The Origin of the Prayer Circle
From the outset it should be explained that the term “prayer circle” as used in this article does not refer to a group of Christians standing in a circle, holding hands, and praying together. Standing in a circle, holding hands, and praying has been a habit amongst Christians for longer than anyone can remember. Praying together has been the habit of the church since it's inception more than 2,000 years ago (Acts 2:42); and is, in essence, simply a form of corporate prayer. Standing together in a circle while praying does not empower or enhance the prayers in any way, but rather it serves to provide a unity of purpose within the fellowship of those praying (John 17:22-23), and it provides encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
However, this form of corporate prayer is distinctly different from praying in a “prayer circle”. Prayer circles are literal circles drawn on the floor, often in chalk, or formed with a rope, string, masking tape or some other medium. The method used to form the prayer circle is not as important as the circle itself, as well as praying in the circle. Creating and praying within the prayer circle, as it has been implied by those who promote this, actually enhances or empowers your prayers more so than if you simply prayed without the prayer circle.
The practice can be directly traced back to the late 19th century, to a British evangelist named Rodney “Gipsy” Smith, who was, in fact, a Romani Gypsy. Smith was born in his family's tent in Epping Forest near London on March 31, 1860; the fourth of six children born to Cornelius Smith and his wife Mary Welch.
Growing up within the Gypsy culture and community, Smith was well acquainted with Gypsy customs, superstitions, and rituals one of which was the practice of “casting circles” for protection and spiritual cleansing. Smith wrote in his autobiography that Gypsy's had little use for the religion of the “gorgios” (people who were not Gypsy's), and only submitted to such things as christenings because they generally included gifts brought by church members for the child and family. In other words, they were a “matter of business” as Smith put it. Curiously, in his autobiography, Smith ponders the possibility that Gypsy's are actually one of the lost tribes of Israel. He continues by noting that Gypsy's, like Jews, have a strong sense of tradition and customs that “throughout these long years they have kept their language, habits, customs, and eccentricities untouched.” Among these “habits, customs, and eccentricities” that were continued by the Gypsy's were the aforementioned circles of protection and spiritual cleansing. Something that Smith would have been quite familiar with as he was growing up.
According to pagan author Shaheen Miro, in his article “The Gypsy’s Tricks for Spiritual Cleansing and Protection: Circle of Protection,” the “Circle of Protection and Spiritual Cleansing” is cast by creating a circle on the floor or ground with salt, cornmeal, or white or red chalk. Once the circle has been cast or created, the area within the circle is consecrated ground, while the object or person within the circle is protected from any unwanted things (physical or spiritual), and able to undergo a process of spiritual cleansing.
At the age of 16, Smith underwent a conversion, and after a time began his career as a traveling evangelist; becoming quite well known in both England and America. As he traveled, Smith kept up the Gypsy ritual of casting circles of protection and spiritual cleansing, and incorporated the ritual into his evangelistic events, where it literally became his trademark. When he would arrive at a town or city where he had planned an evangelistic event, Smith would stand outside the town or city limits and draw a circle on the ground. He would then enter the circle and pray not only for revival, but for revival to start in his own heart. This ritual became such a part of him, that when he was once asked what the secret was for a successful revival, Smith stated, “Go home. Lock yourself in your room. Kneel down in the middle of the floor, and with a piece of chalk draw a circle around yourself. There, on your knees, pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival within that chalk circle.”
Although the prayer itself, as well as the attitude of sincerity and brokenness was important, Smith felt it was equally important, if not more important, to ensure that prayer was voiced from within the circle. One can assume that Smith no longer used the circle to seek protection (assumed as it isn't documented that he did), but he did continue the practice of using the circle to seek spiritual cleansing (asking God to begin a revival within the circle). He used the exact same pagan ritual, but switched from seeking spiritual cleansing from the spirits to seeking it from the Lord.
Although Smith died in in 1947, his ritual did not, and today is being practiced by at least four well known Christian speakers, authors, and organizations (as well as, through them, hundreds of churches and their members).
Perhaps the most well known of these is Mark Batterson, the lead pastor of the National Community Church in Washington, D.C., and the author of “The Circle Maker” (as well as several spin-off books). In his book, Batterson states that it was Gipsy Smith who inspired him to write the book, which is a retelling of the story of Honi the Circle Maker, a Jewish miracle worker. According to the legend, a group of Jews came to Honi and asked him to pray to God to make it rain and end the dought they were experiencing. Honi prayed, but the rain did not come. So Honi drew a circle on the ground and stood within it and prayed again. This time a very light rain started. Honi was not satisfied so he prayed again to God, saying, “This is not that rain that I prayed for! I prayed for rain that will fill the cisterns!” Then it began to rain very, very hard. Again Honi stood in his circle and prayed to God, saying, “I did not pray for such a hard rain, but a good rain!” and then it began to rain moderately. One of the Israelites then said to Honi, “You entreat God, and He performs your will!”
Batterson has taken the pagan ritual of Gipsy Smith, and the legend of Honi the Circle Maker, and thrown in a dash of prosperity gospel to create his various “Circle Maker” books which have sold well throughout the Church, influencing hundreds of churches and Christians. One of the more influential followers of Batterson's false “Circle Maker” teaching is Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of evangelist Billy Graham. Lotz is so enamored with Batterson's teaching that she has threatened to shut down at least one website that called for her to repent of it.
Another well known Christian personality who has embraced Gipsy Smith's circle ritual is Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wogemuth. There are multiple instances where she has endorsed Smith's circle ritual, while telling the story of Gipsy Smith standing outside of a town and drawing a circle in the dirt, standing in it and praying for revival (spiritual cleansing). She has written on her website that the circle itself is the secret to a successful revival, that the circle itself is to be used to seek God, and that the circle itself is to be used as part of a Bible study.
She uses and has used the circle during her “True Woman” and “Cry Out!” events and conferences; including having a chalk drawn circle around her podium on the stage, while at the same time providing attendees with premade circles for them to stand or kneel in to pray, as well as giving away pieces of chalk to attendees to draw their own prayer circle.
Wogemuth and her organizations, “Revive Our Hearts” and “True Woman” have now partnered with the group, “OneCry: A Nationwide Call for Spiritual Awakening.” This organization endorses Gipsy Smith circle ritual as well, as is noted in the free ebook they offer on their website. As an interesting side note, “OneCry”s list of partners not only lists Wogemuth's organizations (as well as many, many others), but is also lists “Jesus Culture” as one of their partners. “Jesus Culture” is, of course, a ministry of Bill Johnson's Bethel Church in Redding, California, and a leader in the cultic New Apostolic Reformation. This is not guilt by association, but it does show the pragmatic lack of discernment amongst those in the OneCry organization and those on their partner list who profess Christ. That they would be willing to partner with a decidedly non-Christian false teacher such as Bill Johnson simply to further their goal of spiritual awakening is questionable.
In the following three photos, one can see attendees of a Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wogemuth prayer conference for women, praying inside of prayer circles as instructed to by Mrs. Wogemuth. The "prayer circles" were provided for the attendees.
What is important to note about Batterson and DeMoss, is that they both place an obvious importance on the use of the circle itself. Not the prayer, not the communication with God, not the fellowship with or worship of God that comes through prayer, but the emphasis is on the circle. This is made clear in their instruction regarding the circle. They do not teach pray in a circle, or fellowship with God in a circle, etc. no, they teach make a circle, then step in side it, then pray/fellowship/worship/etc. The circle is the emphasis because what happens (prayer, etc), happens inside the circle. This is the exact same emphasis that Gipsy Smith placed on the circle. This is the exact same emphasis that Smith learned during his childhood within the Gypsy community and culture: draw a circle, step inside of it, seek protection and spiritual cleansing (i.e. revival). Emphasis on the circle implies a purpose for the circle. A purpose not endorsed by Scripture.
Prayer, especially personal prayer, is our lifeline to God. It is an act of communion with and worship of the Lord. Jesus gave us very specific instructions about how we are to pray. He said in Matthew 6:9-13, “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (vv6-7).
He did not say, “Go home. Lock yourself in your room. Kneel down in the middle of the floor, and with a piece of chalk draw a circle around yourself. There, on your knees, pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival within that chalk circle.” That is Gipsy Smith's version of our Lord's command. That is Nancy DeMoss Wogemuth's version of our Lord's command. That is not, however, how Jesus instructed us to pray. Jesus said, “...go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray...” There was no mention of a prayer circle. Nowhere in Scripture is there a mention of a prayer circle drawn on the ground to enhance or empower our prayers. Adding the prayer circle to the method of prayer is akin to adding to Scripture. More importantly, in verse 10, Jesus said, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If it is the Lord's will to simply go into our room, close the door and pray, then adding a prayer circle is certainly not the Lord's will.
And yet, there are professing Christians throughout America who are embracing this practice, a practice that not only has it origins in a pagan Gypsy ritual, and not only can be traced directly from its origin to its modern day proponents; but it has remained almost virtually unchanged since it's origin. The message from DeMoss is the same as from Smith: stand in the circle and pray for revival/spiritual cleansing within the circle.
1 Thessalonians 5:22 tells us to “abstain from every form of evil.” How can we obey that command when we are either engaging in a pagan ritual (regardless of what our heart attitude is), or we are being taught by or endorsing a teacher who engages in and promotes a pagan ritual? 2 Corinthians 6:14b-15a asks, “For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial?” The question is a rhetorical one since we are to have no fellowship with those things that are not just unbiblical but are anti-biblical as well; and this is what the prayer circle ritual is – unbiblical and anti-biblical. It began as a pagan Gypsy ritual, and has evolved into a form of mysticism draped with Christianity.
An Open Note to Nancy DeMoss Wogemuth, Mark Batterson, Anne Graham Lotz and other professing Christians who use and endorse prayer circles:
Please repent. Please! Repent of your use and endorsement of this pagan ritual, remove all references of it from your websites and replace with a note explaining not only your repentance, but also how dangerous, unbiblical, and anti-biblical prayer circles are. Encourage your readers and conference attendees to stay away from prayer circles! Thank you.
Gipsy Smith and the origin of the prayer circle:
Rodney “Gipsy” Smith:
Gipsey Smith by Deborah S. Macomber:
Rodney "Gipsy" Smith from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Gypsy Smith (1860-1947) His Life & Work By Himself:
The Gypsy’s Tricks for Spiritual Cleansing and Protection: Circle of Protection by Shaheen Miro:
Mark Batterson and the Circle Maker:
The Unbiblical Teachings of the "Circle Maker" and Mark Batterson:
Honi the Circle-Drawer by G. J. Goldberg:
The Story of Honi Ha-me'aggel (the Circle-Maker):
The ONE thing you cannot delegate:
Nancy DeMoss Wogemuth:
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth endorsing prayer circles:
Nancy DeMoss Wogemuth Endorses Gipsy Smith and his Prayer Circle Ritual:
The secret to a successful revival is the prayer circle:
Stand in the circle to seek God:
The circle as part of a Bible study:
Nancy DeMoss Turns Listeners to Richard Foster for Guidance:
Nancy Leigh DeMoss Endorsing Chalk Circles? Mercy:
Nancy DeMoss Wogemuth not a recommended teacher:
Keswick theology (endorsed by Nancy DeMoss Wogemuth:
(Updated) Showing in pictures how "The Circle Maker" practice is occult/Wiccan:
Nancy Leigh (DeMoss) Wolgemuth Mixes Pagan Witchcraft Circle-Making With Christianity:
Nancy Leigh (DeMoss) Wolgemuth Mixes Pagan Witchcraft Circle-Making With Christianity:
Prayer Circles are extra-biblical, unbiblical and anti-biblical:
Revival Praying and Chalk Circles … :
OneCry: A Nationwide Call for Spiritual Awakening:
One Cry list of Partners:
Draw a Circle by Dan Jarvis [Copyright © 2012 by OneCry: A Nationwide Call for Spiritual Awakening.]:
"What is a prayer circle?":
Comparing Prayer Circles to God's Word:
http://revfrankhughesjr.org (or) http://southnorfolkbaptistchurch.com/
Anne Graham Lotz Promotes Jewish Mystic:
Open Letter to Anne Graham Lotz Regarding The Circle Maker:
Let It Begin In Me!: