The idea of holding ritual in a circle is very ancient, and in all likelihood derives from nothing more august than the fact that when people "gather 'round" they tend to do exactly that -gather in a roughly round, or circular form. The circle allowed everyone to hold hands with everyone else, and to have the same general view of the procedings. It was practical. A circle was a sensible way to gather around a central fire, or around a sacred tree, or an altar.
The circle was also an excellent form for dancing, which has figured in Pagan rituals since the dawn of time. Many ancient illustrations in art and literature attest to the popularity of the Circle Dance in ancient times. Though frowned upon by the Book Religions, circle dancing remained a festival custom of European peasants into modern times, and is nicely illustrated in the works of Bruegels, among other artists. In De Lancre's famous illustration of "The Witches' Sabbat" several circle dances of this kind are shown.
In Ceremonial Magic the circle was used for protection, since the Ceremonials often believed that the powers they were dealing with could harm them. But in Wicca the circle is not used for protection but rather to intensify the powers being worked with.
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