Circle Magazine prints final issue

Heather Greene —  December 17, 2015 — 12 Comments

BARNEVELD, Wis. — Circle Sanctuary staff announced yesterday that Circle Magazine, its long-running print publication, will be ceasing production. Over its 37-year lifespan, Circle Magazine, originally called Circle Network News, evolved from a simple organizational newsletter into professional print magazine with subscribers from all over the world. The magazine could be found in both mainstream and metaphysical bookstores, and was one of the seminal media publications serving a growing collection of alternative religions.

“It is with a heavy heart that we make this decision, however as Pagans we know that change is part of the cycle of life, and renewal follows endings.” – Circle Magazine staff.

circle magazine

Circle Magazine 1978-2015 [Courtesy Photo]

In 1978, Circle News was born as the periodic newsletter for the growing Circle Sanctuary community. Based in Wisconsin, the organization itself was founded four years earlier by Rev. Selena Fox and was one of the first non-profit nature spirituality churches in the United States. As Rev. Fox told The Wild Hunt, “[Circle News] was an 8 ½ x 11 inches news sheet typed on an electric typewriter. I calligraphed its first masthead by hand and it was produced on a photocopier.”

Prior to Circle’s entrance into the fledgling Pagan media, the Church of All Worlds had been publishing Green Egg magazine since 1968. However, the group took a hiatus and stopped publishing in 1977. Oberon Zell, Publisher Emeritus, remembered, “Two years after the cessation of Green Egg, Circle Network News appeared, filling the void, reaching out to a more novice audience, and evolving eventually into the beautiful newsstand quarterly, Circle Magazine. As Green Egg had fostered the nascent Pagan movement in the 1960s-‘70s, Circle in turn became the major shaper of the broader community of Nature Spirituality in the ‘80s.”

The need for such a national publication seemed to be growing along with the community. As Zell noted, by 1980, Circle’s small organizational newsletter became Circle Network News, a 16-page quarterly tabloid newspaper. Rev. Fox said, “I started Circle Network News to help Pagans of many paths and places connect with each other and share knowledge, rituals, art, poetry, perspectives and news. For many in that pre-internet, pre-social media era, it was their introduction to Pagan community, as well as an avenue of participation in it.”

Circle Network News fast became the go-to publication for many emerging Pagans across the United States. Christopher Blackwell, former editor of ACTION, remembered, “[Circle Network News] was literally my first contact with the Wiccan community and was suggested first off at the Pagan Festival I went to. I was agate mining, and I had three different mailing addresses, in three states to forward it to in that pre-internet age. The very first writing I did was on the suggested themes each quarter. It was where I got my first mailing addresses for letter friends from its readers comment pages. It was where I got my first contact with Wiccans in England and South Africa. From there I got offers to write my first page-long articles for a newsletter in England, and for Pagan Africa, an early magazine in South Africa. So all of that led up to creating my own newsletter ACTION for Alternate Religions Educational Networks.”

As a result, Blackwell’s newsletter ACTION, which also stopped production this year, became another important player in the growing Pagan media.

1984 Edition of Circle Network News

1984 Edition of Circle Network News

Rev. Fox remembered the early production days of Circle Network News. She said, “We typed our copy in columns on typing paper, cut them apart, and pasted them on large sheets of heavy duty art paper with rubber cement and drafting tools. We created headlines with press-on letters, and then sent the completed layout sheets to a local web press for production.” This was all done by Circle volunteers, from the writing to the mailings. She remarked that the addition of a desktop computer in the late 1980s helped them tremendously with both the logistics and production.

Over the following decade, Circle Network News‘ subscribers continued to grow, making it one of Circle Sanctuary’s more visible projects. Selena noted that the most popular features was always “the Community Passages section, with announcements of births, marriages, deaths, and other important community passages.” She said, “During the 1990s, UTNE Reader, a national alternative media quarterly, reviewed Circle Network News and celebrated our inclusion of obituaries for cats, dogs, and other animal friends along with those for humans.”

First Circle Magazine with the new title 1999. [Courtesy Photo]

The first issue of Circle Magazine in 1999. [Courtesy Photo]

By 1998, print production itself became increasingly easy and affordable, and the magazine had reached new heights of popularity. As a result, Circle Network News would evolve again, donning a full-color cover with a bar-scan for wider distribution. The first color cover appeared on 67th issue produced in the spring of 1998 and was titled “Moon Rituals.”

Then, the following year, Circle Network News changed again. In 1999, the publication changed its name to Circle Magazine.

Over the 1990s, the publishing world had begun to change. By 2000, Circle was neither the only Pagan print magazine in bookstores nor the only source of Pagan news. Green Egg, for example, had resumed production in 1988. BBI Media started producing Sage Woman in 1986 and, by the 1990s, it was publishing Green Man, PanGaia, and more. In 2002, BBI Media debuted newWitch (the precursor to the now popular Witches and Pagans). Other big organizations, such as The Pagan Federation in the UK, were also producing their own magazines and high quality newsletters. In addition, the “World Wide Web” had entered the picture, offering countless online publications, connecting people through social media, and providing information and news to an ever-expanding Pagan community.

Despite the changing media climate, Circle Magazine had already become a fixture in American Pagan cultural life. Rev. Fox remembered, “In the 1980s and 1990s, among the songs performed in some bardic circles at Pagan festivals and filksinging sessions at Science Fiction conventions was Cover of Circle Network News, a song created by family tradition Witch Lady Cybele. Her song was based on The Cover of Rolling Stone written by Shel Silverstein and first recorded by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show in 1972.”

In addition, the magazine had become well-known and easily recognizable in mainstream bookstores. Rev. Fox noted that, while the magazine was meant to specifically serve Pagans, it did so in a public way becoming one of the public faces of Paganism.

Current Circle editor Florence Edwards-Miller added, “I’m really going to miss the thrill I got every time I went into a bookstore and saw a copy of CIRCLE Magazine on the periodicals shelf. And every now and then that thrill of recognition came at odd moments, like when we got word from our readers that a copy had been spotted in a network TV crime procedural, as a prop. I found the clip in question and sure enough, there was our issue on Healing and Wellness, right there on one of the characters’ coffee tables.” That show was the April 9, 2015 episode of Fox Network’s Backstrom

Through its many incarnations, Circle Magazine has undoubtedly played an important role in the individual and community lives of many people. However, in recent years, its readership dropped off and production became more expensive and time-consuming. As a result, at this past Samhain, the Circle Magazine staff decided to cease operations. Yesterday’s announcement read:

Circle Sanctuary is a nonprofit with very limited resources in funding, staffing, and volunteers, and given today’s greater access to Pagan information, we have decided that producing the magazine is no longer a good use of our limited resources.

Rev. Fox said, “I am happy that Circle Network News and CIRCLE Magazine have helped thousands of Pagans over the years, as well as has been a resource to help the public better understand Pagan spirituality. I am grateful for all the wonderful friendships this publishing endeavor has facilitated. Over the years, Circle Sanctuary has published other periodicals, including Circle News, Sanctuary Circles, Circle Network Bulletin, Pagan Spirit Alliance Newsletter, Pagan Spirit Journal, and the Circle Guide to Pagan Groups. Each fulfilled a need during its time but ended as our work evolved.”

One of the latest features of this current evolution is a membership program to be launched in 2016. More details will be shared in January. Edwards-Miler said, “Membership is a way that we can build stronger ties with our community.” As production on the last magazine winds down, she will be transitioning to the coordinator of this new program.  In addition, Edwards-Miller will also be involved in the coordination of festivals held at Circle Sanctuary.

After hearing yesterday’s announcement, BBI Media’s editor Anne Newkirk Niven said, “Circle was a seminal publication, with a long history of serving our community, and I will miss it. […] Circle Sanctuary is an amazing institution and community, and the magazine was only one of their many ministries. They do many, *many* things that I would never even attempt: prison ministries, outreach to the mainstream media, civil rights campaigns, a huge Pagan festival, and their very own Pagan landbase. The magazine was, and I think they would agree with me on this, one of their major ministries in Ye Olde Days, but one of their less important ones today.”

Oberon Zell also offered his well-wishes, saying “We at Green Egg are saddened to hear of the discontinuance of Circle Magazine, and we hope that, as did GE, it will eventually arise again like the Phoenix!”

Final Circle Magazine cover [Courtesy Photo]

Final Circle Magazine cover [Courtesy Photo]

The last issue, numbered 122, is currently in the final stages of production. Interestingly, it is titled “Life’s End & Beyond.” Edwards-Miller said that this was not planned, but fits quite nicely. Not only does this title reflect the current situation, but it also ironically creates a full circle in that the first issue of Circle Magazine in 1999 was also about death and ancestors.

Not surprisingly, ritual and magic go hand-in-hand with every project at Circle Sanctuary. Both Edwards-Miller, Rev. Fox and the other Circle members have been performing regular blessings and prayers in preparation for this day. Fox said, “Saying farewell and envisioning the future have been aided by rituals, dream questing, and meditation.”

When asked if they had ever considered going completely digital, either as a blog magazine or PDF, they both said yes. But Edwards-Miller added, “The way the digital publishing business is structured right now there is a very high barrier to entry to get on the devices that most people are using, iPads and Kindle in particular. And even if we had found an affordable digital option, it was clear that we’d need an unrealistic increase in our overall readership to change things so that the magazine would bring resources into Circle Sanctuary, instead of being something we subsidized.”

As she further explained, most of their production efforts and expenses are not tied up in the actual printing, but in the gathering of content. That would not change with digital media.

Circle Sanctuary expressed their gratitude to the many writers, artists, readers, distributors and others whose time went into making Circle Magazine a reality. Edwards-Miller added that the news is “bittersweet,” saying, “It’s certainly a time of mixed emotions. I’ve loved working on the magazine for these past three years. It’s been such a privilege to work with an amazingly talented group of writers, poets, and artists. And in particular getting to know our readers has just been a joy, and one I’ll dearly miss.”

According to the announcement, all current Circle Magazine subscribers will be receiving a letter that outlines the ways in which they can redeem the remaining value of their subscription. There will be several options, including back issues.

Niven has also told The Wild Hunt that she will fulfill remaining Circle Magazine subscriptions with Witches & Pagans. However, this is not one of the options listed by Circle’s letter. Readers must contact Niven directly for details on how this might work.

Issue #122 is going to press today, and will be available soon. Rev. Fox is taking this farewell all in stride. She said, “As our work evolves yet again, I am enthusiastic about future directions for Circle Sanctuary and its endeavors.”

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.