by Grahame Gardner
What do a circle chalked on your living room carpet, a labyrinth, the ring of stones at Stonehenge, the interior of a Gothic cathedral, the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid and the passage cairn of Newgrange have in common? They are all examples of sacred space.
Sacred spaces are where we go to step outside of our normal everyday lives. Places where we can be alone to commune with the divine, or gather together in groups for ceremony and ritual. They are places where we feel that our connection with the spiritual is enhanced; places that inspire us or induce a sense of wonder or awe, places that we can use for retreat, self-renewal and spiritual advancement.
Today, with increasing numbers of people taking control of their own spiritual paths, there is often a need for them to have access to a personal sacred space that they can use regularly and exclusively. Constructing your own sacred space is not that difficult, but it helps to know some of the ground rules in advance. There are common characteristics that are encountered in most sacred spaces, and by incorporating these into our own spaces their effectiveness can be enhanced.
To construct a sacred space is to precisely position ourselves in Space and Time. We are creating a psychic bubble of space that is a microcosm of Universe. Thus, by marking out and orienting our space to the cardinal directions, we create very real energetic anchors to Middle World (the Earth we walk on). By positioning the space on an earth energy power spot, we create links to Lower World, and by including astronomical alignments, such as a solstice sunrise, we can draw upon Upper World energy. For example, the Great Pyramid is oriented to the cardinal directions with a very high degree of accuracy, and if the southern base length of the Pyramid (756 feet or 440 ‘Royal cubits’ of 1.718 feet) is multiplied by its height (481 feet or 280 Royal cubits), it produces a very close approximation of the length of the terrestrial degree (68.88 miles) at its latitude of 31 degrees. The Pyramid thus relates to its location on the Earth, while the passages within it locate it to the date of its construction through their alignments to key stars1. The Pyramid also includes many examples of sacred geometry in its proportions – too numerous to go into here – and by incorporating sacred geometry in the design, we create a subtle ‘form resonance’ that enhances the numinous qualities of the space2. Thus a properly constructed sacred space is indeed ‘between the worlds’. Permanent sacred spaces like Gothic cathedrals incorporate all these devices and more, and the space is constantly recharging itself through these energetic links.
However in the case of a temporary sacred space for individual or group use it is not necessary or always possible to include all these techniques. We can afford to be selective.
There are many shapes that you can use for your sacred space, and each have their merits, but for the purposes of this tutorial, we shall be concentrating on the simplest space of all, the circle. A circle has inherent sacred geometry in the form of the irrational, transcendental number Pi (∏, 3.14159…). Irrational numbers are those where the decimal part goes on forever, never repeating or falling into a recurring cycle. They are an integral part of sacred geometry and expressions of the infinite. If either the circumference or the diameter of a circle is a whole number measurement, the other will always be an irrational number.
Robin Heath says of the circle: “The circle perimeter represents eternity – it has no beginning and no ending. This is a concept worth thinking about, for a glimpse of infinity may be had by standing in the middle of your circle and pointing in any direction. If you move your pointed finger around the full circle, then in that single act, you have also pointed your way around the entire Universe.
“The centre is the Earth and all our cycles of time fit into this circle. The year is the time it takes the Sun to (apparently) move around the zodiac, the sidereal month is the time it takes the Moon to do the same, whilst the sidereal day is the time it takes a point on the Earth’s surface to rotate once around this same girdle of stars. A large circle on a flattish surface outdoors can easily become your temple under the stars – a sacred place for you to be informed by the sky. ‘As above, so below.’”3
Tried and tested over the centuries by native peoples, shamans, magicians and other ceremonialists, the circle is the ideal construction for a temporary sacred space. It is easy to construct, and simultaneously both defines the working area and differentiates it from the rest of Universe by creating a local ‘artificial horizon’.
There are numerous methods for casting a Circle, and ultimately it is of course possible to create one using nothing more than your imagination if your visualisation techniques are strong enough. Because the space is only going to be temporary, we can rely more on our intent and will to create the correct working space. Yet the more correspondences we can include, the better the space will feel. A properly constructed space ‘sings’ louder than one that is sloppily thrown together; so if you’re new to this, you may find these techniques helpful. Good technique is also important in maintaining psychic cleanliness.
Step 1: Prepare the space. Establish where you are going to construct your Circle. You may not have much choice in this; it may have to be your bedroom or living room floor, but if you have the opportunity to do it outdoors, dowse to find a natural power spot such as a blind spring or the crossing point of energy leys. This will be your centre.
Physically clean the space by tidying up and vacuuming if indoors. It’s a good idea to psychically clean it as well (particularly if you don’t know the history of the space) by smudging with sage or using other space-clearing procedures4. Smudge yourself while you are about it.
Step 2: Construct your circle. Place something on the centre point that will act as a swivel. Outdoors, a wooden stake in the ground is by far the easiest method. However, if you are lucky enough to be doing this on a power spot, be aware that inserting stakes into such points (“pinning the dragon”) is a powerful geomantic act and will affect the earth energies, so psychically protecting yourself before you do it is definitely recommended. There are various ways of doing this, such as visualising an egg-shaped body of light around you, or placing yourself in a column of light extending both above and below you and into the Earth, or offering a prayer for assistance. Use whatever method you are comfortable with. Insert your stake with the intent that you are harnessing the earth energy to charge your space.
Indoors, a heavy candlestick or an upturned terracotta flowerpot with a stick in the hole will work just fine as a centre post. As can the finger of a willing assistant, of course!
Now we need to establish the direction of True North from the centre point. From an energetic point of view, it is better to do this without resorting to mechanical devices like compasses. Outdoors there are various methods that can be used, such as sighting on the North Star (Drawing Down the North). Or, if you have a level horizon, you can mark the position of a shadow cast by a pole at sunrise and sunset, draw a line connecting the ends of the shadows and bisect that to find North, but this does take at least a day and requires clear skies so is not terribly practical for short-term use. In most cases of temporary spaces, and especially if you are indoors, you are probably going to have to use a compass to find North. Don’t forget to compensate for magnetic deviation5
Make a loop in one end of a rope and hook it over the centre point. Decide the radius of your circle and knot the cord at that point. A 9-foot circle is traditional (nine also being a significant number in sacred geometry), so the cord would be 4 feet 6 inches long, but you can make it smaller or larger if you have to.
Stretch the rope taut and mark out the perimeter of the circle. You can use anything you like for this, chalk, salt, a ring of stones, even rope. The important bit is to make it as accurate as you can. I usually use salt if I’m indoors, both for its traditional psychic protection attributes and because it’s easily vacuumed up from carpets.
Step 3: Mark the four Directions, which are traditionally called the ‘Quarters’. Again, try to make these accurate. If I have time, I like to establish a north-south base line through the centre of the circle using string, and then construct the east-west axis at right angles to this using a druid’s cord6, but this is a bit time-consuming in a temporary space. A reasonable sized setsquare or protractor can work almost as well. It is important to try and get the Quarters correct as this helps to set up energetic connections with the surrounding land.
How you represent each Quarter is up to you. There are traditional elemental correspondences associated with each direction (going clockwise from North it’s usually Earth, Air, Fire, Water), or you could use the four winds (Boreas, Eurus, Notus and Zephyrus), the four archangels (Auriel, Gabriel, Michael and Raphael) or whatever you prefer. I like to use something representative of each element at the appropriate Quarter, and also have a candle at each direction that is lit when invoking the Quarter. So I might have a crystal in the north for Earth, a feather, joss stick or bell in the east for Air, a candle or lantern in the south for Fire, and a chalice or bowl of water in the west for Water. But not everyone uses the same correspondences, so use what works for you.
Now that the physical part of construction is finished, gather together any items that you want to work with in the Circle, and place them within. It’s a good idea to use some sort of altar as focus for your work. Place this in the centre of the circle if you can, or if you need a bit more room you can place it at one of the Quarters. The North has traditional associations with wisdom and learning, but the East is more commonly used in classical magic.
On your altar you should at least have a representation of your chosen Deity or Deities, which at minimum can be a burning candle. You should also have any other tools or ingredients that you may need, such as incense, crystals, charged water, flowers and so on. An altar is a very personal expression, and it is the focal point of your sacred space, so it should embody all the ideas that you want to include in your space.
Step 4: Cast the Circle. This is the energetic part of the process that is going to be different for everybody, dependent on your personal spiritual paradigm. Basically you are focussing your intent to will energy into the circle so that it develops an energy body of its own. Most people like to focus the energy through some sort of tool, like a wand or crystal, but you can use your pointed finger in a pinch; whatever technique works best for you. Before starting, stand in the centre of the circle facing your altar and take a deep breath. Imagine a column of light descending from above, passing through you and into the earth. As you breathe out, picture this column extending downward right to the centre of the earth. On the next in-breath, draw energy from the earth back up the column and into yourself. It is this energy that you are going to direct through your tool. This is an important grounding step and also energetically connects you and the circle with the Upper and Lower worlds. Now extend your tool (or your finger) and visualise a stream of bluish-white light extending out from the tip, and direct this energy into the perimeter of the circle as you walk round. Visualise the circle as a glowing ring of neon blue-white fire. If you work with colour correspondences, you may want to change the colour you visualise to something more appropriate to your working.
It helps to state clearly what your intentions are in relation to the circle as you do this (something like, “I cast this circle to be a sacred space for…”). Is it for protection, meditation, to send out healing energy, or what? Be clear about your intent. The usual way to cast is clockwise, or deosil, ‘with the sun‘ (in the northern hemisphere – reverse for the southern).
Next, walk around the perimeter and consecrate the circle by flicking charged water containing a little salt, representing the elements of Water and Earth. Follow this up with a candle (for Fire) and incense (for Air). This brings the four elements into the circle.
Step 5: Invoke the Quarters. Again, there are very different methods for doing this depending on spiritual tradition, but basically you face the direction involved, salute with your tool, and ask the guardians of the Quarter to be present and watch over the circle. So, beginning at the East, you could try something along the lines of, “Guardians of the East, I welcome you to my circle with love and trust and ask that you protect it from all negativity”. Continue clockwise around the Circle.
Visualisation is again the key here; if your guardians are the elements, visualise the floor shaking for Earth, a blast of heat in the face for Fire, and so on. If your guardians are the Archangels, you can see them holding the appropriate tools and wearing their coloured robes. The more vivid your visualisations, the better your circle will be. In most magical traditions, invoking pentagrams or other symbols are drawn in the air at each quarter for additional protection; however this is probably overly convoluted in a circle being used for prayer, meditation or healing.
Step 6: Invoke Deity or Deities. Light your candles on the altar, and invoke by asking them by name to be present. The invocation of Deities is a procedure that some people may not be comfortable with, and if so this step can be omitted. The idea is to choose an archetypal representation that will provide your subconscious with a simple and easily remembered ‘hook’, keeping it focussed on the desired result without you having to consciously think about it. Indeed, you can invoke several deities if different archetypes best serve your particular working. State the purpose of your working as clearly as you can at this point, again, it helps to focus your intent on the task at hand.
Step 7: Raise energy. Sit with your eyes closed and mentally turn your attention to the energy of the circle. Go round it in your mind, checking that everything is done and visualising the energy of the circle swirling up higher and higher, faster and faster until it is as strong as you can get it. Some people visualise the energetic space as an infinitely long cylinder of energy extending above and below, others prefer to imagine a large sphere. When you are satisfied that the energy is as good as you can get it, your sacred space is ready and you can begin work.
A properly constructed Circle should feel noticeably different from the surroundings; a bit like the energetic equivalent of filtered water. Perhaps it feels slightly warmer, or external noises seem lessened, the air might seem to sparkle or appear slightly misty, or you simply feel an increased sense of peace and well-being. But there is a quite unmistakeable difference between outside and inside the circle.
If you have to leave your Circle for any reason before you have finished, don’t just step over the boundary, as this will dissipate the energy. Use your tool or finger to energetically “cut” a doorway in the air that you then step through, and seal it up again when you return.
Taking it all down is basically a reversal of the above process…
Release the Deities, giving thanks for their attendance. Blow out their candles.
Release the Quarters in turn, starting at the East once more, and thanking the Guardians. Blow out their candles. Banishing pentagrams or symbols would also be done at this point.
Banish the Circle by walking round making cutting movements with your tool. Most people walk anti-clockwise (widdershins) for this. The important bit is to visualise the energy breaking up and either dispersing or going back into the earth.
Clean up the physical traces of the circle.
Clean your tools physically and then psychically by smudging with sage to release any unwanted energies.
There should be no energetic or physical traces left after you have finished, and the space can be returned to mundane use.
© 2003 Grahame Gardner & BSD EEG
- Richard Heath ‘The Matrix of Creation’
- See my previous article ‘Irrational Thinking – A Sacred Geometry Primer’ EEG newsletter, March 2003
- Robin Heath ‘Stone Circles – A Beginner’s Guide’
- ‘Smudging’ by wafting the smoke of burning sage throughout a space, usually with a feather, is a popular space-clearing technique today, largely deriving from Native American practice, although the Celts and other early peoples employed similar procedures.
- If you’re not sure what your local magnetic deviation is, you can find it printed in the top margin of Ordnance Survey maps, or check on the web at http://www.magnetic-declination.com/
- A knotted cord of 13 equal segments, which can be used to mark out a 3-4-5 right-angled triangle.