When you cast a magic circle, you are preparing it as an area in which you wish to invite the Deities to appear in. It is also the space created between the physical world and the spiritual. As in a "time and space out of time and space". It is also a safe environment for practitioners in which to convene in the manner in which they choose safe from outside interference as they set it to be.
Is there a difference in how you cast a circle depending on what you are using it for? Not really. You might change the words a bit while casting it if you wish to designate it to be for one purpose or the other only, but you can cast it with words that includes all three purposes. What is important to remember is that for most magical practitioners it is important to cast that circle before you begin your ritual or magical workings.
Is there any particular preparation you need to do for yourself before casting a circle and doing a ritual? Yes. You should start with a ritual bath. I'll cover that in another article. You should also spend a bit of time in meditation before you start. But before you start preparing yourself you should set up your altar and area for the ritual first. The altar and all the items you wish to have on it. If you need to move furniture and such, do it now. You don’t want to be in the circle starting your casting and discover you forgot something like matches. When you have everything set up to start, then you can do your ritual bath and meditation. You should be able to go straight from that to cleansing and casting your circle.
Is there only one way or a best way to cast your circle? No. Just like all other aspects of your practice as a Pagan, Wiccan or Witch, how you cast your circle is up to you. Use whatever method that works best for you and provides you with your desired result. Remember that all aspects of magic start with your mind and how it best focuses on its goal. What someone else has written down may not quite fit what you work best from. You may wish to use some of what the other person has written and then change other parts of it to suit yourself or write your own casting all by yourself. Having said that, here is a simple circle casting and releasing that you might wish to use or rewrite to serve you. This is how I cast a circle. As I said there are many ways to do it. I present this as one way and as a basic outline. I hope it helps you to develop your own way of doing it.
Items used to cast a circle :
bowl of water
bowl of salt
4 candles or objects to represent the 4 elements
candle holders if using candles
matches or lighter
other items used for your ritual or magic (see article about setting up an altar)
Casting a Circle
1) Cleanse area with besom (broom). To do this simply start at the center and use a sweeping motion with the besom. You don’t actually touch the besom to the floor. Just use the sweeping motion till you have cleared the area that you will be using. Don’t forget to concentrate on what you are doing. As you are doing this say words such as : "I cleanse this area of all that is baneful so that I might perform this ritual in safety and with the blessings of the Goddess and God."
2) Set out 4 candles or objects at the 4 cardinal points
a) North - Earth - Brown or Green - Stone
b) East - Air - Yellow - Feather
c) South - Fire - Red - Red Candle
d) West - Water - Blue - Sea Shell
3) Light the incense
4) Touch the point of the athame to the salt and bless it in the name of the Goddess and God with words such as : "I bless this bowl of salt in the name of the Goddess and God that it may be used in this ritual."
5) Now add a pinch of salt to the water. Take the athame and touch the bowl of water with the tip of the athame and consecrate it to the Goddess and God with words such as : "I consecrate this bowl of water to the Goddess and God that it may be used in this ritual."
6) Now take the athame and starting at the North, or East if you prefer, pointing the athame to the ground where you would have the boundary of the circle and visualize the energy flowing from the athame to the floor and slowly walk clockwise (deosil) toward East, or South if you started in the East, as you create the sphere. Be sure to go all the way around and end where you started in the North or East. As you do this say words such as : "This is the boundary between the Worlds outside of Space and Time. Let it be a protection against all that is baneful. Let this space within this circle be sanctified to the Goddess and God"
7) Now take up the Salt and lightly sprinkle it at the edge of the circle, starting from the North, or East, going clockwise (deosil) ending at your starting point saying the same as before as you walk the circle. Remember that you don't need a solid line of salt. First, if you are outdoors that heavy line of salt will kill the plants it falls on. Second, if you are indoors it will be quite a mess to clean up later. A light sprinkling is all that you need.
8) Next take up the Water and lightly sprinkle it at the edge of the circle, starting from the North, or East, going clockwise (deosil) ending at your starting point saying the same as before as you walk the circle.
9) Last carry the smoking incense, starting in the North, or East, and ending where you started saying the same words as you walk the circle.
10) Now go to each cardinal point and light each candle, if you are using them, as you go starting with North, or East just change the order of these words, and saying words such as : "I call on the spirits of North, the element of Earth that you may attend this circle."
11) Next go to the Eastern cardinal point light the candle and say : "I call on the spirits of East, the element of Air that you may attend this circle.”
12) Now go to the Southern cardinal point light the candle and say : "I call on the spirits of South, the element of Fire that you may attend this circle."
13) Finally go to the Western cardinal point light the candle and say : “I call on the spirits of West, the element of Water that you may attend this circle."
14) The circle is now cast. Now the Deities maybe invited to your circle and you can continue with your ritual and/or magic.
Cutting a Doorway
If you have a need to leave the circle, then a doorway may be cut in the circle/sphere by using your athame. Cut the doorway at the northeast section of the circle, starting at the floor and cutting as though you are cutting a door shape and height and width. Be sure to seal it once you reenter the circle by tracing the circle's line.
Releasing or Opening the Circle
1) First say to the Deities that your rite/ritual is done and that you thank them for attending and helping with the rite/ritual. Say then that They may leave if they wish. Remember to not command Them to leave. Always be polite.
2) Now go to each cardinal point, starting with West and release the elements saying : "I thank you Water, element of West, for attending this circle. Go if you will, stay if you must. Blessed be."
3) Repeat this for each cardinal point going counterclockwise (widdershins). So, you go next to South, then East and finally North saying similar but appropriate words.
4) Now starting in the West or North, walk the circle with your athame pointed down, drawing into it the energies of the circle. Walk counterclockwise (widdershins) saying words like : "The circle is now open though always here." Remember to end where you started, West or North.
5) The circle is now open/released.
Remember that if you don't own an athame that you can use your hand or finger. Also, a wand can be used except in the case of cutting a doorway. In which case use your hand.
Something that you need to keep in mind as you are casting your circle is that what you are casting is actually a sphere that not only rises above you but below you as well. This sphere can be any color you wish. Some say it is transparent while others will say it is blue or purple. It isn’t really important what color you visualize it to be.
There are those that will tell you to never walk your circle in a counterclockwise (widdershins) direction as that is the way those of the Left-Hand Path walk. This I have found to not be true for me at least. It seems only logical and natural to draw up the circle walking counterclockwise (widdershins). Also, there are those that feel that those who live in the southern hemisphere should walk their circles in the opposite direction as those that live in the northern hemisphere. This is due to the fact that many feel that the energies in the south move in a different direction than they do in the north. On the other hand, the Sun and Moon still rises in the East and moves to the West where it sets. But it's up to you how you do it.
If you wish you can ask the Guardians or spirits for protection as well as to be witnesses to your ritual. If you can't burn an incense, then you can put a scented oil onto a cotton ball and use that. You should be casting your circle and speaking from memory. So use words that fit for you and that you can remember. It is hard to cast a circle effectively if you are concentrating on trying to read from a script. Also, you don't need to spend a lot of money on the items used in casting a circle. Your kitchen and the dollar store can provide everything quite cheaply. Magic and Wicca shouldn't cost you and arm and a leg to perform it.
I'm mostly a Low-Magic kinda person...i.e. I like to make magick from the mundane instead of summoning deities & wut have you at a constant rate, stirring a bucket of blood to smear circles & such outlandish things to cause such a scene that it will last fer eons....and I, for one find casting Widdershins most handy to stop the time-space-continuum as they say on Star Trek....it's like, a way to make things hold still, either so you can get a better understanding of it or wutever, I am quite good at conjuring so I prefer the Widdershins for it...if I want my conjure to speed back up then I'd go back, retrace my steps & go in the opposite direction.