by Jane Meredith
"We looked for eight places
on or near the edges of the Shire
that would hold the energy for a magical circle"
Magic in my part of the world, the Southern Hemisphere, is a bit of a puzzle. The sun rises in the East, then (contrary to the books) moves anti-clockwise through the Northern sky to set in the West. While Europe and the United States are celebrating Winter Solstice and Christmas, we are in the hottest part of our Summer, facing threats of drought and bushfires. When Easter is celebrated in the Northern Spring, it’s mid-Autumn for us.
Of course, there is no puzzle at all if we stay local. It’s obvious to us which is Winter and which is Summer, or where fire manifests in the circle. But it’s not consensual — plenty of Australian Pagans cast a circle widdershins (against the sun), putting earth in the North and fire in the South regardless of what they see and experience every day. I would argue they are following the word, rather than the spirit of casting a circle. After all, the Earth experiences both realities, simultaneously in different places. Surely the magic can cope with this apparent contradiction of directions, since the planet herself contains them. It is not a contradiction for us to be casting circles in opposite directions, but simply two halves of the whole.
Even for those who do work with the local energies, having already turned the whole system upside down, the question arises: how local should we go? For those of us who live on the East Coast, should we invoke water in the East and therefore Air in the West?
I solved this dilemma by delving more deeply into the nature of sacred water on a local level.
In Australia it is fresh water that is precious. Lack of it is a constant threat to plants, animals, livelihoods — and nowadays, even cities.
Water is found on and largely underneath the land. The Great Artesian Basin lies due West of where I live. To the East of me is — almost nothing. A lot of empty space, and New Zealand, if you slant slightly South.
Traveling every year back and forward between the two hemispheres, I became almost dizzy, always uncertain which direction I should be turning in or whether North (if I could find it) was dark or bright. I decided I needed a system that encompassed both sides, that I could maintain wherever I was and still have it be relevant: a structure that was big enough to encompass the truth of the whole Earth. Then all I would have to do is locate myself within it.
The Circle of Eight
I adopted a simple structure — the Celtic Wheel of the Year with its eight celebrations. I superimposed it over the compass directions, the quarters and cross-quarters. Thus in Australia the North is the Summer Solstice, heading anti-clockwise round to the North-West which is Lammas, whereas in the U.S. and Europe the North is the Winter Solstice, heading clockwise round the circle to the North-East which is Imbolc.
With seven other people, I met monthly and we literally sat in these eight directions. Through the circle and whatever ritual or work we were doing, we each contributed from our own direction — its energy, its correspondences — and in the following month, worked that energy on our own. The next time we met, we gave feedback on the intricacies of the South-East, or whatever direction we were in, as we had experienced it. Then we turned the Wheel and each moved on one place (I think the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland inspired me here).
Over the years, we had several changes of people, but the continuance of the Circle itself seemed more crucial than which individuals were part of it. We built up a deep, layered understanding of each direction as it applied to us, in that particular location. Each person experienced each direction differently, and often differently each time they held it. But the commonalities came through as well, and in the end seemed more powerful than any single particularity.
The North-East, for example (our Beltaine position) was characterised by the unexpected. It seemed that no matter what anyone expected, when they moved into that position, it always had a twist to it. This aspect of the unexpected fits very well with Beltaine. Even if it’s not the first thing I think of for that festival, it has a resonance of a deeper truth than romance or love.
I learned many things in the Circle of Eight. One was that after three or four turns around it, my preferences for and fears of certain positions dropped away. My fundamental experience became one of the turning Wheel, regardless of the position I held at the time.
Another discovery for me was the importance and excitement of the cross-quarter positions. We continually experienced them as far more dynamic and layered than the traditional quarter positions of North, West, South, and East, to the point where if we were casting a Circle only into four directions, we often would cast to the cross-quarters, particularly for a cross-quarter festival.
I had begun the Circle of Eight to create a relevant local system of magic, so that I was not responding to things I had read (usually written in and for the Northern hemisphere, anyway). Fire is a great example — for us it is a major threat and usually far too strong an energy. In many European rituals it is a benign and welcomed force. It is obvious what the dangers might be of simply imposing a Northern Hemisphere fire invocation onto an Australian ritual.
But I wanted to go deeper than that. I began to want some physical manifestation of this circle — not just eight human beings practicing a local/global magic together, but something on the land that represented and contained this energy. I was inspired by the many beautiful and powerful landforms I had visited in England and Europe: standing stones, stone circles, ancient barrows, ring ditches, and sacred wells. But in Australia, the Aboriginal cultures (who lived on this land for so incredibly long) are notable for not having built things. They have a history, instead, of relating to the natural landscape — what is already there — and understanding its spirit/energies.
I was working an essentially Celtic-derived magic in this land, but I wanted some cross-over between the two. I started looking at the landforms and places around me. I had other motivations as well: I wanted this circle to be held in a significant area of land, for our magical practice to both stretch over and also be informed by this geographical area. And I was aware this could have political relevance.
The part of Australia I live in is peculiar for a number of reasons. This shire — the local government area — is Green, in a historically farming area, with the high-rise developments of the Gold Coast practically on our doorstep. So we are located between entrenched conservatism and rampant development. We have a high number of alternative, healing, New Age, and Eastern spiritual practices and practitioners in a few small towns, scattered along the coast and in remnants of rainforest.
It is an area of rich, volcanic soil, a carved-out caldera. Half the caldera is on land and half in the sea. This lovely yin-yang image of Byron Bay and its surrounds, as well as the political implications, inspired me to define the shire as the area I wished to encompass with my circle.
We looked for eight places on or near the edges of the shire that would hold the energy for a magical circle: being powerful in themselves, in the correct direction, on public land and containing some part of what I thought of as intrinsic to that position. Amazingly, someone had built a labyrinth more-or-less in the centre of the shire. I couldn’t resist including that as the centre of the Circle.
We slowly found eight places, four on or near the sea’s edge, befitting the idea of our geographical area being half in the ocean, and continued our ritual and magical practice, visiting each place many times, both individually and as a group. They informed our practice, deepened tremendously our understanding of each position on the Wheel, and strengthened our rituals and circles. We feel the individual nature of those places now, wherever we cast our circle. We can send the magic out to them, or call in their presence to strengthen or inform our work.
Now I have a sense not just of the small circle in my living room, with its eight distinct but linked places, but how it stretches from each of those eight places out onto the land, into the largeness of the circle of those eight places. Beyond that I have a sense of the grandeur of the Wheel itself, of our little locality held within the turn of the Earth and stars.
So many things were made clear(er) to me by doing this work. The North-West (our Lammas position) had always been inexplicably powerful in our rituals, more so than the North, which didn’t seem to make sense. When we started working with the land we realized the volcano (which all this land was formed from) sat directly North-West of us. Not to mention the power of that time of year here. We are waiting for and calling on the rain to arrive, wherein the whole season swings and changes.
I searched for an Aboriginal connection to our circle, to anchor it through the layers of magic and land, and discovered that beyond our shire, to the South-West, is an Aboriginal Bora (ceremonial) ring. The South-West in this hemisphere is Samhain. The Bora ring is reached by driving through a (white) cemetery. Even the fact that it is some distance away from the shire seemed appropriate. The South-West is sometimes a long way out of ordinary life and even the rest of the circle. The Bora ring taught me a lot about the South-West, a direction that has always seemed my spiritual home and was the time of year I was born.
Now when I travel, the Circle of Eight travels with me. It is such a solid, lived experience that I find I can easily superimpose its Northern Hemisphere version over the more familiar one, and thus always know exactly where I am (sometimes it feels like I am in two places at once, but I’ve never had the experience of not knowing where I was at all) and I necessarily know which way to cast the circle. I couldn’t not know, it is so clear in me.
I have taught this Circle of Eight system in a few places (in the Northern Hemisphere, as it happens). Other than its initial structure of eight equally-spaced places representing the quarters and cross-quarters, it is completely open. So your circle will be responsive to local conditions. You will be working with the land there as well as linking, through the Circle of Eight structure, to all other magical practitioners using a quartered or cross-quartered circle.
Your circle and its magic will be relevant to place. If there is a mountain to your South it will have a flavor different than if there was a desert or sea. Indeed, mountain magic will be different than river magic, or plains magic. And I believe it will create local magic for those who live there. They will be more closely related to the land than if they were using a "one kind fits all" circle from a book.
With a shared emphasis on structure rather than content, our magic can easily and naturally weave immediate local energies within complex global patterns.
Jane Meredith is an Australian priestess of the Goddess who works internationally. She is passionate about myth, ritual and magic. She has taught at California Witchcamp. Her website is www.janemeredith.com
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