I first started getting interested in the sacred properties of circles when I met Chuck Pettis, who built Earth Sanctuary on Whidbey Island. The place is an extraordinary mashup of ecological consciousness, Tibetan Buddhist devotion, and neolithic-style stone circles and other monuments, and is well worth a visit. I was fortunate enough to be present some years ago when Chuck erected the 20-ton dolmen, and have heard many stories about the construction of the stone circles there (one of them is pictured on the right).
After meeting Chuck I got a little curious about these stone circles, did a bit of research, and found myself building a stone circle of my own, a modest one with four mini-boulders along with poles and streamers representing the four directions. At that time I was very involved with Gregorian chant and hence attuned to the Christian liturgical year, so I associated the directions with the traditional quarters of the year: Christmas for winter, Annunciation for spring, the feast of St. John's for the beginning of Summer, and the feast of St. Michael for the beginning of fall.
This simple little project is one of the many streams that have fed my discovery of the power of nature as a spiritual source and guide. I have moved steadily since then into an increased awareness of the cycle of the year, and through that into a growing appreciation of the power of the circle in its many forms.
What's so beautiful about the circle is its purity. In its essence, a circle is a line that marks a boundary between a center point and what lies beyond. In psycho-spiritual terms, if we put ourselves at its center, within the circle is "I" and "mine"; beyond the circle is the "Other". From beyond the circle comes both possibility and challenge. We are fed by the possibilities, and if the boundary is too rigid or non-porous, the psychic space inside becomes stagnant. Conversely, if the boundary is too open then our sense of self can be invaded and compromised.
Making proper use of this perimeter in our psychic life is important work indeed. And this is why there is a human propensity to draw circles and populate them with symbols of power and wisdom - beneficent beings, magical diagrams, sacred colors that can help us discern what to let in to our energy field, and what to keep away. The circle is a prayer, an aspiration that our identity be completely surrounded by the power to attract what supports our highest good, and to protect us from what distracts us from, or is in opposition to that good.
In the Soul Cartography process we begin with the creation of a circle that we charge with potency for protection and healing. This power does not come from the cultural wisdom of some exotic tribe in another place or time: it comes from the contents of your own life. It comes from the people, places, things, and experiences that have spoken to you with power and insight, through the course of your whole life. (More on the Personal Mandala exercise here.) It only takes a little reflection to identify what those resources are, but it may be that you've never taken the opportunity to consciously name them, gather them around you, and call on them for help. It may be that you've never acknowledged just how deeply powerful they are to you. In the maze of confusion and delusion where we spend much of our time, it's easy to overlook the incredible resources we have immediately at hand.
The personal mandala is a first step toward reclaiming the power of your personal mythology. It's a way to begin experiencing the sacredness of your own story.
By doing this you are in deep alignment with those ancient and tribal peoples, whose wise and enlightened teachers assembled those collections of colors, animals, sacred mountains, spirit beings and deities that bless us all with their dazzling wonders. Mayan calendars and labyrinths, Buddhist sand mandalas and Navajo medicine wheels. There is indeed a lot we can learn from these traditions. They can bring us great benefit. But it's also good to know that you can tap into the sources of power in your own life - not sacred content that was meaningful to someone else long ago and far away, but sacred content that is meaningful to you. Then the sacred circle can hum with your own energy, and can bring special protection, special invocations of aid that is uniquely suited to support you in your circumstances - right here and now.