Circle Sanctuary

Circle Sanctuary One of the most active and well established
interfaith Pagan centers. Circle Sanctuary, a
Wiccan church, is located on a 200-acre nature preserve
and herb farm between Mt. Horeb and Barneveld, Wisconsin.
Circle was formed in 1974 in Madison, Wisconsin,
by Selena Fox with the help of Jim Alan and a small
group of Pagans. Fox continues to direct its activities
with her husband, Dennis Carpenter.
Circle originally was formed as an informal coven,
after Fox conceived the idea, name and logo in a meditation.
Fox and Alan drew on their musical backgrounds to
create a body of Pagan ritual chants and songs, which
continue to be used by Wiccan and Pagan groups around
the world. Circle quickly took a leadership role in the
growing Pagan community, providing a national and international
contact service, organizing and coordinating
gatherings, and disseminating information to individuals
and groups within the movement, the general public and
the media.
In 1978, the networking activity led to formation of
Circle Network, which has grown to include membership
of thousands of organizations and individuals from Pagan
and Wiccan traditions, magical traditions, animistic
and shamanic traditions and others. Members are in more
than 50 other countries. Circle’s guide to Pagan resources
has been published continuously since 1979.
Also in 1978, Circle Sanctuary was incorporated as a
nonprofit religious organization and a legally recognized
church at the state level. A newsletter, Circle Network
News, was started. It expanded to a magazine format, Circle
Magazine, in 1998 and remains one of the oldest and
the largest of Pagan journals.
In 1980, Circle was recognized as a church at the federal
level. The Pagan Spirit Alliance was organized as a special
network within Circle Network devoted to fostering friendship
among Wiccans and other Pagans through the mail.
The Alliance eventually was folded into Circle Network.
Beginning in 1981, Circle began sponsoring the International
Pagan Spirit Gathering, held each year at
Stone circle atop Ritual Mound at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve (Photo by Selena Fox; courtesy Circle Sanctuary)
Circle Sanctuary 65
summer solstice at a private campground in the Midwest
and one of Paganism’s oldest and most established festivals.
The church also coordinates or assists other Pagan
gatherings held around the United States.
From 1974 to 1982, Circle was based in various homes.
In 1983, the church used its own funds to purchase a 200-
acre nature preserve in rural hill country west of Madison.
The land has a rich spiritual heritage, and includes
sites once used by ancient Indians. The region is said in
local legends to be enchanted with trolls, fairies and nature
spirits. Sightings of ghosts, spirits, Bigfoot, UFOs
and other unusual phenomena are often reported.
But a year later, in 1984, local residents who were fearful
of possible “devil-worship” at Circle raised zoning issues.
After four years of legal battles, Circle won the challenges,
and Circle Sanctuary and its 200 acres were zoned
for church use. Circle became the first Pagan organization
to achieve the recognition of Witchcraft as a legal religion
by a local government in a public hearing. Circle was assisted
by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Numerous religious, educational, therapeutic and
spiritual training activities take place on, or are coordinated
from, the Circle Sanctuary land. As ministers, Fox,
Carpenter and others perform handfastings, child blessings,
funerals and other “life passage” ceremonies at Circle
and all over the United States. They also conduct Pagan
seasonal festivals, full Moon ceremonies and a variety of
training programs, including intensives for Pagan ministers
and a School for Priestesses, established in 1986.
The church also does organic gardening, wild plant
foraging activities and preservation work for frogs, toads,
songbirds and other species, and for wetlands, woodlands
and prairie.
Circle’s Lady Liberty League, founded in 1985, formerly
known as the Pagan Strength Web, includes Pagan
religious freedom activists who help Pagans who are being
harassed or discriminated against because of their
religion. Fox and Circle played leading roles in 1985 in
a lobbying campaign against the Helms Amendment in
the U.S. Congress, which sought to prohibited Wiccan
churches from having nonprofit, tax-free status.
Since the late 1980s, Circle has achieved greater public
recognition and acceptance as has Paganism in general.
In 1988, Circle became the first Wiccan church to
be listed in the religious directory of Madison’s leading
newspapers. Fox also serves on the Board of Advisors of
the Madison Area Interfaith Network.
In the same year, Circle established its growing interfaith
presence with representation at the World Council
of Churches International Interfaith Dialogue Conference,
marking the first time that Goddess spirituality and
Paganism were represented at an international interfaith
conference. Fox was joined by Margot Adler.
In 1991, Circle assisted other Pagan groups in defeating
a proposed network television series unfriendly to
The Pagan Academic Network was formed within Circle
Network in 1992, becoming Paganism’s first intertradition
network of Pagan scholars. Circle participates in
numerous international academic seminars, conferences
and networking, in response to the establishment of Paganism
as an area of academic interest. Circle provides
academic archives and research assistance for scholars.
Circle joined other Wiccan-Pagan groups to lobby for
the right of Wiccan-Pagan military veterans to have symbols
of their faiths on their tombstones. The campaign,
started in 1997, took years. In 1995, Circle Cemetery
was founded on Circle land for cremains, the cremated
remains of Wiccans and Pagans. The cemetery is now
20 acres in size. In 2007, three veteran gravestones with
pentacles, among the first to be issued by the U.S. Department
of Veterans, were dedicated.

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