Hail to the Guardians of the Watchtowers!
Dear Witchful Thinking,
I keep reading in rituals about the Watchtowers. I’m wondering where they come from and why they are important and what they actually do.
Dear Mama C,
Good question! They are all over, aren’t they? Did anyone else first encounter them in The Craft (1996)? Well, they’ve been around for a long time, so I had to do some research about where they came from.
From what I can tell, there seem to be several possible origins which sort of coallesqued with Gardner in his magical studies to the point where they seemed almost required to be included in a magical system. Possible origins include:
- Ancient Rome: small “watchtowers” were built at crossroads with little altars in them for the Lares, or local spirits. These small stone structure dotted the landscape, and would have been associated with ancient pagan ways.
- Elizabethan England: Dr. John Dee, the official occultist of Queen Elizabeth, worked with Edward Kelly to reveal the Enochian system of magic. They came up with different symbols for each of the directions, which they associated with different stars, colors, elements and angels. The angels were envisioned as guardians of these watchtowers.
- Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn: Because they were well-educated in existing magics, the HOGD adopted the watchtowers for a ritual used to cleanse the space.
- Kibbo Kift: This off-branch of Woodcraft and the Boy Scouts involved boys in the English countryside holding elaborate rituals in what they believed was the “Indian way”. It was well known that they did ritual in circle and called different elements representing the four directions. While we’ve never heard of it these days, this was a huge movement during Gardner’s time, and Woodcraft was set to out-pace the Boy Scouts if it weren’t for their internal politics conflicting with the two World Wars. These fake Native American ceremonies were popular, but probably not based on any actual particular Native religious ritual.
- Uncle Gerald: As you probably know, Gerald Gardner, the founder of Wicca, was also well-versed in the magical systems of the day, including the magical formulas used by the Golden Dawn.
Now-a-days, mostly traditional Wiccan groups like Garnerian and Alexandrian covens call upon the Watchtowers. However, you can still find them included in a lot of books, like Silver Ravenwolf’s “Teen Witch”, the Farrar’s “The Witches Way”, and Lady Sheba’s “Book of Shadows” to name a few. As a general rule, I suspect, Wiccans have moved away from the formal magical systems based upon older traditions, and have moved towards a more informal and intuitive practice of ritual.
The purpose of the Watchtowers is whatever you tell them to do. Typically, they might cleanse the circle, witness the rite, maintain the integrity of the magical boundary, and bring their elemental energy into the circle. Remember when you cast a circle, you are creating a miniature universe, so be clear about your purpose. Many traditions say something like:
Hail to the Gaurdian of the Watchtower of (direction), ye lords of (element), I do summon, stir and call thee forth to guard and protect this magic circle. (draw the correct pentagram) So Mote it Be!
The Watchtowers are important precisely because they connect us to this long history of magical ritual. When something is used the same way for a long time, it builds up power. The advantage of this for the beginner is that it requires less experience on their part to get the Watchtowers to do their jobs.
Be sure, however, to send them away when you are done with the Circle–if you take it out, you put it away! I occasionally hear ritualists dismiss the directions by saying “Go if you must, stay if you like”. This is a pet peeve of mine. Would you leave a candle burning unattended? No. It might burn the house down. Elementals, and the Watchtowers that house them, are not human minded, but Elemental minded. They seek to be their element, which is not necessarily what we want from them. Out of control water means flooding.
I have been to places in which the Guardians of the Circle had not been dismissed properly, and had the eerie sensation of being watched. Some people on Circle felt threatened by this energy that was just trying to do its job. The only way to get rid of it is to dismiss it. At the end of ritual, everyone needs to safely come back down to Earth, in our human place of existence in the now. It is the ethical responsibility of the ritualists to make sure this happens, and releasing the Watchtowers, Elementals and any other Circle Guardians (including the Gods) is important. It is polite to make sure everyone knows when to leave.
Always plan any magical act, including ritual, ahead of time. Think about the possible consequences of each action, and remember things get amplified in Circle. Whether or not you include the Watchtowers is up to you, but it can be an easy way to access a stored energy of power to lend to your Circle.
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