The Circle of Eight
The Circle of Eight does not depend on prior magical knowledge or experience. It is strongly referential to place, that is the place where the circle is held and surrounding places. It can be practised solo or with a partner, but it is probably strongest with a group, preferably of eight people, though this is not strictly necessary as people continually move around the circle so that any vacancy is a rotating one.
The Circle has eight positions, which can be literally sat in, held energetically and also have locations designated for them. The eight positions are based on the major compass directions of: South, South-East, East, North-East, North, North-West, West, South-West.
In the Southern Hemisphere the Wheel turns anti–clockwise and the directions correspond to the following elements and Celtic sun festivals:
- South - (Earth) - Winter Solstice
- South-East – (Earth/Air) - Imbolc
- East – (Air) - Spring Equinox
- North-East – (Air/Fire) – Beltane
- North – (Fire) – Summer Solstice
- North-West – (Fire/Water) – Lammas/Lughnassa
- West – (Water) – Autumn Equinox
- South-West – (Water/Earth) – Samhain
In the Northern Hemisphere the Wheel turns clockwise and the directions correspond to the following elements and Celtic sun festivals:
- North - (Earth) - Winter Solstice
- North-East– (Earth/Air) - Imbolc
- East – (Air) - Spring Equinox
- South-East – (Air/Fire) – Beltane
- South – (Fire) – Summer Solstice
- South-West– (Fire/Water) – Lammas/Lughnassa
- West – (Water) – Autumn Equinox
- North-West – (Water/Earth) – Samhain
All of the ritual and magic of the circle is set up in the following way:
As a Group Practice
Each participant takes an initial position in the circle, ie: East, and sits literally in the East during the first meeting/ritual. They concentrate on becoming a channel for the East energy, with all its correspondences, particularly correspondences that are relevant to – or even unique to – the geographical location of the circle. For the duration of time until the circle meets again (ie: a month, fortnight or until the next Festival – we chose to meet on the new moon each month, thus balancing the sun aspect of this circle with a lunar one - ), that person focuses on East – on observing and receiving meanings, feelings and correspondences for East, as manifesting in their own life and as relevant to the East for that circle. This can be worked even more deliberately with the energies of East being actively invoked into the person’s life/magic/understandings.
During the next meeting or ritual of the circle, that person again sits in the East, sharing with the others (or journaling, if working alone), the experiences and understandings of East. At some stage during the circle, the Wheel is turned by whatever method is chosen and that person moves to the next position – in the Southern Hemisphere it would be to the North-East, in the Northern Hemisphere it would be to the South-East.
If practising with more than one person, though the wheel itself constantly turns, the relationships with the others remain set (ie: next to, on a cross from) which becomes one of the constants. The relationship most emphasised is that of opposites, the Festival/position/person sitting directly opposite oneself who carries the pole, the reflection, the mirror. If there is no-one opposite, one works with the shadow- or mirror-self or the memory of oneself as one was when last in that position. If there are gaps in the circle – ie: less than eight people – these particular gaps exist only during this ritual, as all positions are moved through continually by the turning of the Wheel.
The energetic/magical/ritual level
Everything that is done, such as celebrating Festivals, continues to have the flavours of the directions involved in it. That is, the person holding that direction will consciously (and probably unconsciously as well) bring that energy/manifestation into the ritual. Each person will have a different flavour of each direction, and further, each time they hold that position as they continue around the circle they will probably discover a different level or aspect of that direction. Thus, watching and listening, each person builds up a manifold understanding of each of the eight directions, based on layers of observed and lived experience and ritual. This wide and layered learning of the direction enriches and deepens all the rituals and processes that are held within it.
Learning the circle in this way can be the main activity in itself, or the base point for exploring any field of magic/personal development that the group or individual wishes. Amongst other things we did personal development work, mythical exploration and enactment, ritual creation and development of magical skills. At various stages we made masks relevant to directions, worked intensively with voice as relevant to directions, invoked deities felt to be concordant with the directions and worked intensively with opposites.
As a geographical circle of power
Eight, or nine if the centre is included, geographical locations are selected, based on a number of criteria chosen by the group or individual. Our criteria included: that the place be of public access. That it be within, or relevant to, the Shire where the circle was held – that in some way it represent the boarders of that particular political/social and geographical location. That it have a resonance or power of its own. That it correspond to its actual position; ie: the South location had to be in the South of the Shire. That it held some of the essential qualities of that direction; in our case the South is a cave and round pool with a waterfall, rock walls and lush greenery. That it felt right, on our initial explorations and visits and that we receive a positive answer when we ask it, standing on location, to hold one of the positions of our circle for us.
This circle, once set up, acts as a kind of guardian/ring of temples/container for the magical work. The group or individual can visit each place in turn or on relevant Festivals or, as we did, each time they hold the corresponding direction within the circle. Lines and webs of energy can be set up during rituals in many ways, for example, travelling between points, or sequentially to points or having different people in different locations at the same time.
This place thus becomes a reference point for the circle, both in casting and in magical work and together they form a kind of container for the energy and ritual – like a temple or circle of standing stones. The places can act as a resonance for the position, a support for the person holding that position and a source of information/inspiration regarding that direction. The ritual energy can be flung out from any point to all other points and yet still have strong boundaries; the positions can be invoked and worked with to magnify the ritual energy – either specific directions according to the nature of the ritual and/or the time of year, or all of them together as a circle.
Further notes on the Geographical Circle of Eight
Long before we began this work, of finding/acknowledging and working with a geographical circle of eight we had noticed some peculiarities in the castings and workings of our circles and festivals. The North-West invariably came through as more powerful than the North; always somewhat of a mystery to us until, when setting this circle up, we realised that directly North-West of us lay the ancient volcano whose explosions had created not just the fertile soil we live with but had carved out this caldera that we live within, that the whole shire is contained within. Suddenly all those spontaneous references to burning, those invocations where the voice suddenly ripped out depth and power for the North-West made sense. The volcanic caldera is half on the land and half in the sea and three of the positions for our circle are on the sea – the South-East, East and North-East; with the North being not far away and having a long view of coastline.
Another thing that seemed slightly unusual when we cast our usual eight pointed circle for the festivals was the vast distance that seemed contained in the South-West, as if the circle stretched in that direction forever. There is an ancient Aboriginal Bora Ring to the south-west of our shire; actually well beyond the bounds of the shire but when we went there looking for a location for our South-West it seemed perfect, so we stretched our criteria to include it (stretching being of the very essence of the South-West). Access to the Bora Ring is through a white cemetery; you actually have to pass through the land of the dead, inbetween graves to get there. On a metal plate is inscribed further information about the site, about how the entrance to the Bora ring lies in the south-west and there is thought to be another ring, to the south-west of this one. So our place for the South-West has an actual distance from the rest of our circle, as well as its history of tens of thousands of years use in the magic and ritual of this land. We did spend a long time deciding whether or not to include this sacred Aboriginal site as one of our directions, since we brought a different style of magic but the place itself seemed so positive, so welcoming and we have compromised by including it but doing our own ceremonies outside the Bora ring itself; bringing offerings and honouring but not intruding.
I have worked on incorporating an animal level of awareness in this circle; observing which animals are repeatedly found or seen at the location and recognising their link to the place, position and circle. Many of them are birds, perhaps because of our location on the sea. As every reference added into the system, they bring their own flavours to the position, sometimes confirming my beliefs regarding a particular position (for example, seeing the same/the same kind of green tree snake twice at the South location) and sometimes they add a twist, for example the pelicans in the North-East which seem to bring in an almost clowning element, thus lightening the sometimes weighty references of this direction. As for the South-West, at the Bora ring, there are millions of ants, endless ants. Different sorts of ants but always ants and apart from grazing cows nearby and the occasional magpie this is all the animals I have ever seen there. So I have allowed that the ants belong to the South-West, are the guardians there and understood their busy eating and building is part of what turns the dead back into the world of the living, that they clean up the decomposing flesh and what could be more a task of the South-West? And now, when a black cockatoo flies overhead I am reminded, it is like a thread of the North-West reaching out to touch me; a dolphin brings with it the suddenness and immediate sense of presence I associate with the East.
I do not have a finite sense of this work of the geographical circle; more a feeling that the further I go with it, the deeper it becomes. That these places of nature contain endless teachings and the reference system I am working with so far embraces all of this; that it is dynamic and unfolding and that the structure serves its purposes. It has become the solid base for my internal magical reference system.
© 2006 Jane Meredith.