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The function of the circle is twofold: first, to provide a measure of protection from hostile or distracting external psychic influences; second, and more important in the context of Witchcraft, to contain and focus the energies raised in ritual. The circle defines the boundaries of the ritual space, the perimeter of the circle marking the extent of the area within which our attention is focused, and the casting and grounding of the circle marking the time set aside as special. The protective function of the circle creates a safe space where the participants can be psychically open with relatively little disturbance from outside energies. This aids the focusing role of the circle, and allows the power to be raised more readily.
Gross details of the physical environment may still intrude - if the neighbors call the police, for instance, or if a loud conversation takes place just outside. Also keep in mind that the circle does not screen you from others within the circle; for this reason, the Law says that none who disagree may be in circle together. It is customary to maintain a sort of pax templi in the circle, where any quarrels are set aside if at all possible. Also be aware that there may be conflicting elements within yourself which could manifest in odd ways within the reflective space of the circle. Good grounding technique is especially important; it's always a good idea to take a few moments before entering circle to release the mundane tensions you've been holding, set aside any preoccupations, and center your thoughts and energies on the work at hand. The circle also represents the cyclical nature of magical reality; the rituals that take place within the circle are not seen as isolated historical events, but as recurring mythical themes, representing general types of experience and interaction that are common to the human condition.
The circle is said to be set "between the worlds", forming a bridge between the world of concrete reality and the world of the symbolic logic of dreams and myths. The four Elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, represent the basic building blocks of nature, or more accurately, of our perception of nature. We place them in the quarters of the circle to represent successive stages in the cycle of creation: AIR represents the conception or perception of a new idea, the seed of knowledge, and the freedom to choose which direction to move. FIRE is the desire or Will to manifest the idea, the driving life force, the principle of change and transformation. WATER is the perseverance and courage needed to endure the long gestation, the nurturing and supporting role.
EARTH is the element of birth, where the original Idea crystallizes and manifests in a material form, building a solid foundation for the next idea. Air and Fire are often, though not always, thought of as masculine, while Water and Earth are generally feminine. This may relate to the observation that the male influence is only necessary in the earliest stages of the creation of life, whereas the female influence must continue for a much longer period. Both ofcourse are complimentary opposites and contain bits of eachother. Earth is considered feminine and yin, but also contains masculine yang energy, same with Water. Fire is considered masculine and yang, but also contains feminine yin energy, same with Air. Air is associated with knowledge and the intellect, and related matters: perception, analytic thought, communication, memory. The emotions that go along with Air include the feeling you get from daydreaming; a sense of intense concentration on a difficult problem; an abstract appreciation of mathematical elegance, artistic skill, or superior craftsmanship; and also a sense of distance and detachment. Fire is the most active of elements, representing motivation of all sorts - the Will to create or to destroy, or just to get up and dance.
Fiery emotions are intense and urgent, but usually pass quickly: desire, anger, joy, panic. Without Fire to prod the other elements along, the world would likely settle into a rather uninteresting fixed state. Water is the element of deep, long-term emotions, and of the action of the subconscious mind. Love (of an enduring nature); sorrow; the courage to continue on a difficult path with no end in sight; an enduring rage born of long, silent suffering; and the hope that springs eternal from forgotten wisdom, held deep in the heart where the old knowledge still waits - these are the feelings of Water. When you know what to do, but you don't know how you know, that, too, is Water. Earth is the most stable of elements, the emblem of successful completion and the foundation on which the future is built. It is also inertia, resistance to change, unreasoning stubbornness. The emotions of Earth include a sense of security, confidence in your own strength, an ability to completely ignore minor sources of irritation, and a desire to just sit down and do nothing. Thus, various qualities and ideas are associated with each of the Elements. In addition to the physical qualities we think of, there are also colors suggestive of images, there are animals, there are abstract ideas and qualities and virtues, all woven together in a complex web of symbols that sometimes seems perfectly logical and other times looks hopelessly arbitrary and contradictory. Don't worry if it doesn't seem to make sense, because in some modes of understanding, it doesn't. Some Elemental Correspondences
The Circle Dance or Cone Dance is done for the purpose of raising power, and to bring the collective energy of the group into focus. We use an expanded version of the Witches' Rune, including a short guided visualization to help get the energy flowing, and a postlude emphasizing the basic unity of the group. The dance draws the elemental energies we have invoked into the center of the circle and blends them together so that, combined, they may form the basis of our work. As we chant together, and move in the dance together, we begin to harmonize and balance and blend our voices, our movements, and our magical energies. As the power builds through the Witches' Rune proper, we picture the energy flowing, first with a circular motion through the clasped hands of the dancers, then gradually beginning to move inward and upward to form a cone (the "Cone of Power"), which at the final IO PAN! is released to effect the purpose we have set for it.
We often don't explicitly specify a purpose for the Cone. The energy in the default case, by group tradition, goes to build the astral Temple, or to strengthen the group identity (as an entity somewhat independent of the actual members of the group). Some traditions fall to the ground to release the Cone; we throw our hands upward to outline the shape of the Cone and focus on the apex. After we have released the energy of the Cone, we acknowledge the unity we have temporarily achieved, and our readiness to proceed to the work of the ritual. In the Book of the Law (one of the traditional Wiccan documents, probably written by Gerald Gardner, sometimes referred to as 'The Ordains'; no relation to Aleister Crowley's book by the same name) it is written, "With love and worship in their hearts, they shall raise power from their bodies to give power to the Gods". This is rather curious, considering that for most magical operations it is a distinctly bad idea to try to use the energy of your body in this way. However, in the case of the Cone Dance, the power raised does seem to come from the bodies of the dancers, at least up to a point.
It is important to keep in mind that you should be taking in energy with one hand while sending it out through the other; this creates a balanced and sustainable energy flow without draining your personal resources. As with all magical work, don't try to push the energy, simply allow it to flow in the direction you want. The reason the cone dance works without draining the participants has to do with the circular shape of the energy flow: we use the energy of our bodies to create a loop, which calls forth an answering surge of energy rising upward from the Earth through the center of our cone; thus, our own power is amplified with the power of the Earth. As the circle draws tighter, the induced energy flow becomes more focused. When the Cone is released, let go of the energy; try to make a clean break and release your attachment to the power. Think of loosing an arrow from a bow; from the moment of release, the arrow moves of its own accord along the course you have set for it, and any further attachment can only hinder its flight. Try to send off the power with the same kind of snap.
A related form of ritual dance is the Spiral Dance or Meeting Dance. This dance begins as a circle dance, then the designated leader of the dance releases the hand of the person in front of her and begins to wind the circle inward, forming a spiral. When she reaches the center of the circle, she turns sharply and begins to unwind the spiral. When the spiral is unwound, the dancers are facing outward and moving widdershins. If desired, the spiral may then be wound again, returning the circle to its original state. The spiral wound in this way is symbolic of death and rebirth. This form of dance has a more personally transformative effect than the cone dance; as you pass through the center of the spiral, you can usually feel a distinct energy shift within yourself. Traditionally, the scourge was sometimes used to "whip up" the dancers, especially with a large outdoor festival or a major working. This may be related to the use of goatskin thongs to induce ecstatic frenzy in the celebrants of Dionysiac rites in classical antiquity. Drawing Down the Moon, the invocation of the Goddess into the Priestess, and the corresponding invocation of the God into the Priest, is potentially one of the most powerful magical acts we perform. The Priestess should be aware of this before accepting the role, and the invoking Priest should be sensitive to the magnitude of the occasion.
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