The ritual circle is an integral part of many Pagan religions. We create ritual circles. Stand in stone circles. Contain magic within circles. Initiatory Wiccan religions place a great deal of importance not only on the creation of these circles, but on how one should conduct themselves inside the circle, and by what means one can leave and reenter that circle. The ritual knife is used to cut a doorway through the circle, and to seal the hole once you have passed through. This doorwy then needs to be cut again to allow you to re-enter.
Circles may be used to keep out negative influences, or to contain them. Or they might be used to contain a build up of energy for spellcasting until it is ready to be released.
When I worked with a Wiccan coven the circle was seen as being something fluid and moveble, and not fixed in place. There was no need to cut doorway if you moved away from the center because as you moved, the circle expanded out with you. Experience showed this to be the case.
These days when I am doing formal ritual I do still make a circle as part of that ritual. It is one of the steps I use when moving from ordinary reality into the non-ordinary reality. I don’t create a circle though to keep out nasties, or to contain a pocket of ordinary reality within the Otherworld. The circle for me is more a portal, a doorway between this world and the Otherworld.
Once through this portal, I don’t invoke Elements or Deities. I am in Their realm. You don’t walk into someone’s house and demand they show themselves because you are there. I don’t invoke, instead I invite. Hello, I’m here. May I come in? I’m here to celebrate X, would you like to celebrate with me?
I don’t make a circle when I do spellcasting because I don’t enter the Other realm and with a few exceptions I don’t call upon Deity to do the magic for me. I may invite a Patron Deity to observe or tell them what I am doing, but I don’t ask them to do the work for me. The energy for creating a spell is contained within myself until I am ready to release it into the world. Again, experience has shown me that this can be very effective.
How about you? Do you create a magic/ritual circle? What were you taught about circles? Do you still believe that or have your perceptions and ideas around circles changed over time?