Holdasown, this is a well done brief. I know this is an old thread but I would like to see some discussion of folks experiences with the different processes.
For myself, my first experience with an impromptu circle was before I had looked into Wicca. I was at a new age shop & someone invited anyone who wanted to join a drumming circle. I didn't have a clue what it was, but went along to the back room where about 10 people were milling around. Someone handed out some drums off the shelves and we all sat down on the floor; no introductions, very informal. The "leader" who had invited us began a chant "aheya, ho" and stuff like that. The drummers beat softly. The chant and drums picked up speed.
In a matter of a few minutes I began to sweat. The heat built and I felt like I had to leave or be sick. I put a hand back to help myself get up, but instead I felt like I put my hand up to my elbow into ice water, and the temperature of the room drained off. The leader opened one eye and gave me a baleful stare. I realized I had committed some kind of error, and since I wasn't going to be sick anymore, I just sat where I was. The chant-drum never stopped, the speed continued and heat resumed and all at once, all together in one stoke, the leader yelled "ho," and the drums stopped. The temperature of the room gradually cooled. Folks smiled and began talking and leaving. I went back to the main room and finished my browsing, probably bought a book. I checked it off as an interesting experience and forgot about it until my path led me into Wicca.
I have found the fully prepared Wiccan circle to be insulating and conducive to safe encounters with other realms, sometimes through meditation, other times opening communication for later. Also, in spell work, the circle holds the power that is raised until it is instructed and released. I guess I use the circle as a tool in that sense.
I have laid the compass and used a staff during Solstice rituals. I found this particularly helpful with out of body experiences, or travel between worlds. One of my most instructional experiences regarding the "witches pyramid, the four powers" was obtained through this method. It is also been helpful for working with the Moon, only I used the "mini staff" wand as a link between the full Moon and my heart as a solitary version of Calling Down the Moon...who is She going to talk to if you are solitary and channel Her? A solitaire commune is more useful.
My only labyrinth experience was a spiral outlined with my garden hose. The rite was widdershins & pulled me to my knees with a thud. it took me a couple tries to get up again, and then my feet felt weighted like in cement shoes. After that I have only used a finger or tabletop labyrinth to trace the path. It is useful for grounding in my case, not so much for raising energy.