In The Circle: Crafting the Witches' Path

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9781567184440: In The Circle: Crafting the Witches' Path

Daffodils dance in a chilly spring breeze . . . a butterfly alights on a sunny marigold . . . sleepy autumn energy moves through an apple tree . . . in a winter garden, a redstart greedily strips berries from holly. And so the seasons rise and fall, the wheel of the year turns, and the sacred circle of birth, death, and regeneration goes on.

This simple and beautiful guide combines author Elen Hawke's personal accounts of sabbats and moon rites with clear, common sense instruction that makes witchcraft accessible to anyone who wishes to enter the circle.

Journey through the Moon's phases and the eight seasonal festivals; gain an understanding of Goddess and God; learn how to build a shrine, perform ritual, and collect or make magical tools. Evocative and poetic, In the Circle will take you deeper into your inner core, the place where you can connect to the spirit of Nature and to your own innate knowledge.

Tree and bird, stone and star

The spirituality of witchcraft is experienced through the world around us, through Nature and through the bodies in which we live. The sense of the divine is not remote from the world, but is part of one's own being.

To be a witch means living in harmony with the ebb and flow of the seasonal tides and the cycles of Sun, Moon, and weather; to have a love of everything that lives, a respect for and sympathy with tree and bird, stone and star, as well as our fellow humans.

This is expressed through aligning oneself with the unfolding patterns of the ritual year, and the monthly waxing and waning of the moon. Witches believe that working in harmony with these cycles will nourish the spirit of the land while aligning their own spiritual development with the soul of Nature.

-Elen Hawke

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Elen Hawke is a practicing witch who lives in Oxford  with her husband and a house full of animals.  She also has two grown children.  Elen is a photographer and illustrator, and has been doing professional astrology for 27 years and tarot reading for 10.  She divides her time between healing and teaching witchcraft, meditation, and chakra work.  She is Wiccan initiate in the Gardnerian tradition, a Circlework graduate from the House of the Goddess, and a member of the Pagan Federation.

Elen is of Irish, Welsh, Anglo-Saxon, and Jewish ancestry.  She remembers having psychic experiences since youth, and feeling an intense connection to the natural world.  Her love for reading began early with her grandmother's books on natural history and Greek mythology.

Elen has traveled through and lived in many other lands, including Iran, Afghanistan, and Brittany.  She believes that this cultural exposure and appreciation made the transition to Paganism easier for her than many.  She describes her spirituality as "eclectic," having explored Spiritualism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Druidry as well as Wicca.  She has achieved both the Bardic and Ovate grades in the Druid path.

Elen runs the email discussion group witchcraft_uk on behalf of the Children of Artemis.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

A cast circle is a sacred place, a barrier between the busy outer world and the world of spiritual expression, a container that keeps in power and keeps out everyday distractions. Within this space emotions and psychic awareness are enhanced, but sounds from beyond its confines are muted and seem far away-it is amazing how much cooler and noisier a room will seem once the circle has been opened again. The circle is the equivalent of the temple or church of other religions. However, unlike the rectangular layout of most religious meeting places, where one person of elevated status stands apart and guides a congregation through the service, the pagan or witches' circle is a space where everyone is equal and contributes fully to every part of the rite, and where the shape and layout preclude anyone enjoying a superior position-though one or more participants may go to the centre of the circle during the ritual and become a point of focus.

Although the pattern of "building" sacred space may vary between different branches of paganism, the ingredients are the same and fulfill the same functions, which are to cleanse, purify, protect, and enhance. Some people call in the quarters before they cast the circle and some construct the circle first, but the result on completion will be similar. There is no "set in stone" correct way to do all this. I have worked with Wiccans, hedge witches, druids, and "nondenominational" pagans, and the pattern of circle casting is almost the same in every case. Anyway, it is doubtful whether the witches of old practised within a circle at all; this is something probably borrowed from ritual magic, along with the pentagram, knife, and wand. The original village witches were healers and herbalists who very likely worked with a respect for the solar and lunar cycles (as did most folks then), but who also were probably not against handing out spells of cursing or procuring abortions, and who would be amazed to hear that their craft was a path to spiritual growth and self-realisation.

By creating the circle, we enact the pentagram, the basic symbol of witchcraft, because we use the four basic elements and directions and the central, fifth element of spirit, all of which the pentagram stands for. By performing ritual within that space we are touching the deepest part of ourselves, that which has no knowledge of separation.

It's best not to eat too close to doing ritual. Leave a gap of at least an hour and a half beforehand if possible, or you will feel heavy and clogged because food is earthing.

The sequence of circle casting which I use is:
- Set everything up.
- Bathe or wash prior to taking off clothes or putting on special garments.
- Light the point and altar candles and charcoal.
- Sweep the perimeter of the circle with the broom.
- Stand and quietly centre, letting go of the everyday world, breathing rhythmically, allowing the chakras to open.
- Sprinkle incense on the now glowing charcoal.
- Consecrate water and salt.
- Cleanse the perimeter of the circle and its occupants with salted water and then incense.
- Cast the circle.
- Call in the quarters.
- Raise energy.
- Call in the Goddess and the God.
- Conduct the purpose of the ritual.
- Bless food and drink.
- Feast.
- Bid farewell to Goddess and God.
- Open the circle.

Setting up
When I work on my own, I set up first so that I can be relaxed and refreshed from my bath and won't lose that serenity whilst bustling around laying everything out. In group rituals, everyone should share in setting up, and the sequence and rhythm of this then becomes part of the ritual and a way of preparing the mind and emotions.

Place the point candles in their appropriate directions (you can use a compass if you aren't sure) putting a yellow candle in the east, red in the south, blue in the west, and green in the north.

The altar can be placed in the centre of the circle or else the north. On it, put your athame, wand (if you want to use it), pentacle, censer, chalice with drink in, Goddess and God candles, flowers or other decoration or seasonal offerings, food, any articles used for magic (such as candles or cords for spellwork), a candle snuffer if needed, a statue of Goddess or God if desired.

If you want to sweep the circle, lay the broom somewhere close to you.

Bring out anything else you will be using, such as a cauldron to contain candles or flowers or in which to place spells in progress. Make sure you have extra holders if you have candles for magical work. It is a nuisance to seal yourself into sacred space and do your ritual only to find that there is nothing in which to place your newly lit spell candle.

Purifying the Body
The concept of a ritual bath or wash is common to many religions and represents a removing of everyday concerns and a preparation for spiritual communion. It does not mean that the body is unclean or impure. In witchcraft, the body is sacred and we experience our spirituality through the physical world and nature just as much as through religious acts . . . the two are seen as inseparable.

A lovely way to cleanse the aura of unwanted vibrations and put oneself in a frame of mind ready for ritual is to put herbs and sea salt in the bath. The salt can be thrown in and allowed to dissolve, but the herbs are best tied into a piece of porous cloth and hung under the hot tap, otherwise they block the drain and leave a mess all round the bath. Some suitable herbs are lemon balm (not too much or it will make you sleepy!), rosemary, vervain, lavender, and chamomile. You can use them separately or mixed together.

As you lie in the bath, imagine your whole being washed clean of any impurities and stresses accumulated during the day.

Lighting Candles
I always light the point candles first, starting with the east and working round in the order in which the quarters are called. There probably isn't any real reason to do it in this order, but my methodical mind seems to want to work that way. Now, light the Goddess, then the God candles. Doing things in sequence helps to induce the frame of mind needed for successful ritual.

Sweeping the Circle
This is a way of cleansing the edge of the circle and should be done in a clockwise direction, starting in the north, sacred direction of witchcraft. The idea is to slowly work round, swishing the broom over the surface of the floor in a rhythmic fashion whilst visualising any psychic debris being dispersed. The sound of the broom is very soothing, and people often find it helps to trigger the right degree of relaxation to put them in the mood for the work that follows. Not all witches sweep the circle, but if you choose to do so, it adds to the measured and dancelike sequence of preparation in which each task can become a sacred act.

Centring
The purpose of this is to pull your awareness down from fixation on the head (the area Westerners usually regard as being their centre) and balance it between all the chakras prior to doing spiritual and psychic work. This sounds complicated but, in fact, is very simple and happens almost of its own accord once you are quiet and are breathing calmly. I had been automatically opening my chakras for years without giving it a second thought until I began to train for initiation, when I was earnestly "taught" how to do the very thing I was already doing of my own accord.

The chakras are centres where the layered sheaths of vital energy that surround our bodies are intensified. They correspond to places on the physical body and they can be seen as specific colours by the inner vision. When we are concentrating on daily pursuits in the outside world, they are smaller and less active than when we are engaged in creative, psychic, or ritual work; during this time they expand with glowing light and colour.

The lowest chakra, the root chakra, is red and is situated around the perineum, between the anus and vagina or testicles. It is our connection with the physical world and is a centre of vigour, strength, and health, and you will feel exhausted if it is blocked or depleted. The next chakra, the sacral chakra, is bright orange and located just below the navel. This is where we connect to our sexuality and to the ability to live in the material world without stress. Many Eastern religions see this as the place where spiritual and material meet, and in Tai Chi it is the point of equilibrium from which action proceeds. If you regularly shift your focus here during meditation, you will gradually become less affected by shock or trauma. Above this is the solar plexus, a radiant yellow centre where emotions are balanced. Anger or fear will tighten this chakra up and produce the well-known butterflies. Next is the heart chakra, which is emerald green and lies between the breasts. When we act from this centre we act selflessly. People who have been starved of love will have this centre constricted and may eventually have physical problems in this area if they don't find a way to heal it. In fact, stress or blockage in any chakra can lead to illness, though spiritual work and ritual will help the energies to flow freely again. The next chakra is the throat chakra; it is situated in the base of the throat, in the hollow above the collar bones, and is a deep aquamarine blue. It is the communication centre, and people who have difficulty expressing their feelings or who won't admit to anger may find themselves prone to sore throats. I suffered an annoying bout of laryngitis after finding myself in a situation where I was unable to speak out and stand up for myself-I was rendered literally speechless. Just between and above the eyebrows is the brow chakra, which is concerned with clairvoyance and visions and all visual work of a psychic and spiritual nature. It is glowing violet in colour. Sometimes people will experience headaches here when they are beginning to develop their psychic abilities. The last chakra, the crown chakra, extends from the crown of the head. It is radiant white and connects us to our spiritual source and to the universe as an interconnected whole.

Some systems see the colours and their placement slightly differently; for instance, indigo for the brow chakra and violet for the crown.

The fact of main importance is that we need to balance our energies between all the chakras. Although one or another may be predominant during particular activities, an overemphasis on any one centre can lead to disorientation or tiredness. This is particularly true if you get hooked on the top two chakras through overdoing visual or psychic work and ignore the more earthy centres or forget to ground yourself. It can be tempting to float around on a high, but ultimately you will feel disconnected.

The way to centre and open is to stand erect but relaxed with feet slightly apart. Begin to breathe calmly and deeply, gradually allowing the breath to reach lower into the lungs (many of us have tightened our bodies due to stress and breathe shallowly from the upper chest-a way of trying to keep the world from invading us). Let your awareness gradually sink lower and lower, like syrup drifting to the bottom of a glass of water. Now on the outward breath, let all worry and concern flow out of the nostrils. Let it go. See it leave you as a gray stream that will disperse harmlessly. On the inward breath, draw in prana, which is vital force and can be seen as golden white light, like sunlight. Let the whole sequence be calm and regular-you don't want to end up supercharged and bursting to run around. As you do this, begin to see your chakras slowly expanding, opening, and becoming brighter, starting with the root chakra and moving up in sequence. Don't worry if you can't feel anything definite; as long as you go through the visualisation, your energy centres will respond whether you are aware of it or not. When you feel ready, put incense on the charcoal in the censer and then proceed to the next stage of the ritual.

Consecrating Water and Salt
Water is seen by many religions as cleansing, and it is used by witches for this reason too. However, water does its work by absorbing any negativity in a space, thus purifying it. A bowl of water waiting on your altar will take up psychic impurities from the surrounding atmosphere, and these must be neutralised before the circle can be cleansed. For this reason, salt is added to the water. The salt itself, especially sea salt, is psychically inert and does not contain impurities, so it will keep the water pure when added to it.

The water must be "exorcised," which means that negative energies must be removed before the salt is added (don't worry too much about the subject of negativity; it mainly refers to the atmospheres and residues left by the ups and downs of ordinary daily living or, in slightly more dramatic circumstances, after an argument or illness or tension-we aren't talking poltergeists and hauntings here!). There are different ways to do this. One way is to hold the bowl in your hands and visualise it being flooded with white light that drives out and transmutes the unwanted residue. Another way to do this is to put the tip of your finger, wand, or athame in the water and direct a flow of cleansing light or energy into the bowl through this. Imagine the water being purified and charged. It really will feel and taste different afterward. If you want to, you can write an invocation to use while doing this. The one for initiatory Wicca is extremely beautiful, but the old-fashioned language used makes it sound quite dire and dramatic. Something along the lines of, "May this water be cleansed of all negativity that it might purify sacred space," is perfectly adequate. You will probably come up with something better than that.

Next, you need to bless the salt. It isn't necessary to cleanse salt, as it is already pure, but blessing it primes it for its work of "sterilising" the water and thanks the element of earth for its use. Direct energy into the salt the way you did with the water. Again, you can use an invocation, something like, "May this salt be blessed that it might protect the circle that I cast." If you want to use the Wiccan invocations, they can be found in books written by Alexandrian or Gardnerian witches. Similar ones can be found throughout pagan literature.

Now take three pinches of salt, add them to the water bowl, and gently mix them. If you use your athame for this, make sure you dry it well immediately after. The tip of mine got quite rusty at one time. Carry the bowl round the edge of the area, which will be your circle, starting at the north and moving clockwise. Sprinkle a ring of water as you go, visualising the saltwater cleansing this ring and beginning to form a barrier between you and the outside world. When you arrive back at the starting point, sprinkle yourself as well as  anyone else present.

In Wicca, the water and salt are blessed and consecrated by a priestess, who also asperges the circle and all male coven members, using the sign relevant to the lowest degree attained among coven members present. Women are purified by a priest. It is common for Wiccan priestesses to be responsible for casting...

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