Does the Western Magical Circle work?

by May 12, 20140 comments

The techniques modern magicians use to protect themselves arise from medieval notions and concepts. These techniques have been copied by New Age movements and Pagan/Wiccan groups lock stock and barrel, with a few stylistic modifications so there is some discernible difference. These traditional methods basically include setting a circle which the practitioner stays in during the ritual and setting the four directions. It all sounds very reasonable, and if Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, and all the Wiccans get results, surely it is good?

I am well known amongst my friends – and enemies – for not using protection. Not only am I still here, but I am flourishing. Spiritual growth and power gains daily. I am not fighting off demons all night, or all day for that matter. In contra-distinction, those who practise the magical circle and four directions live in fear and have stifled creativity and spiritual power.

Around the world many religions and spiritual systems do not use a circle and directions. This may be a surprise to many in the west, who see all these shamanic systems and everything else emphasise the importance of the circle and directions. However, closer reading demonstrates that it is the point of view of the (usually) western author that is imposed on the system. Where the author or expert is native, we find that there has been corruption from the supposedly superior western magical tradition.

Now, do not get me wrong. Many traditions use the circle and directions but in ways that are more sophisticated and subtle than our western techniques.

Confusing directions

Does anybody agree on the attribution of the directions to the four elements? We cannot even agree on which direction to start, although it is usually the East, going clockwise. The Bible says the North is evil, but there are traditions that revere this direction, since it is where the Pole Star is found, the central point about which our Earth revolves.

The Daoist tradition, from which the I Ching is a part, makes the distinction between heavenly and earthly directions, which is generally ignored by Westerners since it is too confusing. If in the West, we focus on the terrestrial directions, we keep ourselves earthbound.

Don’t break the Circle!

However you cut it, the directions are confusing, conflating various traditions in a hotchpotch that loses all meaning. As if that is not bad enough, the fear, dread and terror that the circle is broken, accidentally, or by malicious intent that will allow all kinds of infernal beings to enter and attack the magician. These popular views were inflated by the Dennis Wheatley black magic novels, such as the Devil Rides Out, which were made into horror films. The consequences of breaking the circle by the magician who was tricked are dire. They are? Dennis Wheatley met Aleister Crowley on a number of occasions, and Crowley no doubt fed Wheatley duff gen to fuel his novels. Crowley’s battle with the demon Choronzon in the Saharan desert is the stuff of legend too. However, the reality is different. Few magicians have ever conjured, invoked or evoked a spirit while in a circle, while the accounts that do exist are a mish-mash of previously published material of dubious quality. So, if waiting for something to appear is terrifying, at least in the popular imagination, how must it feel for the terrified individuals who dare not go near the edges of their carefully drawn out circle in case a spirit will get them?

Fear of breaking the Circle

I don’t do fear. I leave that to fantasists. In medieval times, from when the magical circle appeared, there were all kinds of terrible ways to die, such as the Black Death. In almost all cases, standards of poor sanitation and cleanliness were to blame. If you think about it, we are assailed from all directions all the time from germs, viruses and bacteria. We cannot see them, we cannot sense them or smell them; they are invisible but real. As you know, we do not get ill because we have an immune system which has learned to recognise threats and deal with. The immune system works so well, that unless it is overwhelmed we do not even notice it at work. Conversely, if we are sick, we are prone to all kinds of infections. The superbugs that contaminate our hospitals are often in reality bugs that cause no harm to the healthy but are deadly to the weak and sick.

Psychologists know that when the balance of the mind is disturbed, pressures from outside influences are magnified, which can result in paranoia and bi-polar states. The imagination will supply whatever kind of enemy we wish to believe in. Those demons are real! The sufferer loses his or her sense of reality, and is subsequently disempowered by the experience. Demons have to be killed, right? It seems eminently reasonable for the sufferer, tormented by those visions. However, magical circles will not cure the problem.

Problems with the Circle

Magical circles are supposed to empower the magician, give him authority over the spirits using the divine names written around the circumference of the circle. Let us think about this. The circle will generally be about 10 -12 feet in diameter for a solitary operator, and considerably larger for more people. In practice, the diameter will depend on the space in the room. The circle has to be carefully drawn out with no breaks – it has to be perfect. The divine names that are supposed to control the spirits have to be written around the perimeter perfectly too. Of course, the grimoires all state that if no spirits are invoked, or that the magician can not control the spirit, or that the magician is possessed demonically, it is due to the failure of the magician to follow the ritual properly, or the circle was not prepared correctly. The incredibly high standards expected of the magician are unreasonable, but he already has his excuses at the ready!

To all intents and purposes, our Universe is infinite, stretching billions of miles in all directions, unimaginable distances; and in infinite space, any point is at the centre. The magician, who is supposed to be at the centre, and the Master, is required to draw a circle a few feet in diameter for him to control. Think about it. He is supposed to be a Master, and yet he seems to be unable to control a few feet around him. He is stuck in the centre of the circle, fearful of going near the perimeter in case a spirit will capture him, while these spirits and other entities are free to roam anywhere. Who is the Master in this situation? I would venture to suggest that it is the spirits who are in control and free to come and go. Apologists will state that they have successfully invoked spirits, but look at the length of preparation and effort that they went through to achieve this small breakthrough. The spirit who appeared could well have been a projection of magician’s fevered imagination, beset by fear and a sense of inadequacy. So, the magician has created a small space, an artificial system that entraps him – he cannot go anywhere until the ritual is finished. You would think that someone would come up with a better method.

If you put yourself in this situation you are besieged, surrounded on all sides. Speak to any martial expert, and he will tell you the stupidity of such actions. When you are besieged you are trapped, there is nowhere to go, while your enemies are free to act. After all, the magician is generally only invoking one spirit! He cannot even tell if he has invoked the right spirit, because they are sneaky and can pretend to be something else…

How do you suppose someone who is besieged will develop and evolve? Obviously with difficulty. Freedom is the mantra of the Western world, and yet we have no idea how to exercise freedom. In medieval times soldiers knew all about besiegement. Castles got bigger, better, stronger walls to keep out enemies, but with time and patience, the inhabitants of the castles could be starved, have no water, and be the subject of continual bombardment, not just of arrows, spears and rocks, but biological warfare whereby rotting animals were thrown over the walls. If you surrendered, you were probably executed or enslaved. As an interesting side note, two of the most powerful and sophisticated armies in the world are spending a lot of their time in base under attack from the natives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Things turn full circle.

Putting yourself in a protective bubble, setting the directions with your athame or magical wand is not going to save you. Worst still, you are unlikely to develop spiritually. That is the problem with the directions and the circle; they prevent spiritual development. How can this be? The bible and other religious texts talk about the directions and protection. The answer is our fundamental misinterpretation of these texts, and our inability to see beyond our magical traditions which are now no more than dogma.

Spirits are not stupid. If you set up a magical circle with the four directions sealed, you are telling them that you fear them, so they get the power and the initiative. They label you as a scaredy cat, afraid of your own shadow. They are going to be curious as to what you are up to – after all they have seen it all before. If you have no power, they will laugh and ignore what you have done, or set out to achieve. If they determine you have malicious intent by invoking them, and have measures to torture them if they do not accede to your demands, then they will be ready for you. It is as simple as that. In reality, magicians use a blunt instrument and techniques that have not changed in centuries. Where is the subtlety? Why are these magicians not assailed from all sides by spirits all the time when they are not invoking spirits? Depending on their mood, spirits are either amused or irritated by banishings performed by magicians as they work anti-clockwise to banish, and clockwise to invoke. The spirits are already there! It is the inability of the magician to perceive or communicate with the spirits that is the problem. The mental blocks created are the real block to progress.

As I said earlier, I have never used a magical circle. I have experimented with the directions, with middling results. Now, I have abandoned the notion of the association of the directions with the elements, except if I have to work within a particular discipline or system because that is the tradition. However, this is simply a working mode that creates resonance or harmony with spirits, not to keep the spirits out.

Real communication is without the circle

I was at a book launch recently where Michael Staley spoke about ‘channelling’ and channelled books. He speaks a lot of sense. When magicians project outside themselves using the circle, they are ignoring the reality of spirit communication. Spirits communicate through the magician, sometimes in his own voice and thoughts. It is only later that the magician realises he has ‘channelled’, (we leave the strange voices and weird contortions to stage magicians). A lot of my own writings have come through in a similar way, simply sitting in front of the computer. There is nothing strange or difficult in this. In fact, the difficulty comes when the spirit or inspiration is not there! The magician may not completely hear what it is that he is being communicated to. This is common; however, if the magician is writing away, he will not be aware of the communicator anyway. Beware – what is going on is not necessarily a dictation. The magician is free to embellish, clarify, emend or delete what is being transmitted. There may even be a dialogue between magician and spirit as to what is to be written down. It is doubtful if the magician knows who the spirit is, and in many cases, this ignorance is irrelevant, for the validity and veracity of the spirit can be determined by the received writings. As ever, communication is a two-way process that brings benefits to both parties.

New Age Channellers are pedalling the suggestion that they are just that – a channel that adds nothing to the communication of the spirit. This is rubbish. This kind of channelling from an entity from Antares or other suitably far star system is a concoction of fantasy and wishful thinking.

The reality is that all of us are experiencing some kind of communication from spirits all the time whether we like it or not. Of course, we can completely blank out this communication, but this is denying beauty, condemning our life to mediocrity. They are not beings who are either distant (from Antares or elsewhere in outer space), or have to be kept at a distance (outside the circle); spirits are within us and outside us. They can be both, almost at the same time. It just depends on circumstances. Just as sometimes we want space from our lover; it does not mean that we do not love any more, the same applies with spirits. For the vast majority of the population, communication with spirits is fairly irrelevant. In any case, we live a life that seems designed to prevent communication with spirits.

I was in a state of denial as far as spirits were concerned: I did not believe they existed. What happens if spirits want to communicate to us and we ignore them? What do you do if someone ignores you? Do you speak louder, do you attract their attention? What lengths will you go to if you are really desperate enough? People hire planes to trail a message. They bombard the victim with texts and emails. If you really want to attract attention, using bombs to kill people, preferably westerners works really well, but the consequences are of course rather dire. Spirits do similar things. They move objects in the house, make strange noises; cause pain and other sensations in the body, and all the other ways we have heard about. Although it is possible to rationalize away many of these events, individuals undergoing this may well come to the conclusion that they are haunted or under psychic attack. The local New Age shop may well be one of the first places to go to, but of course the people there know very little, or they suggest some banishing ritual which is a variant of the ones I have described above, so there may be some progress. What the spirits have succeeded in doing is provoke the person to take up some kind of spiritual path, however inadequate.

In the West, as a result of these banishings and circles, we have divorced our Spiritual Nature. Spirit, Spiritual, these names are very similar. Following a spiritual path excludes spirits. We then reach the absurd point when the magician has to do the Abra-Melin ritual to find his Holy Guardian Angel! The reality is that spirits are all around us. These spirits are generally benign and harbour no malicious intent towards us. With very little encouragement they are very keen to work with us, as this will help their own evolution. Spirituality is working with Spirits, without a circle or banishing rituals.

The problem of course is understanding our own experiences – are we imagining things? What is reality? The best way to progress is to find a Guide who will help you on the Path to your own God. Your Guide will already have been along this path, experienced the trials and tribulations and joys that such a path brings. Your Guide will be part of a centuries old tradition of working with spirits and bringing spiritual progress to all without fear or favour.

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