Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Your Circle Casting is Weird!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At our Imbolc celebration on Saturday, one newbie guest approached me to say that he had a very good time, except for one thing. He had difficulty with the way we had cast the Circle. It probably would have been a good idea to explain things prior to casting. But I forgot.

Hold onto your panties, boys and girls!!!!! The East Coast branch of Novices of the Old Ways casts a Circle by invoking Water from the East and Air from the West!!!




Okay. Yeah. We changed the order of East and West. B-b-b-b-but why???? How could we? How dare we? Why would we????

A couple of years ago, Circle Casting was my least favorite part of the ritual, behind cleaning up empty wine bottles and discarded cheese rind at the end. The reason for it was because even getting Quarter Callers to volunteer was harder than asking for root canals volunteers at a dentistry school. And (sorry to rag on my own crew!!!) when I would finally get people to agree to it, the Quarter Calling often sounded like this:

"Hail to the um.....hm....Hail to the Guardians of the.....(*cough*)....wait....um....we invoke Thee, Ancient Ones of the....what is associated with West, again?" Giggle. Giggle. Giggle.

While many other groups were working very hard to formalize the Quarter Calling, I wanted to get rid of the whole thing.

One day, my teacher, who is British, mentioned that the reason the Circle is cast as it often is cast is because the directions were based on a European system of direction. In Great Britain, where the traditional Circle Casting was developed, the greatest body of water was to be found in the West--the Atlantic Ocean. The jet stream of wind was strongest coming in from the East. Hence, honor Air in the East and Water in the West.

"So, I wonder if it would make sense for East Coast American Witches to cast by invoking Water from the East, where our ocean is located, and Air from the West, where our own jet stream comes from? North could stay the same--Earth being associated with ice, which we'd find in the North. Fire could stay in the South, where the hot equator is located?" I asked.

"Try it and see," he said.

I suggested it to my Coven this fall and at first, they were hesitant. Throwing something into the mix that is so different than what is familiar takes quite a bit of getting used to. But for us, it worked. We had stronger results. I no longer have to plead for Quarter Calling volunteers--people are excited about them. They flow easier and come in stronger. We've even taken to chanting the names of the Elementals to summon Them instead of using "Hail to the Guardians" in our private rituals. When we do cast using the "Hail" format, it's again much stronger than it was before. As New York City Witches, whenever we can move out of the symbolic and theoretical into the practical and tangible, the better. We have a difficult enough time connecting with nature. Why make it even harder? The closest ocean is in the East. Why not summon the spirit of the body of Water which is only 4-5 miles away, instead of reaching 3,000 miles to the next body of Water, on the West Coast? We are constantly pummeled by frigid winds that sweep in from the Midwest. Why not use Their energies for our ritual work?

Let me say again for the record that I do respect tradition and its place in our practices. Traditions are important as they act as the glue that holds practices together long-term. But the equally important role of the non-traditional practice is that it challenges longer-standing practices, moves them forward and keeps them from becoming stagnant cesspools of dogma. We've seen it happen to mainstream religions. The traditional and the non-traditional work together to provide healthy, holistic options for all members of the Craft. It is of dire importance that both are respected, but I'm worried to see that so many sects of the Craft are in danger of repeating the same mistakes mainstream religions have made. These are the same mistakes that sent most of us packing from the Churches, Synagogues and Mosques (among others) of our youth: Dogma without questioning, rules without understanding, practices by rout instead of by heart.

When we are not open to breaking tradition, we become its slave and in that mistake, our spirituality is whittled down to a system of right or wrong, which is precisely what is killing Christianity. It has the potent potential to kill Wicca, too.If you are member of a tradition, more power to you and kudos to you for finding a system that works for you! Your work in preserving your tradition is important as it will provide a strong framework of practice for those to come. If you are a non-traditionalist, again kudos to you for keeping things shaken up and moving forward--discovering new things and enriching the Craft.

Being a non-traditionalist is scary. We make lots of mistakes. We feel like we are out in the proverbial wilderness a lot of the time. But what we have is the unbelievable power of potential and discovery.

I urge those of the non-traditional persuasion to remember that your practices are as valid as the "Ancient Traditions" ("ancient" meaning they date way back to the 1970's....most of them.....). But do also be respectful when attending a traditional Circle. Avoid being critical or snickering at what might be too rigid for your tastes. Someone, somewhere has worked very hard to preserve that tradition and it serves many people, even if it's not your flavor.

If you are a traditionalist, be open to the way a non-traditionalist is performing things. They are keeping the Craft from fading into another dogmatic cult. I think that's something none of us, regardless of our tradition or non-tradition, want to see.

I encourage Witches all over the place, particularly those in the Southern Hemisphere to try moving around the Elemental Quarter calling. Would it make sense for South American and Australian Witches to call Fire from the North and Earth from the South? Just a thought and a question. Would love to hear your stories at courtney@tarotoftheboroughs.com.

Happy (belated) Imbolc!!!



Dylan said...

I totally get it, but then again...

I associate dawn with air, the start of something, the arrival of that morning newspaper,(Granted I use the internet now)the information gathered so you can start a task, so it just makes sense to do it from the east to me.

And West, well I was born and conceived in those waves so I want the Atlantic.

However that's just my personal preference. Mostly I think why do we focus so much on the directions so much anyway? Sometimes I think everyone gets a little carried away with this east south west north thing. What we're really calling is the element, not the direction and in the end I could care less which way they come from.

Noelle V said...

Hehe, I like this topic! :)

It's interesting how this system of correspondences with the directions, elements, seasons, times of day, stages of life, etc. not only came about but then proceeded to be reinforced throughout time and geographic space as "right" and "true." Each category could be treated completely independent of the others, but I think at some point someone probably figured, "Hey, there are four of these and four of those. Why not match them up?"

Even the way those categories are formulated is a matter of perspective, differing between cultures. For instance, in the East, five rather than four Elements are recognized. And I believe it is certain Native American cultures that honor seven directions instead of just four.

I think the main purpose of establishing directions when we cast a circle is to orient ourselves in space, while 'calling' the Elements affirms the fact that they're the stuff of all life and creation.

Essentially, how we see and choose to frame our world is subjective. Traditions are rooted in lived experience, the relevance of which depends on the people and the places that inherit them. The point is to figure out and use what works, what is actually effective, to create the best lives possible.

( And by "best" I mean healthy, conscious, intentional, transformational, and ecologically sound! :D )

Howling Hill said...

I'm a very literal person so for me to call water in the west made no sense to me. After all, land was to the west. Lots and lots of land. To the east, however, was lots and lots of water. (I'm on the East Coast also). Thing is, when I wrote a ritual and explained this to the group I was with, I was criticized for not doing it "right." It was the last time I wrote a ritual.

Maybe it's time a get over that.

A Girl Called Woo said...

Dylan--very true. When I first introduced the new way of casting the Circle, someone pointed out that because we are on an island, there is technically water at all four Quarters. Then, she followed up with "There are ALL FOUR Elementals AT ALL FOUR QUARTERS, somehow!!!" P.s. You were CONCEIVED AND BORN in the Atlantic??? That's the coolest thing I've ever heard....

Noelle--Wonderful point about different traditions having even more points of contact, plus bringing this back to what is most important for the community at hand. That is what spirituality and religion is meant to be about.

Howling Hill--it takes time for people to adjust to new systems. Remember, when I first introduced the new system, it took a few castings for people to get comfortable with it. The next time people tell you something is "wrong," ask them where they got their information. And be patient with those in the ritual. New things can be jarring. I hope you get another chance to write a ritual.

KniteGoddess said...

Y'all rule.

Anonymous said...

Wow Courtney - I salute you! For the traditionalists out there, it is worth considering that Pagan ritual always worked with what was local and natural to the people within a specific place. It is only logical that New Yorkers would associate the East with the element of water...just like we the Irish would associate the west with water - the atlantic lies to our west.
But then again - the south and the north and the east all have water also - we are such a small island. Oh Gods! Now I am confused!!! Arrrrgh!!!
Love you lady, xxxx

D said...

Your circle casting is actually an excellent example of using correspondences that make sense to you (and your coven). Traditional practices were established elsewhere and elsewhen. If they resonate with you, great, use them and watch them work. If they don't, then watch your work suffer. It's lovely to see someone who understands what works and when tradition for tradition's sake just becomes dogma.