Casting the Sacred Circle
14th July, 1998
As with all religions, various types of Paganism believe in the concept of sacred space. However, unlike more mainstream faiths, this space is not defined by a building or specific location. The sacred circle is a belief that cuts across many Pagan denominations. It is usually created by those involved in a specific ritual or event and it acts as space where those involved in the ritual are outside the mundane world helping to get participants in the right frame of mind for undertaking the ceremony. It is also a space in which to meet with the God and Goddess.
This sacred space is established by marking the Four Cardinal directions of North. South, East and West. Each of these directions is associated with an element (Fire, Earth, Water and Air). Depending on the particular rituals of the tradition, each of the elements or an associated deities, being or animal, would be called to attend at that point in the circle and act as a guardian for the sacred space. When the sacred space is being called, the circle is often marked using a sword, athame (ritual knife) or the hand of the High Priestess or whoever is conducting the ritual.
Once the sacred space has been established, it is treated as a real, physical entity. Therefore, if someone wishes to exit the circle they are required to cut a doorway in the circle. It is considered very bad for the effectiveness of the circle to exit the circle without creating a doorway.
When creating the sacred space, there are two terms used to describe the directions involved with casting the circle. Deosil or clockwise is used for opening the circle and widdershins or anti-clockwise is used for closing the circle. These directions are based on the movement of the Sun through the sky. In the Northern Hemisphere, where these attributions originated, the Sun moves through the Southern sky from left to right. This gives the appearance of clockwise motion.
In the Southern Hemisphere, however, the Sun passes through the northern sky from right to left, or in an anti-clockwise motion. Therefore, many Pagans in the Southern Hemisphere cast their circles widdershins, which is considered bad by the more traditional of mind. It is considered bad because deosil is the direction of positive magic and widdershins the direction of negative magic.
I think making the directions relevant and harmonious with the environment in which you live is an important part of Paganism, however. Therefore, deosil is anti-clockwise and widdershins is clockwise for me in the Southern Hemisphere.
The other important directional attributions are the four elements. The traditional attributions place Fire in the North, Water in the East, Air in the West and Earth in the South. Many people in the Southern Hemisphere prefer to alter the attributions to suit the environment.
Fire in North - As Australia is below the Equator, the further North one travels here the hotter it gets. I have therefore placed Fire in North.
Earth in West - Living on the East Coast, the bulk of the continent of Australia is the the West on us. Therefore, West is Earth.
Air is South - It is from the South that some of our strongest and most welcome winds blow. Therefore, South is Air.
Water is East - On this coast, the great Pacific Ocean lies to the East. I live about one minute from a beautiful beach. The city of Newcastle has many beaches along its coast. Therefore, Water is in the East.
Although these specific attributions are based on my location, the principles involved can be used by anyone to give more meaning to their own ritual practice.
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