.
In a future entry of A Bad Witch's Blog I hope to talk about different ways of casting a circle. In the meantime, here are some very good examples that other people have written:
Simple circle castings:
Wiccan style circles:
For further information:
If you have any questions for The Bad Witch, leave a comment on my blog and I will try to answer them.