3rd March 1987
Dear Tessa and Glyn,
I will write next about the casting of a magic circle. If you are a witch, this is your temple. It is an ephemeral, transitory creation; not for us, expensive buildings, costly artefacts. Instead, there is the circle, cast anew wherever you may be. In a perfect world, you would often be outdoors, with a tree-stump for your altar, and in the middle of a wood. Or you might be on a hilltop with a big fire burning. Since life is no longer like that for most of us, you will probably be in your own house. Having said that, I have to say, also, that anyone who has not looked for the Lord and Lady in the woods and fields or in a tree or flower, or on a windy hilltop, has missed most of the point.
Before you cast a circle for a Full Moon Rite, go outside to look up at the Full Moon in the sky. It is a necessary communion. See and feel her silver light, her power, in your heart and mind, your body and spirit.
Back indoors, you may want to prepare with a bath or shower. This has become a modern ’tradition’. It is a simple rite of psychic, as well as physical cleansing. Purifying herbs, or a handful of salt, can be added to the bath water. The bath provides a space for transition, from the everyday to a heightened and magical consciousness. It is a good new idea. And it is worth putting into practice, even though it is obvious that our forebears, lacking bathrooms, must have prepared themselves for a rite in some other way.
After the bath, dress in clean clothes. You should wear no deodorant, hair gel or any chemically based perfumes. Hair should be worn loose and all wrist-watches, hair clips and unconsecrated jewellery should be left outside the circle, otherwise vibrations and associations from these may disturb your rite. Preferably, you should be dressed in a robe of natural fibre, one that you wear for magic and for nothing else. If a robe does not appeal, design your own ’working’ outfit. Green is a suitable colour for natural magic. Blue is a Goddess colour. Brown reminds us of our contact with the earth and our dependence on it. (There are many excellent books on colour symbolism and this, along with herbal magic and the occult properties of natural objects and phenomena, is the kind of knowledge a witch should make his or her own.)
One tradition, for women is worth following whatever else you have or have not got on, and that is the wearing of a necklace. It links the woman with the Goddess, since it represents the circle of rebirth. Any necklace will do, as long as it is made of natural materials — pottery, glass, semi-precious stones or wooden beads are all suitable. Plastic and other inorganic substances are not, because they have no life and are poor conductors of etheric energy, and are therefore inappropriate for the working of magic.
The same rule (organic materials only) applies to all the working tools of witchcraft. The first tool is a magic knife, called an athame. This does not have to be the black-handled, narrow-bladed knife of occult tradition; a small lock-knife will do just as well; a kitchen knife is also very good. Choose one that appears at home with magic. It should, perhaps, have a ’primitive’ shape and a wooden handle. Sheath knives are another possibility. Look around till you find one that fires your imagination. (It is said that you should never haggle over the price of your magic knife.) A knife that is not new may be used, if you know its history and can therefore be sure it has never been used for any kind of violence. As with all magical equipment, you should wash it and leave it in salt water for an hour or more. This will strip it of previous associations and also cleanse it magically.
Having first cleared and marked out a circle (nine feet in diameter if your room is large enough for that) you should place your altar in the circle. The altar may be a small flat-topped table or cupboard, or something that you have constructed specially. Position it at the northernmost edge, since a witch’s altar should face north. This is because the power, that is, the current of Earth energy, comes from the north. It also shows a reverence for the body of life, the Goddess manifest in nature, since, in magical belief, north is the direction corresponding to earthly existence.
On your altar, you can place your athame, some incense (or joss-sticks), two candles, a small bowl of water and a stone. You will also need bread and wine, with a chalice for the communion. In the centre of the circle, there should be a large ironware, black enamel or pottery cooking-pot, representing the cauldron. This may hold water, herbs, a candle, flowers, or whatever suits the particular rite.
The items that you use for working magic are both symbolic and of actual etheric vitality. Their meaning comes from far back in time. They are of the four elements, from whose expression, interweaving and existence all life finds form and being. When the Goddess builds life, these are her raw materials, the elements. And each one is presided over by elemental spirits, guardians. They represent different levels or areas of life. Air for the mind, Fire for the vital energy (electricity), the life spark or leyline, Water for soul or emotions, Earth for the physical body. The cauldron represents a fifth element. Ether, or realm of spirit. This is the vessel of the Great Mother, Herself, in which all transformation takes place. Think of it as the All, and Nothing. There, anything can happen. It is pure transcendence, the point where conscious understanding stops. And it is represented by a cauldron (cooking-pot), because the cooking of food is a process of change, the most basic alchemy. The cauldron is the mystery of all creation. All the other elements are brought to birth, sustained and upheld by the fifth, Ether.
I have said these symbols are about knowledge from way back. This is shown in mythology, where the four ’treasures’ representing elements are usually a sword, a wand or spear, a cup and a stone. Similarly, a pack of tarot cards is based on recognition of the elements, with swords, wands, cups and pentacles showing Air, Fire, Water and Earth (while the fifth, Ether, appears in the cards as the major arcanum). Astrology also recognizes the four elements, and comprehends the entire essence of any chart, the whole Gestalt, as the fifth, the spirit. Each one of these traditions shares with modern witchcraft origins in the Pagan occult knowledge.
Light the candles and the incense. Walk deosil — clockwise, the direction of building and creating — around the circle, pointing your knife firmly at the circle’s edge. Imagine that blue light is streaming from the point of your knife. It will actually be doing so, whether you can see it or not, as what we imagine has true astral reality, and appears in that realm which can be seen by psychics and clairvoyants. Visualize the blue light filling up all the space around your circle, creating an effect like the skin of an orange, only much thicker, so that you are still within it, even when standing at the outermost edges of the circle. You are enclosed in a blue sphere. Walk round three times, stating that you draw the circle in the names of the Triple Goddess of the Circle of Rebirth and of the Horned God, both as a container of sacred powers, and as a protection. Replace your knife on the altar.
Next, take the incense round (deosil) and offer it up, by raising it high at the easternmost point of your circle. (You will need a compass to have checked these directions, earlier.) As you do so, request the Guardian Spirits of the East, Blessed Spirits of Air, to witness your rites and protect your circle. Continue round the circle, clockwise, and place the incense on the ground at the east point.
Take one of the candles round. (The other is your altar candle.) Offer it at the southern point and say there, I call upon the Guardian Spirits of the South, Blessed Spirits of Fire, to witness these rites and to protect this circle. Carry the candle on round and then return it to the south. Place it on the ground.
Repeat the same procedure with the water, offering it at the west, to the Guardian Spirits of the West, Blessed Spirits of Water. Then take the stone around deosil, offering it high above the altar, to the Guardian Spirits of the North, of Earth.
Replace your knife upon the altar, saying, The circle is cast. Now you are in a complete magic circle and may worship and work magic free from psychic interruption. If, for any reason, you must leave the circle during a rite, carve an imaginary door in the blue sphere with your athame and then step through, remembering to close the door behind you. Open and close the door again when you go back in, using the athame to make ritual, symbolic gestures. Visualize the door clearly. In the world of magic, what you imagine has vivid, psychic reality.
Most traditions of witchcraft include the casting of a magic circle in this or some other way. It can be done more informally, by a simple demarcation of the circle with stones, shells or a long white cord. Invocations to the four quarters, can be made using an improvised poem, spoken to the powers of Air, Fire, Water and Earth, at each corresponding point. (There is no need to take incense or anything around the circle, though you, yourself, must still proceed deosil.) The four quarters could be marked by a feather, a wand, a dish of water or else a shell, and a stone or else a dish of salt.
Magic has been made elaborate, concerned with virgin parchment, special signs and sigils, learned invocations. But if you are a hedge witch it can be direct, spontaneous. It can be an easy connection between the witch, her/his inner guides and the environment. Whatever the methods and whatever the symbols, the principle is that of creating space ’between the worlds’, the sacred space.
Visualization, what you see with the ’mind’s eye’, is at the heart of all magic. Without this, there is no life, the spell falls flat, for what has not been created on inner levels, cannot be made manifest, in any sense. Without visualization, no magical act can take effect, however proficient, technically, the working. To cast a circle, you picture each element and see the energy, see living shapes.
At the east, see rushing winds, sunrise, the clear bright skies of a spring morning. Feel the essence of all air, the breath of life, inspiration.
At the south, see flames, gold, orange, red, the noon-day summer Sun. Feel heat, the sensuality of southern climates, the vital dance of fire, of all energy, of the creative outflow of life, passion.
At the west, see waves, water, silver sea’s edge in an autumn twilight. Feel the poetry, the power of enchantment, the imagination.
At the north, see dark earth, the secrecy of roots and seeds, in winter. Inwardness, containing all Earth life. See midnight, under the North Star. See mountains, minerals, the great age and the groundedness of manifest life, both mystery and great abundance.
The Ether may be visualized as a dream, or as the night sky or a crucible. Or as darkness, bearing an infinitesimal point of light. Images may suggest themselves to you. In some traditions, Ether is symbolized by a cord, because a cord binds, weaves. When visualizing Ether, you may see the web of life, a woman weaving, or a single thread. Ether has no special time or season, because it is everywhere and nowhere. Feel the essence of fate in the whole complex pattern of life, the profound connections.
The tools which you use for magic should be consecrated, as should any jewellery, or clothes. Since that is done at the time of self-initiation, I will describe it in a future letter.
After the rite has ended, take the incense at the East and offer it again, thanking the Spirits of the East for their protection and blessing, and then saying, Hale and farewell. The incense is then taken round (still deosil) and returned to the altar. The candles, water and stone are likewise taken round, and the Spirits of Fire, Water and Earth thanked for protection and blessing, concluding with the words, Hale and farewell. Do not omit this. The Guardian Spirits will continue to protect you only if you treat them with courtesy, and that includes telling them you are thankful for their blessing, and are now ending your rite. (The blue sphere, unlike the Guardian Spirits, is of your creation. It will naturally fade on its own, once you have ceased to imagine it is there.)
Finally, the altar candles are extinguished. Tradition has something to say about this too. They should be pinched or snuffed out, never blown. And the incense should be left to burn until it is finished, as putting out the incense is said to be a symbol of putting out the breath of life.
One more word about the elements. The fifth, which is Ether, gives birth to the four and sustains them. Its place in the circle is the point at the absolute centre, and it is the circumference. Thus, it is said to be ’everywhere and nowhere, within and without, throughout and about’. It is both immanence and transcendence. Air is the province of knowledge, Fire of will; Water is the emotions, the capacity to feel; Earth is the body of life, full, incarnate and sensate being.
These four quarters, each linked with the fifth, make the pattern of an equal-armed cross within a circle; the Pagan mandala which predates Christianity.
The five elements can also be seen represented in the five-point star which is the emblem of witchcraft. The fifth, uppermost point is Ether, Spirit, while the other four are Air, Fire, Earth and Water. This symbol, the pentacle, represents our religion to us, as the cross represents Christianity. The pentacle, enclosed within a circle, is often worn by witches as a pendant and is usually displayed upon the altar in some shape or form.
That’s enough for now. Bright blessings on your future rites, and on your learning, both.