YT Pagan Challenge: Sacred Spaces, Holy Sites, and Circle Casting

I had been hoping to film part of my eighth YT Pagan Challenge video outdoors in one of my on-campus sacred spaces, but it seems the weather is just not willing to agree with me. So, so I can give you all a bit of a visual, this post will be jam-packed full of pictures of the places I was talking about in the video.

First thing’s first: my on-campus sacred spaces. I am blessed to be going to a university that is filled with small garden spaces and has a sprawling expanse of wooded ravines hugging along the side of campus. In my five years here, I’ve been able to find a number of places to relax, be one with nature, and perform a few rituals and magical workings in. Three of the major places where I tend to hang out and do my workings are the arboretum, the garden behind the religious center on campus, and a grove back in the ravines behind the art building.

In each of these spaces, I’ve found little places to leave offerings, quiet spots to sit and meditate, and have even done a few rituals there.

The arboretum is full of places to explore, and I admittedly spend a lot more time there than anywhere else. There’s a stump I’ve found a short distance off of the path that I use frequently for spell work, and have left offerings at over the past few years. It happens also to overlook a ravine in a pretty straight shot to the grove I’d found in the woods as well.

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In the little garden behind the religious building on campus, there’s a statue of St. Francis that seems to have a presence and an energy all its own. I’ve made a habit of leaving little offerings in the hands of the statue whenever I go there to write, drum, meditate, etc.

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And then, of course, there is the grove in the ravines. It’s just off the path, and was shown to me by a good friend who graduated a couple of years ago. It’s often where I go if I’m looking to communicate with the Wylde Hunt while on campus, and has been the site for a couple of rituals. There’s a large three-trunked oak that sits in its center, and there are a few places to sit in little nooks between its roots. I like this place because it is a little further away from the main part of campus, and therefore quieter. You can’t hear the bells from the clock tower and are a lot less likely to see people wandering by. There’s also a fantastic view of the stars on clear nights.

Aside from these natural spaces, I do tend to do much of my ritual / meditation / etc. within the safety (and warmth!!!) of my dormitory bedroom, as well. My room is almost always decorated with pictures that are sacred, beautiful, inspiring, etc. to me and I try to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for myself to live/study/rest/etc. in and for my friends to visit.

My altar space is situated by the window, which overlooks a little courtyard and the woods beyond.While I’m at school, this is the most sacred space to me, and I work really hard to keep it that way while I’m here.

Of course, when I’m home for winter / spring / summer break, I have places where I go to practice as well. Due to the nature of the space situation in my parents’ home, most of those places are outdoors.

In my own backyard, I am again blessed to have a great expanse of land full of trees and a big ol’ forest beyond. In particular, there’s a small grove hidden among a bunch of pine and cedar trees where I do some more private rituals, and then there’s Treebeard, a cottonwood tree where I leave offerings, prayer ribbons, etc. and spend time enjoying the space on the shady hill just beneath him.

I’m also blessed to have other little places of beauty within my hometown such as the local state park, my local witchy shop, and my aunt’s gorgeous and wild garden. These are places that really make me feel attuned to the energies of the universe and the natural world, and where I like to perform tarot readings, have debates about different witchy/spiritual topics, etc. with my friends.

And of course, there are a number of places in Michigan that have spiritual significance to me. The biggest one is the Boyne/East Jordan/Charlevoix area up in the northern part of our lower peninsula. Over the years, it has been a place full of childhood memory as well as shared memories and explorations with one of my best friends, Mark.

Being a pagan who follows a primarily Celtic path and lives within the United States makes it a little difficult to visit holy sites associated with my practice. There are, no surprise, remarkably few here in the states. There are Native American sacred sites, but because that runs along the slippery slope of what is culturally appropriative and what is respect for the culture and traditions associated with those sites, you’ll note that none of the places I’ve shared above are tied to those places. I was fortunate enough, four years ago, to visit the United Kingdom and places like Stonehenge, Avebury, and Glastonbury. These are memories that I hold really dear to my heart, and feel very privileged to have experienced in my lifetime.

Two of my very favorite memories from my trip to the UK came from my experiences on the weekend we went visiting various sacred sites. While in Chalice Well Gardens, I’d sat down by the well head to meditate and get away from the rest of the crowd of students I was with for a while, and man and his young daughter sat down alongside of me. The little girl had to have been about 4 or 5 years old at most, and as most 4-5 year-olds are, she was a little rambunctious and was bouncing around a bit. Rather than be upset with her, or harsh, I heard her father very calmly explain this was a special place, and saw (much to my amazement and admiration really) her nod in understanding, and sit down to meditate with him.

The second vivid memory I hold dear from that trip (as far as sacred space and that goes) occurred while we were in Avebury. It was rather late, the sun was setting, and we really didn’t have much time to spend there, but I remember it being a much more tangible feeling of presence there. Perhaps it was because we could actually approach the stones; maybe it was just the liminal time of day we were there or the place itself. I couldn’t quite say.

As we wandered about the stones, we saw an older gentleman with rather wild grey curls sitting at the base of one of the smaller stones. He had candles, incense, etc. and was using dowsing rods. The rest of our group gave him sort of a wide berth, and I (as the sort of unofficial pagan authority of the crew) stood a respectable and out-of-earshot ways off, explaining to my roommate that he was probably using the dowsing rods to look for ley lines in the area. He then turned to look at us and asked: “Have you two got good imaginations on you?” We were a little surprised, but answered that yes, we supposed we did. “Do you know where the word imagination comes from?” We honestly weren’t sure. “I. Magi. Nation. A nation of magicians. Merlin is one of my guides, you know.” He then proceeded to tell us this tale about Merlin performing his first magic trick in the stone circle in which we stood: he’d turned a friend invisible and was unable to turn him back again. He also told us about how the Druids had used that place as a place for their initiations. I wasn’t at all sure on the historical accuracy of those things, but in the moment, you sort of wanted to suspend your disbelief. Awen was flowing, and you could almost see what he was describing in your mind’s eye. He then looked at us again and said: “I get Druid from both of you.” I was a little shocked because, of course, I was. I told him so, and he simply turned, and went back to his business of dowsing as though it had never happened. And for the life of me, I swear no one else seems to have seen or heard him say these things but my roommate and I. That is no doubt a mystery and a feeling I will remember for quite some time.

And finally, the last part for this prompt: circle casting. I’ll be honest, I don’t perform circle casting in my own work. For one, I’ve been studying off-and-on with a Druid organization for some time that doesn’t utilize them in their ritual formats. But, more importantly I find them to be distracting and a waste of energy and time. Circles, to my understanding, function for a few general purposes:

  1. To contain and thereby magnify energy raised during a working until it comes time to release it at the end of the ritual.
  2. To protect the individuals within and the magical working from the influence of any nasty / negative energy.
  3. To create a sort of liminal and marked out place in which a ritual can occur and entities (spirits, gods, whatever) may be more easily contacted.

However, as I’ve mentioned above, I don’t generally feel a need to do this. For starters, I always cleanse a place before I use it, and if appropriate might make small offerings to any outside spirits that might be poking about to say “Hey, please let me use this space for a bit.” I don’t perform rituals in places where negative energy is hanging about, and I certainly am confident enough in my own ability to raise and manipulate my own energy to not feel a need for the circle of protection, or the circle that focuses energy in an external space. I also work with many liminal deities. I think it’s very safe to assume I don’t need liminal space for them to get messages across. When I do a particular magical working, my own personal energy field acts in the way a circle might: raising, containing, and releasing energy for my working. It eliminates the need for a physical circle- which means less time/resources marking it out, and I don’t need to cut a door in it should I forget something (which I often do!). It also helps hone in my focus on the working at hand. I often find that by the time I draw and cast a circle, call the quarters, etc. I’m quite distracted from what I was originally intending to accomplish.

Please note, I’m not bashing on anyone who uses circles. They can be quite useful to one’s practice especially when you’re just beginning! I just don’t feel a need to use them.

And, thus concludes a very long blog post. Thank you for hanging in there and reading if you’ve made it this far.

Love and blessings to you all
-Rachel

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