Sacred Space: Circles and Altars
brought to you by the Children of Ra Temple
The magic circle or sphere is a well-defined, non-physical temple. There are two main types -- those used by ceremonial magicians are designed to protect the magician from the forces he or she raises. Our circles are used to create sacred space to commune with Deity and to contain the energy we raise until we are ready to channel it toward a specific magical purpose. However, sacred space is not just an area in which to erect an altar and perform rituals. It is a power center; a place to respect as well as a place to be respected in. Creating sacred space can be a symphony of planning and movement, melding your positive energy with the energy of Deity to create a haven for yourself and your circlemates. Sacred space will hold the positive energy you generate long after the ritual has ended; if done often enough in the same physical area, it can become almost as physically tangible as your other ritual tools.
The circle is constructed (or cast) using the personal energies of the circle members, and when completed is a sphere of energy encompassing the entire working area. The "circle" is actually just where the sphere is bisected by the Earth. We usually cast our circles using music such as Libana’s "A Circle is Cast" and one or more element chants like "Air I Am" by Andras Corbin or "The Earth, the Air, the Fire, the Water" by Libana.
One indication of a well-cast circle is the feeling of a palpable barrier. Often this is felt simply as a lack of motivation to leave the circle, although some people can actually touch and/or see it. To avoid breaking the circle if you have to leave it, just visualize a door for yourself. Another indication is that the air within the circle tends to be warmer and more humid than that outside of it, especially during magical work. I’ve seen condensation on both windows and walls after particularly effective magic -- even though no one left their seats.
At the center of the circle there is usually some form of temporary working altar bearing whatever tools the group has chosen to work with. Our first working altar was a piece of newspaper under a single candle on the floor; we now have a circular table and are slowly building up a collection of group tools that everyone feels comfortable with. In addition to the tools, personal items that represent your magical goals or that you want to bless are placed on the altar, as are the plate, cup and pipe for the Elemental Feast.
Although the working altar is assembled and disassembled for each ritual, many people also keep a permanent altar. Over the years I’ve noticed that even many "non-spiritual" people have created what I would consider altars in their homes -- almost everyone has a place for their most personal, "hands off" items; a shelter that feels inviolate -- sacred space, if you will. Personal altars can range from something as simple as a family photo and some nostalgic knickknacks, to a boombox and a stack of personally meaningful CDs, to a full-blown Pagan extravaganza complete with an assortment of personal ritual tools and Deity images. A personal altar helps you centralize your personal power, serves as a work table for crafting magical tools and talismans, and enables you to honor Deity and your beliefs even when you’re not physically present.
One warning about personal altars -- no matter how small you start, they tend to grow exponentially, and very few of us have to heart to actually remove old items when we find new ones (with the possible exception of passing them along as gifts). In our multi-Church-member household, we’ve actually ended up with a permanent household altar in addition to everybody’s personal altars, both to catch the overflow and to hold the Church’s tools.
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