Tag Archives: ritual

All Hallow’s Eve by Mike Nichols

All Hallow’s Eve

by Mike Nichols


Sly does it. Tiptoe catspaws. Slide and creep.“You don’t know, do you?” asks Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud climbing out of the pile of leaves under the Halloween Tree. “You don’t really know!”

But why? What for? How? Who? When! Where did it all begin?
—Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree

Samhain. All Hallows. All Hallow’s Eve. Hallow E’en. Halloween. The most magical night of the year. Exactly opposite Beltane on the wheel of the year, Halloween is Beltane’s dark twin. A night of glowing jack-o’-lanterns, bobbing for apples, tricks or treats, and dressing in costume. A night of ghost stories and séances, tarot card readings and scrying with mirrors. A night of power, when the veil that separates our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest. A “spirit night”, as they say in Wales.

All Hallow’s Eve is the eve of All Hallow’s Day (November 1). And for once, even popular tradition remembers that the eve is more important than the day itself, the traditional celebration focusing on October 31, beginning at sundown. And this seems only fitting for the great Celtic New Year’s festival. Not that the holiday was Celtic only. In fact, it is startling how many ancient and unconnected cultures (the Egyptians and pre-Spanish Mexicans, for example) celebrated this as a festival of the dead. But the majority of our modern traditions can be traced to the British Isles.

The Celts called it Samhain, which means “summer’s end”, according to their ancient twofold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter ran from Samhain to Beltane. (Some modern covens echo this structure by letting the high priest “rule” the coven beginning on Samhain, with rulership returned to the high priestess at Beltane.) According to the later fourfold division of the year, Samhain is seen as “autumn’s end” and the beginning of winter. Samhain is pronounced (depending on where you’re from) as “sow-in” (in Ireland), or “sow-een” (in Wales), or “sav-en” (in Scotland), or (inevitably) “sam-hane” (in the U.S., where we don’t speak Gaelic).

Not only is Samhain the end of autumn; it is also, more importantly, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Celtic New Year’s Eve, when the new year begins with the onset of the dark phase of the year, just as the new day begins at sundown. There are many representations of Celtic Gods with two faces, and it surely must have been one of them who held sway over Samhain. Like his Roman counterpart Janus, he would straddle the threshold, one face turned toward the past, in commemoration of those who died during the last year, and one face gazing hopefully toward the future, mystic eyes attempting to pierce the veil and divine what the coming year holds. These two themes, celebrating the dead and divining the future, are inexorably intertwined in Samhain, as they are likely to be in any New Year’s celebration.

As a feast of the dead, this was the one night when the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan. And so the great burial mounds of Ireland (sidhe mounds) were opened up, with lighted torches lining the walls, so the dead could find their way. Extra places were set at the table and food set out for any who had died that year. And there are many stories that tell of Irish heroes making raids on the Underworld while the gates of faery stood open, though all must return to their appointed places by cockcrow.

As a feast of divination, this was the night par excellence for peering into the future. The reason for this has to do with the Celtic view of time. In a culture that uses a linear concept of time, like our modern one, New Year’s Eve is simply a milestone on a very long road that stretches in a straight line from birth to death. Thus, the New Year’s festival is a part of time. The ancient Celtic view of time, however, is cyclical. And in this framework, New Year’s Eve represents a point outside of time, when the natural order of the universe dissolves back into primordial chaos, preparatory to reestablishing itself in a new order. Thus, Samhain is a night that exists outside of time and, hence, it may be used to view any other point in time. At no other holiday is a tarot card reading, crystal reading, or tealeaf reading so likely to succeed.

The Christian religion, with its emphasis on the “historical” Christ and his act of Redemption 2000 years ago, is forced into a linear view of time, where seeing the future is an illogical proposition. In fact, from the Christian perspective, any attempt to do so is seen as inherently evil. This did not keep the medieval church from co-opting Samhain’s other motif, commemoration of the dead. To the church, however, it could never be a feast for all the dead, but only the blessed dead, all those hallowed (made holy) by obedience to God—thus, All Hallow’s, or Hallowmas, later All Saints and All Souls.

There are so many types of divination that are traditional to Hallowstide, it is possible to mention only a few. Girls were told to place hazelnuts along the front of the firegrate, each one to symbolize one of her suitors. She could then divine her future husband by chanting, “If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.” Several methods used the apple, that most popular of Halloween fruits. You should slice an apple through the equator (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror. Your future spouse will then appear over your shoulder. Or, peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting, “I pare this apple round and round again; / My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain: / I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head, / My sweetheart’s letter on the ground to read.” Or, you might set a snail to crawl through the ashes of your hearth. The considerate little creature will then spell out the initial letter as it moves.

Perhaps the most famous icon of the holiday is the jack-o’- lantern. Various authorities attribute it to either Scottish or Irish origin. However, it seems clear that it was used as a lantern by people who traveled the road this night, the scary face to frighten away spirits or faeries who might otherwise lead one astray. Set on porches and in windows, they cast the same spell of protection over the household. (The American pumpkin seems to have forever superseded the European gourd as the jack-o’- lantern of choice.) Bobbing for apples may well represent the remnants of a Pagan “baptism” rite called a seining, according to some writers. The water-filled tub is a latter-day Cauldron of Regeneration, into which the novice’s head is immersed. The fact that the participant in this folk game was usually blindfolded with hands tied behind the back also puts one in mind of a traditional Craft initiation ceremony.

The custom of dressing in costume and “trick-or-treating” is of Celtic origin, with survivals particularly strong in Scotland. However, there are some important differences from the modern version. In the first place, the custom was not relegated to children, but was actively indulged in by adults as well. Also, the “treat” that was required was often one of spirits (the liquid variety). This has recently been revived by college students who go ‘trick-or-drinking’. And in ancient times, the roving bands would sing seasonal carols from house-to-house, making the tradition very similar to Yuletide wassailing. In fact, the custom known as caroling, now connected exclusively with Midwinter, was once practiced at all the major holidays. Finally, in Scotland at least, the tradition of dressing in costume consisted almost exclusively of cross-dressing (i.e., men dressing as women, and women as men). It seems as though ancient societies provided an opportunity for people to “try on” the role of the opposite gender for one night of the year. (Although in Scotland, this is admittedly less dramatic—but more confusing—since men were in the habit of wearing skirtlike kilts anyway. Oh well…)

To Witches, Halloween is one of the four High Holidays, or Greater Sabbats, or cross-quarter days. Because it is the most important holiday of the year, it is sometimes called “The Great Sabbat”. It is an ironic fact that the newer, self-created covens tend to use the older name of the holiday, Samhain, which they have discovered through modern research. While the older hereditary and traditional covens often use the newer name, Halloween, which has been handed down through oral tradition within their coven. (This often holds true for the names of the other holidays, as well. One may often get an indication of a coven’s antiquity by noting what names it uses for the holidays.)

With such an important holiday, Witches often hold two distinct celebrations. First, a large Halloween party for non- Craft friends, often held on the previous weekend. And second, a coven ritual held on Halloween night itself, late enough so as not to be interrupted by trick-or-treaters. If the rituals are performed properly, there is often the feeling of invisible friends taking part in the rites. Another date that may be utilized in planning celebrations is the actual cross-quarter day, or Old Halloween, or Halloween O.S. (Old Style). This occurs when the sun has reached fifteen degrees Scorpio, an astrological “power point” symbolized by the Eagle. The celebration would begin at sunset. Interestingly, this date (Old Halloween) was also appropriated by the church as the holiday of Martinmas.

Of all the Witchcraft holidays, Halloween is the only one that still boasts anything near to popular celebration. Even though it is typically relegated to children (and the young-atheart) and observed as an evening affair only, many of its traditions are firmly rooted in Paganism. Incidentally, some schools have recently attempted to abolish Halloween parties on the grounds that it violates the separation of state and religion. Speaking as a Pagan, I would be saddened by the success of this move, but as a supporter of the concept of religion-free public education, I fear I must concede the point. Nonetheless, it seems only right that there should be one night of the year when our minds are turned toward thoughts of the supernatural. A night when both Pagans and non-Pagans may ponder the mysteries of the Otherworld and its inhabitants. And if you are one of them, may all your jack-o’-lanterns burn bright on this All Hallow’s Eve.

Most Recent Text Revision: Monday, May 2, 2005 c.e.

Text editing courtesy of Acorn Guild Press. Document Copyright © 1986, 1995, 2005 by Mike Nichols.

Samhain – Incense, Oils & Soap

Incense, Oil and Soap Recipes

Samhain Incense 1
1 tsp. crushed Mugwort Leaves
1 tsp. Frankincense Tears (small resin chunks)
1 tsp. Myrrh Resin (small chunks)
2 tsp. crushed Rosemary Leaves

Samhain Incense 2
2 tsp. frankincense
2 tsp. sandalwood
2 tsp. poppy seeds
1 tsp. gum arabic
1 tsp. myrrh
½ tsp. bay
½ tsp. thyme
¼ tsp. jasmine flowers
¼ tsp. rose petals

Samhain Incense 3
3 tsp. Rosemary
3 tsp. Pine
3 tsp. Bay
3 tsp. Apple
2 tsp. Patchouli Oil

Samhain Incense 4
1 tsp. rowan berries
1 tsp. blackthorn wood
½ tsp. galangal
½ tsp. chervil
½ tsp. vervain
½ tsp. parsley
3 tsp. myrrh

Blend together and burn on charcoal

Samhain Incense 5
3 tsp. frankincense
2 tsp. sandalwood
2 tsp. mugwort
1 tsp. sage
½ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. lavender

Samhain Oil

1/2 dram Pine Oil
1/4 dram Frankincense oil
1/4 dram Patchouli oil
a/4 dram Lavendar oil
Mix well and bottle.

Samhain Oil 2
3 drops Rosemary oil
3 drops Pine oil
3 drops Bay oil
3 drops Apple oil
2 drops Patchouli oil
Use almond oil as the base

Samhain Soap
1 cup grated unscented soap
1/4 cup hot water
1 tbsp. apricot oil
1 tbsp. mugwort
1/2 tbsp. nutmeg
6 drops frankincense oil
6 drops sandalwood oil
3 drops lavender

Place grated soap in a heat-proof non-metallic container and add the hot water and apricot oil. Leave until it is cool enough to handle, and then mix together with your hands. If the soap is floating on the water, add more soap. Leave to sit for 10 minutes, mixing occasionally, until the soap is soft and mushy. Once the soap, water, and oil are blended completely, add the dry ingredients. Once the mixture is cool, then add the essential oils (essential oils evaporate quickly in heat). Enough essential oils should be added to overcome the original scent of the soap. Blend thoroughly and then divide the soap mixture into four to six pieces. Squeeze the soaps, removing as much excess water as
possible into the shape you desire, and tie in a cheesecloth. Hang in a warm, dry place until the soap is completely hard and dry.


2 granules frankincense – protection, spirituality
2 parts chrysanthemum petal – protection from malevolent forces
2 parts cedar – protection, purification, healing, money
1 part myrrh – protection, healing, spirituality, purifies and creates peaceful space
1 part lavender – purification, happiness, love, peace, harmony, healing
1 part sandalwood – protection, healing, spirituality
1 part cinnamon – success, healing, psychic powers
1/2 part clove – prosperity, drawing of money, protection, purification
1 sprig rosemary – purifying, cleansing, protection, healing, mental power, knowledge
3 white sage leaves – Immortality, longevity, wisdom, protection, wishes
3 drops orange oil – love, luck, divination

Autumn Equinox Ritual

Autumn Equinox Ritual

– Mark the circle and cardinal points
– Light the altar candles and cardinal points

Place Athame point into salt, saying:
“I consecrate and bless this salt in the names of the Lady of the Moon and the Lord of Death and Resurrection, so it may be purified for use in this rite.”

Place Athame point into water, saying:
“I consecrate and cleanse this water in the names of the Lady of the Moon and the Lord of Death and Resurrection, so it may be purified for use in this rite.”

Pick up Athame (starting in East), draws the circle about those within, saying:
“O circle be a place of peace, love and truth. Be a shield against all evil and a place of protection that shall preserve and contain the energies I shall raise within thee. I do bless thee and consecrate thee in the names of the Lady and the Lord.”

Add Salt to Water, sprinkle the circle.
Add incense to brazier, Cense the circle.

Smudge yourself (for purification)

Go to East, raise Athame pointing to the East, saying:
“Hear me guardians of the East, look now upon me, guide and protect me in this rite.”

Draw an invoking pentagram.
(Repeat for all directions)

Raise your arms saying:

“O Horned One, the Sun King, God of the Harvest and Lord of Death and Resurrection, your seed has provided a bounty that has greened the earth and filled the fields. As the warmth of summer wanes and the air turns to chill and darkeness, as you begin your descent to the Underworld, bestow your blessings on my circle.

O Great Goddess, the giver of life and harvest, your body has provided abundance and beauty. As you begin your restful slumber bless me with your wisdom.

Lord and Lady I thank you for all that you have blessed me with and ask that you give me the strength in the new year to plant seeds of joy, happiness and love and to banish all misery and hate.”

“Pour some wine into your cup and hold the Athame between both hands and slowly lower the blade into the cup, saying:
“The Male and the Female, joined in love, peace and happiness”

Pour some wine out for libation, saying:
“As the Gods provide for us, let us give to them”

Drink the wine and sit in quiet communion with the God and Goddess

When you feel the time is right get up and thank the God and Goddess for attending the Rite.

Then go to the East, raise Athame pointing to the East saying:
“Guardians of the East, thank you for attending my rite. Let me live with peace and love in my heart.”

Draw banishing pentagram
(repeat for all other directions)

The Rite is ended

Extinguish the Cardinal Points and the altar candles.

– Lady Pagan

Ritual/Circle Etiquette

Ritual/Circle Etiquette

If you are attending a publicly advertised ritual, you need to check to see if they have any special requirements (check the website or call if they provide a number). 

Individual covens or groups often have their own set of rules to adhere to in a ritual or circle setting.  If you have been invited to attend a private coven/group ritual, do not assume it’s okay to bring someone else with you (this includes a spouse or significant other) and certainly don’t assume children are allowed.  If there is someone you’d like to bring, you need to contact the High Priestess (HPS) and/or High Priest (HP) for permission.  Please be respectful of their choice.  Also note, that if a ritual/circle is not ‘advertised’ or for public consumption, do not make it public!  Respect the privacy of the members and do not mention their names, or the ritual to outsiders.  Keep in mind, some traditions/covens take an oath of secrecy and take those oaths very seriously.  Please be mindful of the requirements for private covens (i.e. dress, jewelry, electronics, etc..)


Having said this there are some general guidelines for attending ritual/circle:

·       Never attend a circle/ritual under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

·       Time:  Make sure you know the time you must be there by and allow for a few hours total (this of course can vary from circle to circle).  This will include prep time, ritual time & ‘down’ time.  If you are on a time constraint it may be best not to attend, whereas someone who’s obsessed with the time may disrupt the flow of the ritual.  BE ON TIME!!!

·       Clothing Requirements: Some groups prefer clothes that move freely to avoid constricting energy flow (like ritual robes), some prefer shoeless, some prefer specific colors, etc…  Please make sure whatever you wear is comfortable and avoid t-shirts with ‘sayings’ or ‘images’ so it’s not a distraction.  Some covens/groups work skyclad (clothed only by the sky), if you are not comfortable in this setting, please don’t accept the invitation.  Also, if it’s going to be an outdoor ritual, dress accordingly!  Also, remove hats!!

·       Jewelry:  Some covens/groups have special requirements for the types of jewelry within circle, be sure to ask.

·       Fees/Costs:  Some groups have a fee for attendance to help cover expended costs, be sure to inquire about this and how payment is to be made (is check okay, credit card, paypal or cash only)

·       Food:  Many rituals/circles are followed by a ‘feast’ of some kind or sometimes just a snack setting.  Be sure to ask if you need to bring a food item if so, are there any allergens or special requirements and how many should you ‘account’ for when preparing food.  If it’s a Sabbat, you may want to research what foods are typical for that Sabbat and incorporate it.

·       Drink:  Again, don’t assume alcohol is okay.  If you are bringing drink to share, inquire as to whether alcohol is allowed or what other drinks are acceptable (some don’t like high sugary drinks).

·       Electronics:  Never assume electronics are okay in circle (more often they are not).  Most covens/groups prefer electronic items not be in the ritual space.  So remove watches, cell phones/pagers (have them turned off so they don’t go off) and store them in a safe place.  Cameras/Video are also not typically allowed within circle. 

·       Bags/Purses/Backpacks:  The circle/ritual is a sacred space and often ‘mundane’ objects are a distraction and inconvenience if circle dancing is involved.  Please leave these items in a safe place and out of circle.


·       Make sure you have bathed/showered prior to a ritual (remember the old adage “cleanliness is next to godliness” ).  A ritual bath or shower helps you begin to get into a certain mindset.  It’s during this time you begin to focus on the upcoming ritual and to wash away any ‘negatives’ you may be carrying around during the day.

·       Make sure you have all the items you’ll need for ritual (special clothing, jewelry, ‘tools’, etc…)

·       Make sure you have any food/drink items ready to go

·       If it’s an outdoor ritual, be sure to bring and apply insect repellant ahead of time!

·       Be aware of smoking rules (do not smoke in a circle at all), but be aware of designated smoking areas and be sure not to leave cigarette butts on the ground.  Dispose in dispenser (if provided) otherwise pocket it until you find a trash!

·       Find out if shoes are allowed or where they are to be left outside of the circle.

·       Make sure to listen carefully to directions during prep time to fully understand what is expected of you.


·       Be mindful if there is a special ‘order’ in which to enter a circle.  Some covens/groups prefer a balance and therefore ask that people alternate (female, male, female, male).

·       Once people have begun to ‘line up’, it’s time to stop talking.  Now is the time to begin to center yourself and focusing on leaving your ‘mundane’ self behind as you enter circle/ritual as your magic(k)al self.

·       There may be a special spot for smudging or self consecration prior to entering, be aware of this and follow directions (these are for spiritual cleansing).

·       Never touch someone elses tools or altar items without explicit permission.

·       Move Deosil (clockwise) at all times in circle (unless directed otherwise for specific purpose).  When you enter circle, turn left, you’ll always be going in the right direction then.

·       You may be asked for a special name and/or password when entering a circle (others may ask once inside circle at specific times).  If you don’t have a craft/magic(k) name, don’t worry, just use your regular name

·       Make sure you’ve used the restroom!!!!



·       Again, remember to move Deosil and never touch tools without explicit permission.

·       If you are asked to touch something on the altar, it’s often requested that you use the right hand to either pick up or put down (The right hand is considered the active hand and the left is considered the passive hand).

·       Be aware of the circle boundaries.  Do not step over them, move your arms over them, etc.  Remember a ritual circle is a space between space and a time between time.  The circles are cast as a protective place and breaking that may allow undesirables to enter.  IF you break a circle, please notify the high priestess and/or high priest or coven member so it may be properly closed again.

·       When the quarters are being called, turn (deosil) to face those quarters.  If you’re unfamiliar as to what to do during this time, just quietly ‘follow along’.  (Due to some space restrictions, be sure to ask if personal athames are allowed ahead of time), a couple pointed fingers are the typical substitute for ‘saluting’ the quarters.

·       NO TALKING.  Unless you are specifically invited to do so.  Conversations within circle are meant to stay craft related.  Remember whatever you hear in circle stays confidential (kind of like what happens in vegas stays in vegas).  If you find value in info. or stories shared within circle, ask permission before sharing it outside. 

·       During some rituals, the HPS or HP may invoke the Goddess or God during ritual.  During this time, there is absolute quiet among the coven with the exception of the HPS or HP during the invocation.  During this time you should be directing your energies to the one doing the invocation (to lend them a hand in bringing down the Goddess or God).  Once invoked into the body of the HPS or HP, they (the Goddess or God) speak through the HPS or HP, so if asked a question at that time you do need to answer, or you may be given a message that is meant just for you (if you don’t understand it, just keep it in your mind to discuss later with the HPS or HP).

·       During most rituals there is a time called cakes and ale (or cakes and wine).  If you are passed something to eat or drink, do NOT immediately consume them.  Many covens/groups have a libation cup that is also passed around to give to the Gods.  After ritual, this cup is usually ‘returned’ to the earth.  During cakes and ale, is often a time for small ritual discussion or questions.

·       If you must leave circle during ritual (illness or absolutely can’t wait for the bathroom), ask a coven member to properly ‘cut you out’ so they can properly ‘re-seal’ or close the circle again.

·       If circle dancing is planned and you are not physically able to join, make sure the HPS or HP are aware of this ahead of time, so they can plan to ‘cut you out’ prior to the dancing (you may stand outside to continue to raise energy to send forth).


·       Now is the time for hugs, discussion, etc…

·       Ask if there is anything you can do to assist in clean up or for feast preparations.

Circle Casting for Solitaries

Circle Casting for Solitaries:

Place your quarter point/element candles or symbols in their appropriate quarters (colors of quarters/elements: North =Earth = Green; East =Air = Yellow; South=Fire=Red; West=Water=Blue).

Set up your altar (typically facing North). Your altar should include: candles, water, a bowl of salt and incense.

Light all the candles & light the incense.

Using athame, Bless the water:

“I consecrate and cleanse this water in the names of _______ and ______ (or whatever deities you prefer), so it may be purified for use in this rite.”

Using athame, Bless the salt:

“I consecrate and bless this salt in the names of _______ and _______, so it may be purified for use in this rite.”

Add some salt to the water.

Take the athame or sword, begin walking deosil (clockwise) drawing a circle (envisioning a white or blue light forming all around) , saying:

“O circle be a place of peace, love, joy and truth. A shield against all evil, a place of protection that shall contain the energies I shall raise within thee. I do bless thee and consecrate thee in the names of _______ and _______.”

Pick up the salted water, starting in the East (walking deosil), sprinkle the salted water around the circle.

Pick up the censer (incense), starting in the East (walking deosil), cense the circle.

Pick up the athame, go to East. Drawing an invoking pentagram, say:

“Hear me watchtowers and guardians of the East, look now upon me, guide and protect me in my rite.”

Follow with all the quarters just replacing the East with the correct direction.

Your circle is now ready for whatever work you intended to do.

To close your circle:

Thank the Lord and Lady.

Pick up the athame, go to East. Drawing a banishing pentagram, say:

“Watchtowers and guardians of the East, thank you for attending my rite. Let us live with peace and love in our hearts. Hail and farewell.”

Follow with all the quarters just replacing the East with the correct direction.

Extinguish all candles.

by: Lady Pagan/The Pagan Musings

Circle Casting & Calling Quarters – Solitary

Circle Casting for Solitaries:

Place your quarter point/element candles or symbols in their appropriate quarters (colors of quarters/elements: North =Earth = Green; East =Air = Yellow; South=Fire=Red; West=Water=Blue).

Set up your altar (typically facing North). Your altar should include: candles, water, a bowl of salt and incense.

Light all the candles; light the incense.

Using athame, Bless the water:
“I consecrate and cleanse this water in the names of Cerridwen and Herne (or whatever deities you prefer), so it may be purified for use in this rite.”

Using athame, Bless the salt:
“I consecrate and bless this salt in the names of Cerridwen and Herne, so it may be purified for use in this rite.”

Add some salt to the water.

Take the athame or sword, begin walking deosil (clockwise) drawing a circle (envisioning a white or blue light forming all around) , saying:
“O circle be a place of peace, love, joy and truth. A shield against all evil, a place of protection that shall contain the energies I shall raise within thee. I do bless thee and consecrate thee in the name of Cerridwen and Herne.”

Pick up the salted water, starting in the East (walking deosil), sprinkle the salted water around the circle.

Pick up the censer (incense), starting in the East (walking deosil), cense the circle.

Pick up the athame, go to East. Drawing an invoking pentagram, say:
“Hear me watchtowers and guardians of the East, look now upon me, guide and protect me in my rite.”

Follow with all the quarters just replacing the East with the correct direction.

Your circle is now ready for whatever work you intended to do.

To close your circle:

Thank the Lord and Lady.

Pick up the athame, go to East. Drawing a banishing pentagram, say:
“Watchtowers and guardians of the East, thank you for attending my rite. Let us live with peace and love in our hearts. Hail and farewell.”

Follow with all the quarters just replacing the East with the correct direction.

Extinguish all candles.

by: Lady Pagan/The Pagan Musings

Circle Casting & Calling Quarters – Group

Casting The Circle (Group)
Janet and Stewart Farrar

Set up : place a candle in each of the four cardinal directions. Lay the rest of the tools on the altar cloth or near it. The altar can be on the ground, a table, a rock or a stump. The altar should be in the center or just north of center of the Circle. Light the six candles and the incense, start the music and begin the ritual.

The Ritual

Facing North, the High Priest and Priestess kneel in front of the altar with him to her right. She puts the bowl of water on the altar, places the point of her athame in it and says:

“I exorcise thee, O Creature of Water, that thou cast out from thee all impurities and uncleanliness of the world of phantasm; in the names of Cernunnos and Aradia”

She then puts down her athame and holds up the bowl of water in both hands. The High Priest puts the bowl of salt on the altar, puts his athame in the salt and says:

“Blessings be upon this Creature of Salt; let all malignity and hindrance be cast forth hence, and let all good enter herein; wherefore so I bless thee, that thou mayest aid me, in the names of Cernunnos and Aradia.”

He then puts down his athame and pours the salt into the bowl of water the High Priestess is holding. The High Priest then stands with the rest of the Coven outside the Circle. The High Priestess then draws the Circle with the sword, leaving a gap in the Northeast section. While drawing the Circle, she should visualize the power flowing into the Circle from off the end of the sword. She draws the Circle in a East to North or deosil or clockwise direction. She says:

“I conjure thee, O Circle of Power, that thou beest a meeting place of love and joy and truth; a shield against all wickedness and evil; a boundary between men and the realms of the Mighty Ones; a rampart and protection that shall preserve and contain the power that we shall raise within thee. Wherefore do I bless thee and consecrate thee, in the names of Cernunnos and Aradia.”

The High Priestess lays down the sword and admits the High Priest with a kiss while spinning him deosil and whispers “Bless Be”. He then admits a women the same way. Alternate male female male. Then the High Priestess finishes closing the Circle with the sword. She then names three witches to help strengthen the Circle. The first witch carries the bowl of consecrated water from East to East going deosil, sprinkling the perimeter as she/he goes. They then sprinkle
each member in turn. If the witch is male, he sprinkles the High Priestess last who then sprinkles him. If female she sprinkles the High Priest last, who then sprinkles her. The bowl is replaced on the altar. The second witch takes the incense burner around the perimeter and the third takes one of the altar candles. While going around the perimeter, each person says:

“Black spirits and white,
Red spirits and grey,
Harken to the rune I say.
Four points of the Circle, weave the spell,
East, South, West, North, your tale tell.
East is for break of day,
South is white for the noontide hour,
In the West is twilight grey,
And North is black, for the place of power.
Three times round the Circle’s cast.
Great ones, spirits from the past,
Witness it and guard it fast.”

All the Coven pickup their athames and face the East with the High Priest and Priestess in front, him on her right. The High Priestess says:

“Ye Lords of the Watchtowers of the East, ye Lords of Air; I do summon, stir, and call you up to witness our rites and to guard the Circle.”

As she speaks she draws the Invoking Pentagram of Earth in the air with her athame. The High Priest and the rest of the Coven copy her movements with their athames. The High Priestess turns and faces the South and repeats the summoning:

“Ye Lords of the Watchtowers of the South, ye Lords of Fire; I do summon, stir and call you up, to witness our rites and to guard the Circle.”

She does the same pentagram and then faces West and says:

“Ye Lords of the Watchtowers of the West, ye Lords of Water, ye Lords of Death and Initiation; I do summon, stir, and call you up, to witness our rites and to guard the Circle.”

She faces North with rest of the Coven and says:

“Ye Lords of the Watchtowers of the North, ye Lords of Earth; Boreas, thou gentle guardian of the Northern Portals; thou powerful God and gentle Goddess; we do summon, stir and call you up, to witness our rites and to guard the Circle.”

The Circle is completed and sealed. If anyone needs to leave, a gate must be made. Using the sword, draw out part of the Circle with a widdershins or counterclockwise stroke. Immediately reseal it and then repeat the opening and closing when the person returns.

Farrar, Janet and Stewart; “Eight Sabbats For Witches”; Robert Hale 1983 and Valiente, Doreen; “Witchcraft for Tomorrow”; Phoenix Publishing 1985

The Patterns of Wiccan Ritual 1.1

The Patterns of Wiccan Ritual 1.1
Copyright © 1989, 2000 c.e., Isaac Bonewits

This is excerpted from what was to have been a chapter on ritual in my unpublished book on Witchcraft. I’m posting it here now so that folks will have a general idea of my research and practice on the topic. It will be expanded to include a full ritual script, but not for a while, as I have other promised items to post on my website first.

In the Beginning

In the 1940s and ’50s, a retired British civil servant and amateur folklorist named Gerald B. Gardner (referred to affectionately as “GBG” or “Old Gerald”), together with his friends, began to either reconstruct or invent what they chose to call “the Old Religion” of “Witchcraft.” They claimed that Margaret Murray had been correct when she postulated that an underground Pagan cult had survived in Christian Europe, and that the members of this cult had been the “witches” whom the Church tried so hard to exterminate during the Renaissance. Furthermore, Gardner and his associates said that the Old Religion had continued to exist even into the 20th Century. See A Very Brief History of Witchcraft for details about Gardner and of how he fits into the overall history of the word “witchcraft.”

Regardless of the conflicting historical claims about whether or not there was ever a “real” coven which initiated Gardner, it is very clear from his own notes that he could easily have created the root liturgy of what was to become known as “Wicca” from published sources and his own experiences in other Western occult organizations. I have studied the first draft materials in a hand-bound text he called Ye Bok [sic] of Ye Art Magical, of what eventually developed into the first Book of Shadows (“BOS”). There is nothing there that can be demonstrated to be a remnant of a surviving underground British Pagan cult (though some parts resemble those of Hindu Tantric rituals).

A famous saying among scholars goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” and this saying is usually true. However, in this situation the missing concepts become quite important. People writing liturgies almost always start out by reworking ceremonial materials with which they are already familiar. For one example, the Episcopal and Lutheran liturgies resemble the Roman Catholic Mass. For another, the rituals that Aleister Crowley wrote for his branch of the Ordo Templi Orientis (an offshoot of the Free Masons that he turned into a more magically “oriented” group) incorporate phrases and actions from the older rituals of the Masons, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the initiation rites of the pre-Crowlean O.T.O. Most of the early A.D.F. rituals included segments from the R.D.N.A. rituals I had learned previously (some of them, at least as I perform them, still do).

The earliest versions of Gardner’s initiatory and liturgical scripts are full of obvious borrowings from the Masons, the Renaissance “Goetic” grimoires (magical books), the writings of Crowley, etc. There are no prayers, incantations, ritual actions, or liturgical patterns that reflect any other sources than the (Judeo-Christian) Western mainstream of occult tradition, the then available published materials on anthropology and folklore, some tantric methods he could easily have picked up in the Far East or through Crowley, and a few lines of gibberish in an unknown “language.” If Gardner had attended genuinely Paleopagan (or even Mesopagan) rites in England, their patterns of worship should be visible in his private notes, even if he were forbidden to put secret words and phrases down on paper. Yet Pagan liturgical patterns are invisible in his early notes. They only begin to show up in the 1950’s as the Goetic and Crowlean materials were gradually removed, under the influence of Gardner’s priestess, Doreen Valiente.

At this point the authenticity of Gardner’s “apostolic succession” becomes rather irrelevant. If there was a real coven that trained Gardner, they apparently didn’t show or tell him much of anything that was genuinely ancient or Pagan, at least not liturgically.

This may not matter much. Gardner (or perhaps the committee he was taking notes for) was extremely creative. He changed the Goetic magical techniques to make them usable by small groups of people instead of solitary magicians. He rewrote the first three Masonic initiations to make them applicable to both men and women. He made sensuality and eroticism a central part of his new/old religion by borrowing tantric techniques and symbolism. Finally, and most importantly, early in the 1950’s he added Dion Fortune’s theology of Isis and Osiris and other polytheistic elements to make his creation genuinely (albeit Meso-) Pagan. Around 1954, all of the notes he had made during the 1940’s and early ’50’s were transferred to a new book, which became the first official Book of Shadows, and Ye Bok was retired to the back of a file cabinet, where it would lie forgotten for twenty years.

Whatever their origins, the first versions of the Wiccan rituals (especially those for the holidays) were extremely sparse, usually being only a page or two of text. Following Gardner’s advice that “it is ever better to do too much ritual than too little,” the members of his new religion began to add materials to each of them. Over the years the rites have expanded considerably, with enormous variations in detail but with the same liturgical structure usually being more-or-less retained.

Current Variations in Craft Liturgical Structure

For a variety of historical reasons, most of them having to do with the secrecy of which Wiccans are so fond, there is no universal pattern for Wiccan ritual, although the general shape is similar from group to group. Different traditions do more or less the same things but in differing order.

Almost all the traditions start with the participants doing some sort of personal purifications (herbal baths, fasting, etc.) before the ritual actually gets underway. These purifications are not prompted by a sense of impurity or sinfulness on the part of the participants, but rather reflect a need to begin focussing consciousness, clearing away irrelevant thoughts, and showing respect for the Goddess and God, as well as fellow coveners, much as members of many other religions do before attending services.

The people attending the ritual then either dress in ceremonial robes or else strip down to a state of ritual nudity (becoming “skyclad,” from a Hindu term for naked sages living in the woods who abandon all social concerns and class distinctions in their quests for enlightenment). The specialness of one’s clothing (or lack of it) is another cue to one’s inner beings that sacred activities are about to take place, as well as another way to show respect to the Deities.

Almost all Wiccan groups use a circle as the shape of their sacred space. Some have this shape physically marked on the ground or floor, most do not (which is why it often turns into a “magic oval”). Most will have candles or torches set up at the North, South, East, and West intersections — called “Quarter Points” or just “the Quarters” — of two invisible lines drawn through the center of the circle, either just inside or just outside of the circle’s line. Some traditions have the altar outside this circle when the rite begins, others place it inside either at the center or near one of the Quarter Points.

Some groups have everyone except the presiding clergy (usually a High Priestess and a High Priest, sometimes also a Maiden and/or a Green Man as assistants) wait outside the ritual area (usually in the Northeast, for reasons having to do with Masonic initiations) while it is prepared for the ceremony, and bring them in afterwards. Others have everyone in the circle from the start.

Traditions that have the people in the circle and the altar outside of it may start with “the spiral dance” as first described by Gardner in Witchcraft Today and later in Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance (she got it from the NROOGD tradition). After everyone has spiraled into the center of the circle and spiraled out again, with an exchange of kisses along the way, and are once more standing in a circle holding hands, this ring will be broken and the altar will be brought in. Unfortunately, as all too many can testify, the spiral dance often turns into a spiral “crack the whip” game (and no, I’m not referring to ritual scourging here), which is why I usually don’t recommend it except with groups composed solely of young and healthy types dancing on a smooth, flat surface.

Salt and water are usually exorcised and/or blessed by the presiding clergy, sometimes along with other substances such as incense, oil, candles, etc. These items are used, either before or after the circle is “cast,” to exorcise and/or bless the circle as a whole and/or all the people in it. As with the personal purifications mentioned above, exorcisms done in Neopagan rituals have little to do with banishing evil spirits and much to do with retuning the spiritual energies of the objects and/or persons involved to make them appropriate for the work at hand — much as a cook who had been chopping garlic would take care to wash his or her hands and the knife before beginning to chop the apples for a pie (at least we hope so!).

The circle is cast by having (almost always) the High Priestess walk around it in a clockwise direction, starting at either the East Quarter Point (most common), the North (less common), or the South or West (both rare), with a consecrated sword or knife. This weapon may be held in the air at any of several heights, pointed up, down, forward, or outward, or else dragged point-first along the floor or ground (the original Gardner technique, where it was done by a male “Magus”) along the desired circle boundaries. The term “casting,” by the way, used to mean “cutting” or “carving,” which is why the Goetic magicians used sharp swords to actually mark the ground — and why a ceremonial Wiccan sword should have a sharp point.

If the congregation waited outside the circle while it was cast, they will then be brought into it through a “gate” (usually in the Northeast) either symbolically cut for them at that time, or left “open” during the casting process (and “closed” after their entry). People are brought into the cast circle in a formal fashion, usually with exchanges of passwords and/or kisses, often with aspergings, censings, annointings, etc. Groups that practice binding and scourging may do it at this point in the ceremony, both as a purification process and as a way to start a flow of sexually tinged mana, and/or they may wait until after the “Quarter Point Invocations” have been done. (“Mana” is a useful Polynesian word that means magical, spiritual, artistic, emotional, athletic and/or sexual energy. I haven’t found another word yet that combines all these meanings so well.)

As a general rule, after the circle has been cast, exorcised, blessed, etc., and the people are all present inside it (also exorcised/blessed), a series of invocations will be done, at each of the Quarter Points, to “the Mighty Ones,” or “the Lords of the Watch Towers,” or totem animals, or nature spirits, or “the Kings of the Elements,” etc. Some groups will add an invocation to the center, and some to the nadir and zenith as well. All these invocations finish the process of creating sacred space, by asking for the protection and cooperation of spiritual Gate Keepers. The reason there are so many, as contrasted to Paleopagan rituals or modern Neopagan Druid rites, is that the entire sacred space is considered “between the worlds,” and is in essence a single wide-open Gate. The multiple Gate Keepers focus and attune the energies allowed or encouraged to pass between the people in the circle and the spiritual beings encountered.

In Starhawkian Wicca (and some of the other liberal trads) , the circle casting, Quarter Point Invocations, exorcism/blessing of the circle and people, etc., can be done completely or fragmentarily, in any order or all at once, depending upon the consensus and/or whims of the participants.

Once the circle is complete, the usual next step is a ritual process known as “Drawing Down the Moon.” This means that the High Priestess(es), or all the women in the circle, or everyone in the circle, will attempt to manifest the Goddess of the occasion through divine inspiration, conversation, channeling, or possession. If only the High Priestess is doing this, she will often deliver a memorized speech known as “the Charge of the Goddess,” but may (if sufficiently inspired or possessed) give the members of the congregation, individually or as a whole, pointed advice and information presumed to be from the Goddess.

Some Wiccan traditions will then do “Drawing Down the Sun” upon the High Priest(s), all the men, or everyone in the circle. If done upon the High Priest, he may then deliver a “charge” or divine message from the God of the occasion. Some traditions might do the drawing down of the God before that of the Goddess at certain holidays or during certain seasons of the year.

Other forms of trance may be added to or substituted for Drawing Down the Moon and/or Sun. A ritual dance, more scourging, songs and chants, sexual play, ritual dramas, initiations, handfastings (weddings), or other rites of passage, seasonal games, and/or spell-casting (in any combination and order) may follow or replace the Drawing(s) Down.

At some point, however, a ritual will be done known as “Cakes and Wine” (or “Cakes and Ale,” etc.). This involves the blessing of food and drink by (usually) the High Priestess and the High Priest, and passing them around for the congregation to enjoy. Some traditions offer libations (to the ground, outdoors, or in a bowl, indoors) before consuming the food and drink. Whether this communal meal is done before or after a rite of passage is performed or a spell is cast, and whether the meal is accompanied by general or topical discussion (if any), depends upon a given trad’s theory of the meal’s function.

Along with or (usually) as part of the Cakes and Wine ceremony is a magical act known as “the Great Rite,” which is the primary symbol of the Sacred Marriage between the Goddess and the God, a central concept in Wiccan duotheology. The Great Rite was originally (in Gardner’s notes) ritual sexual intercourse between the High Priestess and High Priest, or sometimes by all the couples in the coven, done to raise magical power, bless objects, etc. However, almost from the beginning of Wicca, it has been usually done symbolically (“in token”) rather than physically (“in true”), through plunging a dagger or wand into a cup of liquid to bless the wine or ale. Gardner was, after all, working with a bunch of middle-class and working-class British occultists, not the lower-class or upper-class types, or the tribal peoples of ancient India or Britain, who might have been less inhibited in their sexuality.

Occasionally the Great Rite is used as part of a spell-casting or initiation, or to consummate a handfasting. A handful of traditions insist that some or all of these functions require the sexual act to be physical rather than symbolic, but even these few traditions usually remove the acting couple from the sight of the rest of the coven.

When the participants are ready to end their ceremony, the Goddess and/or the God, as well as the entities invoked at the Quarter Points, will be thanked and/or “dismissed.” In some traditions, excess mana will be “grounded” (drained). These steps are done in varying order. At the end, the circle is often cut across with knife or sword and the ceremony is declared to be over.

There is confusion in the Wiccan traditions over the use of the terms “open” and “closed” when referring to the magical state of the circle. Some groups will say “the circle is closed” early in the rite to indicate that the magical barriers have been fully erected (after casting and exorcism/blessing, etc.) and that therefore no one is to enter or leave without special permission and precautions (gate making). Others will say, “the circle is closed” at the end of the rite, to mean that the ceremony has come to a close. Conversely, some traditions use the phrase, “the circle is open” at the other’s same early stage of the ritual in the sense of being “open for business” or the Gates between the worlds being open for communication with the Other Side. Still other groups will say “the circle is open” to mean that the ceremony is over and the magical barriers have been taken down. This conflicting use of terms can be very confusing until you find out how a given group functions. Originally, the circle was opened at the beginning and closed at the end, following the Masonic practice of “opening” and “closing” lodge ceremonies (whence Gardner took the terminology).

This whole collection of variations in Wiccan ceremonial patterns fits roughly within the “Common Worship Pattern” I have described elsewhere, with some traditions matching it more closely than others. I believe that Wiccan ritual can be far more powerful and effective, both thaumaturgically and theurgically, if a liturgical design is chosen that is as close a match as possible to that pattern, primarily by adding missing steps.

One of the things that you’ll notice quickly if you attend many Wiccan rituals is that they tend to be “top-heavy” — half to two-thirds of their liturgical structure consists of setting up sacred space and doing the preliminary power raising (calling the Guardians of the Quarters, etc.), with the Drawing(s) Down and spell casting or rites of passage, supposedly the purpose for the rituals, taking much less time, and the unwinding of the liturgy being positively zoomed through. Perhaps these rites would be less top-heavy if extensive trance, dancing, or other mana generating and focussing methods were used, as I think Gardner originally intended, instead of the usual two to three minutes’ worth common in current Wiccan rites. However, perhaps Gardner reasoned that modern Westerners need more time and effort to escape mundane reality than folks from other times and places did, so he deliberately elaborated the opening parts of the liturgy. Be that as it may, the ritual design presented next inserts the missing parts of the common worship pattern and makes the middle of the ritual more important than the beginning or the end.

The Over-All Pattern of “A Generic Wiccan Rite”

I’ve underlined the items that are mentioned in the Common Worship Pattern. The numbered items, on the other hand, are the observable steps of the ceremony as it is performed. Remember that this is my expansion and ordering of the steps as I have done Wiccan rituals for several years now, with great success. I sincerely suggest that people experiment with adapting their liturgies to match this pattern.

First Phase: Starting the Rite & Establishing the Group mind
Clear cut Beginning: Consecration of Time
(1) Announcement of Beginning
The Consecration of Space
(2) Blessing of the Elemental Tools
(3) Casting of the Circle
(4) Blessing/Exorcism of Altar, People, and Circle
Centering, Grounding, Linking & Merging
(5) Opening Unity Meditation/Kissing Dance
(6) Specification of Ritual Purpose & Historical Precedent
(7) Specification of Deity(ies) of the Occasion & Reasons for Choice

Second Phase: Opening the Gates & Preliminary Power Raising
Invoking the Gatekeepers/Defining the Circle as Center
(8) Inviting the Guardians of the Quarters
(9) “Between the Worlds” Chant or Affirmation

Third Phase; Major Sending of Mana* to Deities of the Occasion
(10) Descriptive Invocation of Goddess and God
(11) Primary Power Raising
(12) The Sacrifice (a.k.a. the “Drop” or “Release”)

Fourth Phase: Receiving and Using the Returned Power
Preparation for the Return
(13) Meditation upon Personal and/or Group Needs
(14) Induction of Receptivity
Reception of Power from Deities of the Occasion
(15) Drawing Down the Moon
(16) Instruction from the Goddess; the Charge
(17) Optional Activity: Drawing Down the Sun
(18) Optional Activity: Instruction from the God; the Charge
(19) Optional Activity: the Great Rite (or in step 23)
(20) Cakes and Wine (Blessing and Passing)
(21) Acceptance of Individual Blessings
(22) Reinforcement of Group Bonding
(23) Optional Activity: Spell Casting or Rite of Passage
(24) Optional Activity: Second Ritual Meal with Conversation and/or Instruction

Fifth Phase: Unwinding and Ending the Ceremony
(25) Thanking of Deity(ies) Invoked
(26) Thanking of Guardians of the Quarters/Closing Gates
(27) Affirmation of Continuity & Success
Unmerging, Unlinking, Regrounding & Recentering
(28) Closing Meditation/Kissing Dance
Draining off Excess Mana
(29) Charging of Tools
Deconsecration of Space
(30) Circle Closing
Clearcut Ending: Deconsecration of Time
(31) Announcement of Ends

At some point in the not-so-distant future I will post here the text of a “Generic Wiccan Rite” according to this pattern, along with a detailed analysis and explanation of why and how each step is performed.

Copyright © 1989, 2000 c.e., Isaac Bonewits. This text file may be freely distributed on the Net, provided that no editing is done, the version number is listed, and this notice is included. If you would like to be on the author’s personal mailing list for upcoming publications, lectures, song albums, and appearances, send your snailmail and/or your email address to him at PO Box 372, Warwick, NY, USA 10990-0372 or via email to ibonewits@neopagan.net

Basic Ritual Structure

Basic Ritual Structure

Set up and Purification of Altar and Ritual Space.

Purification of Participants.

Salt and water are consecrated and combined and then the salt water is used to purify those who will be in the Circle. This is done by the Priestess or her delegate.

Grounding and Centering.

Grounding and centering are done by group visualization.

Circle is Cast.

Circle is cast by use of Wand, Athame, Hand, or Mental Visualization.

Quarters and Elements are evoked.

Quarters are called in the following order: East, South, West, North.
(Center may also be called, depending on the working, as may the Powers Above and Powers Below)

Goddess and God are invoked.

The deities are addressed as the Lord and as the Lady; names should be appropriate to Sabbat, Moon, or other ritual purpose and used in teaching/storytelling and/or spellwork.

General purpose of ritual is performed/Spellwork/Raising/Sending Power.

Power is raised by use of drumming, and/or chanting, etc. Teaching, study, spellwork, scrying, healing, etc. are all appropriate at this time.

Bless the Cakes and Wine.

Consecration of feast food (food in addition to ritual foods).


Time for reflection and for enjoyment of the circle.

Thank Deities, Quarters and Elements.

Circle is Opened.