A Tale of Magical Literalism (and a lesson for circle casters everywhere)

Since the publication of me fine and dandy book on the inner workings of the Golden Dawn, By Names and Images, I’ve had some interesting discussions. One type, which seems destined to be repeated down through the ages, is with a certain kind of magician or Wiccan who indicates subtly they know all about it. Nice. I’d like to leave it there, but often these folk get all excited, almost hush me to silence and then reveal a great mystery – the magic circle is really a magic sphere! When I am underwhelmed by this supposed disclosure, they seem a little crest-fallen. When I further tell them they are wrong… well, it varies…often I don’t tell them. But they are wrong 🙂


Whoops, the circle’s rising up a bit at the West!

Let’s have a look at it, shall we, using the mythical nine foot diameter Wiccan circle as an example? Now, I’ve yet to see a coven use one of these beasts in the flesh, but let’s pretend these good Witches have done the deed à la Gardner or Sanders. They’ve traced a lovely nine foot inner circle with none, one or two outer circles, depending on mood tradition, complete with Hebraic names of God (well, they are Pagan Witches after all). Or perhaps they’ve simply laid down a plastic combo like Alex Sanders used to travel with. Then, squashed together elevator-style, they ‘cast the circle’ but it’s really a sphere, in three dimensions and all. Wow.

But let’s do the math.

A nine foot diameter circle has a radius of 4.5 feet. So, translated into a sphere, the utmost height, and the very centre of the circle, of the sphere is 4.5 feet. I guess there’s some truth to Wicca’s connection to the little people after all – they’d be the only ones able to fit into this blessed circle. The rest of us, even diminutive folk like me, would have their heads sticking out. Not a good look on the astral.

witch in circle 9 feet

But, in fairness let’s double it – an 18 feet circle, nearly 5.5 metres. Now that requires a fair size room, certainly bigger than Alex and Maxine’s flat or the Farrar’s temple or the average rumpus room here in Oz (and we have BIG houses). But let’s be generous and pretend most Wiccans and magicians are well heeled conservatives like they were in ol’ Gerald’s day. Eighteen feet, nine foot high at the centre… plenty of room for even the tallest Asatru-Heathen-Bersker-Wiccan.

witch in circle 18 feet

However, you could not go to the edge to summon the Watchtowers. If you were extending your arm fully you’d probably have to stand back between four and five from the edge. And if you were wearing horns, it wouldn’t help at all. Good job some Wiccans like to shout.

And of course in casting the circle you’d have to be directing the magic a fair few feet, since you could not walk around the perimeter – the height of the edge of any sphere at floor level, no matter how big the circle, is ZERO. It’s simple geometry.

Now all this is nonsense of course. It is a case of some armchair Witches and magicians taking magical dynamics literally. The sad thing is I’ve been told this by two High Priests, one with many years standing, revealing the need to ‘see the Pentagrams on the inside of the sphere’. The women mostly stay stum as their partners describe the impossible.

This silliness reveals two important points. Firstly, some people don’t think much. Secondly, many Wiccans and magicians do not understand the inner dimensions of magical techniques very well, which makes me a sad panda. 😦 The actual reality here is very simple, once we analyse the situation from the standpoint of the differing levels of inner experience: spiritual, mental, astral and etheric.

On the spiritual level the presence of the circle is dependent on and formed by the inner holding and realisation of the spiritual principle it represents, by the person(s) casting the circle. The spiritual mysteries of a simple circle are manifold and deep, and are fully understood only by an adept of the tradition being worked – since in all traditions the circle means something. This does not mean only an adept can cast a circle, simply that the circle for group work is often best formed by an adept.

In the case of Wicca, only someone who has traversed the circle of the year (1st degree), followed the cycle of life through death (second degree) and been transformed via the mystery of the point within the circle (third degree) can fully know what a circle actually means. This is why traditionally in some British Traditional Witchcraft covens it is the High Priestess who alone casts the circle. I’ve seen modern circles where everyone traipses around, lending their imperfect realisation to the spiritual and mental levels, which may be lovely and democratic and all, but is not the best inwardly – for this form of magical action*. It is one of the reasons a traditional High Priestess I interviewed recently rolled her eyes and  declaimed, “it’s all gone to pot!”

On the mental plane level, the circle has to be known as a perfect circle; in the realm of meaning it is apprehended as a circle of perfection, a classic Platonic form, even if we have to step over the odd low table physically. This again is helped along by being adept in what we are doing; having experienced perfection through the possession by the Goddess actually helps a lot with the idea of perfection. Hence, the High Priestess is called for again. Of course, plenty of mental level meditations on the circle within the tradition helps also. No matter what preparation though, the circle formed at the mental level is not dependant on the dimensions and shape of the physical circle (nor etheric or astral circles).

The astral level is where the visualisation kicks in and our emotional bodies and wills all combine to produce an ‘inner circle’. The most important element here is to realise that the astral formation will, when done correctly, follow the formation on the spiritual and mental levels. It is informed and directed by these ‘higher levels’ and the principles therein. Therefore the circle becomes inwardly visualised as a place of perfection, a boundary, a container, a consecration. Having a simple visualisation of a wall of white light but connected to, and drawing down, these principles is far better than constructing an impossible image of a sphere and conveniently forgetting our heads are sticking out. The latter ‘image’ reflects untruth, and therefore will not draw down the truth of a perfect circle formed on the spiritual and mental levels.

The etheric level circle is created by the etheric substance we direct from our bodies, informed and directed by the higher levels. It is also formed and affected by incense, salt, water and flame, hence the use of these physical-etheric components. Generally the ‘shape’ of the etheric circle will expand and fill the three dimensional space we mentally describe and hold inwardly as ‘the circle’. This is what magical will is for. So our etheric circle will include the area of the low table we crossed over, but if we have not mentally ascribed the corners of the room as ‘the circle’, the etheric substance will not expand over to those areas.

Naturally we will have included in the concept of the ‘the circle’ the space above our heads. Therefore ‘the circle’ is there etherically, which means it is also ‘there’ astrally, mentally and spiritually. The planes are separate and obey their own laws but are informed by the other levels. So an imperfect cylinder, kinda-blobby etheric ‘circle’ that fits our spare room is still a perfect circle on the inner levels. If we have done the correct inner work, and not relied on impossible “images”.

‘Nuff said?

*My GD friends may be thinking about certain circumambulations. It all makes sense, once you analyse it; I can’t be bothered here, maybe in the comments 🙂



  1. Phergoph · December 5, 2012

    I only cast cylinders for this very reason! 😉

  2. Peregrin · December 5, 2012

    Love me a good cylinder 🙂

  3. Keith · December 5, 2012

    I’ve never thought of the circle being a sphere, or a cylinder. I’m grateful for this post because its gotten me thinking more about the circle I cast early everyday.
    I have thought about the circle in terms of seeing it as an extension of myself. So when I am performing the LBRP, for example, I’ve always thought of it as a symbolic extension of self, on all levels, and the ritual work I’m doing at that time is meant to effect myself.
    Now that I’ve read this post I sincerely feel it is time to expand my understanding of the circle and the reasons we utilize it so much. Thank you for sharing this I’ve gotten a lot from it.

  4. darakat · December 5, 2012

    A lot of the “circles” I have seen described for the creation of a astral body (talking body of light type astral travel stuff here), describe the circle as a mental line that is simply just a “circle” and the protection is mostly implied by the casting in itself.

  5. darakat · December 5, 2012

    Reblogged this on Breathing awake.

  6. Nick Farrell · December 5, 2012

    The insistence that everything must be literal and must be done exactly right is one of the reason that many people don’t get anything much from magic. It is like having an artist who produces an exact photograph of a scene without feeling or interpretation. Sadly it also makes twats out of people. I have been told too many times that “I am wrong” or “there is a mistake” by people who don’t really get it. Magic is an art and a form of imaginative art. Its scientific aspects only exist to confirm the art and are subservient to it. The science is there to make sure that people realise things like “if a magic circle is a sphere I have to be 4.5 foot tall and not move during this ritual”.
    Literal types want an intellectual comfort which ultimately will allude them on this path.
    I think that one of the saddest things I ever saw was the leader of BOTA Will Chesterman. Chesterman was brilliant when it came to the BOTA system, yet close to death, he was still looking for that paper which would explain it all literally for him.

  7. Rebsie · December 8, 2012

    Well that’s certainly got me thinking about something I always take (too much) for granted. I must admit I don’t really think too much about whether it’s a sphere or a cylinder. For me it’s not so much a case of delineating the exact physical working space as switching the power on or off – or to put it in slightly less naff terms, letting the inner planes know that something is happening. The ‘happening’ applies to the whole lodge room and not just the inside of the circle. In fact it goes beyond that, because when I open the west I may be Opening the West – all of it – and not just the bit that sits on the edge of my circle. I hasten to add that what I do is not Wicca, nor is it really Golden Dawn, and I’m not making any claim that this is the ‘right’ way – it’s just the way I learned it.

    If I do three circumambulations then I’m astrally pacing out the three rings of space, which has to be done figuratively of course, because pacing them out in their literal dimensions would involve certain feats of levitation. Each circumambulation represents a different orientation even though it’s paced out around the same bit of floor. I can always feel when the power is building up because as I get into the second and third circles I get an increasing sense of walking through treacle and/or my mind goes blank and I can’t remember how many circuits I’ve done – and then the reverse is true when I’m doing the reverse circuits at the end (telling the inner planes that the work is finished). So in that sense the circle is being defined and delineated through time rather than in the physical space. Wow, my head really hurts now.

  8. Andrew B. watt · December 9, 2012

    There’s also a whole lot of Platonism wrapped up in this. There’s of course a perfect circle somewhere in the Realm of the Forms, and just because a table happens to be in the way doesn’t make my invocation of the perfect circle any less valid. The circle benefits from my workng to take the time to clear space for it to manifest — but I don’t have to. The manifestation of the circle formal and spiritual, as well as physical. Even if the circle is muddled in the physical realm, the circle called is still perfect: as long as the caster has taken the time to actually reach up through mental realms and into the Forms to bring the Platonic ideal down.

    It is kind of like the Kavad. Some of the images on the Kavad are great, some are poor quality. But, they all connect to a spiritual reality somehow. Using the Kavad as a window into deep spiritual truths is fine, because I’m planting the spiritual realities not in the object, but in my own internal senses and awarenesses

    I think I’m understanding you?

  9. Peregrin · December 12, 2012

    Thanks everyone for the comments 🙂

    @Andrew Yes, lots of Platonism! Neo-platonism is the often unacknowledged backdrop of much of modern magic and Paganism. And yes, exactly like your amazing Kavad 🙂

    @Rebsie – very interesting. Thanks for sharing this 🙂 The delineation of the three circles of space is again a mental/spiritual action, and all the better for that 🙂 The treacle feeling I think is known to all pacing magicians 🙂

    @Nick – yes, an Art more than a science. Your words here are spot on. Thanks 🙂

    @darakat – this is a very different function of a circle. Very interesting. Ta 🙂

    @Keith – I think in many ways you are right about the LRP and extension. This is a different method, for a different purpose. And the LRP is also sometimes used a space, not self alone, consecration.

    THANKS 🙂

  10. Pingback: A Tale of Magical Literalism « WiccanWeb

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