I think that to a complete novice, casting a circle seems kind of futile. Just about every author out there offers up multiple ‘casting scripts’, and not all of them follow a similar order. Some of them don’t even use words! Some rituals are completely spontaneous works while others are so scripted one would need several months to memorize everything. And yet all of these vastly different rituals are supposed to work?!
Well, believe it or not, any set of actions done with a well-reasoned purpose will construct a circle and create a ritual with some level of effect, no mater what style the ritual is in. Now, there’s some leeway to this statement: reasoning is actually a little subjective. Some lines of reasoning will make a lot of sense to a lot of people and will work very well for them. Other lines might make a lot of reason to just one person and leave everyone else exceptionally confused. Obviously, reasoning that others can get on board with will make for every effective group circles…but idiosyncratic reasoning can make dynamite circles for the solitary practitioner. It’s all a little relative.
The single best resource I’ve ever found regarding circle casting is the Gardnerian witch Deborah Lipp’s book The Elements of Ritual: Air, Fire, Water & Earth in the Wiccan Circle. In this book, Lipp teaches us to interrogate our circle construction, which is basically asking ourselves questions like “Are our rituals consistent with themselves? Are they consistent with what we’re trying to accomplish? Are they consistent with our beliefs about the universe and its order? Are we worshiping this deity as He/She would like to be worshiped?” She also explores each piece of ritual construction using four different elemental approaches that together cover the theological, mythological, psychological, and practical aspects of construction. It’s an absolutely brilliant approach, for it breaks each part down into very manageable, teachable, and effective lessons.
The main thing to keep in mind with Lipp’s book is that she definitely comes from a strong Wiccan background. If you’re Pagan-but-not-Wiccan, I can see how her emphasis on polarity and hierarchy within ritual can fall flat. She also tends to impress that there is a correct and incorrect way to do things, which can be a little frustrating if you’ve got a perfectly logical reason for doing something ‘incorrect.’ Nevertheless, there is a lot to learn in these pages no matter what pagan path you follow, and if you’re Wiccan…you might just want to have Lipp’s babies when you’re done with the book.
One really great thing about most Pagan ritual, though, is that no matter how you rationalize the order of your various ritual’s parts, they are going to have a discrete pre-ritual phase, a ritual beginning, middle, and end, and a post-ritual phase. Better still is that a lot of rituals share the same components to each part. Some of them are as follows:
- Cleaning the space where the ritual will be held and assembling all needed items for the ritual
- Cleaning and preparing your body and headspace for ritual.
- Making sure all participants are ready and able to partake in the ritual.
- Grounding, centering, and ‘merging’ with the other ritual participants.
- Declaring the opening of the ritual and it’s intended purpose.
- Consecrating the elements.
- Cleansing the ritual space and participants with the elements.
- Formally casting the circle.
- Calling the Quarters, elements, or what have you.
- Inviting Deity to the space, and/or drawing down the moon/sun
- Deity Worship.
- Raising energy for the working.
- The working at hand.
- Grounding excess energy.
- Cakes and wine.
- Dismissing deity and dismissing the quarters.
- Formally banishing the circle.
- Cleaning the ritual space and items used in ritual.
Living in accord with the working that has been done.
Roderick asks us to consider a few questions today:
- Which type of ritual practitioner do you think you might be? A spontaneous one or a structured one? Or are you a blend of the two?
- Why do you think your choice of ritual style may be useful to you?
- Do you believe that there might be correct and incorrect ways to cast a circle? Why?
- What do you believe could happen if you cast a circle incorrectly?
I think I’m a mix between spontaneous and structured, though I lean more toward structured. I am generally more comfortable when I’ve considered a ritual in advance and have key parts like the invocations and banishments memorized. I actually like using similar calls over and over again as the repetition definitely gets my head to “ritual space” a lot more quickly than if I’m worrying about doing something new. That being said, a lot of my most powerful rituals and experiences have been spontaneous ones. They can be more dramatic, and they tend to make a great lasting impression. And there’s a lot to be said, too, for learning how to balance some spontaneity with script since life happens and sometimes you do need to go off script.
I think my choice of ritual style is useful to me because it gives me both a pattern and flexibility to adapt.
I think that there are correct and incorrect ways to cast a circle, and I think that some are more magically effective than others. Still, I really do believe that as long as actions are carefully considered, the ritual will have some effect. I don’t think much really comes from casting a circle incorrectly, especially if you are a solitary practitioner. I think that if you work in a group and muck up casting, there might be social ramifications with the group and you might ruin their focus and the working might actually have no real effect, but don’t think much will happen beyond that.