The Magic Circle

The Magic Circle

Purpose of Circles In Magic

There are two opinions about the purpose for the circle in ritual magic — the first view is that it is to keep something out, and the second view is that it is to keep something in. Both are correct, and although they may seem contradictory, both views are based on the same principle — the circle is a barrier that divides inside from outside.

Take a pencil and a sheet of paper. Draw a line segment on the paper. The line seems to divide one side of the paper from the other, but it has end points, and it is possible to go around those ends — the line segment is not a true divider. However long you imagine the line to be, it is possible to imagine the paper it is on to be larger, so that the line never truly divides the plane.

Draw a circle on the sheet of paper. You will see that the division made by the circle between inside and outside is absolute. Enlarge the circle, shrink it, distort it, and it makes no difference — as long as the circle is unbroken, it creates a perfect barrier. There is no way around it.

You might argue that in our first example, we could limit the size of the imagined sheet of paper, and then it would be possible to draw a line completely across it, and divide it in an absolute sense. Yes, but to limit the size of the paper we must first draw a mental circle around it, that defines its edge. The actual physical sheet of paper is limited in just this way — its edge is its boundary circle.

What can we say about the nature of a circle, based on this little thought experiment? We can say that a circle surrounds, encloses, contains, and excludes. It defines the edge of something, and by doing so, it gives what it defines a shape. Everything we see has a circle around it. If this were not so, we would not be able to distinguish one thing from another — they would all run together and merge in our minds.

That brings up another aspect of the circle — it exists in the mind. We draw a mental circle around any thing we chose to separate from all other things. When we look at an apple tree and consider the tree as a whole, we draw a circle around the tree that divides that tree from all other trees, from the sky, the earth, from all other things that are not the tree itself; but if we choose to narrow our attention and focus it on a single apple hanging on a branch of that tree, we mentally draw a circle around that single apple.

All circles are by their inherent nature magical. They define order from chaos. There is no separation in the natural world, there are only the separations we choose to impose upon our perception of the natural world. We construct our reality piece by piece when we draw circles of identity around objects and concepts.

If you have followed this line of reasoning, you will understand that names are magic circles. This is the fabled occult power of names. When we name a thing, we separate it from everything else. It comes into discrete existence in our mind at that moment. Everything we perceive has been divided in our mind from chaos by an enclosing circle, and that circle defines the name of the thing enclosed. The subsequent process of assigning an arbitrary word sound to the thing is secondary. We have already named it the instant we recognize its existence. That recognition makes the thing real for us — brings the thing forth into our personal reality. This is a magical act, even though it is seldom recognized as such, because it is so basic to the way our minds work.

The magic circle is usually understood in a narrower sense, as a circle drawn for the purpose of working ceremonial magic. It defines a space within which magic is facilitated. Exactly how the circle aids the working of magic has been a matter for debate.

In traditional Western spirit evocation, the circle was used to guard the magician from the malicious actions of evil spirits, who were excluded from the circle while the magician remained safe within its boundary. In modern Wicca the belief is that the circle retains and concentrates magical energy raised by ritual work, making it easier for the leader of the ritual to direct and release that energy for a specific desired use.

If you consider what was written above about the nature of circles in general, you can see that these two views are not incompatible. A barrier can simultaneously hold one thing out while holding another thing in. A fence around your back yard will keep your dog inside the yard, but at the same time it keeps other dogs out of the yard. The key point is that it cannot be crossed so long as it remains undivided.

The magicians of the Middle Ages and Renaissance were mostly concerned with calling up demons and spirits of a mixed type, for the performance of tasks that would have been beneath the dignity of angels, and unsuited to their natures. These tasks included such work as the finding of treasure, the harming of enemies, inducing love or lust in other persons, gaining social position or power, inducing a glamour of false appearance, and so on.

By their very nature these kinds of low spirits are not inclined to help or obey human beings. Yet they are more suited for selfish tasks than the benevolent angels. The magician got around this awkwardness by calling demons and spirits of a mixed type up outside the bounds of the magic circle, while he commanded them from the safety of the space inside the circle. This protective use of the circle is unnecessary when dealing with angels of a more spiritual nature, since they never seek to do harm.

Even so, the circle was drawn for other purposes than the evocation of low spirits. Wiccans employ it to contain and concentrate the power they raise by their changing and dancing. When the occult energy within the circle has filled the circle to such a degree that it can be felt on the surface of the skin as a kind of heat or electricity, the leader of the ritual releases it like an arrow from a bow toward its intended function.

You may ask how energy can be released from the circle, when the circle by its very nature is an unbroken barrier. This is an occult secret that until fairly recently was never explicitly revealed. I wrote about it in my first book The New Magus, which was published by Llewellyn Publications in 1987, and that may have been the first time this secret was clearly explained to a large number of magicians.

The circle by its nature cannot be broken and remain a circle. No point on the circumference of a circle can be singled out as an aperture without destroying the integrity of the circle, since all points must remain undifferentiated and undivided if the circle is to stay whole. The only way in or out of a circle is through the point at its center, which by the nature of a circle is defined. Yet all points within the area of a circle are the same – one mathematical point does not differ from another mathematical point by its nature, but only by its position.

The center is relative. Any point in space that the human mind chooses to make its viewpoint becomes the center of the universe for that consciousness. We think of ourselves as looking outward through our eyes from some point within our skulls, but this is arbitrary. We can just as easily regard the world from the tip of our right index finger, or from the cat lying on the fireplace hearth across the room.

The practical consequence from a magical standpoint, with regard to the circle, is that any point within the circumference (but not on the circumference) of a circle can be regarded by the magician as its center point, and used as an aperture in or out of that circle.

When the high priestess of a Wiccan coven releases from the circle the accumulated occult energy of a ritual to the fulfillment, she does so by opening the point doorway at the center of the circle. This happens even if she is unaware of what she is doing. There is only one way in or out of the circle, so to release the pent-up energy, the high priestess must open the center — that point within the circle that she chooses, by the focus of her will, to represent the center-point of the circle.

Points are opened by expanding them. The expansion of a point is accomplished by means of a spiral. Only spiral energy can move through a point. Wiccans raise what is known as a cone of power within the circle. The cone has a spiral energy and it focuses upon a point, which is the center point of the circle. It is through this expanded point that the concentrated energy of the ritual is released, to fly like an arrow to its target, where it accomplishes its purpose.

Necromancers working with demons from within a protective magic circle sometimes pierce the circle with a sword to manipulate objects, or to compel obedience from the demons they have evoked outside the circle. They seem to pierce the side of the circle with the blade of the sword. Probably they themselves believed that they were piercing the side of the circle when they extended the steel blade beyond its boundary.

This is not the case. As pointed out, a circle only remains a circle for so long as it is unbroken, and were it broken even for an instant, its protective power would cease. No, the blade of the sword actually extends through the point chosen by the necromancer as the center of the circle. This occurs on the subconscious level. By choosing a place from which to project the sword blade, the necromancer defines the center point, distinguishing it from all other points within the circle, and by projecting the blade he opens that point with spiral energy.

Circles of Stone and Dancing Rings

Mention magic circles to the average person and the first thing he will think of is Stonehenge. The sheer beauty and mystery of that ancient ring of standing stones on the Salisbury Plain has so captured the modern mind that it has become iconic. Yet it is far from unique. Similar stone rings of widely varying sizes and degrees of sophistication are to be found not only across England, or even across Europe, but throughout the entire world. The most ancient that has been discovered to date are probably the rings of curious T-shaped standing stones that have recently been unearthed in Turkey.

The place is called Gobekli Tepe. It is near the city of Sanliurfa, which lies around ten miles to the southwest. The unique T-stones were discovered in 1994 by a Kurdish shepherd, who happened to notice some curiously regular stone blocks poking up from the ground while tending his flock. What he discovered has been called the greatest archaeology find in history.

The stone circles excavated from under their covering of earth turned out to be over 12,000 years old — 7,000 years older than Stonehenge. There are an estimated twenty rings of stones, although only four have been completely excavated to date. Most of the stones are about eight feet tall, but one has been found in a nearby quarry that was 28 feet long, so much larger stones may wait to be uncovered.

The discovery at Gobekli Tepe shows that human beings were building elaborate complexes of stone circles even before they began to settle in villages and farm the land. That is how important the making of circles was to these early cultures. Undoubtedly they were used for religious rituals, but for ancient man there was no clear separation between religion and magic. Shamanism is an almost perfect blending of the two. The shaman is both priest and magician.

Some researches have contended that these stone circles were built to mark the windings of the stars and planets in the heavens — as a sort of elaborate form of sundial. But if this were their only function, or even their primary function, it could have been accomplished just as well with much less massive or elaborate constructions. Imagine how much labor went into the construction of Stonehenge, or Gobekli Tepe.

No, the circles of stones served a magical purpose that was of the highest possible significance. They defined a sacred space, concentrated ritual energies within that space, and protected it from defilement by disharmonious forces. The maintenance of these sacred spaces must have been more important to the peoples who built these great stone rings than any other purpose in their lives. They devoted generations of their lives to building them. The only comparable act of devotion in historical times is the construction of the great cathedrals of Europe.

A ring of standing stones defines a permanent circle to sanctify and empower a specific spot on the surface of the earth, but magic rings of an impermanent kind were also constructed for ritual purposes. The most ephemeral form of magic circle was that formed by the bodies of dancing witches, or the seated ring of chanting shamans. This sort of magic circle could be formed anywhere a nomadic tribe stopped for the night, and although its locality was always different, its manner of formation was always the same, and leant the ritual practice a continuity that persisted in spite of the ceaselessly changing landscape.

We can catch a faint echo of this kind of nomadic ritual practice in the books of the Old Testament that describe the early Hebrews wandering in the desert. Each night they erected a tent to house the Ark of the Covenant. The walls of the tent became the magic circle that contained the occult power of the Ark, and also excluded those who were considered unfit to approach the Ark.

Still more primitive nomadic peoples could accomplish the same ends without a tent, by defining the magic circle with their own tribesmen gathered into a ring. At its center a fire was probably maintained, and around this fire a shaman danced and sang to raise occult power. By dancing around the fire, the center point of the circle was opened, and the energy released to fulfill its function.

European witchcraft descended from shamanism. This is self-evident — there are too many parallels between shamanism and witchcraft to reach any other conclusion. Although we can only conjecture as to how primitive nomadic tribes must have formed their magic circles, we have a much clearer idea how the witches of the Middle Ages went about it. The practices of witches are described in the transcripts of the European witch trials.

These court records are to be viewed with the utmost skepticism. The confessions of witches were extracted under torture, or the threat of torture, and accused individuals tried to tell their captors exactly what they wanted to hear. Even so, the general consistency in the descriptions suggests that they are based upon some collective cultic activity — that there were indeed witches, and that they did indeed gather for the practice of magic and for worship.

This was the conclusion of Margaret A. Murray in her highly controversial yet influential book The Witch-Cult In Western Europe. Murray’s findings have been dismissed by most mainstream anthropologists yet her central contention, that the mythology of witchcraft represents an echo of a surviving pagan religion, or at least a kind of cultic set of magical practices with religious elements, cannot easily be dismissed.

We read in the testimony of accused witches that they gathered at their sabbats to perform works of magic and worship. Those recording these matters were Christian priests, so naturally in the transcripts of the witch trials, the works of magic are invariably supposed to have been evil, and the worship always to have been devil worship. Yet we have only the assertions of the Christian priests that this was the case. It seems more likely that the magic worked by witches at their gatherings was of a mixed nature.

Witches danced in a circle at their gatherings. This was known as the round dance or ring dance. Margaret A. Murray wrote in her 1931 book The God of the Witches:1

The ring dance was specially connected with the fairies, who were reported to move in a ring holding hands. It is the earliest known dance, for there is a representation of one at Cogul in north-eastern Spain (Catalonia), which dates to the Late Palaeolithic or Capsian period. The dancers are all women, and their peaked hoods, long breasts, and elf-locks should be noted and compared with the pictures and descriptions of elves and fairies. They are apparently dancing round a small male figure who stands in the middle. A similar dance was performed and represented several thousand years later, with Robin Goodfellow in the centre of the ring and his worshippers forming a moving circle round him.

(Murray, God of the Witches, pp. 109-10)

Concerning the ring dance of witches, J. M. McPherson wrote in his 1929 book Primitive Beliefs In the North-east of Scotland:2

The ring dance usually took place round some object. Thomas Leyis with a great number of other witches “came to the Market and Fish Cross of Aberdeen, under the conduct and guidance of the devil present with you, all in company, playing before you on his kind of instruments, ye all danced about the said Cross, the said Thomas was foremost and led the ring.” These danced round the Cross. Margaret Og was charged with going to Craigleauch “on Halloween last, and there accompanied by thy own two daughters and certain others, ye all danced together about a great stone under the conduct of Satan, your master, a long space.” Here the stone was the centre round which they danced.

(McPherson, J. M. Primitive Beliefs, p. 169)

Discounting the slanders of the Church Inquisitors concerning the presence of Satan in the gatherings of witches, we can see in these ring dances the formation of a kind of dynamic, movable magic circle. As is the case with modern witchcraft covens when they form a circle for ritual purposes, the center of the ring had a focus for its concentrated energies. Usually this was the leader of the ritual, but the dances might also take place around a standing stone, altar or other object of power. The rotation of the dancers provided the spiral energy needed to focus upon the center of the circle.

The close correspondence between the ring dance of witches and the ring dance of fairies is part of the whole complex of strong ties that exist between the lore of witches and the lore of fairies. Fairy rings, naturally occurring circles that appeared in the grass of meadows and in woods, are the result of the growth of fungus under the surface of the ground, but they were thought to be made by fairies dancing with their hands joined. Other names for these circular phenomena were sorcerers’ rings (French: ronds de sorciers) or witches’ rings (German: hexenringe). By some rural folk they were thought to be formed when witches gathered at their sabbats to dance.

European witches met out of doors, under the moon and stars, and gathered in grassy meadows on in clearings in the forest. They danced on the ground, which was unmarked with symbolic patterns, forming the patterns of their rituals with their own bodies and with their movements. It shows how important the circle is for magical practice, that even under these conditions witches felt a need to define a circle with their dance.

Magic Circles in the Grimoires

The round dance of witches is perhaps the purest form of magic circle. European magicians did not have the option of using a dozen human beings with linked hands to form a circle. They worked alone, or with one or two assistants, and usually performed their rituals beneath a roof on a floor of stone or wood. It was the usual practice to draw or inscribe a magic circle on the floor of the chamber of practice prior to beginning the ritual, using charcoal or chalk. There were other methods for defining the circle – it could be laid down in the form of joined strips of fur or skin, or defined by a rope laid out on the floor, or even painted upon a canvas or rug that was unfolded across the floor – but the usual way was to draw or inscribe the circle.

The term “circle” is used here in its occult, not its mathematical sense. Ritual circles were seldom perfectly circular, or simple in nature. They consisted of concentric circles within a square, or multiple circles, or more involved geometric patterns such as pentagrams, hexagrams or octagrams. These complex patterns on the floor of the ritual chamber are still magic circles, in that they were used to divide inside from outside with a continuous and unbroken line, or set of lines.

One of the oldest of the grimoires, and the most authoritative, The Key of Solomon the King, describes the making of a complex circle. It is evident from its size and manner of formation that this circle is to be made out of doors on the ground.

The magician takes a cord nine feet in length and uses a sword to fix one end to the center of the working space. With the cord pulled taunt, he uses the other end to inscribe with a knife the line of a circle on the ground that is eighteen feet in diameter. A cross is drawn through the center of the circle to divide it into four quadrants – east, west, south and north. Into each quadrant is placed the symbol of that direction of space.

This is the actual magic circle — the magical barrier that protects the magician. Beyond this initial circle, which is called the Circle of Art, other elaborations are to be inscribed which are part of the compound magic circle but not its essential core. Three more concentric circles are to be drawn, each one foot larger in radius than the initial circle, so that three bands are formed by the four circles. Within the outermost of these circular bands, pentagrams are to be inscribed, along with the names and symbols of God.

A square is drawn outside these three bands, or four circles, and outside the square a larger square, so that the corners of the smaller square touch the midpoints of the sides of the larger square. The squares are to be oriented so that the corners of the larger square point in the four directions – east and west, north and south.

It should be noted that the illustration in S. L. MacGregor Mathers’ edition of the Key of Solomon (figure 81) does not match the description of how to make the circle (bk. 2, ch. 9). The confusion arises with regard to the concentric circles — how many there are to be, and what is to be put in them, and where it is to be put. The illustration in Mathers’ book shows only three circles, not the four described. I will quote the relevant passage of text from Mathers’ edition, then explain where the confusion arises. The numbering within the square brackets is mine, and has been used for the sake of clarity.3

Then within the Circle mark our four regions, namely, towards the East, West, South, and North, wherein place Symbols; and beyond the limits of this Circle [1] describe with the Consecrated Knife or Sword another Circle [2], but leaving an open space therein towards the North whereby thou mayest enter and depart beyond the Circle of Art. Beyond this again thou shalt describe another Circle [3] at a foot distance with the aforesaid Instrument, yet ever leaving therein an open space for entrance and egress corresponding to the open space already left in the other. Beyond this again make another Circle [4] at another foot distance, and beyond these two Circles [2 and 3], which are beyond the Circle of Art [1] yet upon the same Centre, thou shalt describe Pentagrams with the Symbols and Names of the Creator therein so that they may surround the Circle already described.

(Mathers. Key of Solomon, p. 99)

The first circle with a radius of nine feet is the Circle of Art. The second concentric circle has a radius of ten feet, the third concentric circle a radius of eleven feet, and the fourth concentric circle a radius of twelve feet. A gap is left in the north of each circle for the entrance of the magician after he has finished completing the drawing of the pattern. The magician closes the gap once he stands inside. This gap is not mentioned explicitly for the innermost and outermost circles, but it is implied. In some of the older illustrations of magic circles this gap in the north appears to be a permanent part of the circle — a kind of corridor for entry and exist (see Skinner & Rankine, The Veritable Key of Solomon, p. 70).4

The text seems to indicate that the pentagrams are to be drawn within the outermost of the three bands, between circles 3 and 4. It is not specified how many pentagrams are to be used, but Mathers’ diagram shows four. However, in the diagram they are located upon the square that surround the four circles, not within the outermost band of those circles. Based on the text, these pentagrams should be placed between circles 3 and 4, along with divine names, so that the band of pentagrams and divine names surrounds the inner circles. The text seems to imply that the divine names should be written within the pentagrams, but I believe this is misleading – the names should probably be written within the outermost band of the circles, between circles 3 and 4, beside the pentagrams. A pentagram should be located between each divine name. The symbols of the Creator may be the four Hebrew letters of Tetragrammaton, IHVH.

There is no indication in the text what names are to be written within the bands of the circles, apart from the outermost which does not even appear on Mathers’ diagram. The diagram shows in the innermost band the Hebrew divine names (which I have transcribed into Latin characters) AVIAL, ADNI, IHVH and TzBAVTh. The second band contains the words MI KMKH BALIM IHVH. These are the only Hebrew words shown on Mathers’ diagram.

The vast size alone of this complex magic circle would make it all but unusable. The smallest part of it, the Circle of Art, is a full 18 feet in diameter. The size of the larger square outside the concentric circles is around twice that width. To draw this circle indoors would require a room some 32 feet across, at least, in its smallest dimension. Many modern houses are not this wide.

Fortunately for magicians, the circle in the Key of Solomon is only one such design that may be used. At the opposite size extreme, some older woodcuts show the magician working within a circle so tiny, it is barely large enough to contain him. A few of these older illustrations even show the demons evoked into the circle while the magician stands outside it unprotected, but this is contrary to the usual use of the circle and should probably be considered an error. Malicious spirits are evoked outside the Circle of Art, usually into a triangle, but sometimes within a smaller circle with the magician safely within the larger circle. As is stated in the Key of Solomon, those who work within the Circle of Art “shall be at safety as within a fortified Castle, and nothing shall be able to harm him” (Mathers, p. 100).

Drawing the Physical Circle

Do not be alarmed if you cannot make out the letters of all the obscure names in the magic circles of the grimoires. Some illustrations of these circles are so corrupt, it would take a Solomon risen from the grave to decipher them. The Hebrew and Greek characters have devolved into nothing more than meaningless squiggles. Happily for the modern magician, there are an infinite number of possible patterns for the magic circle, and all of them will work effectively provided the magician who creates them follows a few basic principles, which I propose to give you. A circle you design yourself, if it is rightly designed, will always be more effective than a circle you copy out of an old book.

The first consideration of a magic circle is that it must be an unbroken line the end of which joins up with its beginning. It does not necessarily need to be perfectly circular in shape, although rightly made circles will usually contain at their root a single unbroken circle, beneath whatever elaborations have been added. Bear this in mind — base your magic circle on a simple, unbroken ring, and it will serve you well. It should be made as large as necessary so that you can work comfortably within it. A traditional size is nine feet in diameter, but for a single person working without an altar, a circle as small as six feet across will be fine. If you can make the circle nine feet across, you will be able to set an altar at its center, and you will have enough room to move around it.

The world is usually divided into four directions or quarters. The magic circle is similarly divided into four quadrants — north, east, south and west. It is not essential to physically mark these quarters of the circle, but you should be aware of this division, which is the most fundamental division of the magic circle. The magic altar is often placed at the center of the circle, and the altar has a square top with four sides. Each of its four sides should face one of the four directions. The room in which the magic circle will usually be constructed will likely have four walls. Again, these walls may be referred to the four directions and four quarters of the world. The wall that is closest to the east can be used for the direction of east, the wall closest to the south can be used for the direction of south, and so on. Align the sides of your altar with the walls of the room.

The divine names that are generally used to act as guardians of the circle are four in number, one name for each quarter of space. It does not matter which specific divine names you choose. The grimoires generally use Hebrew names of God culled from the Bible, either written out in Hebrew characters, or in Greek or Latin characters. IHVH, Adonai, Eheieh and Elohim are serviceable. You do not need to use divine names from the Bible if you have an aversion to conventional religions. Pagan divine names will serve equally well, provided that they are names or titles of the supreme god of the pagan pantheon with which you are working. If you were to use classical Greek mythology for your pantheon, you would choose four names for Zeus. If you were to use the Nordic pantheon, you would choose four names for Odin, or Woden. You will find that supreme gods always have a multitude of names and titles from which to choose.

These four divine names are applied to your inner circle, the root of your magic circle, which is called in the Key of Solomon the Circle of Art. Draw a second circle outside the first, so that there is from six inches to a foot of distance between them, and mark the names in this ring. They are your strongest final line of defense, your ultimate authority by which you command spirits of a malicious or mixed nature. Like the greatest artillery, they are powerful but not versatile.

Outside this first ring you should construct a second ring by drawing a third, larger circle, in which you should place the names of four lesser gods, or if you are working with the Jewish or Christian systems, the names of the four archangels, Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel. Each lesser god, or archangel, should be chosen to serve as the active arm of the divine name to which it corresponds. The archangel executes the will of God that is defined by the divine name of that quarter. It is the extension or projection of that power.

All the names should be written to be read from outside the circle, not from inside. This important detail is usually overlooked in the grimoires. It is the spirits beyond the boundary of the circle who will be barred from entry by the power of the names, so the names are written for their benefit.

A third line of defense should consist of a third ring, defined by a fourth larger circle, in which are inscribed four names of lesser or earthly spirits that are under the authority of the archangels or lesser gods of the second circle. These earthly spirits will execute minor and mundane tasks assigned to them by the archangels of the four quarters. In traditional Western Judeo-Christian magic, there are four elemental kings that may be used for this purpose, Djin, Nichsa, Paralda and Ghob. Sometimes the nature of the archangels is too elevated to effectively deal with material concerns, and when this is the case these earthly spirits act as their arms, just as the archangels act as the arms of the divine names.

If you have followed this division, you will now have three rings defined by four circles, each ring with four names written in it, one name for each quarter of the world. You may place whatever elaborations you will outside these circles, but the basic circle has already been made, and will serve any purpose to which it is put.

I’ll give the Golden Dawn arrangement for the four sets of divine, archangelic, and kingly names on the quarters, just as a reference. Other names may be used with equally good results.

  • East: IHVH — Raphael — Paralda
  • South: Adonai — Michael — Djin
  • West: Eheieh — Gabriel — Nichsa
  • North: AGLA — Uriel — Ghob

An attractive elaboration you can use, if you have sufficient space, is to draw a heptagram outside the outermost circle so that the circles fit within its open center. The form of the heptagram that has a line which reflects from every second point has a large space at its center. The names of the seven planetary angels can them be written at the bases of each of the seven triangles that form the points of this heptagram. This circle is excellent for planetary magic.

The question of what to use to mark the magic circle on the floor always arises. In past centuries a piece of charcoal from the fire was used, or sometimes a piece of chalk. Floors were usually rough boards in those times, or flagstones. Charcoal or chalk do not work well on a modern carpet, or even on polished hardwood.

A popular method is to lay out the circle with colored tape. This can be bought at any craft store. You can be conservative and use white tape for the entire circle, or if you wish, you can differentiate the fourfold division of the circle by using tapes that are colored the four elemental colors. The Golden Dawn correspondence of colors for the four directions would be: east — yellow, south — red, west — blue, north — black (or green).

Projecting the Astral Circle

Now I must tell you the most important part of casting a magic circle. What you have just made on the floor of your ritual chamber, this elaborate construction of three rings with its divine, angelic, and elemental kingly names, is not a magic circle. It is only the physical husk or shell of a magic circle. It has no life, no reality on the astral level, until you infuse life into it, and make it real.

It is for this reason — because the circle you have drawn or laid out on your floor is a dead thing — that I have not written about making a gap in the north to enter the circle. The circle does not exist until you empower it, so making a gap in the north is not necessary. You may just step across the edge of the physical circle to enter it.

To empower and bring the circle to life, it must be projected or cast on the astral level. This is done in the imagination, by a process of successive visualization, at the start of your rituals. The circle you envision on the astral plane will not correspond in every respect to the circle you have drawn on the floor, any more than the astral temple you have erected in your mind will match exactly your physical workspace.

To cast the circle on the astral level, you stand within the physical circle, visualizing yourself standing in the astral temple you have built up in your imagination, and then mentally walk around the inner edge of the physical circle, projecting the astral circle above it with astral fire so that it floats in the air at the level of your heart. If your physical circle is small, it is sufficient to turn on your own axis while projecting the astral circle in the air at heart level.

After you have projected the astral circle, you must sustain it in your imagination for the remainder of the ritual. It is not an empty exercise — when you make the astral circle, it remains in existence in your mind. The more clearly you can visualize it, the more potent its working. Never step through the astral circle once it has been projected.

The astral circle is projected from the right hand, the side of the body that projects. The right side is projective, the left side receptive. You can use an instrument such as a wand to project the circle, or your right index finger. If you use your finger, it is good to have a magic ring on that finger, the better to channel your energies. The astral fire of the circle is drawn out of your heart center and ejected from your wand, or index finger, in a continuous stream, as though it were a stream of burning liquid.

You can visualize this fire to be of any color, but a glowing yellow-white flame is neutral in a magical sense, and will serve for most ritual purposes.

I have developed a very specific way of projecting occult energies. I lay my left palm flat over my heart center at a comfortable angle, as though taking a pledge, and extend my right index finger. I then visualize astral fire shining from my heart-center the way light shines from a flame. I draw this fire out of my heart-center through the palm of my left hand, up my left arm, across my shoulders, and then project it strongly down my right arm and out through my right index finger. The astral fire traces an expanding spiral course through my body.

After projecting the magic circle on the astral level, you should invoke the names of the gods, archangels and kings by turning to face their directions successively, or by walking around the circle to stand in their quarters successively. Start in the east and turn sunwise. Call forth the power of IHVH in the east, then Adonai in the south, Eheieh in the west, and AGLA in the north. Return to the east and invoke the archangel of the east, Raphael, then go to the south and invoke Michael, then Gabriel in the west, and Uriel in the north. Return east and invoke the king Paralda, then the king Djin in the south, the king Nichsa in the west, and the king Ghob in the north. Return to your starting place in the east, or face east if you are turning on your own axis within a small circle.

In this way you will have gone around the circle three times, once for the names of God, once for the names of the archangels, and once for the names of the kings. This turning creates a whirl or tourbillion — a kind of occult vortex — that draws down magical power into the circle and fills it with astral light. If you have done the invocation rightly you will see this light strongly glowing in your visualized astral circle, and you may even see it in the physical circle, glowing on the air with a soft radiance.

You have in this way cast the circle and energized it. You are ready for whatever ritual work you intend to perform.

Breaking the Circle

When that work is finished, you must deliberately break the ring of the astral circle before you leave the physical circle. I say again, do not walk through the astral circle. Nothing so terrible will happen if you do, but by walking through it you demonstrate that it lacks substance. This is not a good practice. You want to make the astral circle so real, to tangible that it would be physically impossible for you to walk through it without breaking it.

Before breaking the astral circle, banish the four regions of space that lie beyond its barrier. By the authority of the God names of those quarters, command any spirits who may be lingering there to depart in peace. Do this in a quiet but resolute voice, or if you are performing a silent mental ritual, with firmly focused thoughts that are sub-vocalized in your throat. Pay attention to how the air of the ritual chamber feels after you banish the quarters. Does it feel calm and empty? Or does it have a waiting, watchful feeling? If it does not feel empty, perform the banishing a second time, or even a third time, with greater emphasis.

After the four quarters have been banished, it is safe to break the astral circle. When you have divided the circle you may draw it back into your heart center by reversing the steps with which you projected it. Break it in the east (that is the usual starting point used by most magicians, although I start my rituals in the south). Draw it into yourself by walking around it widdershins if it is a large circle, or by turning widdershins if it is a small circle. Draw it back into your heart through your extended left index finger, the side of reception.

Ring, Sash and Circlet

Various articles are worn by the ceremonial magician that are in themselves magic circles that enclose and protect the body, by which different forms of occult force may be concentrated or projected.

The magic ring is a standard article for traditional Western magicians. It is customary for a familiar spirit to be bound to the ring, so that the spirit lends its power to the ring, and may be called forth from the ring at need to perform services for the magician. A magic ring is described in the Key of Solomon, showing how ancient this instrument must have been. The Greek writer Philostratus described magic rings worn by the sage and magician Apollonius of Tyana, who lived around the time of Jesus, and the use of magic rings must have been old even in the time of Apollonius. Cornelius Agrippa was supposed to have worn such a ring.

In addition to serving as the receptacle for a familiar spirit, the ring is used to project power through the finger on which it is worn. Usually this is the right index finger, the most willful and potent finger for projection. As energy runs around the circle of the ring, forming a vortex of power, it is directed out through the point gateway at the center of the magic circle defined by the ring, and channeled along the axis defined by the extended finger.

Another magic circle worn on the body is the sash. This is usually wrapped three times around the waist of the magician and tied, although sometimes the sash is closed by a fastener in the shape of a serpent biting its own tail, so that the sash forms a symbolic ouroboros. The sash is sometimes made from seven bands of colored fabric or ribbon that are the seven colors of the rainbow and correspond with the seven planets of traditional magic. The sash I use is made of seven braided cords, each cord died one of the rainbow colors.

The function of the sash is manifold, but one purpose is to contain and concentrate vitality within the center of the magician’s body. It also offers protection against possession attempts, or other intrusions into the body by spirits. Different sashes sometimes form marks of rank within occult orders, just as different colored belts are ranks in the martial arts.

The third magic circle often worn on the body by Western magicians is the circlet, a band of metal worn around the head. Mine is in the shape of a serpent swallowing its tail, and is fashioned from copper. Silver and gold will also serve for making the circlet.

The circlet concentrates occult energy in the head, the seat of the will and the reason. It has the function of strengthening and focusing the mind. Its physical pressure on the forehead helps to awaken and open the ajna chakra, the third eye which is located between the eyebrows. The circlet is helpful during scrying for this reason.

Conclusion

There is no aspect of ritual occultism more ancient or more essential than the magic circle. Indeed, it is difficult to find systems of magic that do not use the circle in some form, and when they are found, they seem incomplete and naked. The magic circle is older than Solomon, older than Moses, and occurs throughout the world in all religions and systems of witchcraft and thaumaturgy. It divides, excludes, protects, attracts, focuses, and concentrates, as these functions are needed by the magician. It is used not merely for evocations, but for invocations, for charging of talismans, for scrying, for projecting accumulated occult energy, and even for meditation. A correct understanding of the circle, not only how to project it, but what it signifies symbolically, is the most basic knowledge any magician can possess, and no magician can be said to know anything of importance about magic who has not mastered the use of the circle.

Footnotes

  1. Murray, Margaret A. The God Of The Witches [1931]. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.
  2. McPherson, J. M. Primitive Beliefs in the North East of Scotland (International Folklore) [1929]. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1929.
  3. Mathers, S. Liddell MacGregor. The Key of Solomon The King: (Clavicula Salomonis) [1888]. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser Inc., 1989.
  4. Skinner, Stephen & David Rankine. Veritable Key of Solomon (Sourceworks of Ceremonial Magic Series). Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2008.

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

©2009 Donald Tyson
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.

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