The last time I was in Salisbury I took this picture of Stonehenge. It shows the Sarcen Blue Stones of the outer circle, where I often saw faces.
Sacred rites have been performed there since the dawn of time, though it was not always as it appears today. The first site may have simply been a circle of wooden poles, as is evidenced everywhere on earth. Most Pagan systems of belief (those not Christian, Jew, or Moslem) had some way of syncing up their lives to the heavens.
This led to Astrology, where a person’s basic natures could be discerned by noting what planets were in the heavens at the moment of birth. Of course, this is one of the concepts science has a hard time with. I once read that the gravitational effect of the doctor’s head has a greater pull on the baby being born than the moon. But that, of course, misses the point. Science simply presumes that gravity could be the only effect possibly felt from the heavens.
At their most mundane, Pagan circles are big clocks and celestial calendars. It would be a simple task for the Druids, or Magus, or Shaman, to note the characteristics of those born and raised in his community and correlate their birth times into groups. At first, just the Twelve Signs, later into subgroups. For instance, it might be noted that most children born under the sign of the lion strived to be leaders and all those born in the dead of winter under the sign of the goat had their head in the clouds but their feet planted firmly on the ground. Why this happens no one knows for sure. But all one needs do is read another person’s chart to realize it doesn’t match our own personality at all.
Just the same, never forget that you are dealing with the occult. Despite the connotations attached to that word, occult simply mean not known or hidden from our senses. The rites and spells you will cast from your sacred space are not formulas or recipes that all you need do is read out of a book and combine some rather silly ingredients like newt eyes and bat’s tongues. You are opening yourself up to a higher order, a higher consciousness. If you can’t do that you can’t do magyc.
So, the first order of business is to choose your space. Indoor spaces have the advantage of being sheltered from the weather. But most of us do not have unused rooms in our homes that we can devote to our temple. In my case, my temple is my dining room on family occasions. The picture on the right is a white oak sideboard that serves as my altar and magycal cabinet. I have a window to the north and one to the west but none to the east. When that matters I set up a temporary altar in the master bath which has lovely dawn light.
That’s the point. It isn’t the nature of the space that will determine the success or failure of your workings but how they are prepared and how they surround your Being as it journey’s between the worlds. A more serious consideration is the people in your immediate family. They may not understand your new dedication. But in some way you need to occupy a space for an hour or two on a regular basis. It’s terribly frustrating to be on the threshold and have your daughter want something right now. Sometimes the only way to proceed is by arranging a temporary space that you can pack up and put away when you’re done.
This may seem like a compromise solution but Moses and the Twelve Tribes used a portable temple made with acacia poles during their forty years in the desert.
What you will need is an altar of some kind. Just a board over concrete blocks will do nicely. My portable altar is a folding TV table made of white oak. All you need is enough space for your tools, which we’ll get into later (see Needful Things). You should also have enough room to cast a circle big enough for you to move freely within and encompass your altar. Traditionally Pagan altars face north, as that is the quarter of the Earth and Wicca is an earth religion. But my indoor altar faces east (as do traditional church and temple altars) and it works just fine.
Now you need to consecrate the space and your tools. This will be your first ceremony. Here is where we must take what we wish from tradition and add to it that which is personally meaningful to each of us. Some will want to stay close to “The Book” (actually, there is no one Book of Shadows. Each person develops his or her own.). Here is a typical example of a cleansing ceremony:
Pick an appropriate date and time, one where you will not be disturbed for several hours. The new moon or first sliver is commonly chosen for beginnings. But it’s more important that you are fully ready.
Before you can cast the circle you must cleanse the space of any negative energy remaining from its former identity. Start by housecleaning. Wash the windows, scrub the floors, vacuum. Make the space shine.
Next gather your basic tools. Typically these are: a broom. Yes, witches really did use brooms in their magyc, though not in the way you might think. Mine, pictured, is made of a long stick my dog Spatz contributed one day with a bunch of dried twigs attached with florist wire. You will also need some kind of light to read your dedication. Candles are my favorite. But always have a fire extinguisher handy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been present at ceremonies when something caught fire. Two good sized tapers are fine.
Next you should think about Calling the Corners. Most rituals begin this way. Each Corner is represented by a direction, color, and element. A nice way to do this is to have four colored candles: yellow or brown for north; earth, blue for east; air, red for south; fire, and green for west; water, which you will light at the appropriate time. It should be noted that the ancient Greeks thought the entire universe was made of these four elements. Later they came up with the theory of atoms making up everything. And now we know that even atoms are not the last word: Energy is what really makes up the Universe. But that is not to say that naming earth, fire, water and air is an obsolete concept. In this case, we are not referring to what things are ultimately made of but the four states of matter: solid, liquid, gaseous, and plasma (fire).
You will need some incense. Sage is traditionally used but it can be any that you favor. Having been forced into Catholicism at an early age, it was hard for me to get over my associations with frankincense because that’s what they use for the mass. Same problem with challises.
Next you will need some pure water. Some say it should be holy water, not from a church but water you make holy yourself. If you decide you want to do this there’s a recipe in our online Book of Shadows you can use. But pure plain water will do nicely.
You will also need some earth (dirt). Again, it’s traditional to get the dirt from a churchyard but really . . .
The last thing you need is a silver or gold candle. If you are doing the cleansing for a temple where you intend to invoke Goddesses you would use a silver candle to represent the moon. If you are dedicating the temple to the Gods you will want to use a gold candle to represent the sun--this affects the time you do the dedication, as well. Noon for Gods; Midnight for Goddesses.
So that’s it:
2 candles for illumination
holy water, nice if you have a chalice
silver or gold candle
four elemental candles: red, yellow or brown, blue and green
a small quantity of dry dirt
Have everything ready on your altar. Another nice touch is an altar cloth. I like white but you can use any color. And don’t forget the matches or a lighter.
Okay, now for your Being. You should always be well rested for your workings. When I am doing something important I dedicate the entire day to the proceedings. I get up in the morning and do nothing but prepare my spell, my space and my Being.
But do the best you can. Proceed as if you can not fail. Now make sure you won’t be disturbed. Turn off the phones, lock the doors, whatever is necessary.
About an hour before you begin take a long relaxing bath or a shower. Here’s a little trick I discovered but one, like everything else, you are under no obligation to use. After I am about melted in a tub surrounded by candles, incense, and fragrant bath oils I rinse off under a cold shower. That, in and of itself, will propel you into another dimension. Later when you get good at this I will give you other methods to raise your consciousness. Here they won’t be necessary.
If you will be wearing a robe make sure that it’s as pristine as a wedding dress. Otherwise go natural.
Start outside the circle by placing the four elemental candles. The picture on the left is not to scale. And the candles are actually white for a love spell. You'll want a lot more room than that but it conveys the idea.
Now enter the circle. Here tradition has it that you should make a doorway by stepping over your broom which is placed on the north side of the circle.
Once inside the circle face the altar and open yourself to the Universe. I like to hold my arms up with the palms facing outward in that most ancient of positions to receive blessing.
Light the illumination candles and call the corners. Start by picking up your broom and walking around the circle, traditionally clockwise, and say something like:
“Sweep, sweep, sweep this space.
By the Powers of Air, I cleanse this sacred place.”
What you are looking for here is the feeling of air flowing about your body. It helps if you’re sky clad (naked).
End your circling at the altar where you will pick up the silver or gold candle, light it from the illuminating candles and walk around the circle lighting the four elemental candles. At each say something like:
“Flame, flame, flame, I light this space.
By Powers of Fire, I cleanse this sacred place.”
Look into the flame of each candle and feel the energy radiating to cleanse both you and your space. When the ancients cleanses a place with fire this is what they did.
Back at the altar, pick up the water. Walk around the circle again sprinkling holy water as you go and saying:
“Water, water, water, I cleanse this space.
By Powers of water, I purify this sacred place.”
Finally, pick up the dirt and sprinkle a pinch or two around the circle saying:
“Earth, earth, earth, uphold this space.
By Power of Earth, cleanse this sacred place.”
Now return the earth to the altar and take your position in the center. Spread out your arms, open your heart and say:
“Spirits, spirits, fill this space.
Powers of the Universe consecrate this place, now and forever more.
So may it be. As it is above so it is below.”
If you chose a particular God or Goddess to dedicate your space to now is the time. Simply say, “This sacred place is dedicated to ___________, where they may forever dwell.”
As offering to the new inhabitants of your temple, light the incense.
You may notice that you are not really in a circle but rather a sphere. This ball of energy is always around you. When you are journeying between the worlds, when you raise a cone of power it extends upwards into the heavens.
It is the act of Calling the Corner that creates a magycal circle. I always cast this circle for both power and protection, as set forth in the Rede:
Cast the Circle thrice about
to keep all evil spirits out.
If you also want to consecrate your tools this is a good time. Simply pass them through the smoke from the incense and say something like:
“I cleanse and consecrate this ___________for the Power and the Light. All evil is removed from it now and evermore.”
You may also sprinkle a little holy water on the items if you choose. If you are doing a wand you must empower it to your will. This is a little involved for a first time but basically you must write a consecration for you wand. Take into account what it is made of and how it is intended to be used. If there are any specific Gods or Goddesses you will be working with invoke them for the dedication as well.
Finally, open the circle and step out, thanking the Powers for a successful consecration, saying:
“The circle is open.
But never is it broken.
So may it be.”
Of course, there are greater and lesser rites for every consecration. One such is the Great Rite but it involves at least two people who are intimate (see Wiccan Sex). Most practice is solitary and most sacred spaces are private.
You may even choose to astral project to your personal Crystal Sphere, as pictured to the right. But that takes a great deal of practice. Let's stick to earthly arenas for now.
The outdoor sacred space is dedicated in much the same way. The only hitch is that few of us have a private space at their disposal. I do now but haven’t always. I lived in New York City for many years and there was no such thing as a private outdoor space. Again, I was fortunate to have an indoor loft space I could create in a circle surrounded by tall windows opening to the north and west. I also practiced on the our roof. The picture on the left is the view from my rooftop in Manhattan. It's very weird being over Manhattan; it's a beast that never sleeps.
Now I live in the country and have a stone circle of my own. Oh, it’s no Stonehenge but it has stones to mark the Corners and an obelisk to mark the Summer Solstice. Most of all it’s situated in a power spot. I don’t know why this particular plot of earth should emanate power but it does. Every time I walked there I could feel the energy rising up. It was the natural choice when the time came to have my own circle.
But really, any outdoor space will work. I used to travel up to Bear Mountain on the Hudson to cast temporary circles on the stones there. Yes, you have to reconsecrate the space every time but it’s really no bother. You always Call the Corners. The rest takes maybe twenty minutes.
You don’t even need a table for an altar. The Stang is a simple wooden pole that can be stuck in the ground and decorated, something like a vertical altar. They are excellent trappings for festivals such as Beltane or Midsummer’s Night.
And one more thing. When you get around to actually casting spells in your circle make sure you close it properly. This is done by marking the circle. Some use a rope or chalk. I prefer a technique drawn from the high priests and priestesses of Karnack. They cast their circles—especially for purification--using a magycal powder called natron. It was originally a powder gathered from a dry lake in equatorial Africa. But you don’t have to travel that far to get natron. All you need do is pick up some baking soda and washing soda (sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate) from your local supermarket. Mix half and half and use this powder to draw the circle, making sure you don’t leave any gaps.
so may it be