Although we’ve all seen the popular horror movie trope of occultists drawing magical circles on the floor to protect themselves from demons and other nasties—a great example is the movie The Devil Rides Out, if you’re interested—the circle in Wiccan rituals demarcates sacred space and is meant to contain any energy you may raise inside it during your ritual. It can serve as a protection to keep out certain distractions or unwanted energies, but it’s not a demon-trapping device.
What Does It Mean?
The circle symbolizes different things to different Wiccans. Some say when they are inside the circle, they are “between the worlds,” meaning in a space between our material world and the otherworld or spirit realm. Other Wiccans believe the circle is a microcosm of the universe or cosmos, or the womb of the Wiccan goddess. And some believe more than one of these things.
How Do I Draw a Circle?
Before drawing a circle, many Wiccans cleanse the space in which the circle will be cast. Some do this by sprinkling salt water around the space. Others cense the space with protective, banishing, or blessing incense. And many Wiccans actually take a broom and “sweep” any negative energy from the area.
Wiccans cast the circle by pointing a wand, athame, sword, or their fingers toward the ground and drawing an energetic circle around the space clockwise. The circle can also be drawn directly on the floor or ground using chalk or a stick. I have known Wiccans who have painted the circle on the floor permanently, and others who use a large, round rug or a long piece of cord as a visual reminder of where the circle is. I’ve also seen Wiccan circles marked out on the floor in duct tape (yet another use for this mystical stuff). Wiccans who practice outside may outline their circles with stones. But even if they have a physical circle, Wiccans still draw the energetic circle too, using the physical circle as a guideline.
As he or she casts the circle, the caster visualizes it infused with power. Some Wiccans see the circle as a flat space, and others visualize a three-dimensional circle, kind of like a bubble surrounding them on all sides and dipping beneath the floor or ground. Either way, they visualize the circle being made of light or use some other in their minds that means “protection” or “barrier” to them, such as a brick wall.
How Do I Take It Down Again?
Many Wiccans believe that once the circle is cast, you should only move clockwise (which we call deosil) within it and that moving counter-clockwise (which we call widdershins) un-casts the circle. Others move freely in the circle. To release, take down, or open the circle (these terms mean roughly the same thing), many Wiccans take up the wand or other tool they used to draw it and trace the circle widdershins, while imagining the tool sucking up the energy of the circle. It’s not wise to leave the circle cast once your ritual is over, because it is a ball of energy and sacred space. Return your living room or back yard to its mundane self once the magic is done.
Do I Have to Go to All This Fuss Every Time?
The short answer is no, but I encourage you to draw a circle every time anyway. Creating sacred space is important, and if you do it many times—especially if you do it the same way each time—you build up body memory and a better ability to visualize and feel the circle each time, until you know the actions and feeling so well that they become very natural and automatic. Basically, the act of drawing the circle becomes a trigger to your mind and body that says, “Hey, we’re entering sacred space,” your mind and body respond accordingly, and you slip into ritual headspace more easily. It’s also a good idea to draw a circle each time you do magic, since the circle will contain the energy that you’re trying to focus into your working and can filter out distracting energies from outside so you can put all your attention (and intention) into your rite.