Releasing the Circle in Wicca, Witchcraft and Magick
While many articles have been written about how to cast Circle and create sacred space, there's often little focus placed on the all-important end of this ritual: the release and opening of the Circle.
Many spell and ritual instructions will say as little as, "Thank the gods and the elements and release the Circle." That's it.
For those of us who have been practicing Wicca and witchcraft for years, these instructions may be enough. Those who are newer to the Craft (and even many old-timers) may never have contemplated the whys and hows of Circle closing beyond knowing what steps to take and the suggestion that you "undo" everything you did when casting Circle.
It's my theory that the greater understanding we have of every step we take in creating magick, the more powerful we will be in our command of these natural forces. So in this article let's study these things in more depth.
Almost Reverse Order
It's general practice in a majority of paths that when releasing sacred space we do so in almost the opposite order as when we created it.
In most traditions the steps for casting Circle are:
- Draw the boundary of the Circle.
- Cleanse and seal the circle with saltwater/incense.
- Call/welcome the elements.
- Invite the Gods.
- Announce that the Circle is cast.
So in releasing Circle, we would:
- Thank the Gods
- Thank/release the elements.
- Let go of the Circle boundary
- Announce that the Circle is open.
(Note that there's no need to re-cleanse/seal again.)
I say "almost" reverse order because of path variations in the directions this is done, which we'll get to when we discuss Widdershins vs. Deosil.
Thanking the Gods
It's standard when beginning the process of taking down the Circle, to say a, "Thank you," and "Hail and farewell," to the Gods. (And to the ancestors, faeries, totems or other spirits if those were called.)
A simple formula for this is:
"Mighty Ones (or Lord and Lady, or the names of the individual Gods you called upon) we thank you for your presence in this our Circle. (Optional: "And for your gifts of ___" -- strength, love, wisdom etc.) Stay if you will, go if you must. Hail, farewell and Blessed Be."
In most practice we do not tell the Gods to leave - or what else to do! - but give them the option. If we're having a meal together after the ritual, we'll also invite them to join our after-Circle feast.
How do you view the elements and your relationship with them?
Thanking, Releasing or Banishing the Elements
Methods tend to vary, however, when it comes to the elements.
Some groups I've come in contact with merely release the elements, they'll say, "return from whence you came," but don't say, "Thank you."
It's my personal belief that this smacks of rudeness. Here you've invited these elements (or Watchtowers, Pillars. Quarters or Directions as they're sometimes called) to help guard your circle and lend their energies to your spell or ritual. It seems that thanking them would be the polite thing to do.
Just as you'd say thanks to the mechanic who fixed your car or the neighbor who helped mow your lawn or lent you a cup of sugar.
I've only rarely seen groups banish the elements. (These folks are often, but not always, from more ceremonial paths.)
Banishing implies that the elements are yours to command. The elements themselves may have a different feeling about this.
Also, do you truly wish for the elements to be banished from your presence and unable to interact with you or the world around you except when you call?
Harm Ye None on Your Way
In my tradition we thank the elements and ask that they harm none as they depart.
Elementals can be playful and mischievous at times. This admonition helps to prevent that.
A dear friend of mine (we'll call him Joe) was in the middle of finishing ritual when another friend of his called with an emergency.
Joe shut down his Circle in such haste that he forgot to thank and release the element of Water.
On the way home from helping his buddy, a torrential storm blew up. Joe almost got into an accident because of it. He returned home, drenched and wet to find that a pipe had burst in his house, and rather than getting the warm shower he'd hoped for, had to spend the next few hours mopping up.
In the next few days he had a series of recurring plumbing problems, and his roof developed a leak as well.
When he mentioned it to the friend he'd rescued, Joe's buddy said, "Wow, what'd you do to tick off the elementals?"
At that moment, Joe remembered failing to thank Water. He made an apology, gave the water elementals a gift, and - surprise - there were no more plumbing problems after that.
Now if you've thanked them and said goodbye, it shouldn't be a problem, but it never hurts to add, Harm ye none on your way," to be doubly certain.
Deosil or Widdershins?
Do you release the elements and the Circle clockwise (deosil) or counter-clockwise (widdershins)?
For most of us, this choice is based on the way we've been trained, and from habit, rather than from thinking about the reasons for either. I've been fortunate to work in a number of groups, and have had the opportunity to benefit from both perspectives and choose the one that works best for me.
In case you didn't know, Deosil means "sunwise" and is pronounced JES-ail. (Those crazy Celts and their wacky pronunciations!) Widdershins means "against the sun."
Note: for pagans who live Down Under, each of these motions work the opposite way. Their "sunwise" is counter-clockwise and vice versa.
(A Further Note: A few paths call the directions North-South-East-West. I am not sure what order they go in when releasing Circle.)
Traditionally in Wicca and witchcraft, counter-clockwise movement is used for banishing. This method theorizes that when we are releasing sacred space we undo and un-create that which we brought into being.
In this system you would first release the element that you called last when you cast Circle then continue around the Circle in a widdershins direction. You would then un-trace the Circle's boundary counter-clockwise as well.
Which direction do you release the elements and the Circle?
The other theory holds that all motion in the Circle should be sunwise even when you are releasing.
As such, you would thank the elements and trace the Circle boundary in the same clockwise direction you used when casting.
I highly recommend that you experiment at least once or twice with doing it in the opposite way from your norm. Pay attention to how the energy feels, and whether one method feels more "right" to you.
Visualizing the Circle's Release
When you release the circle, what do you visualize is happening?
Through most of my early training (where we also released counter-clockwise) we were taught to visualize the Circle fading away and evaporating into mist.
The idea behind this is that when you draw the Circle, you are creating a barrier between yourself and the rest of the world, and that in letting it go, you get rid of that barrier, so that you are once again part of the outside world.
In the Draconian Trad (of which my present Unfolding Path is an offshoot) we were instead taught that when we drew the Circle, we were pulling it up out of the greater Circle that is the Earth Herself. At the end of ritual, rather than making it go away, we "extend" it deosil back into Earth at large, so that it is never fully gone.
Again, I recommend trying a new way and taking note of any differences it may make for you.
Please Don't Hack the Circle
In one tradition that I studied briefly, the High Priest opened the Circle by walking to each direction and hacking at it with his athame.
While I have all respect for him and his beliefs (and for your, if that's the way you do it), the feeling of his blade chopping at the Circle's edge sent shudders down my spine. I could feel the magick shredding apart in a manner that was for me, an almost physical pain.
I have contemplated this one, and in honesty I still don't understand the reasoning behind it. (Please do explain in the comments if you have knowledge of it.)
One of the reasons this is confusing to me is because it's traditional at the end of a Wiccan ritual to state that, "The Circle is open, yet ever unbroken."
Except it WAS broken. I'd just seen him hack it apart and leave it bleeding all over the place.
Announcing That the Circle is Open
Any time you change the "state" of existence that you're working in, it helps to cement and solidify that, for yourself and all other participants. All that is necessary to this is a brief statement of your time and place.
Pre-Closing Poems, Chants or Songs
In a few of the trads I've worked in, we had a specific poem that we'd use before beginning to release Circle.
This is an optional step (which is why I'm addressing it here rather than at the beginning of this article). I feel that it helps ready the participants for the end of ritual.
Depending on the words you use, these poems can also re-affirm the power of the magick you've created, thank the Gods and other entities, reaffirm your faith in your path or in your group. Or all of the above and more.
In the Draconian Trad (and in Unfolding) we use a call-and-response poem called Eye of the World. The Draconian Path is very focused on balance, so when we held Esbats, (female and Lunar oriented) this poem, dedicated to the male aspect, was used to give the God a bit of time too. (During Sabbats we'd make some extra time for the Goddess, again in the interest of keeping balance.) It is also a powerful affirmation of our belief in our ways and our Pagan Gods.
Eye of the World became so popular that our students started insisting we use it at Sabbats also.
In the Faery path that I was "raised" in, we had a lovely poem that began:
"Our time together has now ended, and we give thanks to all attended, And ere the cock doth crow we say with one heart, "Merry Meet and Merry Part..."
(Check back: I'm in the process of getting a new website up and running. As soon as I do, I'll post links to both of these poems here.)
The most famous of these is the "Circle is Open" chant. In our path we use a brief poem called Four Lights.
While a Pre-Closing Poem can be a couple minutes long, if you use a post-closing poem or chant, keep it short. No more than a couple lines. The last thing you want is to have your participants saying, "Sheesh, aren't we done yet?"
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