The symbolism of shapes goes deeper than you might think. We cast a circle in which we perform our rites, but what would happen if we cast a square instead?
We’re going to approach the concept of shapes in a slightly different manner than you may have expected. (Of course, at this point in our journey together, what has really been presented as expected?) Instead of providing a list of shapes so you can memorize their mystical properties, we’re going to learn how to think about shapes from a magickal and ritualistic perspective.
When we looked at the mystical application of numbers, we considered the concept that numbers function on multiple levels of reality when we use them in ritual work. For instance, we may cast a circle by summoning in four Elements, but will work our actual rite using patterns of three.
Shapes work in a similar manner. Whenever we work with a shape in ritual work, there are two things we have to consider: the number of sides in the shape and the patterns which energy will follow as it flows around the interior of that shape.
For instance, let’s say we cast a circle to use as a platform to work a spell. There are three different numbers we need to consider in this process: one, four, and three. One is the number of sides that compose a circle. Four represents the Elements we call. Three denotes the pattern we work into the spell.
Each corner (the intersection of sides) in a shape changes the flow of energy. As we considered earlier, it’s one of the key reasons why we typically use a circle (or sphere) in our rites. There are no corners to influence the flow of energy, so the energy manifests without further influence from the shape of our sacred space. Sacred space is almost always in a circle for this reason. It has no beginning and no end. If you think of energy as constantly moving, once it begins moving around the circumference of your circle, it does so without interference.
The Journey of Energy
I’ll sometimes explain it to students like this. “Let’s say, when you face East and call the Element of Air, that it responds by hurling a Super Ball of Air at you. You duck and the super ball flies over your head and hits the inside wall of your circle. Now, since this is magick, the super ball never loses momentum. Your circle/sphere is made of very special material that draws the super ball to it so that it hugs the curve of the circle/sphere’s wall. Pretty soon the super ball of Air is zipping around you in perfect circles as it follows the shape (the circle) that your created.”
When we use a circle to define our sacred space, we can simply call the energy in and it flows around us. While its rarely taught (and often inaccurately portrayed) the Elements add their energy and symbolism to our rite by forming a perimeter around our working, our actual ritual taking place within that perimeter circle. The easiest way to understand this concept is to imagine that the Elements (or Quarters as they are often called) form a circular shell around the rite. The rite itself takes place within this shell but the energy of the shell radiates into the rite in much the same way that light or heat radiates so that we can interact with it. It is generally understood that the circle is actually a sphere, but the reasons why it works in this manner are directly tied to the fact that the physical reality we experience is an illusion. Without the illusionary restriction that requires one thing to be in one place at a time, we can form a circular perimeter by calling the Elements and, unrestrained by the illusionary limitations we typically experience, they are in multiple places at one time, forming a sphere instead of just a perimeter circle.
Depending on the work that you’re doing, you can stretch your circle into a cone with a point at the top. In this practice, you leave the circular bottom half of the sphere in place (or you turn the whole thing on its head). When the cone points up, you can work with afterlife energies; pointed downward, and you can work with the underworld. (Neither is good nor bad, much like the light and shadow portions of ourselves.) The cone directs the energy to and from the center of the rite – either yourself or a focus item (like a cauldron or altar.)
Using Other Shapes
Much like working with higher numbers, working with shapes with an increasingly larger numbers of sides requires an intense amount of focus. For instance, if you wanted to work a spell that would take play out over the course of one year, you could cast an octagon instead of a circle. Each of the eight sides would correspond to one of the eight Sabbats. To use this approach, it’s necessary to have already established a deep connection to (and awareness of) the flow of Nature throughout the Sabbats. It’s the energetic signature of each Sabbat that you call upon, one for each of the eight sides, instead of calling upon Elemental energy. I use walls, much like in a sacred square, and form either the top or the bottom into a cone (depending on my intent.)
For simply practical purposes, you will almost never have need to use anything beyond a simple shape. In magickal work, a circle is used nearly 100% of the time. Any other shape is used on rare occasions by adept practitioners who are seeking very specific outcomes to their rite.
Excerpted from an early draft of my first non-fiction book, Principles of Magick.
This lesson is from Week Fourteen: Symbolism. The week’s focus includes: