by Selena Fox
Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve is a sacred place located in the rolling, forested hills of southwestern Wisconsin in the north central region of the United States of America. Its 200 acres include forest, prairies, meadows, streams, springs, wetlands, sandstone rock outcroppings, and other natural features, plus many types of wild plants and creatures. More than two thirds of the land is hardwood forest, with white and red oaks predominating. Creatures that live some or part of the year on the Land include white-tailed deer, bobcats, squirrels, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, muskrats, groundhogs, frogs, toads, snakes, mice, Temple cats, and others, including more than sixty types of birds. This Land is owned and operated by Circle Sanctuary and is headquarters for its offices and ministries. Pagans of many paths and places across the USA and other countries make pilgrimages here and join members of the Circle Sanctuary Community in festivals and other events we sponsor throughout the year. Also a place where ancient Native Americans dwelled and did ritual, the Land is on both the Wisconsin and National Registers of Historic Places.
Pagan use of the Land for rituals began at Samhain 1983, at the time Land purchase began. Following our move of Circle Sanctuary headquarters to the Land in November of that year, some local people opposed to having Pagans in their area organized against us, began spreading false and malicious rumors about us, and attempted to use zoning laws to stop our religious uses of the Land. However, we stood our ground and took action. We got lawyers involved and gave interviews to the media which helped replace misinformation with accurate descriptions of our religious orientation and work. We also hosted open house gatherings so that the public could get to know us better and, if they wished, also view our rituals. Pagans from many traditions around the world joined with those from other religions and philosophies in giving us support. The Wisconsin branch of the American Civil Liberties Union took our case and provided us an attorney, and we also got legal aid from some political conservatives who recognized the importance of upholding religious freedom for all religions in the USA. After an intense religious freedom battle lasting years, we finally won. We received church zoning status for all 200 acres of Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve on the night of the Yuletide Full Moon and Epiphany, January 6, 1988.
Since that time, acceptance and understanding about Circle Sanctuary, its sacred Nature Preserve, and its worldwide Pagan ministries have grown, not only locally, but also across the nation and internationally. In addition to the many Pagans making sacred journeys here over the years, our visitors also have included environmental scientists, scholars, university classes, reporters, filmmakers, artists, and leaders and practitioners of other religions. Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve as sacred land has been featured in many types of media, including books, articles, movies, television, radio, and the internet.
Within Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve there are more than three dozen circles, shrines, and other sacred sites used for individual and group rituals. These ritual sites vary in size and shape, ranging from small shrines in rock outcroppings to large ceremonial circles. In this photo essay, I include a sampling of these sites. Although not open on a drop-in basis, Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve is open to visitors at a variety of events throughout the year. See the gatherings section of this issue for information on some upcoming festivals. Events details are on-line and published in the Circle Sanctuary Community's newsletter, Sanctuary Circles, see page 69.
Ritual Ridge: Many of our shrines are along the Shrines Walk trail in the forest on Ritual Ridge, which culminates in Ritual Mound. Ritual Ridge, pictured in the background, is located to the south and west of our two main buildings, the barn and the farmhouse.
Stone Circle: The Stone Circle is the best known and one of the most used of the ritual sites on the Land. It is located within a sacred grove of oak and birch trees and is atop Ritual Mound, an ancient place of power and a sidhe mound. We began creating the Stone Circle during our Yule ritual in 1983. Since that time thousands of rocks, pebbles, crystals, and small ritual objects have been placed there by participants in rituals. This site is a place of Mother Earth communion. It has been the site of many multicultural and interfaith planetary healing rituals, at Earth Day and at other times.
Temple Room: Located inside the main floor of the barn, our Temple Room was constructed as part of barn renovation in 1985. We dedicated it as a Pagan Temple place during our Imbolc Festival in 1990. The Temple Room is our largest indoor ritual site. We also use it for meetings, classes, concerts, slide shows, movies, work sessions, and other activities, including our annual Samhain Witches' Ball shown here.
Festival Circle: Our largest ritual site is Festival Circle, which can hold several hundred people around a big bonfire. We consecrated Festival Circle in 1999 during our Fall Equinox ritual. Shown here is a scene from this year's ritual. In addition to being the site of Sabbat rituals, drumming circles, and rites of passage, it is a place for big festival bonfires, which we kindle at Samhain, Beltane, and other times.
Bonfire Circle: We created the Bonfire Circle as a ritual and social place in the Summer of 1984. It is located between the farmhouse and the barn in an area that once was a farmyard and more anciently, a Native American encampment. We use the Bonfire Circle for rituals, drumming circles, meditations, classes, celebrations, and other activities. Shown here is a meditation circle at our 1990 Lughnassad Festival.
Brigid's Spring: This healing shrine, in a willow grove along the stream near the Festival Circle, is named for the Celtic Goddess of inspiration and healing. A place for individual and small group healing rites, Brigid's Spring flows year-round. Many who pilgrimage here place healing prayer ribbons on grapevine hoops in the trees around the Spring.
The Green & Mugwort Circle: Since the mid-1990's we have maintained this former farm field as a Commons area for festivals. Like the Bonfire Circle nearby, it was once part of an ancient Native American camp. In addition to rituals, we use the Green for outdoor concerts, storytelling, and dance performances. In the center of the Green is the Mugwort Circle which we planted in 1984. In the center is our Maypole, which we dance during our Beltane ritual each year. We use the Mugwort Circle for Moon ceremonies, meditations, Land attunements, and herbal harvest rites.
Spirit Rock: Located on one of the highest points and in the southeastern corner of the Land, Spirit Rock is a majestic sandstone formation that gives a spectacular view of much of Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve. In ancient times, Native Americans used it as a vision quest place. During part of the twentieth century, it was known as Sunset Rock among some of the locals who used it to view sunsets. We named it Spirit Rock to honor its ancient and present uses as a sacred site for meditations, vigils, and rituals, such as Land honoring, which I am shown doing here in this 1985 photo.