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Sacred Sites: Mugwort Circle

by Selena Fox

The Mugwort Circle at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in southwestern Wisconsin, USA, is a sacred place for meditations, rituals, learning, healing, and celebration. It is located near our center's main buildings and is in the center of a large, flat grassy area known as "The Green," a Commons area used for festivals, concerts, dance performances, and other events.

The idea for the Mugwort Circle came to me in Spring of 1985 during our center's landscaping planning process and emerged from our need to have a Community ceremonial area within a shorter walk from our buildings than the Stone Circle which we had begun creating in 1983 shortly after our move to the Land. Having worked with Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) for many years, I knew it to be a versatile and powerful magical herb, which aided dreamwork, intuitive development, divination, trance journeys, purification, healing, and other spiritual work. I also appreciated its hardiness and ability to thrive in this region, where temperatures, on occasion, could range from more than 30 degrees F below zero (-35 C) in the Winter and to over 100 degrees F (38 C) in the Summer. Familiar with the garden design tradition of Boxwood hedge plantings in geometric patterns in colonial America as well as in Europe, it occurred to me that a ritual circle could be formed and enclosed by a Mugwort hedge.

In April, 1985, Dennis and I began making this idea a reality. We created the Mugwort Circle by digging up and dividing four large Mugwort plants which we had grown in the gardens of Circle's previous home near Black Earth, Wisconsin. After doing a ceremonial honoring and attunement to the Land and the Spirit of Mugwort, Dennis and I planted the core of each of the four mother plants at the compass points of the Circle area. We then formed the ring by planting the new plants along the perimeter of the Circle between the compass point plants. We created a gateway into the Circle by leaving a small opening in the West, the direction associated with dreams, visions, and intuition in the Circle Craft tradition. We finished by watering each of the plants and then mulching around them to help them get established. During our Beltane activities that year, we dedicated the Mugwort Circle as a sacred site.

When it was first created, the Mugwort Circle had at its center a sundial atop a pedestal made from a portion of an Oak log set on end. At the base of this pedestal, we planted a circle of Thyme, and inside the Circle of Mugwort we planted a ring of Lemon Balm and Catmint. The following year, we replaced the sundial and its pedestal with a 10 foot tall Maypole, which we danced around as part of our 1986 Beltane celebration. We have been doing a Maypole dance at the Mugwort Circle each Beltane ever since. The Mugwort hedge thrived and grew so tall and wide, that the following year, we transplanted the Lemon Balm, Catmint, and Thyme within it to other locations where they could receive more sunlight. We then expanded the ground cover, a mix of green grass and Ground Ivy, to the areas where these other plants had been.

On May Eve, 1993, we installed a new, sturdier Maypole in the center of the Mugwort Circle. This Maypole of Oak, which was more than twice the size of the previous one made of Pine, was harvested in a sacred way that day by Dennis, Don, Kia, and Nicholas. It was one trunk of a double trunked Oak growing in Cernunnos Glen, a part of the forest on Circle Sanctuary Land near the Restored Prairie. New, longer ribbons were attached to this new Maypole and it was topped with a Green Crown. We energized the Mugwort Circle and its new Maypole during our Maypole dance Beltane ritual. This Maypole continues to form the center of the Mugwort Circle. At its base, facing the West, is a two foot high Mother Earth Goddess sculpture of concrete crafted by Arachne of Hawkdancing Studios.

The Mugwort plants that comprise the Mugwort Circle continue to thrive, and over the years additional Mugwort plants have sprouted up and added to the fullness of the ring through the Mugwort's own self-seeding process as well as its expanding root system. Because this ritual circle is created by living plants, its form changes with the seasons and the yearly life cycle of this perennial herb. From Beltane to Lughnassad, the Mugwort in the Circle grows from a small mound of leaves appearing at ground level to a hedge more than seven feet tall and three feet wide. The peak of Mugwort's yearly cycle coincides with the Green Spirit Festival, our celebration of Lughnassad in early August, and it is then that we do our first harvest. As we clip sprigs and stalks from the plants, we help shape from both the outside and inside portions of the Circle. Some of the harvested sprigs we fashion into garland crowns which we wear during the Festival. We also cut and bundle whole stalks of leaves and flowers which we hang in the loft of the Barn to dry. We do additional harvesting in late Summer and early Fall while the leaves are still green. However, with each harvest, we take care to take only a few stalks from each plant in order to keep the Hedge intact and to stimulate rather than diminish Mugwort growth.

Some of the dried herbs we harvest from the Mugwort Circle we use in the making of dream pillows, amulets, potions, smudge sticks, and other magical items. In addition, Mugwort from the Circle is a major ingredient in the Spirit Bags we make each June for participants in our annual Pagan Spirit Gathering. We make some of the Mugwort we harvest available to others through Circle Magic Herbs (see page 62). We burn dried Mugwort stalks in sacred fires at Beltane, Summer Solstice, and other occasions.

With the onset of frost, our Mugwort harvest ends, and the hedge begins its transformation into its Winter form. Leaves and stalks darken as they die back in the cold, giving the hedge a silhouette like appearance in contrast to fallen snow. With the coming of Spring, as snow and ice melts away, the old stalks, now quite dry and brittle, give way to new, green supple shoots that start appearing at the base of each plant. At our Sanctuary work day in April, we clip off these old stalks at their base and store them for later use in ritual bonfires. This pruning not only allows more light to reach the new shoots, but facilitates Maypole dancing in and around the Circle at Beltane in early May. By early August, the new hedge has risen up and we begin the harvest again.

Because of its proximity to the buildings and visitor parking areas, the Mugwort Circle is one of the most visited of the sacred sites at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve. In addition to being the site of our main Beltane ritual which includes the Maypole dance, the Mugwort Circle has been the site of many meditations, handfastings, child blessings, coming of age ceremonies, all night vigils, healing circles, Full Moon rituals, classes, and other spiritual activities. Whether doing a solo meditation or taking part in a small group or large festival ritual, the Mugwort Circle is a wonderful place to commune with the magic of Mugwort and attune to the transforming wisdom of Nature.