Why do we cast a circle? We cast a circle for protection from what may be attracted to what we are doing. There are times when spirits that do not wish us to succeed will be drawn by the power that we raise during a circle. Sometimes it is beneficial to cast a circle to lay down a boundary between the ill will that pagans sometimes encounter as they walk on their path. The circle itself is a reminder that we are now in a different time and space, and that this space is special.
The circle is a container as well. It is used to hold the energy that is raised until it is time to release it to whatever end we are working towards. If it was not there, the energy that we raised would have to be directed into a container rather than letting it swirl around in the one that has already been created. It is far easier to tell if there has been enough energy raised when you are moving directly through it than it is to tell if there is enough in the container.
Finally, the circle exists as a link to the people that have cast circles and gathered together in the past, and a link to those that will cast them in the future. It is a continuation of a chain that has evolved over thousands of years, passing information on and down throughout the ages. While there are very few religions that can trace their roots back into antiquity, it is undeniable that there are traces of those religions left, and that there are rites and ideas that have been passed down from one person to another throughout those long years. The circle is our way of trying to connect to those times gone by and it is our legacy to our children and their children for years to come.
Whether your circle has a physical boundary, a boundary of thought, or whether it is simply a grove of trees that is circular, the ideas are still there. The circle is a construct of the mind, an idea that passes between groups. It is the idea of a scares space and sacred time.
Why do we do ritual? Ritual is a way of trying to connect to something that is greater than the self. It is a link to other people and other beings; a link to times past and future. When people come together to celebrate their idea of the sacred, it is a sharing of something that is intangible and profound. It is a way to experience the divine that surrounds us in nature and is a part of ourselves that is not always understood. Ritual is a time for joy to be expressed in the celebration of the seasons and a time for sorry to be shared in the cycles of life that take our friends and loved ones from us and a time for everything in between.
It seems almost innate for people to come together to share this idea of the sacred. While the idea of what sacred is varies from people to people, there are very few cultures that do not espouse some version of the ideas of the sacred being a time set apart from secular life. Many cultures choose to make the goals of the two similar, thus ensuring that both are successful. Religion, it would seem, is something that is almost an inborn need of humans, a way of processing the things that we do not understand and of being able to celebrate them.
Why do we place the elements of ritual in a particular order? The simple answer is that it makes it easy for more than one person to follow what is happening when there is a common order to what is being done. The not so simple answer is that there is a logical progression from start to end to rituals that allow people to perform their rites in the simplest and easiest manner possible, allowing more people to participate.
Paganism is a group of religions that tends to frown on a centralized religious structure, and so it is important that more people be able to perform these rituals. Simplicity and structure gives the ability of those who do not wish to spend years mastering the smallest component of a ritual to participate as well. Common sense also plays a part in the order of a ritual. For most people, it makes sense to cast a circle and cut it off from the world outside before inviting the gods and elements as it is somewhat rude to make them stand around and wait, or call them and then cut them off from the ritual as you cast your circle. Some, however, find that it makes more sense to cleanse and purify the area, bring everyone in, and then cast the circle and invite the gods. Still others call the gods first and then cast the circle. As with anything, each person must decide what works best for them and why.
Where do we place things in a ritual? When thinking about where to place an event in a ritual, it is necessary to examine that event to find out what the results might be, or the reason that it is being done. If you are going to Draw Down the Moon (Call a Goddess into a person), then you need to consider just how tiring this is going to be for that person. Will they want to run and jump around to raise energy after? Is the Goddess likely to want that sort of thing?
If a person were going to do a drawing down for a God and Goddess, doing that before the Great Rite would make sense as it is a rite that takes the opposites of male and female and uses that polarity to make the rite that much stronger. Ritual creation takes the ability to think about the small details such as this and form them into a larger, successful whole.
How do we know when it is right to do something and when it is not? Start to decide this by thinking of the outcome of the ritual. What is the purpose that you are getting together for? If you are doing a healing, it would be good to invite gods that have that particular aspect. If you are doing a binding or a deconsecration, choose gods that deal with endings. If you are celebrating Beltaine, a fertility holiday, don’t invoke a Crone goddess who is past her fertile years.
The yardstick that any witch must use in creating a ritual is “Does it make sense to do it this way?” If it does not make sense, then find a different way of doing the event that does. There is no limit to what can be done with ritual. There is no right or wrong way to do a ritual. If it does not make sense to call the quarters, then don’t. Because something has always been done need not mean that it should always be done. Similarly, don’t throw out tradition unless it makes sense to do so.