For a Pagan to practice their faith, many believe that the need to create a sacred work space in which to conduct their work. Many faiths do this, and it is a way for the mood, atmosphere, and mindset to coincide in order to get the best possible results.
How sacred space is created is much like the geometry of a snowflake. Every snowflake is different and unique in it’s frozen state. Some Pagans believe they need to use certain gestures, certain chants, certain herbs and move in specific directions. In the following I will provide an example of the procedure and steps used in ritualistic format to create sacred space:
- The materials for the ritual is gathered, staged for use, and the chants are available for the practitioner(s). The space used is roughly a circle, with tables placed around the edge of the circle containing items associated with a cardinal direction. A main table is close to the center that contains the material used to cast a spell, or to conduct an offering.
- The physical space is identified, and in order to make the space spiritually ready the practitioner(s) light a bundle of dried sage to produce a thick smoke. The smoke is believed to remove and banish negative energy. The sage bundle is carried around the circle in a clockwise direction (called deosil by Pagans) multiple times, usually 3 times, while the practitioner makes a statement of the space is being cleared, cleaned, and cleansed (by chanting in rhyme or otherwise). Those who are in the ritual are likely standing at the edge of the circle, and may have the smoke of the sage wafted over them in order to cleanse them of any negative energy. Sometimes the participants are invited to join the circle in an individual ritual, in which a priestess or a priest blesses them and welcomes them in.
- An invitation for the elements associated with a cardinal direction is performed. The leader of the circle sometimes turns to face the direction (sometimes it starts with East), and makes a statement inviting the elemental spirit, and sometimes makes references to their associated quality, to join the sacred space and to provide protection and guidance. There may or may not be a specific formula, gesture, or lighting of a candle done in order to appropriately invite the spirit of the (insert direction here) to join and provide protection or guidance. Each direction, going clockwise from the starting point, is then invited in the same or similar manner. Depending on the Pagan group or practitioner, a specific cardinal direction is first, and a specific order may be followed.
- Deities are usually next to be invited in, by specific name or embodiment. It is likely the Goddess will be invited first, followed by the God. In the same manner the directions were invited, the Gods are also invited. An offering of some sort may occur, or it may wait until the end of the ceremony. On the main altar is likely a physical representation of the deities, and a candle for each may be lit for them.
- Depending on the ritual, this is when the practitioner will transition in the to main point of the ceremony, be it a spell, an acknowledgement of the season or holiday, or for general study purposes.
Creating sacred space can be done without the ceremonial ritual as well. Someone may begin listening to music, a mood is created, the person begins gathering energy, and then releases it with their intent. Once sacred space is created, many believe that the area be respected, and no one enter or leave until the conclusion of the ritual has been done. The sacred space is believed to provide protection against negativity, and a blank space or canvas that does not hold any influence on the ritual. Some Pagans visualize and describe the sacred space to be similar to an energy force field that extends over them like a bubble, and below them underground that nothing targeting those inside can get through. Inside the sacred space, the practitioner then creates intent, gathers energy, and releases it out into the universe to manifest itself. You will find a variety of Pagan points of view regarding this, as some will acknowledge that sometimes it is impossible to keep from leaving the space, or a family pet wanders in, or the requirement to attend to the needs of a family member arises in the middle of a ritual. Attitudes regarding this vary, as many practitioners will find a way to have absolutely no interruptions during their ritual and maintain the sacred space uninterrupted. Other Pagans use the idea of cutting a hole or door through the energy field erected to transition through without removing the protective field created. Others believe that the idea of sacred space as something flexible, that can be crossed with no negative side effects when necessary.
My own opinion and personal experience has me tend to be the latter. Some days it is nearly impossible to start and complete any ceremony with no interruptions. Due to this, I like to think of my normal area of practice as constantly being a sacred space and place for me. Many times I will enter the room, and immediately gain relaxation and focus for what I need to do. I have a difficult time setting aside any specific time to regularly practice, and interruptions that can last a long time prevent me from having a very strong attitude toward breaking of a sacred circle and space. When I am a guest to the ritual, I will respect the wishes of the leader and treat the sacred space in accordance to their terms. It is only Pagan politeness, or so I hear.
After the ritual or spell is complete, the sacred space is released. Sometimes the release is done in reverse order of the initial creation of the sacred space.
- The leader of the ritual brings everyone’s attention to the conclusion steps. It is likely an offering of thanks is made to the invoked deities in the form of a bread like item, and a liquid that may or may not be alcoholic. Sometimes a statement is made to indicate gratitude to the deity, and the intent to offer the items in symbolic offering to them. This is usually referred to as cakes and ale, but it may not always mean cakes and ale is used. Some Pagans do not consume the food items, and may place all or part of it in to the nearest nature location as an offering. Other Pagans may share the food and consume all or part of them.
- If following the reverse order, the deities are thanked for their support and presence. They are then released from any further requests of support. It is good to note that some older forms of Pagan practice indicate that there was wording in the invoking of the deities to indicate that deity is summoned and their support was demanded or commanded. Many have taken a different stance on this, and instead invite and request help from the deities.
- Usually going in reverse order, each cardinal direction and spirits are thanked and released from further requests in a statement or a chant. It is not usual to have an offering for each direction, but sometimes there is incense smoke that is wafted toward the direction. The statements or chants do not have to rhyme. It is nice to find a very well written chant that rhymes and sets the tone of the ritual, but it is not required. Some practitioners will either write their own, or follow a formula published in a book they are using for their spell or ritual.
- The sage smudging bundle is then taken counterclockwise (called windershins) around the sacred space, usually three or more times. A statement is made regarding the sacred space has released it’s protective energy bubble, and the participants can then be released from the ceremony, and depart freely.
- Clean up of the sacred space is then conducted.