Most Witches keep an altar. General spellwork is often done at the altar, but even then a circle should be cast. A witch's circle keeps out random (often negative) energy that could adversely affect your spell.
So whether or not your altar is going to be part of your spellworking space (if so, most witches prefer their altar to the North), casting a simple circle is essential. Also, if your altar is the center of your working space, then obviously all the elemental representations, etc., may already be there. Witches use their altars in different ways. Please use common sense and care, but feel free to adapt these instructions to fit your method.
Anytime you need to brush up on Magickal Circles, their purpose and basic requirements, please refer to "How to Cast a Circle for Dedication and Consecration."
Below are fairly standard instructions for a simple "working circle." As I have said before, every single witch has his or her own preferences. If anything does not feel right to you, feel free to change it. Your instincts will guide you through the use of magick much better than any written words of mine ever could.
What you will need:
The basics are fairly obvious. You need a clear space around you (and your altar, if applicable). You need to know which way the cardinal directions (North, South, East, and West) are. You will likely have elemental representations, such as candles, to mark those points. Some witches always outline their circles with string or chalk, some use candles, some work outside and lightly etch the circle into the ground. Some simply hold the space in their mind at all times, aware that it is on the physical and astral planes simultaneously.
You also need any spell ingredients and possibly instructions, charms, and any tools you will be using for the spell.
Before you begin casting the circle, check and double check and check again to make sure you have everything you need. If you do have to leave the circle for some reason, there are instructions near the end of the "How to Cast a Circle for Dedication and Consecration" article.
ALWAYS GO THROUGH THE INSTRUCTIONS THOROUGHLY BEFORE YOU BEGIN, TO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU'LL NEED.
Prepare yourself, heart and mind and body
Never do any spellwork if your mind is running around like a rat in a maze, or if you're an emotional wreck. Try to get as close to calm and centered as you possibly can before performing any kind of magick, no matter the circumstances. The energies you carry within you can effect a spell in very unpredictable ways. Take up a form of meditation, and practice it regularly. It really helps.
Spellcasting right after a huge meal is not a good idea. Food dulls our concentration. On the other hand, you don't want to only be thinking of your next meal while trying to cast. Make sure your tummy is happy, your body is hydrated, and any time with modern conveniences is taken care of.
Ground and center. Clear your mind. Imagine what you are about to do, step by step. Imagine what your circle will look like, both on the physical and astral plane (on a "psychic" level). Focus for a moment on your intention, what you are casting the circle for.
Cleanse the area
Some witches use a besom (broom). Many prefer to "smudge" the area with sage and/or other herbs or purifying incense. Work from the center outward, moving in a deosil (clockwise) direction when possible. You are banishing lingering mundane and/or negative energy, effectively creating a clear canvas for you art. The only energies you want inside a circle are those you bring.
Beginning in the North and working your way around in a deosil (clockwise) direction, outline your circle in whatever way you have chosen. Focus on the fact this is not really a circle, it is a sphere forming around you to protect you and your work. I recommend a simple spoken charm as you go, such as:
By the powers of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, I consecrate this space beyond space, this time beyond time. Only what I allow may enter here. Everything else must leave.
Once around will do. I recommend three. (Once or thrice but never twice.)
Evoke/Invoke the element(s)
I explained the difference between evocation and invocation in "How to Cast a Circle for Dedication and Consecration." As I also explained, witches cross that line all the time. Most simply refer to calling upon the elements as invocation. I often do that myself.
I generally call upon all elements when casting a circle. Some witches will only evoke those most conducive to the spell they are about to cast. For instance, for a love spell, a witch may only evoke water (the element of emotion). Or water and earth (emotion and growth, to oversimplify it a little.)
Set out your elemental representations in their appropriate "corners" (quarters, directions, quadrants, pick your perfect term.) If you need matches to light candles, etc., have them ready.
Stand in the appropriate "corner" and face the direction you are calling. Focus on the element. Imagine it in whatever way makes it most relevant to you. For instance, if Earth, to you, is the scent of fresh-mown grass, focus on that scent and the images it brings. Anything you may have brought to symbolize earth in your circle should be activated as you welcome earth into your circle, so have it ready.
Speak to earth to welcome it, state your intention, ask for Earth's assistance. For instance:
Element of Earth, energies of stability and growth, come to me. Enter this circle to help me with my work tonight. (You may want to be specific, for instance "as I cast this spell to help my friend Janet with her interview.") Hail and Welcome!
Imagine the essence of earth entering your circle and settling into the northern quadrant as you light the candle or pour the oil, etc.
Thank the element for coming.
Repeat at each "corner."
Each element represents different energies, different areas of our lives. You may want to call upon specific aspects, or keep your call more general.
Earth (North) represents stability, growth, fertility, stillness, health, and nurturing energies including the archetype "mother." For prosperity spells, earth is a good go-to. Almost anything involving money should have a hefty dose of earth energy.
Air (East) represents thought, intelligence, imagination and communication. Travel also generally comes under the purview of air. When trying to bring something new into your life, Air is handy to have around.
Fire (South) represents warmth, inspiration, passion, revelation. It can cast a light on hidden things. For a truth spell this comes in handy, paired with Air so that the truth travels to you. Fire is also sexy, in every sense.
Water (West) represents emotion, adaptation, change. It is also the beginning of all life and can aid in manifesting new directions and purposes. Water flows and changes shape and can aid spells with that kind of intention.
Always return to the point of origin to complete the circle. I start in the North, so I always return to the North. Just take a moment at North to imagine the circle complete, with the energies you have called within it.
Not everyone invokes Spirit, and Spirit answers to many names. Some will say God. Some will say Mother Goddess, or name a specific god and/or goddess from a pantheon. You should be exploring different archetypes and perhaps communing with them to see what works best for you.
If you plan to invoke Spirit in whatever form, do so in the same manner as the elements, with an extra dose of respect. This is Spirit we're talking about. Sometimes, Spirit has attitude.
Anchor the Circle
Since you will be doing spellwork inside this circle, anchoring is a good idea. It's a little extra stability so that you don't have to worry about keeping the circle in mind at all times. You can simply place your hand on the ground in the center of the circle, or if you're outside you can plant an athame or stake into the earth. Some will place an altar tile on the ground.
I use a very ceremonial (for me) anchoring:
As before, so forever. As within, so without. As above, so below.
I will often add something along the lines of, This circle is cast and closed, I am safe within, my work is protected, so mote it be.
Releasing the Circle
Every circle needs to be released when a witch's work is done. It is never simply left to dwindle out on its own, it is not destroyed, it is simply "opened" after thanking and releasing the elements and Spirit.
The instructions for releasing any magickal circle are essentially the same. Please refer again to "How to Cast a Circle for Dedication and Consecration" if you need any guidance.
ONCE AGAIN, TO MAKE THIS CRYSTAL CLEAR: EVERY WITCH HAS HIS OR HER OWN PREFERENCES WHEN IT COMES TO CIRCLE CASTING. SOME WILL SAY A CIRCLE SHOULD BE CAST AND RELEASED DEOSIL, NEVER WIDDERSHINS. SOME WILL SAY YOU HAVE TO INVOKE THE ELEMENTS BEFORE PUTTING THE CIRCLE UP, OR HOW WILL THE ELEMENTS GET IN? (WELL, YOU INVITE THEM IN, BUT I'M NOT GOING TO BELABOR THE POINT.)
GETTING A BUNCH OF WITCHES TO AGREE ON ANYTHING IS LIKE HERDING CATS. ALWAYS BE OPEN TO ADVICE, ALWAYS TAKE ANY ADVICE WITH A GRAIN OF SALT, INCLUDING MINE. DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.
One more final point that I feel I have to make. The instructions here are for a general, working circle. It's very similar to a circle for consecration (that is, after all, a type of Working in the witchy sense). This is not a Circle of Protection. That is a whole other thing, and frankly I consider it "next level." I do not recommend that kind of Working for a beginner, and would insist on carefully guiding even an intermediate witch. Different witches have different names for these things, but I would expect any experienced witch reading this to instinctively know the difference.
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