When looking at the various permutations of Traditional Witchcraft, you are apt to find many differences between the practices of individuals and groups. However, you will also find quite a few common factors, including the use of certain tools and rituals. One such ritual, and the focus of this article, is the Compass Round.
Largely credited to the late Robert Cochrane, the Compass Round is a ritual method for creating a liminal space for the working of magic. Like other variations of the Magic Circle, the Compass Round serves many different purposes. For example, it can be used to contain magical energy or to keep unwanted Spirits at bay. However, there is one use in particular that is central to Traditional Witchcraft and that is as a navigational tool for exploring the Otherworld.
Traditional Witches spend a great amount of time in the Otherworld, through the practice of Hedge-Crossing or Spirit-Flight. It is in the Otherworld that we work some of our deepest magic and have some of the most successful communion with Spirits. However, the Otherworld is a complex and ever-changing place, which can prove to be difficult for the Witch to navigate. This is where it comes in handy to have a magical Compass! (See what I did there?)
When we look at a mundane navigational compass, we notice that it is made up of specific points – otherwise known as the cardinal directions. When we need guidance on a journey, we use these points to determine where we are located and where to go in order to reach our destination. You may also notice that when we lay a Compass Round, we often reach out the Spirits of those same cardinal directions. This is because those directions (including a fifth and sixth direction, above and below) exist within the Otherworld as well – recall the classic adage “as above so below.” When we lay a Compass Round, we are essentially creating a spiritual version of the mundane navigational compass. In this way we can see that, in it’s simplest form, the Otherworld is in fact a crossroads – with the four directions intersecting with a vertical pole through the center. Therefore, the Compass exists at the point of intersection, the very Axis Mundi, or World Tree upon which Witches travel during their Otherworldly journeys. As the point of intersection, this is also a place of powerful magical convergence and is the reason why we often work our rituals and spells at the Compass’s center. But, while we may stand in the center and pull in the virtues of the directions, we also have the ability to walk those roads into the Otherworld.
But, like getting one’s bearings before venturing out on a hike into the wilderness, we must first figure out the layout of our Compass Round and how it applies to the Otherworld. To do so, we must begin by determining the reference points for our Compass, aka the cardinal directions – or rather their Spirits.Often times, we are most familiar with looking at the Spirits of the directions through an elemental lens. In Western Occultism, each of the four directions is associated with an element – north/earth, east/air, south/fire, and west/water. I agree that this can be an incredibly powerful and useful way of engaging with the Spirits and magical virtues of the directions. However, when laying a Compass its vital that we align the elements and directions in a way that makes sense with the landscape around us. This is because we are trying to create bridges or roadways between our realm and the Otherworld. Therefore, it makes more sense to use what is physically present in our specific region as a conduit of power. Expanding beyond the elements as a symbolic concept, we channel their power through the actual natural features of the land. For example, if there is a mountain range in the south, it makes more sense to call the virtues of earth from that particular direction. Likewise, a strong northern wind makes for a better connection to the element of air. By making these alignments more personal, we not only form closer connections to the Spirits but also have an easier time opening the way into the Otherworld.
Once you’ve established the cardinal points of your Compass Round, it’s time to bring it to life. There are many ways in which to do so, again I’ll refer you to my previous article in which I explain two different methods. However, the important part of this process, as it relates to intentions of this article, is that you call out to Spirits of each of the six directions – north, east, south, west, above, and below. In this case though, it’s not so much about calling these spirits into your space, but rather opening the roadways into their realms.
For example, while standing in the center, you may take turns facing each direction, reaching out with both your voice and magic. Connecting with the spirits of the directions, visualizing the roadways unfolding – forming the crossroads. At this point, although not always necessary, you may wish to perform the ritual known as ‘Treading the Mill.’ This ritual, which also has many purposes of its own, can be used to raise energy, effectively firing up the compass and sending you off into the Otherworld. Like jet pack, but Witchcraft.
At any rate, once the roadways are open, you are free to traverse the Otherworld. Exploring, learning, and speaking with Spirits.