Perhaps I am the only one who initially accepted a standard impression of the term 'meditate' without thinking about it much. As a prerequisite to meditating, I thought I needed to be able to sit cross-legged, in the lotus position preferably, with eyes lightly closed, thumb and middle finger on each hand gently touching while resting lightly on my knees (which were, of course, very near the floor), probably dressed in orange or something! Tried, got cramp, eventually got up, and gave up! Then other sources suggested, sitting in a straight-backed chair, both feet firmly on the floor, arms relaxed and eyes closed. So far, so good. But then there was that stuff about not eating immediately before as digestion upsets energy flow. That blew that technique. About the only time I get any peace is just after a meal, besides, I can't concentrate on anything if I'm hungry! There is the idea of 'emptying the mind' - well maybe some people can, but I'm afraid I am not one. If I try to think of nothing, banish every stray thought as it pokes its nose out of one of the cupboards in my brain, I feel myself mentally dashing around trying to shut mental cupboards all over the place only to have others burst open and spill their irrelevant contents onto my 'empty mind'. Then I tried 'candle' meditation. That is pretty good. At least one has something to focus attention on and can eventually clear other thoughts by forcing the mind back to concentrating on the candle flame. But then, if I'm not careful, I end up thinking about - candle flames - and that's all! So, I didn't think I could meditate. Then I discovered a couple of things around the same time. You don't need to be sitting down, or even standing still to meditate. Swimming is good, so is walking, any rhythmic action - raking, hoeing, etc. Something repetitious which you can do 'without thinking' actually allows the mind to clear to think on deeper things. I also found that if I sat down in a comfy chair, (even after a meal) lit a nice candle I specially used only for that purpose, at roughly the same time every day, and did some of the basic relaxation techniques all the books talk about - you know "Tense all the muscles in your left foot, then relax, now your right foot, etc etc on up the body..." I began to be able to find room for quiet thoughts. If one chooses a concept or statement to start concentrating on - "All goddesses are aspects of the one Goddess*" for example - it helps focus the mind in a particular direction. I have also found, though, that there are times when I sit down to my own style of meditation and mundane stuff just keeps distracting my thoughts. Well, I have come to accept now, that on those days when that happens, the mundane stuff is where my attention is needed and more esoteric spiritual thoughts will just have to wait for another day. But still, if I tackle the mundane real life stuff that distracted me, in a very deliberate and consciously 'pagan' or 'spiritual' way - trying to see the value and joy in whatever it is that needs doing - I sometimes end up feeling as good, at the end of the day, as when I have had a spiritual insight in my 'meditation time'.
When I hear the word 'cast', I think of solid, inflexible shapes. You know, like the kind of cast you get if you break a limb, or the sort of solid mold that something else is made in - like jewellery or statues. Or I think of the phrase 'cast in stone', meaning permanent. So when I hear that word about a circle, in a pagan context, I think, 'can't be done', a pagan circle isn't permanent or inflexible or even solid. Good ol' Collins dictionary starts its definitions or 'cast' with "to throw or expel with violence or force" but then goes on to give another 46 alternative meanings. Now that is more like paganism to me, 47 choices of meaning for the same 4-letter word! The intention of the phrase 'cast a circle' is: to create sacred space, with boundaries, using ritual techniques. Why? Well, it is a container for power or energy raised magically. It is a boundary between this realm and the unseen realms, to keep unwanted powers from interfering with the work going on within the circle. It helps define a change in your state of mind from ordinary day-to-day, to more spiritual matters. This last, is the most important, to my way of thinking, to the ordinary pagan who is not intent on spell casting or high magic. Casting a circle is a signal to both your conscious and your subconscious mind, that you are making a deliberate shift in your outlook for a space of time and are going to focus on higher/deeper things. This process doesn't need to involve any paraphernalia at all, you don't need to trace out space, use elemental or directional correspondences, or go through any complicated ritual or set of words. These things do help a great deal as signals, but, if you have never thought about ritual before, don't start with something elaborate. Simply sit or stand and tell yourself you are now going to worship/pray/meditate or whatever. Tell yourself that there is a boundary around yourself (at whatever distance feels comfortable or practical to you), and that within it is your sacred space. It is rather surprising what a difference you will find in your meditation/contemplation or whatever, if you start with that simple step. When you have finished, make sure that you tell yourself you are returning to ordinary space. Clearly one wouldn't need or want to cast a circle every time one was inspired to think about the deeper nature of things, but doing so, however simply, does help focus the mind. But of course you can be a 'proper' pagan, even if you don't!
Of course you can! But what do I mean by spells anyway? I guess I would use a definition something like "A spell is an appeal to forces beyond the normal human consciousness, to affect or change an event, condition or circumstance." The ways to 'appeal to forces' seem to vary from gathering materials pleasing to them (recipe-like spells), to cajoling or placating them (grovelling spells), to imprisoning them (talismans or invoking spells), to impressing them (elaborate ritual spells), to honouring and smarming to them (prayer-like spells) to name but a few. Do I sound a bit irreverent? Yup, I expect I do. Can you tell I don't like the word "spell"? I guess I don't like the impression that a formula can be used to which the powers must respond, simply because... Do I believe in magic? Most certainly. Have I performed rituals to appeal to forces beyond myself to change things? A few times. Would I call them 'spells'? Not if I can help it. I guess the problem I have with spells, is that not enough is written about intention, when discussing spellcraft. If gathering a few specific items in a particular sort of place at a particular phase of the moon, or planetary hour, were all it took, given the balance of probability, spells would happen accidently sometimes. Spells don't happen without the focussed intention or will of the caster, and I guess for me, if the intention is there, who needs the rest?!