How do you create sacred space in ritual?

2012 Thing on Thursday #7

This concludes our series of questions on liturgy.  Creation of sacred space was only modestly popular in our poll of liturgical elements, but in light of its importance and ubiquity in the larger Pagan community, it seems a prudent target for inquiry.

The term sacred space can have many meanings.  It can mean anything from a ritual area literally set apart for supernormal beings or forces, to a sense of special meaning attached to the ritual time and place.  Its worth noting that most methods of creating sacred space appear quite metaphysical at first glance, but may function to create an altered state of awareness in a manner consistent with naturalism.  Please interpret as you will.

The choices in the poll follow some of the most common means of creating sacred space in Paganism.  Explanations follow the poll.

Please choose as many as strongly appeal to you.

  • Calling the quarters refers to a variety of practices in which participants face each of the four cardinal directions (east, south, west, north) and invoke a deity, spirit, element, ideal, etc.
  • Casting a circle may or may not be identical to calling the quarters in your tradition.  Sometimes the two are merged, sometimes they are separate acts.  In Ceremonial Magic, the purpose of casting a circle is traditionally to keep hostile forces out, while in Wicca it is to keep energy in.  The idea of being “between the worlds” is often invoked.
  • Opening the gates, as practiced in ADF Druidry and some of its offshoots, ritually places participants at the center of the cosmos, between the worlds, in order to enhance communication between participants and deities, spirits, etc.  It is distinct from circle casting in that it defines no outside boundary.
  • Addressing the outdwellers is performed in Heathenry and ADF Druidry, and consists of a statement and/or offering to appease or ward off unwanted spirits or forces.
  • Purifying the space is the ritual cleansing of the area of impurity.
  • Circumambulating or otherwise walking the boundaries of the space indicates processing around or through the ritual space, perhaps while performing other actions such as knocking on walls or chanting hymns, with the express intention of creating sacred space.
  • Physically marking the boundaries means the use of physical denotations such as chalk lines, candles, stakes, etc., to mark off sacred space.
  • Permanently sacred space refers to temples, consecrated altars, or other religious sites, the sacred status of which is long-lasting
  • No creation of sacred space means what it says: you don’t created sacred space in ritual at all.

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

About Thing on Thursday

Althing in Session, by W.G. CollingwoodThis post is part of a series of councils on matters vital to the future.  The name represents both the generic term for, you know, a thingie, as well as the Old Norse term for a council of elders: a Thing.

Each week from the Autumn Equinox until the Winter Solstice, Thing on Thursday explores a new controversy.  Participation is open to all – the more minds that come together, the better.  Those who have been vocal in the comments are as welcome as those quiet-but-devoted readers who have yet to venture a word.  We value all constructive opinions.

There are only a few rules:

  • be constructive – this is a council, so treat it as such
  • be respectful – no rants or flames

Comments will be taken into consideration as we determine the new direction of Humanistic Paganism.

So please make your voice heard in the comments!

5 Comments on “How do you create sacred space in ritual?

  1. What is this poll trying to figure out exactly? What naturalistic folk do, or what HP readers do (which would be all stripes)? I ask because I am interested in what, if anything, will be done with the results? Just a general inquiry or to determine direction? If it is direction it is skewed as HP is naturalistic and by the way the poll was phrased it is open to non-naturalistic views and practices. It would be interesting to see two polls – one for each camp, to see and compare results. If they are different from one another it would answer itself as to why. But what if they are very similar, then the question of why would be interesting one to answer. Which I’d like to see if it is the case.

    • The poll is open to all HP readers, and takes the pulse of that readership. The information will inform (but not dictate) future directions for the site.

      >by the way the poll was phrased it is open to non-naturalistic views and practices.

      I typically include non-naturalistic options in polls in order to get a baseline comparison. Assuming that the readership remains largely naturalistic, non-naturalistic options should consistently appear less popular. So far, they always have.

    • You are right that it is skewed. At our current sample size, there is no way to get a statistically accurate measure anyway. So, this isn’t a direct dictation of future direction by way of polling. It’s a) a way to take the pulse of readership, b) involve readers through a different kind of feedback, and c) generate food for thought which may, after consideration of other factors, lead to different directions in the future.

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