by Selena Fox
Honoring the directions of the Sacred Circle is a widespread spiritual practice in ancient and contemporary Nature wisdom traditions. For many practitioners, honoring the directions is an essential component of all rituals. It is a way to create and to connect with sacred space. It also is a way of communing with Nature. Furthermore, it can be a way of mapping consciousness and viewing life.
The Sacred Circle with its directions is called by some, the "Magic Circle," and by others, the "Medicine Wheel." Some traditions emphasize the four compass directions of the Circle. Others work with the four compass points plus a central point representing unity. Some also include two additional directions in the center, up and down, to create a Sacred Sphere as well as the Sacred Circle. Qualities, images, colors, and other symbolic associations with the directions vary from path to path, but the idea of Sacred Circle as a place of balancing, healing, and wholeness extends across traditions.
I work with seven directions in my personal spiritual practice, in doing healing and counseling, and in guiding group rituals at Circle Sanctuary and elsewhere. The seven directions are an integral part of my Pagan worldview and provide a framework for understanding and for action. My correspondences of the compass directions and central point with the five Elements of Nature have developed from my work with Wiccan spirituality and contemporary psychology over the past twenty years. My use of the up and down directions emerged from my studies of multicultural Shamanism and my practice of spiritual environmentalism.
While the map of concsiousness with its seven directions and Sacred Sphere form works well for me and for others, it is important to note that it is but one of many maps within Paganism today. Traditions vary not only in the number of directions honored, but the correspondences associated with each direction and the order in which the directions are worked with in ritual. It is important that practitioners chart their own maps according to their own traditions, preferences, and experiences. The map I use and present here has evolved over time and continues to evolve. Feel free to adapt it for your own needs.
This map provides a framework for attunement with Nature in Her many forms. The Elements are at the compass points and other sacred lifeforms are on the central axis.
This map also provides a lens through which to view dimensions of self and health. It can be useful in assessing areas of wellness and strength as well as areas which need healing attention. Included in my descriptions of correspondences for each direction are examples of healing modalities which can address needs specific to each area.
This is the direction of the Element Earth and the Power of Body. Its Nature forms are rocks, clay, sand, and soil. In human life, this is the physical dimension and the sensing realm. In connecting with this direction, pay attention to your physiological processes, to the sensations in your body, to your biological needs, and to your physical health. Healing modalities include good nutrition, hygiene, body language awareness and change, relaxation, and rest.
This is the direction of the Element Air and the Power of Mind. Its Nature forms are the winds, the atmosphere, and the breath. In human life, this is the mental dimension and the thinking realm. In connecting with this direction, pay attention to your thought processes, to your ability to reason, to your attitudes, and to your mental health. Healing modalities include self-talk analysis, affirmations, journal writing, cognitive restructuring, and education.
This is the direction of the Element Fire and the Power of Action. Its Nature forms are flames, lightning, and electricity. In human life, this is the behavioral dimension and the doing realm. In connecting with this direction, pay attention to your repertoire of activities, to the amount of time you allot to work and to play, to the quality of your alone time, to the nature of your interactions with others, and to your behavioral health. Healing modalities include play, exercise, time management, life restructuring, breaking destructive or outmoded habits, career development, positive behavioral change, and goal setting and achievement.
This is the direction of the Element Water and the Power of Emotions. Its Nature forms are oceans, lakes, streams, rivers, wells, springs, dew, precipitation, and fluids in the body. In human life, this is the emotional dimension and the feeling realm. In connecting with this direction, pay attention to your moods, to your feelings about yourself and about others, to the levels of intimacy and trust in your relationships, and to your emotional health. Healing modalities include guided imagery, active listening, expressing feelings, sharing feelings, giving comfort and being comforted, singing, dancing, drawing, and other forms of artistic expression.
This is the direction of Sky and Cosmos. Its Nature forms are the sun, moon, planets, stars, meteors, galaxies, and deep space. In human life, this is the realm of cosmic consciousness. In connecting with this direction, pay attention to your being part of the community of life in the universe. As you contemplate the heavens, use your imagination to reach out into mysteries of outer space and other worlds. Experience yourself as an inhabitant of a planet moving through space. Reflect on creation legends and on stories of humans that have ventured forth into space from our planet.
This is the direction of Planet and Sacred Place. Its Nature forms are the biosphere of Planet Earth and the community of lifeforms (such as creatures and plants as well as other humans) in your own home environment. In human life, this is the realm of planetary consciousness. In connecting with this direction, pay attention to your being part of the tapestry of life in your local area as well as being part of the greater community of life on the Planet. As you contemplate this, use your imagination to feel connected with the web of life that includes trees, herbs, creatures, microbes, and the Elements as well as other humans. Experience yourself as a part of the biosphere, also known as Planet spirit or Mother Earth.
This is the direction of Spirit. Its Nature form is the Divine Soul stuff that links all life together. It is the synthesis of the Elements and the directions. In human life, this is the spiritual realm and the dimension of the Divine in its many forms. In connecting with this direction, pay attention to the core of your being -- your inner Self. Honor the Divine as you know it -- Goddesses, Gods, Nature Spirits, Ancestors, Spiritual Guides, Love, Unity in Diversity. Connect with balance, harmony, beauty, wholeness, integrity, and bliss. Healing modalities include dreamwork, inner journeys, understanding inner guidance worship, ecstatic dance, drumming, chanting, invocations, vision quests, and spiritual service.
There are three axes in this map: North-South, East-West, and Up-Down. Each axis contains a balance. The North-South axis is a balance between the reflective sensing and the active doing. The East-West axis is a balance between thinking and feeling, or in other words, analysis and intuition. The Up-Down axis is a balance between attunement to the home Planet and attunement to the beyond. In the central Spirit point, the axes converge. Together the axes form a Sacred Sphere around the Spirit point.
In working with this map of consciousness, it is important to note some distinctions. With this map, a clear distinction is made between Earth as an Element and Earth as the Planet. The Element Earth refers specifically to the rocks and soil that comprise the land mass of the Planet, while the Planet itself embodies all the Elements in its domain and therefore is on the central axis.
This map also makes a distinction between the Element Fire and the unifying Element Spirit. While in some systems Fire and Spirit are one, in this map they are separate, since Spirit is viewed as a synthesis of all Four Elements.
The inclusion of Sky/Cosmos, or Up, direction in this map underlies my preference for referring to Contemporary Pagan philosophy as "Nature Spirituality" instead of as "Earth Spirituality," "Gaean Religion," or "Green Spirituality." I view the term Nature Spirituality as a broader term that reflects communion with Nature not only on this Planet, but beyond it. The terms "Earth," "Gaean," and "Green" are specific to Divine communion with Nature on this Planet. While descriptive of paths that where Mother Earth honoring is central, Paganism also includes paths that are more Star focused. Nature Spirituality is an appropriate umbrella terms for these diverse forms and provides more flexibility for the Pagan future. As Pagans journey off this Planet into space in the centuries to come, it will be interesting to note how ritual communion with Nature in other realms develops and what non-Planet Earth based Nature religions will emerge.
Seven Directions Ritual
A powerful way to work with this map, to understand it more fully, and to incorporate it into your own experience is to use it ritually. The Seven Directions Ritual I present here can be used as is as a daily spiritual practice or worked with as part of a more elaborate ritual. In addition to spiritually experiencing the map of consciousness, this ritual is an opportunity to connect with messages relevant to your own life.
To perform this ritual, find a place where you will not be disturbed. An outdoor location in a natural setting is best, but an indoor room can also do. While this ritual can be done solely in the imagination, it is more effective when done when one's mind, body, emotions, actions, and inner Self/Spirit are all actively participating. This ritual can be done at any time of day or night and in any season.
Take a compass with you to the site you have chosen. Mark each compass point and the central point with a stone or other object. Relax, purify, and center yourself as you would for other spiritual work, such as by using relaxed breathing, incense, and/or chanting. When you are ready, begin.
Begin in the North. Face North with upraised hands. Call to the powers of North and Earth to be with you and to bless and guide you. Then holding your hands to your heart, experience the power of the direction flowing into yourself and attune yourself to your body. Pay attention to any inner guidance you receive as you do this. End by giving thanks. Follow a similar process as you connect with each direction.
Next go the East and face it with upraised hands. Call to the powers of East and Air and, with hands to your heart, attune yourself to your mind. Note any inner guidance that emerges and give thanks.
Go to the South and face it with upraised hands. Call to the powers of South and Fire. With hands to your heart, attune yourself to your action part of self. Note any inner guidance that emerges and give thanks.
Go to the West and face it with upraised hands. Call to the powers of West and Water. Moving your hands to your heart, attune yourself to your feelings. Note any inner guidance that comes and then give thanks.
Move around the Circle past the North and start spiralling inward, making at least one spiraled circle around the center. Point your hands out as you move. Feel yourself connecting with the circle that links the compass points. Spiral into the center. Honor the Sacred Circle as you stand in the North of center and face South.
Raise your arms above your head toward the heavens and look Upward. Call to the powers of the Cosmos. Experience yourself linking in with the Universe beyond the Planet. Hold your hands to your heart. Note any inner guidance that comes to you as you take the energy of this direction into yourself. Give thanks.
Now point your arms Downward toward the Planet. If you feel so moved, sit or lie down and place your hands palm down on the ground. Call to the powers of the Planet and the place of this rite. Experience yourself linking in with the Web of Life on this Planet. Draw the powers of this direction into yourself and note any inner guidance that comes to you as you do this. Give thanks.
Finally, stand and face the center, with your arms outstretched before you. Call to the power of Spirit, of Divine Unity. Call the Divine by the name(s) you know it. Then, bring your hands to your heart and experience oneness, balance, and wholeness. Pay attention to any inner guidance that comes to you. Give thanks.
The ritual can end at this point, or you can move into additional ritual activities. When you are done, make a note of your experiences in a journal and/or reflect on what occurred. Draw on understandings of the directions and their associations in developing your own map of consciousness and designing future rituals.