Friday, February 3, 2012

C is for... Casting a Circle

I've read a number of posts on the Pagan Blog Project page for FaceBook, and I've noted more than a few folks new to the Craft feeling a bit overwhelmed by their "new-comer green-ness". I would first like to remind them that having a Beginner's Mind is a beautiful thing. Fear not! The Pagan's Path is, first and foremost, an organic one. You live it, you breathe it, you find the sacred within the "mundane"... It is a Path of intuition; one in which you learn to honor Divinity Within and trust your Self to know what it is that you need. With a sparkle in my eye, a wink and a smile, I would also add there are many excellent sources and resources available to you that we didn't have readily available to us 20 to 30 years ago!

Without further adieu, I thought I'd go back to a basic component of ritual for many Witches (but certainly not all) - that being Casting a Circle. While this particular act does not necessarily apply to all Pagan Paths, I thought its discussion would be a good touchstone for our newest members to the Craft Family.

The first thing to which I would draw your attention is the purpose of creating (or casting) a circle. The circle is created from energy and, for the purposes of this post, I would like to refer to it as "an energetic circle" for those new to the Craft, even though that terminology is somewhat redundant . Further, the cast circle is an energetic "bubble" of a container, moreso than an actual linear denoted "circle". This is an important distinction, for it is very much a multi-dimensional sphere rather than an invisible "line" drawn by extension from your fingers, athame or sword.

A cast energetic circle is a container designed to provide you a safe, Witnessed, sacred space within which you may work. In most base terms, it is an energetic container, created to simultaneously (1) keep that which you wish to exclude OUT, (2) that which you wish to include, IN and (3) is a sacred space in which you perform your enactments and raise energy toward the excellent end for which you strive.

Having said that, the next point of focus that I would draw your attention toward is "where"? The "where" that I am referring to is not one of physical location. Certainly, you can cast a circle anywhere you may be. Rather, the question of "where" reflects more upon the temporal. While some Pagans desire a to work in sacred space that draws together All That Is - including All Time (past, present, future) - during a rite, the Witch's circle is set apart as "a time outside of time, in a space outside of space". There is a distinct difference here that reaches beyond "who" is invited to Witness your ritual. Dependent upon your ritual intention, the energies with which you will be working, and other variables, you may or may not wish to cast a circle.

So. How do we go about creating this energetic "bubble" container, the cast circle?

As frustrating as this may sound to you folks new to the Craft, with empathy, I must say there are a variety of ways to create a circle. Thankfully, there are some basics that the one casting must apply. There are a number of terrific works out there that can guide you in a manner that allows you to fully immerse yourself in the process of creating not only amazing, tangible circles, but can also plunge you fully into the creation of meaningful rituals founded on the use of energetics - in this particular case, raising energy to cast said circle, as well as directing that energy into the creation of your circle. Ruth Barrett's "Women's Rites, Women's Mysteries" goes in depth on this subject, and - having had Ruth and Falcon River as a couple of my most recent Wise Women teachers - I'm here to tell you they really know how to guide women in the use of energetics and ritual creation as discussed in Ruth's book.

(An aside: Throughout my blog, you will note that I often reference authors and teachers who have deeply touched me and enriched my spiritual practice. Though I'm not  trying to promote a sale for any particular work, I will continue to share the names, works and links to said works of these Wise Women. As such, I reference Ruth's book in this post, which contains outstanding information, and not just for the new Witch. You can find her book at Women's Rites, Women's Mysteries: Intuitive Ritual Creation.)

Allow me, if you will, to set the proverbial stage for your circle casting. Have you ever had a moment in time where everything was simply, sublimely perfect? A time where you just need to close your eyes and tip your head back, your hand moving instinctively toward your heart where it rests lightly upon your chest, and you just smile and breathe in deeply, because everything is so connected, it's simply perfect? Can you call forth that image, the sounds, the feeling of that moment? Excellent.

That kind of centered perfection, where you are one with your heart and mind, is the point of beginning for casting a glorious circle.  Remember that feeling, and then, holding your athame or sword in your right hand, reach out with your left hand and draw forth the energy of that Place... from the Earth who is underneath you, from the Sky who is above you, from the trees, rocks and creatures around you (if you're indoors, I bet you still know where a tree or three is located beyond those walls! They await your energetic touch, reaching out and drawing energy from them to cast your circle)... If you have others with you - for example, coven members - ask them to lend in the sending of energy to be used toward casting the circle. Draw deeply from the well... above, below, within, without, around...

As an intermediate step, for those of you who are very new to this practice, simply sit or stand with that ball of energy in your left hand. What does it look like, sound like or feel like to you? Can you maintain that sight/sound/feeling when you lightly toss it back and forth between hands? Spend some time with the practice of simply drawing and holding energy, and then returning it with thanks. You'll have a light heart and a merry smile upon your face in no time!

When you are ready to further the practice with the energy you have drawn, take the next step toward creating your Circle. Once you readily have the well of energy awaiting its purpose within your left hand, stretch forth your right arm with its athame or sword in hand (or pointer and index finger of your right hand) and focus that energy to the place where you wish to begin casting your Circle. From my own practice and Path, it is generally accepted that the circle casting begin in the North-East, turning sun-wise (or "deosil" - pronounced "jesh-ill" - the Gaelic word for sun-wise). 

The experience of drawing that energy up and into you to be directed out through your right arm, hand, and through the tip of your fingers, athame or sword is different for everyone. I personally begin to feel a heat growing in the palm of my left hand until it becomes a warm buzzing, and I "see" different colored streams of energy coming from all of the places from which I am drawing to cast.

Remember that you are not simply casting a singular, linear circle. This is a multi-dimensional container - a "bubble" that you are creating, that not only reaches above you, but also below the floor of the room, building or forest in which you are creating said circle. Take your time in casting your circle... It's not a race, and you won't run out of energy if you are truly drawing from sources beyond yourself.

When you have turned full-circle and arrive back at the point where you first began to cast your circle, note what it feels like, sounds like and/or looks like when you "seal" it - when your end connects with where you first began. Take a moment to sit down, look around, and listen. Can you feel or see the circle? Has it changed the sounds around you, muting them? Has it altered the breeze around you? What is your sensory experience within the circle? Enjoy it! When teaching my children how to cast a circle, I had them sleep within them throughout the night! My daughter has her favorite - a lovely blue, "glittery, starry" circle within which she fell asleep nightly - and still does whenever she wakens from a nightmare or just needs a bit of extra comfort and safety while sleeping.

When you are ready to take up your circle, or - as the case may be - take down your circle, (for one never "dismisses" energy... hence, you never will "dismiss" your circle), take a moment to find that perfect place again. When you have centered therein, whether with your fingers of your right hand, an athame or sword, return to the North-East and open your circle by cutting a line down through it. Then, reverse the process with which you cast, this time moving "widdershins", or counter-clockwise. What does the energy sound/feel/or look like as it is being taken back up into your athame, sword or fingers? How about when it returns to the various "wells" from which you first drew the energy?

Upon reaching the North-East once again, and having fully taken down your circle, go ahead and shake your arms, your hands, and once again sense the differences in what you hear, feel and see now that the Circle is down. Do you notice any differences?

More than once, I have mentioned "Witnesses" to your ritual. While these may be other coven members or people of like mind, when I speak of Witnesses, I also refer to the Watchers, Deities, and OtherWorldly Beings upon Whom you may call to aid you in your Rite. I will write more in depth next week on "Calling the Powers of the Quarters", however, I will note herein that calling the Powers is no small thing. By it, you are inviting those Watchers to actively engage in Witnessing your rite and enter your workings into the Astral Accounting.

In parting, please also note that I differentiate between casting a circle and calling the Powers of the Quarters, as well as invoking Goddess. Often, the two are given in description together. While casting a circle and calling the Powers go hand-in-hand, they are two distinct acts.

So then, happy casting!


Painting, 1886 by J.W. Waterhouse, "The Magic Circle"

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Pagan's Book of HOURS (differing from Book of Shadows)

While a Book of Shadows (hereafter noted as "BoS") can contain a plethora for its Keeper, there is one specific section that I believe should be available in (or close by) every BoS, that being a Book of Hours: (specifically, this is the topic of my post, the second of the letter "B" posts for the Pagan Blog Project):

A Book of Hours, whether a section within your BoS or a "stand alone" book, is a treasury of calendars noting Sabbats, moon phase dates and times, day correspondences, as well as other sacred days to you and/or your coven and/or family. It also typically contains a trove of artwork and can include photos of past rites and/or their altars. In addition to these, the following wealth of spiritual offerings are included, of which I offer a compendium within this post:

* litanies
* prayers
* invocations
* mantras
* blessings
* meditations
* petitions made to the Ancient Ones, Goddess, or Gods
* a variety of endings for these.

The distinguished title, "Book of Hours", was given to such books of time and prayers in the medieval times, when such books gradually became readily available to lay people - at first, only to royalty and upper class, but by the end of the 15th century, the books became more readily available to the emerging middle class. These books were often lavishly decorated for those of higher station. Written specific to the individual to whom they were presented, the books were oft personalized as prayers contained the name of those to whom the book belonged. Additionally, they were further personalized in its contents, containing artwork that spoke deeply to its Keeper, as well as other poems and works penned in tribute to the Keeper's Patron and Patroness Deities.

Modern day Books of Hours can be afforded similar luxuries as aforementioned, containing such things as a calendar of the Sabbats, Esbats, as well as prayers specific to the hours of day - morning and evening, as well as those spoken prior to retiring for the day. Prayers for seasons and the turning of the Wheel should also be included. The Book of Hours serves its Creatrix and Keeper (in this case, You) in all times and seasons - hence the name "Book of Hours". Additionally, the rhythm of life is noted through prayers specific to those momentous occasions we honor and celebrate through Rites.

Litanies include such ceremonial forms of prayer that include lists. An example of such would be listing the many and varied attributes of the Goddess, Danu, enumerating her strength and beauty while honoring Her.

Prayers are, of course, a spiritual communion of your heart and mind - most often through words, but also through enactments and deeds. I have discussed Pagan prayer with many people, and have found that there are a number of people who are, through their past experiences with previous religions, a bit jaded toward that particular term. Yet, throughout history, peoples across lands and cultures have reached out to their Goddesses and Gods in prayer. These prayers need not follow any specific format, for they are your heart to your Goddess... Having these prayers noted within your Book of Hours, however, can be a great blessing when in the proverbial "heat of the moment", when words may not come easily.

Invocations are a form of prayer calling upon a certain Deity to aid you, whether as Witness to a Rite you are enacting, for protection, inspiration and so on.

Mantras are a different type of incantation and come in the form of repeated words or short phrases, used in prayer. They often are sung or chanted and can, for some individuals, create an altered state of consciousness.

Blessings, or Sainings, are words which call for favor or a Gift from Goddess, Gods, the Elementals, etc. These are commonly known as, "saying grace", in some circles, and are oft spoken at meal times, at weddings or handfastings, and before going to sleep.

Meditations (or, what my Grandmother called "Ponderables") range from simple ideas upon which one may ruminate to a fully written enactment that is designed to take its hearer on an inner journey and back again.

As for endings to these, there are so many that one can use beyond the simple, yet beautiful, "Blessed Be" or "So mote it Be". Be creative! Remember that you are undertaking the tasks of the day "For the Good of All"... Work from that place, and see how many endings you can create that speak fully of your heart's intention.

There are several Pagan Books of Hours available that I will mention, but do not diminish the strength and beauty to be found in your own words. Remember that a Book of Hours should be personalized. As such, try writing your own thoughts,much as you would prepare your own words for a spell-working or self-ritual. Look to such works as the Carmina Gadelica for inspiration, but adapt the ideas, words, and intention to your own personalized use.

Here are some links to some of my favorite Book of Hours:

Caitlín Matthews is author of the following, which, this blogger unabashedly names as favorites:


C. Serith penned the following:
A Book of Pagan Prayer

Starhawk, along with several other contributors, have created this beautiful work, especially helpful for those who are called to serve as Death Midwives:

Shanddaramon gives us this short, but beautiful, work:

While there are an abundance on the market, readily available for purchase, please always remember that those words which come from your heart and mind are, above all, priceless treasures to Goddess, the Gods, the Ancient Ones, the Elementals, and so on.  Glean from your own experience with the time in which you are praying. What does the dark of night with the shining stars above feel like to you? What do you see when you look up at Her radiant glory on the night of the full moon? What sounds come to you in the darkest hours of night, when the night seems never-ending? Reach deeply within. The rest will come, giving you a beautiful addition to your Book of Hours. Best of all, it will be just as it need be... for YOU. Personalized, beautiful, perfect. Just as She sees You.

Many blessings,
The following is an image from a Book of Hours specific to a calendar cycle. It was a full page miniature denoting the beauty of the month of May. This Book of Hours was from the 16th Century, drawing by Simon Bening.