Circles. Barriers. Keep the energies in. Keep the bad energies from working their way in. Create sacred space. Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of the idea of casting circles. For my own workings, its just not something that is helpful to my own state of my mind. Yet, it’s a strong, and firmly entrenched part of Paganism, as a whole. Even the rituals I have been a part of within OBOD has this process within it. Casting a circle is a very common part of Pagan practices. Except in mine.
To say that I feel alone in this particular area of thought is – in my mind – a deep understatement. I have yet to meet another Pagan that works their rituals in this manner. I have been told by others that essentially, I am working ritual without a safety net. That without such barriers, my rituals will lack focus and intention. That I will not be able to properly focus my magickal intentions, which will diffuse into the beyond, and have no focal power to brandish. When I would point out that my rituals were not meant to work magicks, thus I wouldn’t be too worried about much of those thoughts – I was asked “why do rituals in the first place?”
Many, many times this line of discussion has kicked off pointed lecture after pointed lecture aimed at me. Why ritual is important this way. Why casting a circle is a necessity. Why I’m doing this wrong. Why I’m doing that wrong. Why I’m a bad Pagan. I’ve spent a lot of years listening to statements like that. And countless hours trying to explain my perspective to ears that didn’t want to hear it. Enough that I’ve rarely spoken about my own approach to ritual over the past decade. Instead, I’ve just gone and done my own thing.
Honestly, its not been easy doing things on my own, utilizing an approach that I’ve always noted as being completely different than everyone else. It also stands as one of the primary reasons that I approach my own Paganism and Druidry without a group. I manage by using what works for me, without assuming that what I do works for any single person beyond myself. I don’t do things in ritual just because “everyone else does.” I do things in ritual because it works for me. Nor would I be presumptuous enough to stamp my foot and demand that things be done my way when I am working within a group. I always defer to what is more well understood by others in a group setting. When working in a group, its not about me. Its about the group gelling and working cohesively together.
Why no circle casting in my solo work? Well, to understand that, its best to first discuss why casting a circle is looked at as a necessity. Now, most of this is what I have gleaned through the various traditions and belief systems I have worked within and with – its not an exhaustive look at things. Rather, its what I know of within my memory. As I’ve said before, I’m not an expert on anything – except myself. Now, circles are cast to create sacred space – a point that exists between worlds, where magick can be done, rituals can be held, etc etc. Many believe this to be a physical barrier that separates our mundane world from the magickal. This barrier is set to create a safe place for participants to gather, for magick to be done – where the pains and negativity of the mundane world are removed. In my mind, this sacred space is an area of null value. Null being an area of nothing, where negative, positive, emotions, and such do not exist. This concept does not work for me.
I don’t cast or create sacred space because I hold that everywhere around me is already sacred space. I don’t need to cleanse it. I don’t need to define it. Its here. Its all around me. From the concrete jungles that mankind has created to the manicured suburban sprawl we all seem to live in to the wild, uncharted areas of the world – we’re already in sacred space. As for the negativity, the bad energies, the difficult emotions…all of that is a part of us. Banishing it means to deny its existence in the world around us. I don’t wish to exclude anything from my environment. Good, bad, indifferent…its all part of sacred space, in my mind. Instead of seeing a barrier outside of my ritual, I see a glowing sphere emanating outwards from my rituals. This is not a barrier, but rather the extent of my magickal working – the energy I am creating at that moment. Its not banishing anything. It co-mingles. It exists within this wide-open sacred space. Its literally my connection with the world around me.
Some traditions and belief systems call the Quarters or the Watch-Towers, setting wards and protections against the negative world about us. They ask for Spirits or Entities to watch over the ritual. I do something similar, except that I ask for the Spirits of the Wild, the Spirits of Place, my Spirits of Ancestors, and the Gods to come to witness the rite, should They choose to do so. All of Them are a part of my environment around me, so I don’t expect any of Them to come forward. But I do offer the invite…and not as Guardians or Protectors…merely spectators or witnesses. I don’t ever expect myself and my ritual to be the focal point of Their attention at that moment. I merely ask, and never for protection. Just to be there to see it occur.
I am told that by doing this, I am leaving myself open to the negative spirits of the world. That, in essence, I am operating without protection…working without a safety net. My response may seem a little flippant or even feel like I am challenging Fate: that negativity, those meddlesome Spirits…that’s all part of the world around us. To exclude that is to deny the whole aspect of where and what we live within. At least, in my opinion. I am not one to parcel my world into pieces, and then choose which I want to be in my daily life.
I completely grok the point that I may be working without a safety net by not casting circles or calling the Quarters or what have you. But I am not a proponent of putting barriers between myself and that which I see as sacred. Even when that sacred space is affected with pollution, negativity, anger, and all else that is considered as “bad.” The pollution, negativity, anger, and such are not what makes it sacred. The sacredness is deeper down. That is what I embrace by removing the barriers of circle casting and other methodologies. The sacred is underneath my feet, even when it is covered with the profane. I don’t want barriers between myself and that which I perceive as true sacred space. Thus, I work without that “safety net.” And in so doing, I get the lectures that I have gotten in the past. All well-meant. But, in my mind, unnecessary.
4 thoughts on “Working Ritual Without a Safety Net”
You are not alone. In my own solo rites I don’t cast circles or call directions. I haven’t felt comfortable doing so for several years now although I started off with cast circles when I first began practicing as a pagan. If I’m feeling the need for more formality I’ll say something to expressly acknowledge and greet the powers of earth, sea and sky and more formally greet ancestors and deities and ask for their support but most of the time I’m more relaxed. It’s different if I’m doing something with a group as others usually feel the need for cast circles etc. to feel safe. I’ll add those things in if I’m leading the rite but even when I do cast circles in a group rite I do so only to protect against anything that wishes us harm and not to remove us from other influences.
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Thank you. I’ve always felt that the circle casting aspect seems to be more closely regarded within group practice (particularly here in the States) than it does in solo practice. While I’ve not run into Pagans personally who expressely do so within their own rites, I have encountered quite a few in this methodology – discussions online. I’ve often wondered how many solo practitioners have dealt exclusively with circle casting and have had the same feelings that you, I, and others have had in that regard… Thank you so much for adding your voice to this. I hope to see your comments in future discussions as well. And maybe, one day, be able to shake your hand in a face-to-face environment. 🙂
I actually really appreciate this post.
All the ‘high ritual’ trappings like casting circles and calling corners or what-have-you are great for effect. It makes great theater and embues a sense of otherworldly charm to rituals and workings…but like the fancy spinning and high kicks in martial arts, it’s not practical for everyday.
Certainly not for people who work, or people with children…people who don’t have a hour and day to ‘prepare, cleanse, banish, sanctify’ before they even get started.
There’s also the memes that say that all that is necessary for magick is you and your energy – no props or theater required – those aren’t as popular as the ‘all-powerful witch’ memes.
The world is sacred already. The elements don’t need to be purified. Energy doesn’t necessarily have to cleansed to work.
And also, not everyone needs or wants to work magick. Magick doesn’t make a person a better pagan. Casting a circle doesn’t either.
It’s a basic thing and it has it’s place if or when you need it. But everytime I try I feel ridiculous, like I’m acting and trying to be something fake – but when I do what does feel natural, things work just fine and the space feels very sacred.
Every should do what works for them regardless of what others think. I grok you, Mr. Elf. You’ll get no flak from me, circle or no circle.
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Considering all the aspects of the “trappings” of ritual…I’ll offer up an excellent book on ritual that has helped me to understand some of the deeper persepctives to all of that. “The Art of Ritual” by Rachel Patterson from Moon Books. Its quite an excellent bit of work on ritual, from all the trappings to the deeper perspectives based on cleansing beforehand and even developing ritual for solo work and group work. I can’t say I agree completely with everything presented, but I certainly learned quite a bit from it. Add to that, Rachel is an excellent individual who is quite approachable within the online environment (considering there’s an ocean between her location and mine – online is the best medium). I’ll dig deeper into ritual bits, as I expand on some older posts in the course of the coming year. 🙂
On the points of feeling like you’re acting…that’s one of the reasons I stepped away from structured ritual processes and inched my way into extemporaneous approaches. Off-the-cuff feels far more natural to me…thus, I’ve gone to that format for my personal approaches to the Wheel of the Year, the Gods, and the Spirits of Place and Ancestor. 🙂 I concur that when it feels natural, there is more power and energy in the rite than when its simply rote processes.
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