Sunday, May 30, 2010

Magickal, Wonderful Wicca

Magick is the direction and application of natural energies using psychic forces in order to create change for a specific, desired outcome. Magick is also a system of symbols, which are programmed in the mind, that help practitioners achieve their Magickal goals. In this definition, it is a form of mental training through which practitioners can alter a situation by using their will. Magick can also take the form of personal change and growth.

Welcome to the fourth and final in a series of introductions to basic Neo-Paganism and Wicca. Previously discussed was an overview of what constitutes a Neo-Pagan faith-path, the incredible variation of these religions, a discussion of Wiccan and Neo-Pagan beliefs/ethics, and magick. This section will detail Wiccan and Ceremonial Magick rituals, and will also provide various examples of Wiccan ritual incantations.

In general, I’m using the term magic throughout to refer to non-religious acts, like slight of hand or other stage productions. Magick, on the other hand, is the real deal, what witches and most Wiccans practice. They generally use the Elements – Air, Fire, Water and Earth (also Spirit) – and other forces of Nature, along with their will and their good intentions, to create needed change.

Asking for something in prayer is not the same as doing magick. Prayer and magick are forms of communication with Deity. But, in prayer the faithful may ask for something, but in magick, practitioners put forth effort by using their energy and the energy around them to produce – manifest – what they need. In this way, practitioners work along with the Deity, instead of asking for assistance.

Wonderfully, magick begins within. Once anyone begins to recognize their magickal potential, things will start happening, because it opens them up to new ideas and experiences. It can help them to better know themselves, and that in turn can help them in relating to people, and to better deal with unexpected situations. Because magick comes from personal energy, in addition to outside energies from nature and the Deities, it really does all begin with the practitioner. The knowledge that each and every person possesses the ability to utilize their own magickal potential is very powerful. Once that is fully understood, practitioners are able to see that their lives revolve and evolve around free will and their own choices; they are not the victims of fate, or subject to the whims of some nameless, vengeful God.

Non-Wiccan Ceremonial or High Magick utilizes some of the same processes in a religious or non-religious setting. Since the ability to practice magick is possible for each person, it does not have to be done by those following any religious faith, or beliefs. Think of the ancient Wizard Merlin, or more recently Professor Albus Dumbledore, from the world of Harry Potter.

The practices of witches are incredibly varied and, so difficult to concretely define, but all practitioners of magick are certainly not witches. Most Wiccans practice magick, but not all witches are Wiccan, or follow any specified faith-path. As a result, most stage magicians, or those Magicians who practice Ceremonial Magick, take considerable offense when someone calls them witches. They also generally do not identify themselves as Pagan unless they happen to also have Pagan religious beliefs.

Ceremonial Magick is one of the most complicated systems of spiritual attainment in the world. It is a mixture of Jewish, Christian and ancient Egyptian philosophy combined with certain ancient Indian and Chaldean ideas and spiced with a hint of earlier Paganism. Add to this heady stew the ceremonial aspects of Catholicism and Masonry. In essence, it is a highly codified magickal tradition based upon Jewish-Gnostic mystical teachings.

Before continuing, it’s important to define some other key terms:
 Ritual Ceremony: A specific form of movement, a manipulation of objects or inner processes designed to produce desired effects. In religion ritual is geared toward union with the Divine. In magickal works it produces a specific state of consciousness that allows the magician to move energy toward needed goals.
 Ritual Consciousness: A specific, alternate state of awareness necessary to the successful practice of magick. This state is achieved through the use of visualization and ritual. The conscious mind becomes attuned with the psychic mind, a state in which the magician senses energies, gives them purpose, and releases them toward a specific goal. It is a heightening of senses, an expanded awareness of the nonphysical world, a linking with nature and with Deity.

Subconscious Mind: Part of the mind which functions below the levers we are able to access in the course of a normal working day. This area stores symbolic knowledge, dreams, the most minute details of every experience ever had by a person.

Occult: Literal meaning is "hidden," and is broadly applied to a wide range of metaphysical topics that lie outside the accepted realm of mainstream theologies.

Book of Shadows: A witch's or Wiccan's book of spells, rituals and magickal lore. Much akin to a magickal cookbook. Also known as a BOS.

Grimorie: A magickal workbook used in Ceremonial Magick that contains ritual information, formulæ, magickal properties of natural objects and preparation of ritual equipment. Often used interchangeably with Book of Shadows.

Before delving into how Wiccans generally use magick, it is important to discuss Ceremonial Magick in more detail, because modern Wicca and its rituals have many of its deeper origins in ceremonial magickal groups.

Ceremonial Magick generally employs ritual, symbols, and ceremony as a means of representing the supernatural and mystical forces linking the universe and humanity.

It is the goal of Ceremonial Magick to stimulate the senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch – by including in its rituals colorful ceremonial costumes, dramatic invocations to the gods or spirits, potent incense, and mystic sacraments.

Ceremonial Magick is seen as a traditional method or model of magick that is extremely regimented and its practices strictly organized. Those practicing Ceremonial Magick stick to the specifications as outlined in their Grimoire (book kept in secret,) from which the ritual is being performed.

The aim of Ceremonial Magick in its "highest" sense is to create a transcendental experience – transporting the magician beyond the limitations of the mind and toward a mystical reality. Thus, this so-called “High Magick” is intended to bring about the spiritual transformation of the person who practices it.

It is designed to channel the magician's consciousness towards the “sacred light within,” which is often personified by the so-called “high gods” of different cosmologies. The ultimate goal of High Magick has been described as providing the practitioner communication with their holy guardian angel, or “higher self.” It is also known as theurgy.

High Magick is associated with the use of medieval magickal Grimoires, which described detailed procedures and incantations for summoning spirits. These books, which are still designed to confer power rather than transcendence upon the magician, include the Key of Solomon, the Grimoire of Honorius, and the Grand Grimoire.

In modern times, the most complete system of Ceremonial Magick was practiced in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose most famous/infamous member was Aleister Crowley.

Because Ceremonial Magick is generally highly complex, its workings can be quite lengthy. It focuses heavily on correspondences (items or events that amplify specific natural energies) and in absolute correct performance of Ritual.

Historically, those whom we now call Ceremonial Magicians frequently practiced astrology, numerology, and alchemy in ancient days. In today's culture, these practices are generally defined as pseudo-sciences. Even though they fly in the face of conventional science, they still involve scientific pursuits, and require a great deal of study, patience, and education to learn. Moreover, they are still rooted in the current understanding of the universe. As a result, Magicians often enjoyed revered positions in royal courts, and are respected by mystics and other practitioners still today.

Ceremonial Magick was (and is) primarily a magickal practice, not a religion, although it can certainly reflect religious influences. The Magicians of Europe considered themselves Christians, or else they followed a mystical path that evolved out of Christianity, and which the individual Magician believed to be more advanced and/or superior to Christianity. Some of the great Renaissance Magicians were actually priests, monks, or abbots.

In the Secret Teachings of All Ages, author Manly Palmer Hall lends his interpretation of Ceremonial Magick as: “The ancient art of invoking and controlling spirits by a scientific application of certain formulæ. A magician, enveloped in sanctified vestments and carrying a wand inscribed with hieroglyphic figures, could by the power vested in certain words and symbols control the invisible inhabitants of the elements and of the astral world. While the elaborate ceremonial magic of antiquity was not necessarily evil, there arose from its perversion several false schools of sorcery, or black magic.”

Some form of Ceremonial Magick is common to all cultures, and while the methods vary, the underlying principal is always the same: By aligning oneself with the laws of the universe, one can become a conduit for divine energy.

Controversy arose because basic Ceremonial Magick did not have a moral structure to use the power that was raised in its rituals. As a result, some Magicians (Crowley among them) developed Rituals that some non-practitioners declared to be evil, or black magick.

Other examples involve Voodoo priests and the use of “necromancy,” a form of sorcery that utilizes a belief in magickal spells to harness occult forces or evil spirits to produce unnatural effects in the world by conjuring up the dead, especially for prophesying.

A more neutral definition of modern necromancy is: A form of magick in which the practitioner seeks to summon "operative spirits" or "spirits of divination," for multiple reasons, from spiritual protection to inner wisdom. Necromancy may also be presented as sciomancy, a branch of theurgic magic.

High Magick and Low Magick

As previously mentioned, Ceremonial Magick is frequently referred to as "High Magick," although the terms are not actually synonymous. High Magick is magick that’s ultimate purpose is bringing the magician closer to the divine. This is in comparison with "Low Magick," which has purely practical purposes, and was often considered to be rooted in superstition and unfairly, witchcraft.

While some modern witches do work purely practical magick, many others work their magick in a very religious context and view their magick as drawing upon a deep connection with the divine.

The underlying purpose of almost all Ritual Magick is to perfect the microcosm – the self – in order to commune with the macrocosm – the divine. So, the goal of Ritual Magick is to create within one’s self a perfect mirror of the divine – what the mystics have termed Union with God, and in magick, the “Summum Bonum,” or Great Work.

Ceremonial Magick is a broad term used in the context of Hermeticism or Western esotericism to encompass a wide variety of long, elaborate, and complex magickal rituals. It gets its name because the works included are characterized by ceremony and a myriad of necessary accessories to aid the practitioner. It can be seen as an extension of Ritual Magick, and in most cases synonymous with it. As previously mentioned, it was popularized by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, drawing on such schools of philosophical and occult thought as Hermetic Qabalah, Enochian Magic, Thelema, and the magick of various ancient and modern Grimoires.

Initially, Ceremonial Magick was seen as being in opposition to Natural Magick. In ancient days, Natural Magick included astrology and alchemy among other pursuits. The Natural Magick of the past would today be considered the natural sciences, like botany.

Natural Magick was accepted in the 16th Century as "the highest peak of natural philosophy." Ceremonial Magick, on the other hand, which included all sorts of communication with spirits, necromancy and misunderstood witchcraft, was resolutely condemned.

Low Magick

Low Magick is intended to produce a utilitarian, domestic, materialistic effect, and can often be practiced without any deeper religious or moral connection. Examples would include attracting an influx of sudden wealth, a new lover, a change of occupation, or an uplift in one's overall fortunes.

In its most basic form, Low Magick is used to accomplish or manifest earthly goals to benefit the practitioner. Many Magicians view that those solely practicing Low Magick will eventually be debased, separating themselves from their true will, or self.

A modern day example of Low Magick has gained mainstream popularity via the non-threatening term, “The Law of Attraction,” and through the hugely best-selling book, The Secret, which was promoted on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Outline of Ceremonial Magickal Ritual

Typical Ceremonial Magickal Rituals share common elements among each other, and also with many Wiccan Rituals. While seemingly simple, these elements are always multi-layered. Even the common sprinkling of water and censing (with smoke or incense) of a space before working has meaning buried in the words spoken, the actions performed, and the materials used.

All rituals, which exists in every religion or faith-path worldwide, serve to provide a structure to allow the practitioner to work effectively and safely. Rituals arrange the symbolic elements in such a way as to have the greatest impact on the deep mind. In addition, by using an established ritual pattern, there is less chance the practitioner will overlook or forget something important.

Here are the steps of a generic Ceremonial Magick Ritual:

01 Preparation of those involved
02 Sanctification of the Space
03 Sprinkling and Censing
04 Select Appropriate Ritual to Perform such as:
04a Lesser Banishing Pentagram, Hexagram
04b Rose Cross Ritual
05 Scribe Draws, or Paints Working Circle
06 Reciting or Reading Conjurations, along with Appropriate Actions
07 Interaction with the Forces and/or Spirits
08 Thanking All, Dismissal and Banishing Negative Forces
Magician Records Results in Grimoire

Wiccan Ritual and Rite Observances

Now that we’ve discussed some of the origins of Wiccan magickal rites, it is time to delve deeper into these specific practices and beliefs.

First a word about magick: Just because it isn’t fully understood doesn’t mean that it doesn’t operate according to existing universal laws. Correctly performed magick does indeed work, much the way a properly performed science experiment does. Thus, magick is not a matter of belief.

According to the aforementioned famous occultist and Ceremonial Magician Aleister Crowley, magick is, "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will."

In fact, Crowley added, "Every intentional act is a Magickal Act."

Following that reasoning, “Magick is the science and art of causing change (in consciousness) to occur in conformity with will, using means not currently understood by traditional Western science,” writes Donald Michael Kraig in Modern Magick (Llewellyn Publications.)

Thus: Magick is an act of will to bring about a desired result/change utilizing energies and the practitioner’s own abilities.

These definitions pretty well sum up the view of most Ceremonial Magicians – not most Wiccans. Because Wicca is a religion, Wiccan practitioners of magick add a moral/Deity basis to that equation.

So for most Wiccans, the above definition would be slightly altered in phraseology, but substantially altered in content to: Magick is an act of will to bring about needed results to effect positive change utilizing divine energies and the practitioner’s own abilities.

Another way to express that idea is: "Wiccan Magick is change, directed by the Self, empowered by the Will and decided by Morality."

Wiccan morality is primarily based on the Wiccan Rede, the pertinent part is the last stanza, “Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfil: An It Harme None, Do As Ye Will.”

Second, most Wiccans also promote the Law of Threefold Return, or the idea that anything that one does may be returned to them, but three times as strong. Similar to karma, but in this belief good deeds are magnified back to the doer, as are harmful deeds.

Here is a combined conception of the Wiccan moral codes: "Bide the Wiccan laws ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust...Mind the Threefold Law ye should – three times bad and three times good...Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill – an it harm none, do what ye will."

In other words, utilize free will fully and enjoy and relish life, but stop short if your actions will harm yourself, or any one else. Or according to Mnemosyne's Realm: "Spells are not about turning people into frogs or granting wishes..."

Or as Dianne Sylvan writes in The Circle Within: “Magic(k) is dependent on our relationship with the Divine. As much as ceremonialists tell us that magic(k)al power is neither black nor white and can be used for anything, anyone practicing an ecstatic religion like Wicca knows that magic(k) is inherently positive and holy.”

At this point, it seems important to discuss how Wiccan magick differs from practices within other religions. For example, if someone is ill, many faiths petition Deity to help the sufferer. In Wicca, if a friend is ill, the practitioner first asks their permission to perform a healing ritual. Once permission is obtained, the practitioner gathers healing energy from themselves, the earth, along with healing energy from the Divine, and sends it out joyfully to help the sufferer. In other words, it is an active practice, using magick as a tool to help and improve life, while growing ever closer to the God and Goddess.

Devotees of Wiccan magick use spells, rituals and ceremonies to harness the energy and power of the natural world and their own minds. Magick is nothing more or less than that energy, combined with their relationship to the Divine. There are many ways to direct those energies around and within.

Most Wiccans believe that this natural energy/power has three main sources – personal energy/power, earth energy/power, and Divine energy/power. Thus, all energy/power generally comes from the practitioner, the earth, or the Divine.

Most Wiccans also set up an altar prior to beginning. An altar is a common religious element present in most of the world’s major religions. The items on an altar are as varied as the people setting them up. For purposes here, the altar should have the following items: A flat pentagram symbol, two candles, an athame or wand, a small bell, a bowl of salt, a bowl of water, a chalice, and besom (broom). Here are the basic steps to most Wiccan Rituals, with specific details following primarily related to Solitary Practitioners:

01 Purification of Self (Shower, cleansing of body and spirit)
02 Identification of Magickal Need
03 Purification of Space (Use of Besom – broom – to remove negative energy)
04 Creating Sacred Space (Mapping then Casting the Circle)
05 Invocation (Calling Deity, the Elements and the Quarters)
06 Perform Intended Ritual and/or Magick
07 Raising Energy/Power (During Ritual/Magick)
08 Directing Energy/Power
09 Releasing the Energy/Power
10 Grounding
11 Cakes and Ale
12 Thanks and Parting

01 Purification of Self

After showering the night before or day of, the practitioner generally meditates to also cleanse the thoughts thus preparing the body and mind for the upcoming Magickal Ritual.

02 Identification of Magickal Need

Wiccans try never to use magick for frivolous reasons, so they really mean it when they say: “Need.” (This is the change portion of the definition of magick.)

03 Purification of Space

Select an appropriate site to perform the Ritual. Next, set up an Altar. Use the Besom to symbolically brush away all of the negative energy in the space, the Altar items, clothes that the practitioner is wearing, and even their body.

The following is an example of a chant to purify the space:

Sweep, sweep with this broom
All bad out, out of this room.
Sweep, sweep all good in
The bad never ever here again.

04 Creating Sacred Space (Mapping then Casting the Circle)

The purpose of a Magick Circle/Sacred Circle is to contain the energy/power the practitioner will be raising/gathering until they chose to release it, and to keep negative energy/power and unwanted entities out.

A Sacred Circle is regarded as a space “between the worlds,” neither in this world nor in the next. It is a place to commune with Deity, to be at one with the gods and goddesses. After setting up the Altar, visualize the boundaries of the circle to be cast. Most circles are nine feet across, but if the space you are using is small, just adjust it to your needs.

The circle is constructed with personal energy/power that can actually be felt (and visualized) as a stream extending out from the body through an athame (two-sided knife) or wand and outward, conforming to the circle’s boundaries. When completed, the circle should be seen as a sphere of energy/power encompassing the entire work area; a three-dimensional construction of an energy/power shield that protects everything within from all directions.

Before the circle is cast, it is vital to be grounded and centered. The goal is to connect with the energy/power of the Earth and the practitioner’s surroundings. If not properly ground, the practitioner would only be using their personal energy/power, which would dissipate very quickly. Grounding also helps mentally prepare for the magickal work ahead.

The following is a simple but effective grounding visualization: Imagine you are a tree. Begin by stamping your feet on the ground (you do not have to be outside) to feel the substantial energy/power of the Earth. Focus on feeling the Earth’s energy/power spreading upward, your legs are becoming the roots of the tree drawing direct energy/power from the Earth. This energy/power is traveling up your legs and throughout all of the cells in your body and torso. This amazing energy/power spreads to your arms, the branches of the tree, then into your hands, which are now leaves. The energy/power continues to spread up your neck and fill your head and even the strands of hair, more leaves, then it begins to flow out of your hands and back down toward the ground, completing the circle (sphere.) It is important to really feel the flow of energy/power coursing through your body before proceeding.

When properly grounded and focused, it is time to cast the Sacred Circle. The altar you have set up should have been placed inside where you plan to cast the circle – generally placed in a north, center or east corners.

The following is an example of a fairly representative method to cast a circle. There are many variations, some more involved, others simpler. Try to find a method that feels right for you. That is the one of the joys of Wicca, if something does not work for you, change it!

Take the water from the altar and begin to walk the perimeter of the circle that you have envisioned appearing on the ground/floor. Walk clockwise or doesil, beginning at the Northeastern corner of the envisioned circle, sprinkling the water along the perimeter as you proceed. Here is an example of what you might wish to say as you walk:

As I walk this circle round, I cleanse and consecrate this ground.

Next, take the salt from the Altar and begin to walk the circle around clockwise again, sprinkling salt along as you proceed. Here is an example of what you might wish to say:

First with Water then with Earth, with negativity banished there’s joyous rebirth.

Take the censer (Note: If you have allergies to incense, place the incense in the censer but do not light it, but instead use it as symbolic smoke) from the Altar and begin to walk the circle a third time clockwise, directing the incense smoke along your path. Here is an example of what you might wish to say:

Next with Fire, then with Air, leaving only purity fair.

Now, you will begin symbolically then raising the circle’s boundaries with living energy/power.

Take up the athame/wand. Meditate a moment to re-gather energy/power. Focus the energy/power down your dominant arm and visualize it moving into the athame/wand.

Beginning at the Northeastern Corner of the circle, specifically direct the athame’s or wand’s tip at the ground/floor. Next lift it to heart level, then raise it above your head.

Walk slowly, again clockwise, or doesil. Continue to use your focus and intent to “pull” the circle up, envisioning the energy sparking out the tip of the athame/wand. I often see it as a shimmering, bright blue, phaser-like shield (the color of the energy/power envisioned depends on the work planned). See and FEEL the flame of energy/power coming out of the athame/wand, the wonderful energy/power enveloping you and coming up completely over your head as you walk the circle, ultimately creating the three-dimensional protective sphere or “bubble” of cosmic strength.

When you’ve finished, you and your altar should be completely inside its friendly confines. Only bright, positive energy, the power of love, is now inside this shimmering bubble/sphere. When the Circle has been pulled up completely you should feel the energy within so that you will know that it is properly erected and enforced.

Once that is done, here are examples of Casting Chants that you may wish to say:

I conjure thee, O Circle of Power, to form my sacred meeting place;
To harbor me, within this hour; outside of time, outside of space.

Mental Circle Casting:

I call air for speed
Fire to cleanse
Earth to manifest
Spirit to sea
[visualize circle]
as above, so below.
The circle is cast.

A Circle Cast:

Walking thrice this circle in sacrifice was fine,
For now the protection of the Lord and Lady are mine.

A Circle Cast:

By the earth that is her body
By the air that is her breath
By the fire of her spirit
By the waters of her womb
As above, so below,
The circle is made whole.
– Traditional

Apythia’s Circle Cast:

Between the night
Hidden from sight
I conjure a circle of mystic light
By the earth that is her body
And by the air that is her breath
And by the fire of her bright star
And the waters of her womb,
The circle is cast.

And we are between worlds
Beyond the bounds of time
Where night and day
Birth and death
Joy and sorrow
Meet as one.
Blessed be.

A Circle Cast for Goddess Worship:

By the strength of the witch’s honor
Conjure the magick circle
Feminine steel, a powerful boon
I am safe within the Goddess’ womb.
A sacred space a world apart
Where enchantment births and magic starts
With air and fire, water and earth
I circle round the mother’s girth
The legions of life await my word.
The circle is cast.

Silver Ravenwolf’s Healing Circle Cast:

I conjure thee O great circle of healing so that you will be for me a boundary between good health and dis-ease, a healing place of perfect love , trust, peace, joy, containing positive healing energies I will rise herein.

I call upon the angelic beings of the East, South, West and North to aid me in the construction and healing purpose of this circle and to help me dispel dis-ease from (fill in aliment.)

In the name of the Golden Lord and Silver Lady, thus I conjure thee, O great circle of healing. This circle is cast.

This completes the casting of your circle. Specific activity can now be performed here, such as a Sabbat ritual, making a charm, or healing. Once the circle is cast, it is preferable not to “open” it until all work is done. But, to safely exit create a “door” by using the athame to symbolically cut a doorway. Some Wiccan automatically create a door when casting a circle, and then place their besom at the base of the door they cut, protecting it from negative energies entering.

05 Invocation (Calling Deity, the Elements and the Quarters)

The beloved Goddess and God, Quarters, Watchtowers, Guardians, Elements, etc., are “extras” to invite to Rituals and Magick to add their wonderful power to the work being done. (Note: The quarters correspond to the four elements, and the four cardinal directions.)

The four elements of nature: Earth, Air, Fire and Water are the very foundations of creation and the basis of life itself (Roughly corresponding to the four scientific forms of matter: solid, liquid, gas and plasma.) The fifth element is Spirit or Akasha. Ancient myths and theories tell us that the Divine Beings sent to the fledgling Earth (then a smoldering pot of confusion being created), four Spirits to bring about order out of chaos. As the rays of their celestial bodies made contact with the crystallized influences of the lower world, they became the four elements linking humankind to nature, the heavens and the Divine.

Together, these elements form a united whole, as is symbolized by the pentagram (spirit is seen as being within the center of the symbol.) All are necessary and should be in balance. Calling upon the Elements in magickal work can bring very powerful results. The elements represent Natural Magick, the most ancient and powerful magick.

Shown Above: “Hildegard of Bingen…states that man is disposed according to the number five: he is of five equal parts in height and five in girth; he has five senses, and five members, echoed in the hand as five fingers. Hence the pentagram is a sign of the microcosmos. Agrippa of Nettesheim represented this graphically…” – J. E. Cirlot: A Dictionary of Symbols

The Pentagram

Before going on, it is beneficial to discuss one of the oldest mystical and sacred symbols of all: The pentagram. The word "pentacle" is sometimes used synonymously with "pentagram," and this usage is borne out by the Oxford English Dictionary, although that work specifies that a circumscription makes the shape more particularly a pentacle. Wiccans and Neo-Pagans often make use of this more specific definition for a pentagram enclosed in a circle. Thus, pentacle is generally defined as an upright pentagram surrounded by a circle.

Expressing the saying, “Every man and every woman is a star,” we can juxtapose a human on a pentagram, with head and four limbs at the points, and the genitalia exactly central. This is human in microcosm, symbolizing our place in the macrocosm or universe, and the Hermetic/Tantric philosophy of associativity as above, so below.

The pentagram has long been believed to be a potent protection against evil, a symbol that shields the wearer and the home. The pentagram has five spiked wards and a womb shaped defensive, protective pentagon at its center.

Here again are the five elements, four of matter (earth, air, fire and water) and THE quintessential – spirit. These may be arrayed around the pentagram points. The word quintessential itself derives from this fifth element – the spirit. Tracing a path around the pentagram, the elements are placed in order of density – spirit (or aether), fire, air, water and Earth. Earth and fire are basal, fixed; air and water are free, flowing.

The single point upwards signifies the spirit ruling matter (mind ruling limbs), and is also a symbol of rightness. With two points up and one (spirit) downwards, subservient, the emphasis is on the carnal nature of man.

A circle around a pentagram contains and protects. The circle symbolizes eternity and infinity, the cycles of life and nature. The circle touching all five points indicates that the spirit, earth, air, water and fire are all connected.

The circled pentagram is the passive form implying spiritual containment of the Magick Circle, in keeping with the traditional secrecy of witchcraft, and the personal, individual nature of the Wiccan and Neo-Pagan religious paths, of their non-proselytizing character.

[Note the following respectful invocation language: SUMMON the entities that are close by and all around you, like the Elements, the Elementals (Watchtowers, Dragons and Wind) and Fairies; STIRRING implies a higher level of respect and is used for larger, more powerful beings, i.e. the Ancestors, Dragons and Watchtowers (who are sleeping); CALL to the Lady and the Lord and Angels; INVITE your Familiar to join you in Ritual; and REQUEST the presence of the Winds and your Spirit Guides. When entities are invoked, ask them to be present, but not to enter inside the Circle except on very rare occasions. Also, always know why and who is being invited, and state the reason clearly and respectfully.]

Following is a basic method of calling the quarters rulers using the athame/wand that is presented here as an example:

To call the rulers take up the athame/wand in your receptive hand (left if your right handed). Stand at the North edge of the circle and hold the wand aloft saying: Spirits of the North, Old Ones of the Earth. I call upon you to attend my circle. Guard it with your powers Mighty Ones!

Don’t just say the words; try to say them with meaning. Perhaps visualize the spirits arriving in a swirling glowing mist, sense the earth’s energies cleansing and filling the north quarter of the circle with positive forces. Open yourself to them and invite them in, stretch out with your awareness, sense, feel, and know when they have arrived.

When you can feel their presence, lower the athame/wand and move to the East. Raise the athame/wand again and say: Old Ones of the East, Spirits of the Air. I call upon you to attend my circle. Guard it with your powers Mighty Ones!

Again don’t just say the words, believe in them and feel the spirits respond. Perhaps see and sense them arriving on a colored wind blowing away any negative influences and filling the east quarter of the your circle with intellectual energy.

When you can feel their presence, lower the athame/wand and move to the South. Raise the athame/wand aloft again and say: Old Ones of the South, Spirits of Fire. I call upon you to attend my circle. Guard it with your powers Mighty Ones!

Perhaps visualize blazing orange flames of fire engulfing the whole area of the South quarter, burning, cleansing and protecting you from harmful forces.

Finally, when you can feel their presence, lower the athame/wand and move to the West and, with the athame/wand held aloft say: Old Ones of the West, Spirits of Water. I call upon you to attend my circle. Guard it with your powers Mighty Ones!

Perhaps see the spirits rushing in on waves of blue-green water sweeping away all doubts and negativity, filling the West quarter of the circle with the powers of life and regeneration.

Here are some examples of alternative “Quarter Call” invocations:

East (Air): Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East, Mighty Ones of Air, realm of thought, I do summon, stir and call you up, to witness our rites and guard our Circle tonight. {Draws pentagram} So Mote it Be!

South (Fire): Guardians of the Watchtowers of the South, Mighty Ones of Fire, realm of passion, I do summon, stir and call you up, to witness our rites and guard our Circle tonight. {Draws pentagram} So Mote it Be!

West (Water): Guardians of the Watchtowers of the West, Mighty Ones of Water, realm of intuition, I do summon, stir and call you up, to witness our rites and guard our Circle tonight. {Draws pentagram} So Mote it Be!

North (Earth): Guardians of the Watchtowers of the North, Mighty Ones of Earth, realm of substance, I do summon, stir and call you up, to witness our rites and guard our Circle tonight. {Draws pentagram} So Mote it Be!


Hail! Guardian of the Watchtower of the (direction)
Powers of (-)
I bid thee come into my circle bright
Protect/Aid me in my Magick/sacred Rite.


O spirits of the (direction)
Ancient one of (element)
I call you to attend this circle
Charge this by your powers.


Hail, Guardians of the Watchtowers of the (direction)
Powers of (element)
I invoke you and call upon you
Be here now
To the (direction),
I ask the element of (name) and (name of archangel/totem/deity) to be with me,
To guard, guide and witness this Magick.


Kitiara’s Quarter Calls

Spirits of the East
Guardians of the Winds
May you grant me the joy of Your presence
Your light and Your energy in this time and space.

Spirits of the South
Guardians of Fire
May you grant me the joy of Your presence
Your light and Your energy in this time and space.

Spirits of the West
Guardians of the Sea
May you grant me the joy of Your presence
Your light and Your energy in this time and space.

Spirits of the North
Guardians of the Earth
May you grant me the joy of Your presence
Your light and Your energy in this time and space.

In Light and Love,
(Your Name.)

Following the Quarter Call, light the quarter candle, and you might want to say:

The Earth is my body
Air is my breath
Fire is my passion
Water is my blood
And Spirit is My Soul.

Next, is a very important part of Ritual: inviting the Goddess and God into the circle to watch or aid your work. It is also often done to demonstrate a willingness to open your life and heart to the Deities. Many Wiccans try to memorize this portion of the Ritual, as it is important to concentrate on the words as they are spoken, and it is more difficult if having to look away to read it.

When you are ready to call them, light the two candles, one represents the Goddess, the other the God.

Here is an example of what might be said:

Calling the Deities

Great Goddess, Blessed Mother.
Gracious Lady of the Harvest.
You are clothed with the deep, cool wonder of the Earth
And the gold of the fields heavy with Grain.
All things come to fruition according to Your season.
You are refuge and healing, the life giving Mother, wondrously fertile.
As we gather today to give thanks for your abundance and to share our harvest,
We ask you to join our circle of celebration. She is Here.

Great God, Blessed Father
Merry Lord of Vine and Grain.
You are the Lord of the Dance, the lightness in our step.
From you comes the bounty of the fields and the forests,
Your dance brings the spark of life.
As we gather today to give thanks for your abundance and to share our harvest,
We ask you to join our circle of celebration. He is Here.

Here are other examples of Invocation of Deity:

Goddess Invocation

Goddess Mother, hear my cry
Across the world, my spell shall fly
To ask of thee upon this night
Please aid me in my Magick Rite.

Triple Goddess Invocation

Lady of the morning
Maiden full of grace
Remind me of my courage
Hail and welcome be.

Lady of the moon
Mother round and full
Remind me of my creative spark
Hail and welcome be.

Lady of the dark
Crone the teacher still
Remind me of my wisdom
Hail and welcome be.

God Invocation

Father God to thee I call
Lord of forest and oak tall
I ask of thee upon this night
Aid me with your Magick might.

God Invocation

Lover, hunter, brother, stag
Run the forest and the crags
Gentle, loving, caring, strong
Join the circle all night long
Guide me on my path this night
Stay with me til morning light
God reborn that I have found
Welcome to my circle round.

When you can feel all their presence, replace the athame/wand on the altar and stand still for a moment, then sound the bell.

Feel and sense the circle around you. Reach out to the spirits and welcome them, feel their presence and communicate with them. Know they are there. Feel the energies and visualize the circle glowing and growing with power.

06 Perform Intended Ritual and/or Magick

Declare the Statement of Purpose for the gathering of coven/grove, or this may be done by the Solitary Practitioner. Some Wiccans attest to having the most success when just being honest and speaking from the heart without having anything formal written down, while others have a more traditional approach, writing everything out before the Ritual begins.

Have all Magickal spells/tools/equipment at the ready (consecrated/charged, etc.) already inside the circle BEFORE you begin. If you’ve forgotten something you need, you’ll have to cut an opening in the circle, then reseal it after you’ve returned.

Examples of ways to begin by saying Lady and/or Lord, angels and ancient ones, I’ve come before you today:

To celebrate this holy day....
To celebrate your full moon
To ask for your aid in ...
For your blessing of....
To ask for your protection...

It is important to be as clear as possible in identifying and visualizing your magickal need/goal. If you are not, your mind will probably be unable to focus effectively, or to raise the needed energy/power necessary to be successful.

07 Raising Energy/Power (During Ritual/Magick)

This is a critical step, and many again utilize magick visualization to accomplish it. A common visualization is to see the energy/power in a particular color as it builds. Practitioners reach out to the earth around them, and to the Deities, or elements, elementals they have called to increase the energy/power they are holding.

The idea is to again feel all of the energy/power gradually building within, and to hold it there. (It is the self portion of the equation that directs the energy at this stage.)

This is also called, Raising the Magickal Intent. You are turning your will into energy/power – all within the Sacred Circle. You may want to raise your arms out to feel the power building within the circle, and coming from all sources you have called upon and that are flowing directly into your body.

You might choose to use chanting and/or drumming to assist in focusing during the energy/power raising. Remember to accept this incredible energy/power contributed by Deities and the Elements/Elementals.

08 Directing Energy/Power

Continue holding the gathered energy/power while clearly focusing on the magickal goal in as much detail as possible. This is deceptively difficult. Keep the mind from wandering, and focus on the goal like a laser beam. If this is not done correctly, the energy/power will be diluted, or drained away, and will not accomplish what it is intended to do. (This is where the practitioner’s will comes in to play.)

If casting a spell, direct the energy into any magickal object associated with the spell (i.e. a candle.) If no spell is being cast, direct the power into any magickal tools (candles, paper, cauldron, mirror, etc.) needed to perform the Rite/Ritual or Magick.

09 Releasing the Energy/Power

Keeping the magickal goal in mind, meditate deeply upon manifesting then moving the required energy toward that goal.

When the practitioner can no longer gather and/or hold any more energy/power, they should concentrate on releasing it. They might take a breath or two, then release the energy/power within their body, sending it, directly and completely toward their magickal goal. (It is the practitioner’s morality at this stage that ensures the energy has been directed in a positive fashion.)

If using a magickal tool in the process, it is time to release the energy/power in it, as well. For example: During moon rites, when magick is done, you might write the goal on a slip of paper, direct your will on it while raising energy/power, then toss it into the cauldron while chanting, thus releasing the energy/power as the paper burns.

Feel the strength of the pure energy/power within the Sacred Circle radiating outward in all directions to achieve the goal, commanded by your magickal intent. Feel and see the positive energy/power traveling everywhere simultaneously at the speed of LOVE, while saying, “So Mote It be,” or “Tod Estu” (Both are similar in meaning to "amen.")

You might also like to say the following at the conclusion, to ensure that even unintentionally, the energy/power you send out only does good:

Basic Spell Binding

As like calls to like
So my will is done
With harm to none
As the Goddess decrees
Three times three
So mote it be!

Sit quietly for a moment, feeling the energy/power traveling outward knowing that your magick will be successful. Any extra energy raised that remains within the Sacred Circle can be directed at magickal tools or other Altar items to be “charged” for future use.

If charging (infusing) an item with this energy/power, you might want to light a white candle for this purpose and repeat:

I hereby infuse this (Item) with the Sacred Cosmic Power of the Sun and Moon for my use during Magickal workings for the good of the All and the Earth promising to harm none.

10 Grounding

After the energy/power has been directed at the magickal goal, it is important to return any unused energy that might still be within the practitioner’s body to the earth. The easiest way to do this is for the practitioner to stamp their feet several times as they did to ground themselves at the beginning of the Rite. As they do this, they should re-visualize being a tree, and any energy/power still within leaving their body through their feet (roots) and returning downward into the earth.

11 Cakes and Ale

It is time to bring yourself out of the “altered state” of the circle and back into the mundane state of regular day-to-day living. This is best accomplished by sharing a symbolic ending meal, which can easily be done even if you are a Solitary Practitioner.

It is commonly referred to as “Cakes and Ale,” its name taken from Medieval times. It is a time to bless and consecrate the wine (or beverage) and the cakes (or food) that you are going to eat and share if there are other participants. Before you eat, however, many use this time to perform the “Great Rite” symbolically.

The Great Rite is the union of female and male that is sacred to all life, and is the basis for all life. This is done symbolically in the circle by using the symbols of the athame to represent the male, and the chalice to represent the female. Wine (or some other special beverage) is poured into the chalice, then both are held up for all to see, with the two people preforming this rite (usually the High Priestess and the High Priest or alone if a Solitary Practitioner) facing each other in front of the altar. The athame is plunged into the chalice, but gently, symbolizing the sacred union. There are many, many different words that can be said at this point, and most are along these lines:

As the athame is to the male
So the chalice is to the female
And joined together, they are one
For the greatest magick is Love.

After this is done, the cakes are also blessed, and the wine and cakes are passed out to all participants. Many people, or Solitary Practitioners will say as they hand them out:

“May you never hunger and May you never thirst,” which is taken from Robert Heinlein’s Science Fiction classic Stranger in a Strange Land.


From water does all life come;
Unto water does all life return.
Water shared is life shared!
May you never thirst!

The seed of life itself
Is roused by the heat of the Sun’s desire
Fills the womb of the Earth’s belly
Is kissed by the Air’s breath
And caressed by Her flowing waters.
From these do we come
By these are we nourished
To these do we return
May you never hunger!


The Lady’s Prayer

The Earth is my Mother.
I shall not want.
Her hand brings forth the green pastures.
She tarries within the still waters.
She leads me in fields of fruitfulness for my Glory.
Yea, as I walk through the summer of life unto death,
I will not be afraid, for You are with me.
Your womb in the earth will enfold me.
You prepare a harvest before me and bless my home (with children.)
You fill me with milk and honey.
My cup overflows.
Surely, goodness and beauty will nurture me all the days of my life,
and I will become part of the earth forever.

12 Thanks and Parting

At this point, it is time to begin to end the Rite and open the circle. Thank the Deities and bid them farewell, but never “dismiss them.” Say farewell in the opposite order from which they were invoked/evoked. You might say:

Great Goddess, Blessed Mother.
Gracious Lady of the Harvest.
We thank you for your presence and blessings.
We would ever have Thee here with us.
Now the time is come to break the circle and return to the world.
May Thy love be ever with us and Thy wisdom guide our steps.
Blessed Be.

Great God, Blessed Father,
Merry Lord of Vine and Grain.
We would ever have Thee here with us.
Now the time is come to break the circle and return to the world.
May Thy love be ever with us and Thy wisdom guide our steps.
Blessed Be.

Next, release Quarters/Elements (also in reverse order of invocation). You might say:

North (Earth): Guardians of the Watchtowers of the North, Mighty Ones of Earth, realm of substance, we thank you for attending our rites. Go if you must, stay if you will. And ere you depart to your fair and lovely realms, we bid you hail and farewell!

West (Water): Guardians of the Watchtowers of the West, Mighty Ones of Water, realm of intuition, we thank you for attending our rites. Go if you must, stay if you will. And ere you depart to your fair and lovely realms, we bid you hail and farewell!

South (Fire): Guardians of the Watchtowers of the South, Mighty Ones of Fire, realm of passion, we thank you for attending our rites. Go if you must, stay if you will. And ere you depart to your fair and lovely realms, we bid you hail and farewell!

East (Air): Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East, Mighty Ones of Air, realm of thought, we thank you for attending our rites. Go if you must, stay if you will. And ere you depart to your fair and lovely realms, we bid you hail and farewell!

Or thank and release all together by perhaps saying:

Blessed Lady, Ancient Lord, enjoined as the Sacred ONE, and Vital Elementals – I thank You for answering my call, for Your blessings and for adding Your incredible Cosmic Energy into my Magickal Intent to ensure its success. By the Power of the Moon and the Sun, I bid you farewell with a full heart to return to Your Sacred Realms. ‘Merry Ye Part,’ until I can once again say, ‘Merry Ye Meet!’ I hereby declare this Ritual concluded.

Do not blow out the candles, as this is disrespectful to fire. Instead, snuff out the candle flames. Next, take the athame/wand and aim the tip at the Northeastern Corner of the circle then begin to walk the perimeter slowly counter- or anti-clockwise, or widdershins, which is in reverse direction of casting the circle. Envision the beautiful shimmering energy to flow back into its tip, as if the athame/wand were vacuuming up all of the power. FEEL the energy increasing in the athame/wand, then allow it to flow into my body and through my legs into Mother Earth. Do this until all of the energy has been reabsorbed into the ground.

You may choose to say:

Circle of magick, Circle of art –
The rite is ended, now we part.
This Circle drawn between the worlds
Begone! As time and space unfurls
All from air, into air
Let the misty curtains part
All is ended, all is done
What has been, now must be gone!
What is done by ancient art,
Must merry meet and merry part.

Or many people will use the traditional but very simple:

The circle is open, but never broken,
Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again!

Some will choose to merely run the edge of their hand, athame/wand through the circle’s psychic boundaries, while repeating a closing incantation rather than following the energy/power back through the athame/wand and into the earth.

Personally, I prefer to remove the energy/power still in the circle and reground it back into the earth. I know this takes longer, but I feel it better ensures that the earth will gain the full benefit of the energy/power and it won’t be wasted.

Once completed, put everything away, certain to throw nothing out that has been left. Anything that has not been used or consumed (i.e. incense, water, salt, juice, seeds, cakes) take outside and return it to the Earth. Blessed Be.

Every circle must be reopened, but “never broken,” by the practitioner because it is sacred and truly eternal.

— Danu’s Daughter

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's Alive: Man-Created Life?

[Above: U.S. biologist Dr. J. Craig Venter claims to have created the first man-made cell in one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the past two decades.]

It may seem odd to find a science breakthrough discussed at a website devoted to Wicca, but this report deserves discussion everywhere, as it may force us all to reconsider the very definitions of Life and Creator.

U.S. scientists have created artificial life for the first time. They have developed a tiny new bacterium, or "synthetic cell," that is controlled by man-made DNA. Commentators said the scientists created a form of life never before seen on the planet.

The technological advance is the culmination of 15 years of research costing more than $47 million by a team led by Dr. Craig Venter, a controversial American biologist and entrepreneur.

"This is the first synthetic cell that's been made, and we call it synthetic because the cell is totally derived from a synthetic chromosome," Venter said.

The breakthrough promises the creation of new, useful synthetic bacteria that can clean up pollution or produce energy, but there are also concerns man-made microbes could escape the lab or be used as weapons by terrorists.

Mark Bedau, editor of the scientific journal Artificial Life, said the research represented "a defining moment in the history of biology and biotechnology."

Venter said his team's research was scientifically and philosophically important. "It certainly changed my views of the definitions of life and how life works."

Predictable, the Catholic Church was not pleased. Senior Italian Roman Catholic bishops expressed concern today, saying the creation of the first synthetic living cell could be a "devastating" move.

"In the wrong hands, today's novelty could lead to a devastating step into the unknown tomorrow," said Bishop Domenico Mogavero, head of the legal affairs commission for the Italian Episcopal Conference, in an interview with La Stampa daily.

"Man comes to God, but he is not God: he remains human and he has the possibility to give life through procreation, not through constructing it artificially," he added.

Catholic religious leaders have expressed fears however that scientists are "playing God."

"It is human nature which gives its dignity to the human genome, not the inverse. The nightmare to be fought is the manipulation of life," Mogavero said.

Bruno Forte, archbishop of Chieti-Vasto in central Italy and a theologian, said: "The worry can be resumed in one question – is what is scientifically possible also just from an ethical point of view?"

He added in comments to Corriere della Sera that he admired modern research and that the Church was not "fundamentally" opposed to it but was carefully monitoring.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said that more detail on the discovery was needed. "There have already been similar announcements which after a while have been changed."

[Above photo: Electron micrograph of the ‘new’ yeast cells (Image from J. Craig Venter Institute)]

What is the reaction from Wiccans? As different as there are Wiccans to express it.

Personally, I find the creation of artificial life wondrous and astonishing, but equal parts frightening – not because man dares to play God, but because the possibility exists that it could be misused. I fear that ethics/morality has again lagged behind science and technology.

One of the Venter team's main aims is to design algae that can capture carbon dioxide and produce oil for fuel. The approach could also have benefits in speeding up vaccine production, cleaning water and producing chemicals and food ingredients, he said.

But Georgia Miller, of Friends of the Earth, said there was a risk that synthetic organisms could harm the environment or be used for malicious purposes.

Regulations to control them were lacking, she noted. "Although we've known this day would come for many years, governments have done very little."

She was also critical that the researchers have filed patent applications on some of their techniques, with the risk that, "new organisms could be owned by their developers."

Michael Selgelid, deputy director of the National Centre for Biosecurity at the Australian National University, said the research was an "historical achievement" with "enormous potential," although its promise had yet to be realized.

He said many new technologies, including synthetic biology, could be used for good or evil, and the development of dangerous synthetic microbes as weapons was a major concern.

Better regulations and safeguards had been under discussion for a decade, including reviewing the risk of "dual purpose" use of research when a project was first proposed and strengthening international conventions on bioterrorism.

Venter said he had ensured an extensive bioethical review of the implications of the research had been done first.

A report published in the Science journal details how the team effectively stimulated a yeast cell into taking on the new life. Scientists at first made short strands of DNA and then put them together to form a chromosome, which was then inserted into the yeast cell, replacing its native DNA.

They found the cell took on the appearance and behavior of the transplanted chromosome, generating different proteins and multiplying.

"This is the first synthetic cell that's been made, and we call it synthetic because the cell is totally derived from a synthetic chromosome," Venter said. "This is an important step we think, both scientifically and philosophically. It's certainly changed my views of the definitions of life and how life works."

His team had created the genome of the bacterium, Mycoplasma mycoides, from scratch, using bits of DNA bought from biotech companies, and after inserting it the synthetic genome "booted up" the recipient cells, so they began to replicate and produce M. mycoides proteins, thus creating “synthetic life.”

"We clearly transformed one cell into another," said Venter, who heads the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland. "This becomes a very powerful tool for trying to design what we want biology to do. We have a wide range of applications [in mind]."

Other groups are working on the same thing around the world, but Venter's team is the first to have accomplished it.

"He's the man who has opened up a new chapter, where we are not just looking at life that has evolved – but life that is created in a laboratory," said science correspondent Thomas Moore.

Ethicist Dr. Thomas Douglas said the research opened up a number of dilemmas. "Some will worry about the idea that this involves a problematic form of playing God," he said. "Some will worry that this is undermining the distinction of living beings and machines.”

“I think the greatest issue posed by this research is not really anything to do with the fact that it's artificial life as such, it's got to do with the potential for this kind of research to be misused to create pathogens that could be used in biological weapons," Douglas said.

Venter came to prominence when he challenged publicly-funded scientists working on the Human Genome Project – the first attempt to produce a complete map of the human genetic code.

He set out to construct his own private version of the human genome, using a different "short cut" method. His team succeeded but the race ended in a dead heat when both versions were published simultaneously in Science in 2001.

I find this scientific achievement so profound and important that I am posting the original article from the Science journal in full below. If you prefer, read it directly at its website:

[Above: Life re-created. Blue colonies (top) indicate a successfully transplanted genome, with self-replicating bacteria revealed in an electron micrograph. Photo Credit from (Top to Bottom: J. Craig Venter Institute; T. Deerinck and M. Ellisman/NcMir, University of California, San Diego]

News of the Week
Synthetic Genome Brings New Life to Bacterium
By Elizabeth Pennisi

For 15 years, J. Craig Venter has chased a dream: to build a genome from scratch and use it to make synthetic life. Now, he and his team at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Rockville, Maryland, and San Diego, California, say they have realized that dream. In this week's Science Express, they describe the stepwise creation of a bacterial chromosome and the successful transfer of it into a bacterium, where it replaced the native DNA. Powered by the synthetic genome, that microbial cell began replicating and making a new set of proteins.

This is "a defining moment in the history of biology and biotechnology," says Mark Bedau, a philosopher at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and editor of the scientific journal Artificial Life. "It represents an important technical milestone in the new field of synthetic genomics," says yeast biologist Jef Boeke of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

The synthetic genome created by Venter's team is almost identical to that of a natural bacterium. It was achieved at great expense, an estimated $40 million, and effort, 20 people working for more than a decade. Despite this success, creating heavily customized genomes, such as ones that make fuels or pharmaceuticals, and getting them to "boot" up the same way in a cell is not yet a reality. "There are great challenges ahead before genetic engineers can mix, match, and fully design an organism's genome from scratch," notes Paul Keim, a molecular geneticist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

The "synthetic" bacteria unveiled this week have their origins in a project headed by Venter and JCVI colleagues Clyde Hutchison III and Hamilton Smith to determine the minimal instructions needed for microbial life and from there add genes that could turn a bacterium into a factory producing compounds useful for humankind. In 1995, a team led by the trio sequenced the 600,000-base chromosome of a bacterium called Mycoplasma genitalium, the smallest genome of a free-living organism. The microbe has about 500 genes, and researchers found they could delete 100 individual genes without ill effect (Science, 14 February 2003, p. 1006).

But confirming the minimal genome suggested by those experiments required synthesizing a full bacterial chromosome and getting it to work in a recipient cell, two steps that have taken years because the technology to make and manipulate whole chromosomes did not exist. In 2007, Venter, Smith, Hutchison, and colleagues finally demonstrated that they could transplant natural chromosomes from one microbial species to another (Science, 3 August 2007, p. 632). By 2008, they showed that they could make an artificial chromosome that matched M. genitalium's but also contained "watermark" DNA sequences that would enable them to tell the synthetic genome from the natural one (Science, 29 February 2008, p. 1215).

But combining those steps became bogged down, in part because M. genitalium grows so slowly that one experiment can take weeks to complete. The team decided to change microbes in midstream, sequencing the 1-million-base genome of the faster-growing M. mycoides and beginning to build a synthetic copy of its chromosome. Last year, they showed they could extract the M. mycoides natural chromosome, place it into yeast, modify the bacterial genome, and then transfer it to M. capricolum, a close microbial relative (Science, 21 August 2009, p. 928; 25 September 2009, p. 1693). The next step was to show that the synthetic copy of the bacterial DNA could be handled the same way.

The researchers started building their synthetic chromosome by going DNA shopping. They bought from a company more than 1000 1080-base sequences that covered the whole M. mycoides genome; to facilitate their assembly in the correct order, the ends of each sequence had 80 bases that overlapped with its neighbors. So that the assembled genome would be recognizable as synthetic, four of the ordered DNA sequences contained strings of bases that, in code, spell out an e-mail address, the names of many of the people involved in the project, and a few famous quotations.

Using yeast to assemble the synthetic DNA in stages, the researchers first stitched together 10,000-base sequences, then 100,000-base sequences, and finally the complete genome. However, when they initially put the synthetic genome into M. capricolum, nothing happened. Like computer programmers debugging faulty software, they systematically transplanted combinations of synthetic and natural DNA, finally homing in on a single-base mistake in the synthetic genome. The error delayed the project 3 months.

After months of unsuccessfully transplanting these various genome combinations, the team's fortune changed about a month ago when the biologists found a blue colony of bacteria had rapidly grown on a lab plate over the weekend. (Blue showed the cells were using the new genome). Project leader Daniel Gibson sent Venter a text message declaring success. "I took my video camera in and filmed [the plate]," says Venter.

They sequenced the DNA in this colony, confirming that the bacteria had the synthetic genome, and checked that the microbes were indeed making proteins characteristic of M. mycoides rather than M capricolum. The colony grew like a typical M. mycoides as well. "We clearly transformed one cell into another," says Venter.

"That's a pretty amazing accomplishment," says Anthony Forster, a molecular biologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Still, he and others emphasize that this work didn't create a truly synthetic life form, because the genome was put into an existing cell.

At the moment, the techniques employed by Venter's team are too difficult to appeal to any potential bioterrorists, researchers stress. Nonetheless, "this experiment will certainly reconfigure the ethical imagination," says Paul Rabinow, an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies synthetic biology. "Over the long term, the approach will be used to synthesize increasingly novel designed genomes," says Kenneth Oye, a social scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "Right now, we are shooting in the dark as to what the long-term benefits and long-term risks will be."

As ever more "artificial" life comes into reach, regulatory agencies will need to establish the proper regulations in a timely fashion, adds Oye. "The possibility of misuse unfortunately exists," says Eckard Wimmer of Stony Brook University in New York state, who led a team that in 2002 created the first synthetic virus (Science, 9 August 2002, p. 1016).

Venter says that JCVI has applied for several patents covering the work, assigning them to his company, Synthetic Genomics, which provided much of the funding for the project. A technology watchdog group, ETC Group in Ottawa, has argued that these actions could result in a monopoly on synthesized life (Science, 15 June 2007, p. 1557), but others are not worried. Given the current climate for granting and upholding patents of this type, says Oye, "it is unlikely that Synthetic Genomics will become the Microsoft of synthetic biology."

"One thing is sure," Boeke says. "Interesting creatures will be bubbling out of the Venter Institute's labs."


OK. Everyone take a few deep breaths, then let them out. What does this mean? How does it make you feel? Does it shake your faith, or deepen it? I think each one of us should ponder the impact of this achievement, and try to incorporate it into our world view. For me, it joins those rare events that will cause me to remember for the rest of my life where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news.

I believe in a created world, and I adhere to evolution. This incredible achievement does nothing to alter that. As a Wiccan, I believe a spark from the Cosmic Creator exists in absolutely everything, everywhere. The scientists were still using the building blocks provided to them by Her, and magnificently rearranged them in a biological pattern never seen before. Those of us who create using more traditional venues, i.e. art, dance, music, writing, will already know a bit of what those scientists must be feeling.

Frankly, I did read about this achieve­ment with a mix­ture of awe and fear. I worry that there are not bio-ethics in place to deal with yet another incred­i­ble techno advance. Moral­ity has always lagged behind progress, but now it has become merely a dot in the rear-view mir­ror of a Brave New World that is accel­er­at­ing beyond anyone’s expec­ta­tion, or even imagination.

Now though, I will continue to await scientific evidence that life exists elsewhere in the galaxy. Once that happens, I will be able to say I saw everything that I had ever wanted to in my life.

— Danu’s Daughter