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Home > Temple Questions > Wicca

OK, so what about this "casting circles" thing? What's that about? And those elements?

The image of a quartered circle as a representation of the world or cosmos, with different powers, attributes or beings seen as residing in each quarter, is found in many different cultures around the world, from the canopic jars of Egyptian funerary ritual with their guardian deities, to the Irish legend of the Settling of the Manor at Tara, to the ceremonies of some of the First Nations of North America, though very different qualities may be ascribed to the quarters in different cultures.

For Wiccans, the magic circle is the sacred space within which all ritual takes place; a deepening of contact between this world and the Otherworld of the gods and spirits. Its shape represents the wholeness of all things, and cyclical nature of life and time. The four quarter points of the circle are aligned with the four elements: air in the east, fire in the south, water in the west, and earth in the north.

Each represents certain qualities of life and spirituality, as well as the physical element itself. Air is the winds, the sky, the clouds, the breath of our bodies, the incense we burn on our altars, and all gasses and vapours; but it is also knowledge, wisdom, inspiration and truth. Fire is the sun, moon and stars, the warmth of our bodies, the candles we light on out altars, and all forms of energy; but it is also passion, courage, vitality and the spark of life. Water is the sea, the rivers, the rain, the tears and blood of our bodies, the wine we offer to the gods at our altars, and all fluids; but it is also love, emotion, intuition and sensitivity. Earth is the land, the rocks and soil, the flesh and bone of our bodies, the altars and temples we build to our gods, and all solid things; but it is also strength, permanence, endurance, form and pattern.

Together, they are the basic constituents of our world, our bodies, our minds and our spirits. Nearly all Wiccan rituals begin with tracing the boundaries of the sacred circle, and then recognizing and honouring the four elements in some way (often referred to as "calling the quarters". By doing that, we affirm the basic shape of life and the cosmos, and its constituent parts, in perfect balance. Some Wiccan traditions ascribe deities to the quarters; some work with elemental spirits such as sylphs, salamanders, undines and gnomes; and some do not personify the elements in any way.

Some traditions also recognize a fifth element in the centre, while others believe that it is we ourselves that are at the centre — we and all living things, who are formed of all four elements in balance.

It's also worth noting that this elemental system is not universal, but originates in classical Greece. Many other cultures have used different systems, from the five Chinese elements to the nine Celtic duile.

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