The Great Rite by Lady Damorea © December 11, 1998

The Sacred Marriage of the Goddess and the God in Witchcraft ritual takes the form of the Great Rite. The Great Rite is "associated with the hieros gamos, the Sacred Marriage, which is union with a deity. The hieros gamos was part of pre-Christian women's mysteries in Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean, in which women sacrificed control of their feminine power to the Goddess and were renewed by her" (Guiley, 1989, p.143). The Great Rite, which occurs in symbolic (long and short versions) and actual forms, allows participants to "celebrate the union of polarities -- of male and female, of sun and moon, of fire and water" (Johnston and Schuerman, 1998, p. 173). In the symbolic Great Rite, sexual intercourse is symbolized through the joining of ritual tools that represent the Goddess (the chalice) and the God (the athame - a ritual knife). In the actual Great Rite, sexual intercourse occurs within the course of a ritual between the High Priest and High Priestess or between a committed couple. The Great Rite is not designed for casual sex. The length of the actual Great Rite is for the couple to decide. The Great Rite can be either celebratory or adapted towards a magical purpose. For a more complete understanding of the Great Rite, the history of witchcraft, magick, the Theory of Levels, the Theory of Polarity, and the symbolism involved in the ritual need to be considered.

To understand the Great Rite, one must understand the history of witchcraft and magick. During the Paleolithic Era (around 23,000 BCE), wo/man saw gods in everything: the swift rivers, volcanoes, waterfalls, etc. The most important gods were the God of the Hunt and the Goddess of Fertility. The God of the Hunt was important because without a successful hunt the tribe would go hungry, especially in the wintertime when edible plants could not be gathered. The Goddess of Fertility was important because if the animals were not fertile then the tribe would have no animals to hunt. In addition, the tribe itself had to be fertile to continue. To ensure a successful hunt and fertility, the tribe would perform rituals that included sympathetic magick. A hunting ritual would include the hunting of a clay animal, usually one with horns. It was believed that if this ritual hunt were successful then the real hunt would also be successful. A fertility ritual would include two clay animals mating. Once again, if this ritual mating were successful then the real mating would also be successful. In later sympathetic magick ritual, the shaman would dress in the coat of the animal to be hunted. During the ritual, this "animal" would be hunted and killed, thus ensuring the success of the real hunt. "Male shamans dressed in skins and horns in identification with the God and the herds; but female priestesses presided naked, embodying the fertility of the Goddess" (Starhawk, 1989, p. 17). As the Goddess of Fertility and God of the Hunt gained importance, other lesser deities lost importance and some came to no longer be recognized.

Around 18,000 BCE, wo/man discovered agriculture. With this discovery, the Goddess of Fertility became even more important. Not only did She have to ensure the fertility of the animals and the tribe; she now had to ensure the fertility of the crops as well. For these people, the year very naturally fell into two halves, summer and winter. The Goddess of Fertility, who was also called the Great Mother, was most important during the summer to ensure the harvest and mating. The God of the Hunt was most important during the winter when the crop foods were no longer available and hunting was the only food source. Soon after the discovery and development of agriculture, wo/man began to keep domesticated animals and also learned to overwinter, or store, crops. These developments increased the importance of the Goddess and decreased the importance of the God, who by this time had become the God of the Hunt and Nature. Sympathetic magick continued throughout this time. In their book, Sex, magic, and spirit: Enlightenment through Ecstasy, Bonnie Johnston and Peter Schuerman state:



"Paleolithic humans revered the Great Mother, who was the embodiment of the female power. This power was seen as a direct result of woman's ability to menstruate: only women menstruated, and only women conceived. The Great Mother's creative power was not sexual in nature, but rather an inherent quality she possessed by virtue of her femaleness. The mysteries of the Great Mother were the mysteries of birth and death" (p. 19).



The male's role in reproduction was not known at this time. People throughout the world believed that the blood of menses was what created life without any outside help. Thus, "menstruating women were pressed into service to bleed onto the fields" (McCoy, 1994, p. 116). But soon, man came to understand his role in conception and the magick rites "evolved into folk custom of coupling in the fields every spring to increase fertility and ensure a good harvest. These sexual rites had evolved into a form of sympathetic magic practiced to influence the forces of nature on which they were dependent for sustenance" (Johnston and Schuerman, p. 173). Thus the myth of the "Great Mother came into being and woman was Her priestess" (Gardner, 1954, p.32). A statue, which is known as the Goddess of Willendorf, has been carbon-dated back to this time period (18,000 BCE). The Goddess of Willendorf has large pendulous breasts, large belly, and open genitalia. These features were symbols of a woman's fertility. Because of Her association with fertility "the Goddess was revered as the patron deity of sexual love" (Stone, 1976, p. 154). The symbol of the God of the Hunt and Nature were the horns of an animal that had previously been killed. These horns were, during the Bronze Age (3,500 BCE), attached to a "hat", which became known as the Bronze Age Horned Helmet. Throughout this time, many other symbols of the Goddess and the God were crafted.

Before man understood his role in babymaking, woman was mysterious because of her ability to menstruate and become pregnant. Early rituals, consequently, used the woman's naked body for the altar. "In the worship of the female deity, sex was Her gift to humanity. It was sacred and holy" (Stone, 1976, p. 154). Dr. Gerald Gardner, an anthropologist and witch, agrees and states further that this "made sexual activity a proud mystery" (Gardner, 1954, p. 33). A mystery "is a thing that cannot be understood through mere explanation; a secret is something that someone else is merely unwilling to share" (Johnston and Schuerman, 1998, p. 7). Thus, the understanding of a mystery is a "self-validating experience" (Jordan, 1998, classnotes). Once man came to understand his role in reproduction, he also became part of the Mystery of Creation. It was during this time that sexual rites and rituals became part of the worship of many gods and goddesses. "Sexual rites and dances were a part her [Artemis] worship at Ephesus and at Elis" (Johnston and Schuerman, p. 30). Ishtar, who is also known as Astarte, "was worshipped through sexual rites and sacred prostitution for thousands of years" (Johnston and Schuerman, p. 33). Likewise, Ishtar was also important to the Canaanites, who like many agricultural peoples of the time (1200 to 1000 BCE), "sought to encourage the growth of their crops through their religion. In this fertility cult, Baal, the Sky Father, was encourage to mate with Asherah (Astarte or Ishtar), the Earth Mother, so that crops would grow. This mating was encouraged by ritual sex, and temple prostitutes (male and female) were very much a part of Canaanite religion" (Hyde and DeLamater, 1997, p. 528). Furthermore, the god "Pan is usually represented as being ithyphallic, reflecting the large part that plays in his character" (Johnston and Schuerman, p. 46). Sexuality, reproduction, the human body, and the portrayal of overly large and erect (male) or open (female) genitals all became an integral part of religious practice. In this way, "sexual union was transformed into a ceremonial through which the human couple became a divine pair" (Parrinder, 1996, p. 36).

Around 500 BCE, the Druids arrived in Britain with the Kelts. The Druids were the priesthood and scholars of the Keltic peoples. The early priesthood of Witchcraft was very similar to the Druids. The word "witch" reflects this similarity. It comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "wica" (or "wicca") meaning "wise one." Wica was the name originally given only to the priesthood. Later, if was used by all adherents of witchcraft. Like the Druids, the Wica were truly wise ones. They had to be. As well as religious leaders, they had to be community doctors/midwives, lawyers, judges, farmers, and hunters. Although the Old Religion, as witchcraft came to be known, has form - meaning set rituals, festivals, regular gatherings and a priesthood, it remained a religion of the people. The two main festivals occurred at Samhain (pronounced "Sow-en") and Bealtaine (pronounced "B-yal-tan" and sometimes spelled Beltane). Samhain was celebrated on November eve and Bealtaine on May eve. These festivals, during which the Great Rite was enacted, signified and occurred at the changeover from one half of the year to the other, or the changing of the seasons. Therefore, Nature and the Turning of the Wheel of the Year were the basis of the Old Religion. Like the polytheistic Druids, witches had two primary deities (one male, one female). Around 60 BCE, the last Druid stronghold on the island of Anglesey fell to Roman attack. The Druid religion was thought to end at this time.

Around 600 - 800 CE, Christianity arrived in Britain and for the most part started at the top; rulers, townspeople and upper classes were converted -- though frequently only superficially. The working classes, villagers, and country folk converted long after, some as late as the 11th Century. Whole countries were classified as Christian, when in fact only the rulers had converted. The Old Religion, as witchcraft was now called, was still prominent for about the first 1000 years. Pope Gregory, in an attempt to convert the country and village people, ordered churches built on old temple sites. The only stonemasons, artisans, and wood carvers available to build these new churches, however, were followers of the Old Religion. These builders incorporated images of the old gods into the new building. God was often shown with horns and a foliate mask. The Fertility Goddess was shown in the forms of Shiela-na-gigs, women with their legs and genitalia spread wide apart. This attempt at converting the country folk and villagers were successful, but not as much as Pope Gregory thought. The people were attending the churches…to see their old gods in the work of the artisans! On the surface, Pope Gregory's attempts at conversion looked very successful. At this time, non-Christians became known as Pagans and Heathens. "Pagan" comes from the Latin "Pagani" and means "people who live in the country" (Buckland, 1993, p. 4-5). "Heathen" means "one who dwells on the heath" (Buckland, p. 5). Therefore, the terms could just have easily been applied to anyone who lived in the country.

The late anthropologist Margaret Murray in her book The Witch Cult In Western Europe (1921) was the first to depict Witchcraft as an organized pre-Christian religion. Dr. Murray saw ritual Witchcraft as a "highly organized pagan cult, rich with rituals of fertility and reverence for nature" (as quoted by Buckland, p. 6). Dr. Murray also theorized that there was a direct, unbroken line of descent from the cavepeople. Dr. Gerald Gardner agreed with Dr. Murray:



"The Witches do not know the origin of their cult. My own theory is, as I said before, that it is a Stone Age cult of the matriarchal times, when woman was the chief; at a later time man's god became dominant, but the woman's cult, because of the magical secrets, continued as a distinct order" (p. 43).



Indeed the goddess of what was called the "witch cult" was and is the Great Mother, who was the giver of life and love embodied. Gardner stated, "The goddess of the witch cult is obviously the Great Mother, the giver of life, incarnate love. She rules spring, pleasure, feasting, and all pleasures. She was identified at a later time with other goddesses, and has a special affinity with the moon" (p. 42). As the Charge of the Goddess that is used in ritual by modern witches states, "All acts of love and pleasure are my [the Goddess's] rituals" (Doreen Valiente as quoted by Farrar and Farrar, p. 43). This statement from the Charge of the Goddess makes it clear that witches regard acts of pleasure as not only good but also sacred. The Goddess "is not separate from the world -- She is the world, and all things in it: moon, sun, earth, star, stone, seed, flowing river, wind, wave, leaf and branch, bud and blossom, fang and claw, woman and man. In Witchcraft, 'flesh and spirit are one'" (Starhawk, p.22). This statement makes clear the witches' belief that the world is a good place, and that life is also good. Like the Goddess, a "witch is a 'shaper,' a creator who bends the unseen into form, and so becomes one of the Wise, one whose life in infused with magic" (Starhawk, p. 22). Magic, according to Starhawk, is "the art of sensing and shaping the subtle" (p. 27). Starhawk also defines magic as the ability to change [levels of] consciousness at will. Drumming and chanting are two of many ways to raise energy that can then be used for magic. The primary way to direct the energy raised through drumming, chanting or some other means is through visualization, or seeing within ones mind the end results of the energy having done its magical work. This aspect of witchcraft demands a great deal of responsibility. According to Janet and Stewart Farrar, there are many ways to make magic (or to generate the energy that will be directed toward a magical purpose):



"The Ways of Making Magic

1.Meditation or concentration.

2.Chants, Spells, Invocations. Invoking the Goddess, etc.

3.Projection of the Astral Body, or Trance

4.Incense, Drugs, Wine, etc. Any potion which aids to release the Spirit.

5.Dancing.

6.Blood control. Use of the Cords.

7. The Scourge.

8. The Great Rite" (p. 52).

Witchcraft, like many other religions, "rests upon two fundamental principles: the Theory of Levels, and the Theory of Polarity" (Farrar and Farrar, 1984, 106). The Theory of Levels states that "reality exists and operates on many planes (physical, etheric, astral, mental, spiritual, to give a simplified but generally accepted list); that each of these levels has its own laws; and that these sets of laws, while special to their own levels, are compatible with each other, their mutual resonance governing the interaction between the levels" (Farrar and Farrar, p. 107). The level that we experience is the one that "vibrates" at the same or similar level to us. The gods exist on a different level, and to experience the "divine" we must change or adapt our level of vibration or awareness to match that of the gods. Silver RavenWolf in her book, To Ride a Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft, states that "religion is interaction with the Divine, raising your personal vibrational sequence to accept and enjoy this union" (p. 43). Magic is one way to change the level of which we are aware. This is sometimes referred to as altered states of consciousness or altered states of awareness. "Symbols and ritual are used to trigger altered states of awareness, in which insight that go beyond words are revealed" (Starhawk, p. 22), and as the Farrars point out, "Myth, ritual and dreams all speak in symbols" (p. 151).

The second theory is the Theory of Polarity. Polarity is desirable in the relationship between the sexes. It creates attraction like the attraction that two magnets display. This attraction allows a release of energy, which can be used to alter conscious, comes from the joining of polar opposites. Janet and Stewart Farrar state that:

"The Theory of Polarity maintains that all activity, all manifestation, arise from (and is inconceivable without) the interaction of pairs and complementary opposites -- positive and negative, light and dark, context and form, male and female, and so on; and that this polarity is not a conflict between 'good' and 'evil', but a creative tension like that between the positive and negative terminals of an electric battery. Good and evil only arise with the constructive or destructive application of that polarity's output (again, as with the uses to which a battery may be put)" (p. 107).

For witches, the Theory of Levels "describes the structure of the universe; the Theory of Polarity describes its activity; and structure and activity are inseparable, they are the universe" (Farrar and Farrar, p. 107). This belief in polarity is shown in the Charge of the Goddess, "And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within you" (Valiente as quoted by Farrar and Farrar, p. 43). The whole of the universe exists in polar sets, including male and female. This belief in polarity can be found in the "pantheons of Egypt, Greece, Rome, and India, with their creator-destroyer Gods and Goddesses, their eternal cycles of becoming and ceasing and re-becoming" (Farrar and Farrar, p. 113). Wiccan philosophy is in this direct tradition. The interaction of levels and polarity are important aspects of magic, ritual, and the sacred marriage in Witchcraft. The purpose of magic, ritual and the Sacred Marriage is to cause controlled interaction between levels and the elements of the polar opposites. It is understood that light would not exist without its opposite of dark. At times, it is impossible to describe something to another person without explaining it in terms of its opposite. For example, to a blind person, light could be explained as the opposite of what they see all the time. It is also understood that

"Power is latent in the body and may be drawn out and used in various ways by the skilled. But unless confined in a circle it will be swiftly dissipated. Hence the importance of a properly constructed circle. Power seems to exude from the body via the skin and possibly from the orifices of the body; hence you should be properly prepared. The slightest dirt spoils everything, which shows the importance of thorough cleanliness.

"The attitude of mind has great effect, so only work with a spirit of reverence. A little wine taken and repeated during the ceremony, if necessary, helps to produce power. Other strong drinks or drugs may be used, but it is necessary to be very moderate, as if you are confused, even slightly, you cannot control the power that you evoke" (Farrar and Farrar, p. 53).

The Sacred Marriage ritual of Witchcraft, known as the Great Rite, is "an often misunderstood pagan ritual…The Great Rite symbolizes Goddess and God from whose union comes all creation" (McCoy, 1994, p. 128). The ritual Great Rite acknowledges the divine within the participants (Witches believe that god is not remote from mankind), acknowledges that the body of a naked woman was the ancient altar, and celebrates the Sacred Marriage of Goddess and God. The Great Rite occurs in two forms: Symbolic and Actual. The Symbolic Great Rite occurs in a long and short form. In the short form, the High Priestess holds the chalice or grail. The High Priest holds the athame or lance. The athame is lower into the chalice while the following is said: "As the athame is to the male, the chalice is to the female, and when joined they bring forth peace, joy, happiness and contentment to all." This short symbolic version is most commonly done in public or open rituals in which the coven is joined by sincere seekers and interested others. The following is the ritual of the Great Rite as printed in the Farrars' book, A Witches' Bible Compleat:

The Great Rite

Symbolic

Preparation: the chalice should be filled with wine. A veil of at least a yard square is needed preferably of a Goddess color such as blue, green, silver, or white.

The Coven, except for the High Priestess and High Priest, arrange themselves around the perimeter of the circle, man and woman alternately as far as possible, facing the center.

The High Priestess and High Priest stand facing each other in the center of the circle, she with her back to the altar, he with his back to the South.

The High Priest kneels before the High Priestess and gives her the Five-Fold Kiss; that is, he kisses her on both feet, both knees, womb, both breasts, and the lips, starting with the right of each pair. As he does this, he says:

'Blessed be thy feet, that have brought thee in these ways.
Blessed be thy knees, that shall kneel at the sacred altar.
Blessed be thy womb, without which we would not be.
Blessed be thy breasts, formed in beauty.
Blessed be thy lips, that shall utter the Sacred Names.'

For the kiss on the lips, they embrace, length to length, with their feet touching each other's. When he reaches the womb, she spreads her arms wide, and the same after the kiss on the lips.

The High Priestess then lays herself down, face upwards, with her arms and legs outstretched to form the Pentagram.

The High Priest fetches the veil and spreads it over the High Priestess's body, covering her from breasts to knees. He then kneels facing her, with his knees between her feet.

The High Priest calls a woman witch by name, to bring his athame from the altar. The woman does so and stands with the athame in her hands, about a yard to the West of the High Priestess's hips and facing her.

The High Priest calls a male witch by name, to bring the chalice of wine from the altar. He does so and stands with the chalice in his hands, about a yard to the East of the High Priestess's hips and facing her.

The High Priest delivers the invocation:

'Assist me to erect the ancient altar, at which in days past all worshipped;
The altar of all things.
For in old time, Woman was the altar.
Thus was the altar made and placed,
And the sacred place was the point within the center of the Circle.
As we have of old been taught that the point within the center is the origin of all things,
Therefore should we adore it;
Therefore whom we adore we also invoke.
O Circle of Stars,
Whereof our father is but the younger brother,
Marvel beyond imagination, soul of infinite space,
Before whom time is ashamed, the mind bewildered, and the understanding dark,
Not unto thee may we attain unless thine image be love.
Therefore by seed and stem, root and bud,
And leaf and flower and fruit do we invoke thee,
O Queen of Space, O Jewel of Light,
Continuous on of the heavens;
Let it be ever thus
That men speak not of thee as One, but as None;
And let them not speak of thee at all, since thou art continuous.
For thou art the point within the Circle, which we adore;
The point of life, without which we would not be.
And in this way truly are erected the holy twin pillars;
In beauty and strength were they erected
To the wonder and glory of all men.'

The High Priest removes the veil from the High Priestess's body, and hands it to the woman witch, from whom he takes his athame.

The High Priestess rises and kneels facing the High Priest, and takes the chalice from the man witch. (Note that both of these handings-over are done without the customary ritual kiss. The High Priest continues the invocation:

'Altar of mysteries manifold,
The sacred Circle's secret point
Thus do I sign thee as of old,
With kisses of my lips anoint.'

The High Priest kisses the High Priestess on the lips, and continues:

'Open for me the secret way,
The pathway of intelligence,
Beyond the gates of night and day,
Beyond the bounds of time and sense.
Behold the mystery aright
The five true points of fellowship'

The High Priestess holds up the chalice, and the High Priest lowers the point of his athame into the wine. Both use both of their hands for this. The High Priest continues:

'Here where Lance and Grail unite,
And feet, and knees, and breast, and lip.'

The High Priest hands his athame to the woman witch and then places both his hands round those of the High Priestess as she holds the chalice. He kisses her, and she sips the wine; she kisses him, and he sips the wine. Both of them keep their hands around the chalice while they do this.

The High Priest then takes the chalice from the High Priestess, and they both rise to their feet.

The High Priest hands the chalice to a woman witch with a kiss, and she sips. She gives it to a man with a kiss. The chalice is passed around the Coven, man to woman, with a kiss each time, until the entire Coven has sipped the wine. The chalice can be refilled and any one can drink from it without repeating the ritual once the chalice has gone around once.

To consecrate the cakes, the woman picks up her athame, and the man, kneeling before her, holds up the dish. The woman draws the Invoking Pentacle of Earth in the air above the plate while the man says:

'O Queen most secret, bless this food into our bodies;
bestowing health, wealth, strength, joy and peace,
and that fulfillment of love that is perfect happiness.'

The woman lays down her athame and passes the cakes to the man with a kiss, he passes them back with a kiss, and they are passed around the Coven the same way the wine was. Be sure to save some of the wine and some cake for an offering to the Earth and the Little Folk. After the meeting, leave the offering outside of the house if working indoors, or behind in the woods or field, when you leave if you are working outdoors.

Farrar, Janet and Stewart; "Eight Sabbats For Witches"; Robert Hale 1983

Actual

Preparation: the chalice should be filled with wine. A veil of at least a yard square is needed preferably of a Goddess color such as blue, green, silver, or white.

The Coven, except for the High Priestess and High Priest, arrange themselves around the perimeter of the circle, man and woman alternately as far as possible, facing the center.

The High Priestess and High Priest stand facing each other in the center of the circle, she with her back to the altar, he with his back to the South.

The High Priest kneels before the High Priestess and gives her the Fivefold Kiss; that is, he kisses her on both feet, both knees, womb, both breasts, and the lips, starting with the right of each pair. He says, as he does this:

'Blessed be thy feet, that have brought thee in these ways.
Blessed be thy knees, that shall kneel at the sacred altar.
Blessed be thy womb, without which we would not be.
Blessed be thy breasts, formed in beauty.
Blessed be thy lips, that shall utter the Sacred Names.'

For the kiss on the lips, they embrace, length-to-length, with their feet touching each other's. When he reaches the womb, she spreads her arms wide, and the same after the kiss on the lips.

The High Priestess then lays herself down, face upwards, with her arms and legs outstretched to form the Pentagram.

The High Priest fetches the veil and spreads it over the High Priestess's body, covering her from breasts to knees. He then kneels facing her, with his knees between her feet.

The High Priest delivers the invocation:

'Assist me to erect the ancient altar, at which in days past all worshipped;
The altar of all things.
For in old time, Woman was the altar.
Thus was the altar made and placed,
And the sacred place was the point within the center of the Circle.
As we have of old been taught that the point within the center is the origin of all things,
Therefore should we adore it;
Therefore whom we adore we also invoke.
O Circle of Stars,
Whereof our father is but the younger brother,
Marvel beyond imagination, soul of infinite space,
Before whom time is ashamed, the mind bewildered, and the understanding dark,
Not unto thee may we attain unless thine image be love.
Therefore by seed and stem, root and bud,
And leaf and flower and fruit do we invoke thee,
O Queen of Space, O Jewel of Light,
Continuous on of the heavens;
Let it be ever thus
That men speak not of thee as One, but as None;
And let them not speak of thee at all, since thou art continuous.
For thou art the point within the Circle, which we adore;
The point of life, without which we would not be.
And in this way truly are erected the holy twin pillars;
In beauty and strength were they erected
To the wonder and glory of all men.'

The Maiden fetches her athame from the altar and ritually opens a gate way in the Circle. The Coven file through and leave the room. The Maiden is the last one through and reseals the Circle. The High Priest removes the veil from the High Priestess's body.

The High Priestess rises and kneels facing the High Priest. The High Priest continues the invocation:

'Altar of mysteries manifold,
The sacred Circle's secret point
Thus do I sign thee as of old,
With kisses of my lips anoint.'

The High Priest kisses the High Priestess on the lips, and continues:

'Open for me the secret way,
The pathway of intelligence,
Beyond the gates of night and day,
Beyond the bounds of time and sense.
Behold the mystery aright
The five true points of fellowship'

'Here where Lance and Grail unite,
And feet, and knees, and breast, and lip.'

The High Priest and High Priestess now have intercourse. This is a private matter between them and none of the Coven can question them about it. When they are done, one of them ritually opens the Circle and calls the rest of the Coven. When they are back in the Circle, it is again sealed. The wine is now consecrated.

A male witch kneels in front of the altar before a female witch. He holds up a chalice of wine and she holds her athame point down and lowers the athame into the wine. The man says:

'As the athame is to the male, so the cup is to the female; and conjoined, they become one in truth.'

The woman lays down her athame on the altar and kisses the man who remains kneeling and she accepts the chalice from him. She sips the wine, kisses him again and he sips, rises, and gives it to another woman with a kiss. The chalice is passed around the Coven, man to woman, with a kiss each time, until the entire Coven has sipped the wine. The chalice can be refilled and any one can drink from it without repeating the ritual once the chalice has gone around once.

To consecrate the cakes, the woman picks up her athame, and the man, kneeling before her, holds up the dish. The woman draws the Invoking Pentacle of Earth in the air above the plate while the man says:

'O Queen most secret, bless this food into our bodies; bestowing health, wealth, strength, joy and peace, and that fulfillment of love that is perfect happiness.'

The woman lays down her athame and passes the cakes to the man with a kiss, he passes them back with a kiss, and they are passed around the Coven the same way the wine was. Be sure to save some of the wine and some cake for an offering to the Earth and the Little Folk. After the meeting, leave the offering outside of the house if working indoors, or behind in the woods or field, when you leave if you are working outdoors.

Farrar, Janet and Stewart; "Eight Sabbats For Witches"; Robert Hale 1983

In the above rites, the Fivefold Kiss acknowledges the woman and the beauty that is inherent in her femaleness. This acknowledgment of the woman is important because it keeps the woman from becoming an object. In addition, "the expressed purpose of visualizing yourself and your consort as a god or goddess is to elevate the sexual act to a higher plane" (Ramsdale and Ramsdale, 1993, p. 216). This ability to "elevate the sexual act to a higher plane" allows the participants to "recognize the sacred nature of sex" (Johnston and Schuerman, p. 3). To do this "one must be willing to recognize the sacred nature of your partner and your partner must be willing to see the divine in you" (Johnston and Schuerman, p. 3). Next, the High Priest's invocation in the Great Rite acknowledges that the woman's naked body was the ancient altar with her reproductive organs being the center of the Circle and the center of the universe, since all creation could not exist without her female energy and reproductive ability. Nest, he uses his lips to consecrate the woman's naked body, which is now the altar. The "Open for me the secret way, /The pathway of intelligence," (p. 53) is the request for sexual union. In Witchcraft, sexual intercourse is not profaned (generally) by rape. As Starhawk states: "Misuse of sexuality, however, is heinous. Rape, for example, is an intolerable crime because it dishonors the life force by turning sexuality to the expression of violence and hostility instead of love. A woman has the sacred right to control her own body, as does a man. No one has the right to force or coerce another" (p. 27). Even in the ritual, the High Priest must "ask" for and receive permission to sexually unite with the High Priestess. The High Priest then lowers the athame into the chalice in symbolic sexual union of God and Goddess, male and female. As he does this, he states, "Here where the Lance and Grail unite, /And feet, and knees, and breast, and lip" (p. 53). In the missionary and other sexual positions, the couple is touching at the points mentioned. This touching is part of the union. The blessing of the cakes ends the symbolic Great Rite. The primary difference between the long version of the symbolic Great Rite and the actual Great Rite is that sexual intercourse does occur between the High Priest and High Priestess as part of the actual Great Rite.

As far as magic is concerned, the "Great Rite is far the best [for raising energy]. It releases enormous power, but the conditions and circumstances make it difficult for the mind to maintain control at first. It is again a matter of practice [with magic, meditation, visualization, etc.] and the natural strength of the operator's will and in a less degree those of the assistants. If, as of old, there were many trained assistants present and all wills properly attuned, wonders occurred" (Gardner as quoted by Farrar and Farrar, p. 53). According to Johnston and Schuerman, "Sex is a potent method of directing and releasing magical energies. The sexual act unites the polarities that exist within us, creating a strong current of energy, which can be used to transform consciousness. This transformation of consciousness is the truest goal of magic: sex can literally be a magical experience" (p. 1). It is believed in Witchcraft that the Great Rite is best done by High Priestess and High Priest or by a committed couple. The energy, the power and the bonds that are created by the Great Rite will in all likelihood greatly complicate an uncommitted relationship and make it unbearable to continue. Either that or the couple will erroneously become deeply involved in a relationship that was not meant for such depth.

Witchcraft has been traced back to the Paleolithic era when sympathetic magic was common ritual that was thought to ensure a successful hunt and the successful mating of the animals that were hunted. These rituals grew into "fertility cults" that centered on sexuality as the cause of fertility and, therefore, the continuation of the wild and domesticated animals and the tribe. The primary deities were the Goddess of Fertility and the God of the Hunt and Nature. These gods formed the basis of many of the pantheons that developed in later cultures, such as Greek and Roman. Many of these ancient cultures used sexual rites as a means of celebrating the Sacred Marriage of the Goddess and the God. These sexual rites also acknowledged that the world exists as polar opposites that, when joined, produce energies that could then be directed toward a specific purpose. These sexual rites did not always include sexual intercourse. For example, many rites of passage celebrate the child moving into adulthood, becoming fertile. The Wiccan Great Rite comes from the traditions of the ancient fertility cults. It celebrates the Sacred Marriage of Goddess and God from which all creation came. It acknowledges the existence of polar opposites and the making of creative energy when these opposites unite. The Great Rite tells of the belief that the divine that exists within all living things. It also acknowledges that the woman's naked body was the ancient altar. The Great Rite exists in two forms: the symbolic and the actual. The symbolic may be either long or short. The short version joins the lance and grail without the long invocation and the placing of the veil over the woman's body. This short version does not tell of the woman's body once being the ancient altar and the Fivefold Kiss does not occur. The longer version of the symbolic Great Rite and the actual Great Rite do acknowledge that the woman's naked body was the ancient altar. They also acknowledge the woman as a person. The divine within High Priest and High Priestess is recognized as well. This rite is a celebration of the hieros gamos, or Sacred Marriage, of Goddess and God from which all creation came.

SOURCES

Buckland, Raymond. Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications. 1993.

Byrnes, Joseph F. The Psychology of Religion. NY: The Free Press. 1984.

Farrar, Janet & Farrar, Stewart. A Witches Bible Compleat. New York, NY: Magickal Childe Publishing, Inc. 1984.

Gardner, Gerald. Witchcraft Today. Oxford, England: Rider & Co. 1954.

Glenn, Will. Beltane. (http://www.isleofavalon.co.uk/edu/g-bank/articles/w-beltan.html).

Guiley, Rosemary. The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft. NY: Facts of File, Inc. 1989.

Hyde, Janet Shibley & DeLamater, John. Understanding Human Sexuality, 6th Edition. NY: McGraw - Hill Companies, Inc. 1997.

Johnston, Bonnie L. & Schuerman, Peter L. Sex, Magick, and Spirit: Enlightenment through Ecstasy. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications. 1998.

Jordan, Kay K., Dr. Lecture Notes. Fall, 1998.

McCoy, Edain. Making Magick: What it is and how it works. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publishers, 1997.

McCoy, Edain. The Sabbats: A New Approach to Living the Old Ways. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications. 1994.

Parrinder, Geoffrey. Sexual Morality in the World's Religions. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 1996.

Ramsdale, David & Ramsdale, Ellen. Sexual Energy Ecstasy: A Practical Guide to Lovemaking Secrets of the East and West. NY: Bantam Books. 1993.

RavenWolf, Silver. To Ride a Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications. 1994.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. The Encyclopedia of Religion. NY: Macmillan Publishing Company. 1987.

Silvers, Amanda. Get What You Want - Using Sex Magick! (http://www.sexuality.organization/l/religion/wsexm.html)

Starhawk. The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. 1989.

Stone, Merlin. When God Was a Woman. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers. 1976.


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