Column: The Inaugural Sacred Circle

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“You begin to realize that you’re always standing in the middle of a sacred circle, and that’s your whole life….”

American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön writes. “Whatever you do for the rest of your life, the circle is always around you. Everyone who walks up to you has entered that sacred space and it’s not an accident. Whatever comes into the space is there to teach you.”[1]

The sacred circle is not unfamiliar to most spiritual seekers. Regardless of praxis of faith, the circle has been a place to hold collective, the celebrations and sorrows of many.  The circle is richly and innately Goddess in some cultures and yet we welcome that same circle as distinctly God. For many, the circle and the casting of it stands as a foundation upon which the work of magic. In popular culture the witch may be as famous for calling quarters and casting circles than any other ceremony, ritual, and celebration. It is no wonder that since prehistory the circle seems to have been the hub for community.

By McKay Savage from London, UK (Peru - Cusco 189 - Cusco's place in the Empire) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Diagram of a system of imaginary lines radiating from Cusco that connected cities, shrines, temples and sacred sites of the Incan empire. [Photo Credit: McKay Savage / Wikimedia Commons]

“When we meet in circle we join to hold everyone in sacred space and purpose. We are bringing forth an ancient way of connecting into modern times. We gather to share stories, to deepen our identities individually and in group—often with the intention to enable and shape a post-patriarchal way of being. We also gather to heal life.”[2]

Earth too, is a circle that is hosts to species long since departed.  They are called, Rock, River, and Tree.

On January 20, 1993, American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, Dr. Maya Angelou stood atop Capitol Hill, a place that at the time of her birth in 1928 was not accessible to people of color, let alone a woman of color. She spoke plainly:

“A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed…”[3]

Dr. Angelou spoke of the past and called to the circle – the ROCK.

“But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny…
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness…
The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.”

Swiftly moving around the circle from the rock to the river, Dr. Angelou sang out and invited the River:

“A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one…”

By this point, Dr. Angelou had invoked strong Rock and singing River. In a deft transcendence that is akin to transubstantiation, she called upon “creator.”  I and the tree and stone were one. This was more than poetry; this was liturgy. And, in true liturgical fashion, there was dogma. “Come clad in peace and study war no more.”

Not too dissimilar from Dr. Angelou’s statement is one from the Charge of the Goddess, written by Doreen Valiente. It reads: “Nor do I demand aught of sacrifice, for behold, I am the Mother of all things and My love is poured out upon the earth.”

Dr. Maya Angelou [By Clinton Library (William J. Clinton Presidential Library) [Public domain]

Dr. Maya Angelou at the 1993 presidential inauguration ceremony [By Clinton Library / Public domain]

There on Capitol Hill, a circle was cast. In that space, there was Dr. Angelou and her guides and her allies: Rock, River, and Tree. And again, it was time to invoke the singing River and the wise Rock. Dr. Angelou said:

“So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.”

On that day and in that space, all were welcome there – even you, and I. But what’s more, Dr. Angelou’s circle was going to reach back in time. She said:

“Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation…
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream…”

See, the circle needed to remember the time when other’s blood, sweat, and tears paid for a dream. Dr. Angelou continued…

“I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again…”

Within that circle there was courage to face the past and look at the future – to acknowledge and empower. Dr. Angelou continued:

“The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country…”

Atop a hill, Dr. Angelou stood and called out to the hosts of species long since departed. She called them by name, and she rekindled their light as ally. Perhaps she was casting a circle that called into the hearts of citizens the United States of America. Ideals that might be similar to the language written on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”[4]

We are always are standing in the middle of a sacred circle, and whatever comes into the circle comes in to teach us, even the Rock, the River, and the Tree. They bear the lesson of the priceless gift of the inclusion when we stand within the sacred circle.


[1]Chödrön, Pema. The Wisdom of No Escape, p. 28.
[2]  GoettnerAbendroth, H. Societies of peace: Matriarchies past, present and future. p 184.
[3] Angelou, Maya. On The Pulse of Morning. William J. Clinton Presidential Library.
[4] Lazarus, Emma. The New Colossus.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.