When discussing the subject of spiritual or magical purification with other members of the Pagan community, I’ve noticed that two main points of view usually dominate the conversations: those that faithfully complete the now-standard steps of cleansing/purification prior to every ritual and those that deem it as entirely unnecessary. For those that do not feel a need for the cleansing, the most frequent statement I have heard is something to the effect of, “Since we view the earth as sacred, it seems silly to ‘purify’ the area.” Usually the “pro-purification” side contends that if a ritual area is not properly prepared, then disruptive or harmful energies could be attracted by whatever magical work is being conducted there, so it is best to take the standard precautions rather than deal with problems. In my own training, I was taught that both points of view have merit and that reconciling these two apparently opposing perspectives can be easily accomplished by focusing on the concept of alignment.
When learning magic, we are usually taught the importance of using proper ingredients (herbs, stones, colors, tools, etc.) that correspond to the goals of our ritual in order to build the type of energy we need. This correspondence is a form of alignment. If all the energies within the ritual space are properly aligned to the same purpose, the rite itself is much more effective. In most cases, purifying or cleansing a person or area has little or nothing to do with anything impure or evil, but rather has the effect of neutralizing any energies present that are not in harmony with the magical or spiritual intent. This is the deeper meaning of circle casting; it’s not that the land is full of negative energy; it is just that whatever random energy is present may not be in harmony with the goal and could therefore be a hindrance to success. To “create sacred space” is to build a harmonious environment for magic and ritual. That is not to say that casting a magic circle is the only means of creating the proper energetic effect; most magical or spiritual traditions have some form of preparatory steps that accomplish this, but not all recognize the effect produced as being that of “purification.”
It really comes down to semantics; different methods, approaches, and workings, each with their own terms or labels but all are providing essentially the same function. The function of course is to facilitate the proper energetic space for ritual. It matters not what type of preparatory work one does; some leave offerings at the boundary to appease potentially troublesome forces, some call spiritual guardians to the site, some use wards to deflect incompatible energies and some go through the full steps of casting a circle. I’m certain there are hundreds of variations but the goal (whether consciously acknowledged or not) is always to bring the energy of place into harmony with the intended purpose of the ritual—an essential and very magical act.
Our thanks to Michael for his guest post! For more from Michael Furie, read his article, “Altar Design: Drafting the Plans for Manifestation.”