An Essay on the Sacred Circles of Druidry
Authors: Basil Greywood, Selene Blackwell, Elm Dealandé
OBOD – Bardic Grade
Throughout the history of the world and within all religions, both eastern and western, the idea of sacred circles is integral. Within Druidry the sacred circle is a prominent representation of the cosmos itself, mirrored within life, time, the calendar year, the elements, nature, meditation, ritual and the otherworld. Sacred circles, simply put, represent everything within the human experience and thus can be considered both sacred and magical. For sake of ease and necessity this essay will use cardinal directions to assist in visualizing the different theories as related to the sacred circles. This essay expounds upon the practice of Druidry regarding the magic of the circle by identifying and acknowledging these sacred circles as they relate to daily existence and spiritual practice.
The Sacred Circle of Life
All natural life is born, it grows, it gives raise to new life and then it dies. The new life grows, gives raise to more life and then dies within the same continuing process over and over again. Birth, life and death are infinite as they spiral on and on through their cycles. Although the idea of reincarnation will not be discussed in this essay it is a common connector of the death and birth cycle for most Druids. Reincarnation, assuming that as the physical life ends, our spirit, our soul, ‘the divine within us’ continues to carries on and is thrown back into the physical world in some way. But the sacred circle of life can be seen within the cycle of growth for a human being as well.
The average life span of a human in the United States of America is 80 years old (OECD, 2013). Cornelius Agrippa (2010) also broke the life cycle into four quarters, each stage of life lasting about 20 years for a total of about 80 years. Erikson (1998) did the same division with his Stages of Development, separating the life into four equal parts of 20 years each, a guideline for development that is still used by psychologists and health care personnel today.
The top of the circle, north, represents the first 20 years, from zero to 20, which are spent concerning ourselves with figuring out ourselves and the world we live in as soon as we are born into it. The top of the circle also represents death itself and rebirth, the beginning and the end because there is not real beginning nor end, simply a recycling of life.
Following our circle in a clockwise direction is the first quarter mark signifying the completion of the first stage of development and graduation into the stage Erikson (1998) coins as love. This is the east of the circle. This stage lasts from age 20 to 40 and is where the human being attempts to achieve intimacy and connection with other human beings. Failure to achieve intimacy results in isolation and the inability to move on successfully to the next stage of life circle, from an emotional standpoint.
At the bottom of the circle, the south, is age 40, starting the next stage from 40 to 60 years old. Here Erikson (1998) hypothesizes that the human being will seek to care for themselves and others through productivity and generatively. Here are planted the seeds of future generations through parenthood, the deepening careers and exultation in the abundance of life.
Continuing our circle finds Erikson (1998) and Agrippa (2010) at the stages of wisdom and maturity, the west. Productivity is slowed to allow for proper reflection and retrospection. Human beings will develop feelings of contentment and integrity if they believe that they have led joyful and productive lives or may instead develop a sense of despair if they look back on a life and only see disappointments and unachieved goals.
Thus is the cycle of life, a sacred wheel that spins continuous, but it is not the only wheel that directions our existence for no man is the master of time.
Sacred Circle of Time
Despite representing the time of day as a circular watch, restarting its circular cycle without fail at midnight, humans tend to view the progression of time as a linear concept. As noted above, the circle is connected to the life cycle of a person but it is also connected to the cycles of time. Within a single day the moon orbits the earth in a circular fashion, and within a year the earth circles the sun. As we compare the circle to the solar system so we have to keep the correlation the same when we compare the circle to a single day.
The north, where death, rebirth and birth are at now becomes midnight, the turning point in every night where the Sun begins its return to the horizon. It is the death of the night but the birth of a new day happening simultaneously. Following the movement of the sun, we come into dawn in the east, a time of new beginnings and love, where the day is still new and the sun as yet to rise into the sky. The south is noon, the hottest part of the day, where life is in it’s prime, where flowers bloom and the world stands at attention. In the west is dusk, as in our lives when age catches up to us and the light in us begins to fade, so too in this circle does the sun begin to set. The circle continues into the depth of midnight and is reborn at midnight as the Sun begins to appear again the following day. Every stage holds value and magic.
The Sacred Circle of the Calendar Year
From comparing the circle of a day to the circle of our own lives, it is easy to see how the comparisons will continue and how essential the sacred and magic circle is to life. The same holds true for the calendar year.
In continuing the same themes, as the Sacred circle does, the north is death, rebirth, midnight, and also winter. All these words share the same theme as they share the same point on the sacred circle. Winter is the dark part of the year, and so like life begins in darkness and emerges into growing light so too winter is a time of death, a time of hibernation, a time of darkness that leads into Spring: the time of birth and rebirth for the for the world. The midnight of winter is Alban Arthan, the Winter Solstice where the longest night meets the start of the lengthening of the days.
Following the circle to the east, spring is in full bloom as the youth of the year. Everything is new and pretty and the world is growing and learning. Alban Eiler, the spring equinox, is revered as a day of marriage and love just as Erikson (1998) described the corresponding stage in our lives to be a time of love and intimacy with others.
To the South is Summer, which is the prime of the year, the brightness noon and the prime of life. Summer represents the great joys of life, the celebration of hard work and productivity. Alban Hefin, the summer solstice, is the corresponding Druid holiday.
Summer turns to Fall in the west of the circle and everything begins to change. Leaves fade from green to brown and red, trees slow their sap and release their leaves as the world grows slowly colder and darker. The signs of an aging year and the seasons begin to become apparent, just as humans find themselves becoming contemplative and wise with age. Alban Elfed, the Autumn Equinox, is a celebration of a good season of hard productivity. It is a time to enjoy the reaped benefits of the season and reflect on the past, the present and the coming new year.
Back to the north and another winter where the world lays slumbers until it is to be reborn once again. So the circle turns, through the cosmic, through our lives and through the year.
After the previous sections it should be easy to see how the comparisons will continue and how poignantly the sacred circle affects life. In many religions, including Druidry, the four directions are related to the four elements of earth, air, fire and water with Spirit at the center of the circle. In comparing this schism to the aforementioned day and year circles, we can clearly see the relationship they have: a circle representing the earth’s path around the sun and given the cardinal directions can overlay one where those same cardinal directions are given to the four elements with spirit at the center of all.
With the Sun at the center, representing Spirit (as the Sun so often does in many religions around the world) we can then find the four elements around that circle. In the center of the circle is the Sun, the spirit, representing the essential self. If the circle represents us, then the center represents the divine within us. In comparing the circle to ourselves, to a single day, to the world, and to the elements, we can find connection between all these things. And in this, the continuous and ever flowing circle that represents all things, we find the sacredness and the magic of the circle.
- North: Earth
- South: Fire
- West: Water
- East: Air
Sacred Circles in Nature
In most mystery religions we use sacred circles as opposed to temples or churches because, let’s face it, we don’t have them and often don’t even need them. It’s stereotypical and often misunderstood and misinterpreted, but nature, the world around us, truly is our church.
(Druid holy places: Stone Henge, Newgrange, stone circles, groves as circles of trees, etc.)
There are no straight lines in nature, the earth itself is relatively round, trees are round, plants are all round and then sprout into fractals. The first houses built by man reflected nature in that they also were round.
Sacred Circles in Meditation and Ritual
When creating a magic circle or sacred circle, the space within represents the unity of all things and can be represented by you, by a candle, by an altar or any other thing that you feel holds that symbolism. We often thank the elements, acknowledge them and their associations in ritual and or rites.
Druid’s Egg as a circle in meditation, the Druid’s spiral Chakra and other circular meditation techniques all utilize the circle as their base shape.
Sacred Circles of the Otherworld
The circle of the year is simply a reflection of the cycles within us, within our world and within our universe. The otherworld is a reflection of the physical world, the best and most frequent explanation is the tree of life that most pagans are already familiar with. The
witches montage “As Above, So Below” speaks to the idea that the spirit world is reflected by our physical world and the two are directly connected. When something tragic happens in one world, both worlds feel it. When the seasons change in our world, so too is the landscape of the otherworld affected. Remember that the reflection is simply that as of a mirror, which means the image is flipped on it’s head. Just as when a human looks into a mirror they are looking at a flipped copy of themselves, so too is it with the World and the Otherworld.
There are four solar holidays in the Druid year:
- Winter Solstice – North, Earth
- Spring Equinox – East, Air
- Summer Solstice – South, Fire
- Autumn Equinox – West, Water
(Creatures of the otherworld who use circles: Elm’s piece on fairy rings.)
AAAAND add the Conclusion paragraph.
Agrippa, H. C. (2010). The magic mirror and a message to mystics.
Erikson, E. H. (1998). The life cycle completed: Extended version.
OECD. (2013). Health at a glance 2013: OECD Indicators. OECD Publishing. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/health_glance-2013-en