|CASTING A CIRCLE|
When you want to do some magickal work, such as a spell or a ritual, you'll probably want to cast a circle. This has been mentioned in passing in the ritual section and the spells section, but the circle-casting itself was never explained in detail. It is a setting aside of sacred space, and it's usually thought of as a place outside time. It is a really useful tool. This page will give you some ideas as to how a circle is cast, though it is really up to you how you want your sacred space defined.
Before you start, you will want a pure place to begin. You can do your work outside or inside, but wherever you decide, it should be purified. Most people do this with a broom (also known as a besom); you sweep the area and push away negative energies. You can do this by sending positive energy around with your broom, scaring away anything that doesn't mean well. That's supposed to be the way negative energy works; it can't work where there's not an opening, and if your space becomes infused with positive, there's nowhere for the negative to be welcome. You can also use an athame or a wand to command negative energy to leave, since they are tools of energy direction. An athame might be a better choice since it is the less gentle of the tools. In any case, purify your space any way you see fit.
Set out your boundary for your circle, if you choose to have one. I like to use a finger-knitted piece of rope, tied together at the north, or a silver cord. Sometimes I like to leave it untied until the circle is complete (that's later) and tie it as if to say "it is done." For your boundary, you can use a ring of candles, rope, flowers, stones, anything . . . if you're outside you might choose to use some sort of visible spice, like salt if you're on brown soil, et cetera. In any case, it is not necessary to have a visible border but it is helpful.
Bring together inside the circle everything you are going to use in the spell or ritual. It is a good idea to look over your written spell or ritual in your Book of Shadows or whatever you have it written on, or go through it in your head if you haven't written it out, to make sure that you have everything you'll be needing. If you have to leave the circle to get something, you will break it unless you carefully cut a doorway. So it is important to put everything you'll need inside before you begin to cast the circle.
As mentioned in the spells page and the ritual page, many people like to call the elements to their circles. I like to do this . . . and it is a good idea to put something to represent the elements at each quarter of your circle or at the appropriate areas of your altar. Something that represents Earth should go at the north, something representing Air to the east, something representing Fire to the south, and something representing Water to the west. You can use appropriately colored candles (Earth is green, Air is yellow, Fire is red, Water is blue, unless you have color symbolism you prefer), or you can use stones, or anything else, but I like to have a bit of the actual element present. I use a bowl of salt for Earth, a stick of incense for Air, a candle for Fire, and a cup of water for Water. If you do use elements such as these, you should purify them too. Ask that whatever you use be consecrated in the name of whatever deity/deities/spirits you prefer (if you do) or just bless it with your own energy, using the athame to push away negative energy and any past associations.
After the objects have been purified to your liking, you can use your wand to call the elements, if you wish to have their presence. Elements might be a good idea because they represent not just four basic things in the life of primitive people, but because they represent the natural world around us, the powers that are going to help you do whatever you are trying to do in your circle. (In this day and age we know there are a lot more than four elements and that each "element" is made up of a lot of other stuff, but remember this is all symbolic, and what it means to you is important!) You use the actual bits of element in your circle (or your symbols of them) to focus on calling their influence to your purpose. For instance, you would call the Earth to your bowl of salt. You may envision some sort of mist forming in/around the salt bowl, maybe of the color green for Earth, and you will then pick up the bowl and distribute that mist around your circle. The element spreads its influence around the circle and joins forces with the other elements as they are laid down, and lastly with your own energy when you add it (that's after the elements have been called, in my circles). You do this with each element, in my case lighting the incense and envisioning yellow mist, lighting the candle and envisioning red mist, and raising the water and envisioning blue mist. After all the elements are present, you might envision them braiding together to form the barrier, perhaps by chanting or singing something from the chants page, such as "Earth My Body," or something from the songs page like "Ho! Spirit."
Now you add your energy, the most important part to make the circle yours. Most do this with their athame using their projective hand (which in most people is the right). You have to concentrate your personal energy into your knife blade, pointing it at the ground and moving clockwise from the north. If it helps, envision light coming out of the knife and lighting up the circle as you go. When you meet the end of the circle again, you have a complete circle, and you should envision the light becoming a sphere around you. It should go down into the ground (or through the floor) as well as up above you. Some people actually prefer to use a cylinder idea, as if the energy reaches to the heavens in both directions. I like it to be closed, but that is just me. Some people also prefer to walk the circle three times to make sure they are thoroughly imbuing the area with energy; that is your choice, it is done when you feel it is done. When the sphere is complete with your energy, you should declare what the circle is for before you "invite" anyone in . . . just a statement that this circle is created in love and that only love will exist inside and outside is good enough.
When your circle is cast, you can begin working magick if you like. It is ready for use. Before any "serious" magick is worked, however, it is really a good idea to bind yourself to the Earth in a process called "grounding." You have to center yourself and get ready because you are going to be expending a lot of energy! Some people like to envision themselves as being connected to the Earth through some sort of silver cord from from their bodies to the Earth's core, and other people like to pretend that spiritual roots are growing from their feet into the soil. This is both to help you feel centered and like a tool of Nature itself, and to help you pull energy from wherever you can. When you have found your place and you're fully in tune with the planet, you can "call" whatever deities or higher presences you want to honor/call upon for help. The space is prepared for you to be able to work with them without fearing that you are inviting them into an impure space, or that you are working with negative energies in your way.
A note about energies: A lot of people might not believe that "negative energies" are just lying around, and I'm not sure I believe exactly that, but the fact remains that I do believe impressions are left through objects' contact with sentience. There have been occasions when certain objects, places, or people have made me feel unsettled, and I believe that people have left bad energies on them. I'm not what some people might call a "New Age freak" or something like that, but I think objects and places *can* store our energy. Sometimes you can tell something has been touched or used even if it looks like it is brand new; that is just something pretty much anyone can sense (as far as I know), to some degree. If you want to experiment with this, do so; my only suggestion is to never try it in a place where lots of people have been in a short period (such as, for instance, the bed of a hotel room--ugh); it will only confuse you. I suggest doing this sometime if you never have; it will help you pay attention to the movement of energies and help you identify what sorts they are. Even if you don't automatically feel that there is something bad (or just unrelated) in your magick-working area, you should still purify and repel bad energies.
If you absolutely have to leave your circle but need it to stay intact, you will want to cut a doorway. My interpretation for why you have to do this is as follows: You are the heart of your circle, and if you try to go outside its boundary, its center is pulled through its limit, which "pops" it or at least severely distorts it. It doesn't move with you because you have cast it in a space, not as a mobile shield. When you cut a doorway, you sever the link for a moment, until you step back in and seal it up again. To do this, you take your athame and "cut" the doorway in the side of the circle, starting from the floor and going as high as you need. Exit and return as quickly as possible. In Scott Cunningham's Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, he suggests that you cut your doorway at the northeast and that you cut it like an archway, moving counter-clockwise. I see no reason not to do this and I don't really have any other recommendations, so you might want to follow this way to leave the circle. If you do have to do this, you might try noticing the difference outside your circle. If it doesn't feel different outside you probably haven't removed your space from "mundane" space as much as you might like to in the future. When you return, seal the door up so you feel it is seamless. Then ground yourself again and make sure you become part of the circle once more.
Some people want to know why sending energy out of a circle doesn't break it like going through it does. A quote from Living Wicca by Scott Cunningham (I'm just quoting him all over the place, aren't I!) says it better than I could, so I will copy it here. "Don't worry about the circle somehow blocking the exit of the energy. It's somewhat akin to a door. You're inside the structure, and sending energy through it opens the door. Like doors, circles don't need their functions explained to them during magic. The circle 'knows' that one of its functions is to release energy. (The door automatically shuts once the energy has left.)"
You should also know how to close a circle. This is less elaborate as there is no purification to be done. Also, this is done in a variety of ways. Think of how you would like to do it and what your circle is made of. Before you undo your circle, every magickal working should be done and your respects paid to whatever deities you invited (perhaps you will put out your God and Goddess candles after you have thanked Them). If you have "cemented" your circle's closing with the tying of a rope or the placing of a final stone, "undo" this by untying or removing. If your circle is made up somewhat from the elements, you should thank them and bid them farewell, using the wand to address them politely. (The wand is used as a gentle mover of energy and the athame a more commanding one.) If you would like to bid the elements farewell in the same order you called them, that is fine; I do it backwards and counterclockwise, thanking the Water first. Sometimes I will sing a chant to thank them for coming, such as "The Earth, the Air, the Fire, the Water."
After the elements are "gone" and you no longer see their "mists" (or feel their presences, whatever), there will still be residual energy, some of it yours and some of it just left over from the circle being there. It needs to be earthed or it may make its presence known, and possibly attract things you don't want since it's no longer complete. Normally you get rid of the energy moving counterclockwise, using the receptive hand and the athame. As you pull it in, you can keep it for yourself, for storage in the knife, or to be dispersed into the ground. In fact, I usually go around three times; the first circle around gathers energy for me to replenish what I sent out, the second circle around is stored in the handle of my athame to build up the tool's power, and the last circle around is drawn in and sent out--usually through the feet--into the earth. You might stand and think for a moment afterwards and imagine anything you haven't gathered sinking into the earth, back to its mother. This removal of the final component of the sacred space helps you return to "mundane" reality. You might sit and think a while, contemplating what you have done, to help send any extra energy to the purpose of the spell or whatever you have done. If you still have a candle burning from a candle-burning spell, it should continue to release your energy on its own, if you have put it into the candle. You may consider singing or chanting an ending song, such as "May the Circle Be Open." That's the end.
You should remember that getting comfortable with circle-casting takes some time. You should experiment! Try many things, try different things you think of or read about, and see what you like best. Don't follow my method word-for-word; mine changes often too! The bottom line is that your circle is a pleasant place for you to work and that it helps you get your work done, and that it is a way to remove yourself from everyday life. Be creative, and have fun!