Monday, August 24, 2009

What is Circumambulation?

From the prefix circum-, meaning around, round about or to encompass or surround, and the word ambulate, a derivative of the word amble, meaning to walk or move from place to place.

Generally, circumambulation is to walk or move around something, especially as part of a ceremony or ritual. In a religious or spiritual context, circumambulation is performed around a special object, just as a shrine or an alter, or sometime it is performed with a special object, such as an element representation when casting circle in Wicca.

Many religions use circumambulation as part of worship. A Catholic priest may circumambulate an alter, other priest or person, gifts etc while swinging a thurible of incense (also known as censing) as part of a blessing or ceremony. The number of times and the method used to swing the thurible is significant and, in some denominations, forms part of the liturgical law.

Muslims circumambulate the Kaaba seven times as part of a Hajj, which is a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Buddhist use circumambulation as a means to connect through focus on the object they are walking around. Even today, visitors to the Stupa, which is a popular Buddhist site in India, circumambulate the site in order to reflect on the many sculptures that make up this site.

Pradakshina (Sanskrit), literally meaning 'the the right', consists of walking usually in a clockwise direction around in a 'circle' as a form of worship in Hindu ceremonies in India. Typically, Pradakshina is done after the completion of traditional worship (pooja) and after paying homage to the deity and can be performed around the sacred fire as part of the Hindu marriage ceremony.

In Wicca, the casting of the circle, which creates a sacred space for ritual, meditation etc, is done using circumambulation. As with many other circumambulatory practices, direction is important. Wiccans cast (create) circle in a deosil direction, meaning 'with the sun' and open (release or deconstruct) circle in a widdershins direction, meaning 'against the sun'. Many Wiccans acknowledge that the direction of the path of the sun is different in the northern and southern hemisphere and will cast and open circle accordingly. In the southern hemisphere, deosil is anti-clockwise so this is the direction that the circle is cast in (i.e. north -> west -> south -> east) and widdershins is clockwise and therefore the direction that the circle is opened (i.e. north -> east -> south -> west). These are reversed in the northern hemisphere.


Sylvia said...

Very enlightning. I know Latin, but I never related those movements in the church to any kind of magical ritual. I thought they were random. I know how circles are important, but sometimes those ceremonies seem so void of meaning and of depth that I never could relate (I mean, in the church...)