‘So will I build my altar in the fields,
And the blue sky my fretted dome shall be,
And the sweet fragrance that the wild flower yields
Shall be the incense I will yield to Thee,
Thee only God ! and thou shalt not despise
Even me, the priest of this poor sacrifice.’
From William Blake’s ‘To Nature’
This is my all time favourite poem and it perfectly demonstrates what i feel Scared Space is all about. Yet what exactly is Scared Space? To me, Sacred Space is any area which is reserved (often enclosed) for spiritual and religious purposes.
Mircea Eliade defines “Sacred” in ‘The Sacred and The Profane’ (1957) as “the opposite of the profane” So by his definition Sacred Space we could easily assume Sacred Space is any space which is not in use for profane activity.
However, this doesn’t quite cut it for me…I don’t think it is that simple (yet in a strange way it’s even simpler!). Over my last 18 years of practising the Craft in its various forms guises I have come to realise that Scared Space to The Witch is way more than just an area which not used for mundane activities. There has to be a spiritual or religious context to the area at the same time.
At its most basic and well-known, Sacred Space to many who practise the craft is the Circle, sometimes called the “compass round”, in which the rituals and Artes Magical are performed. With the cutting of the boundary and the inclusion of various implements and elements such as fire and so on, the circle takes on a meaning far beyond simple sacred space, to me it becomes my universe, at which I stand in the centre, the place where Man strives to meet God, This of course is the same point where The Tree resides, the great Ash, The Axis Mundi. Now, in reality the Circle is not a circle at all, but a sphere punctuated by 6 directions of North, South, East, West, Above and Below. This however is not a protected space, this is not a space for containment of energy or power (at least not primarily), in my opinion the circle serves as a bubble in both time and space where worlds meet, past present and future collide and as a result we are able to commune with those who were and are yet to be, the spirits of the Land, and of course Our Master and Dame. I feel it is incorrect, to state that sacred space, protective space, and a space to raise and contain energy are one and the same. I also feel it is incorrect to say that the feeling one has within the circle should and can only be experienced inside the circle.
So should Sacred Space be limited only to the Magic Circle? What about the Hearth? I am not lucky enough to live in a house with a genuine Hearth, in fact my house was built in the 1970’s so doesn’t even have a fireplace! Yet I do have a kitchen, and no matter what the occasion, people, whether it be 2 or 20, all seem to want to gather here. The Kitchen has therefore become my Hearth. In many traditions the Hearth is the heart of a Witch’s sacred space when they are not out and about. Gemma Gary in her book ‘Traditional Witchcraft; A Cornish Book of Ways’ clearly demonstrates that the practises which are typically reserved for the Circle can easily be brought inside around the Hearth and I couldn’t agree more, after all, in Britain it is often too cold, wet and as current events have shown, it isn’t, quite frankly, always safe to be out and about at night! So my Hearth, my Kitchen is one area I designate as Sacred Space. However by Mircea Eilades definition of Sacred that wouldn’t b correct! It would be incredibly impractical to strip my kitchen of all ‘profanity’ so how then can my Kitchen where we cook, do laundry, entertain friends and occasionally work magic be considered Sacred?
To me this is no great mystery…One’s practise of Traditional Witchcraft., from the lofty heights of Mysticism down to the humble practises of local Folk and Herb Lore should become part of every day life. It is therefore only natural that ones Sacred Space should also bleed and merge with the profane also.
Around Candlemas (Imbolc) I strip the house down and give it a good clean, I then give it a more ‘magical’ clean, invoking spirits of Hearth and Home, Kith and Kin to bestow blessing and protection upon the house. I also trace a boundary around the home and garden delineating the point where my efforts start and stop. Is that therefore not designating my entire Home as Sacred Space, despite the number of ‘profane’ activities which go on within?
When walking out in the woods and fields, Stang in hand, contemplating the Mysteries, asking for help and guidance to solve a problem, am I not designating the entire area as Sacred Space purely by my own ‘use’ of the space?
In many books I read, I feel this is one thing lacking which many; especially those new to Traditional Craft fail to understand. Because of that we are in danger of the Craft becoming a weekend, sunny day (or Sunday!!??) practise. This lack of discussion gives the impression that one can only commune with one’s ancestors, and spirits or can practise one’s craft when inside a circle created through elaborate ritual and ceremony. This, in my opinion, is not the case, at least not always and to perpetuate this false impression is no different from encouraging people to go to some cold building of stone and timber once a week and having someone spew their world view. I strongly believe the ‘Circle for Arte’ has its place but I think what place it has needs to be clarified. To me it is designation and its method of creation designates its function. I have a home, my home has rooms, each with a different designated purpose dictated by the contents and use of each room but they are all still part of my home.
If the Craft truly pervades all of you and all you do, Sacred Space can genuinely be wherever you happen to be…it’s only a state of mind!
So how can sacred space be ‘evoked?
If you make use of a Stang, then you already have a portable altar, wherever it goes, Scared Space can easily be evoked. By simply knocking the Stang on the ground and planting it firmly within the earth (always with intent) can a feeling of sacred space instantly be created both within and without.
Setting up a small shrine to…well…whatever / whoever you like (Gods, Spirits, Ancestors etc) in a small corner of a room is a great way of designating the space as sacred. But remember a Shrine is NOT the same as an Altar. One is a working ‘platform’ the other is devotional. I have a few small shrines around the home dedicated to different spirits and of course the Queen and Her King. Shrines should be used however, if they are to serve a purpose at all, a shrine gathering dust does not indicate sacred space, just poor housekeeping!
Certain places in the landscape need no ceremony, if you need to be in Sacred Space seek out these spaces…Holy Wells dedicated to Our Lady, Stone Circles and the like, fairy rings (if you’re lucky to stumble upon one or have one appear in your own lawn!), around and within ancient forest groves, crossroads and caves for example need little in the way of effort to evoke the feeling of Sacred Space, anything you do here will be amplified purely from the energy these places hold.
VIsualisation is a key tool in creating sacred space, I have been sat at my desk at work before, it was quiet, I needed a spiritual breather, it had been a hard day, filled with upheavals and bad news. I went out side, sat on the benches and visualised a bubble in my belly growing and growing and growing until it surrounded me in a great sphere. I recited a small prayer to the Master for strength and courage (if I recal I actually based it around the well-known Serenity Prayer) and I sat here and drank it in.
I’m sure there are many more ways to explore and experiment with, the key is remembering that Sacred Space is not some geographical point which exists in a fixed location or something that requires Bell, Book and Candle to create, After all ALL space is Sacred and All Time is here and now…