The Great Rite and Sexuality in Wicca

Venus from Willendorf,
cca. 23000 BC
Since this is quite a delicate topic, I will try to explain as clearly as I can what it is really about so that no one gets the wrong impression :)

I would like to begin by explaining what the Great Rite actually is. This is a part of a ritual by which we SYMBOCALLY (in a METAPHORICAL way) depict sexual intercourse. It is a very powerful and intense rite since it calls upon the masculine and feminine energies and binds them on a spiritual level. An example of this ritual will be given to you later in the post, but I will first discuss the role of sexuality in Wicca.

You are familiar with the fact that Wicca is often defined as a fertility religion. This is because it celebrates fertility; it celebrates nature. And what is nature other than pure fertility? Everywhere we look in nature, we see life, we see plants growing thanks to the unification of the Elements (the water in the earth, the earth itself in which the plants grow, the Sun's warmth and the air from which they take oxygen and carbon dioxide which they need to survive), we see the animals in Spring making new life, and when we mature, sexuality becomes a normal part of our lives as well. Without sexuality, there would be no life and according to this, if we celebrate life, we also celebrate fertility. Remember how the Pagans of the past celebrated this fertility! They not only celebrated the fertility of their fellow man and other living beings around them, but also the fertility of the land without which our world would be turned upside down!

The Birth of Christ, Buvina's doors,
cathedral in Split (my home town),
1214 AD
We can trace fertility monuments all the way back to the Stone Age. A very well-known example would be the Venus of Willendorf with her oversized breasts that are full of milk, just ready to feed her children and her wide child-bearing hips. To all you feminists out there, I ask of you not to take this as an insult :) Take is a mere observation of contemporary view of women. They were worshiped as mothers back then; they were birth-givers and almost god-like in their own way.

Mihail Chemiakin, Cybele,
Of course, this fertility cult didn't exist only in the Stone Age. It was present in all historical periods, including the Middle Ages when the fertility of the Virgin Mary was celebrated as well as other figures such as Petrarch's Laura and a number of love goddesses. We can see the remains of this fertility cult in modern art, design and even the numerous advertisements which harass us day in and day out with pictures of beautiful women in hopes of selling a specific product. The former ideal of women with large hips and hung breasts has been substituted for slender women with small waists, firm breasts, big lips etc.

Fertility and sexuality don't have to be bad things. Modern society has twisted them into something shameful and perverse, but a long time ago, they were looked upon with pride and were celebrated. They weren't taboos but topics which people could openly discuss. Of course, they have always been one of the most private parts of a person's life, but they weren't always something that we had to be ashamed of. 

Botticelli, the Birth of Venus, 1486
I would like to mention another delicate topic and that's ritual sex. I ask you not to close your browser instantly. Read what I have to say and then close it if you like. There have always been stories about ritual sex being necessary, that it turned into orgies which produced unlawful children which were later sacrificed etc. These stories were made up in the Middle Ages and this was a time when a lot of stuff was said about Witches and very little of what was said was correct (if anything at all). Ritual sex really does exist; this I cannot deny. But I can say that, in Wicca, nobody can tell you that you HAVE to do anything, especially not have sex with someone. Sex is sacred, it produces life. It should be celebrated but I think that in order for it to be properly celebrated, it has to be with a person you love and that loves you back. In this case, we aren't only talking about two bodies becoming one, but also two souls...and this is pure magic. What replaces the actual act of sex in Wicca is the Great Rite, which you can read just a few paragraphs below :) 

As I continue writing, I will add a comment here and there in order to better explain all of this blabbing of mine :)

What is the Great Rite?

An advertisement for Dior's
perfume J'adore
The Great Rite can be defined as that part of the ritual which celebrates fertility and with which energy is raised inside the circle. It is performed in order to send off energy into all levels. There is a saying in Wicca that goes like this: "As above, so below." If we perceive the God and Goddess ("above") as symbols of love, then the High Priest and High Priestess ("below") who enact the Great Rite should symbolize their love. More accurately, their love is attempted to be brought into the circle during the rite itself.

What isn't the Great Rite?

This question is definitely worth asking so we don't come to any misunderstandings. The Great Rite isn't an orgy, it isn't vulgar in any way and it isn't anything shameful. It isn't a celebration of the Devil (which is impossible since Witches do not even acknowledge the existence of a Devil, who is a Christian concept). It definitely isn't a way to sexually abuse individuals. The Great Rite is in no way connected to Black Masses of which you can hear on the television and read about in papers (these are merely parodies of the Christian Mass and I cannot see why any Pagan religion would want to harm anyone, make fun of anything or make parodies of anything sacred since it also has its own sacred practices). I ask you to immediately remove any associations that you may have of Paganism and the Black Mass (or Satanism in general). If anything else needs to be cleared up, feel free to e-mail me, leave a comment or contact me in any way. I realize that this can be a hard question for some people and possible even harder to read for others but I feel that they have to be said.

How is it enacted?

There are two ways of enacting the Great Rite. In both occasions, it is done by the High Priest and High Priestess, although in the metaphorical situation, it can be done by any two coven members, but I will return to this later. Before you start jumping to any conclusion, I ask that you at least finish reading this heading and then decide whether or not you want to continue reading.

The first way in which it is enacted is metaphorical and I will later explain this method. What is it a metaphor for? Well, simply put, sexual intercourse.

The other way is literal. To explain, the High Priest and High Priestess physically make love, BUT always and only if there is love involved. Most often they are a couple (married or not) and have been for some time and it is just luck/fate/coincidence that brought them together not only as a couple, but also as coven leaders. I have never heard of a High Priest and Priestess in Wicca doing the Great Right this way and not being in a romantic relationship. Therefore, nobody will force you to do this or expect this from you! Also, the Great Rite is almost never enacted this way (I assume because it is quite rare that a coven is actually lead by a married couple/boyfriend & girlfriend, but also because everyone appreciates their sexual privacy). Even if it is done this way, the coven leaves the room until the High Priest and High Priestess invite them back in. In this way, a certain amount of privacy is guaranteed, since the act of making love is still sacred (not only from a religious point of view, but also from a lover's point of view) and deserves respect.

In the book entitled A Witches' Bible by Janet and Stewart Farrar, I found a wonderful comparison of these two methods: "...the "actual" Great Rite is sex magic, while the symbolic Great Rite is the magic of gender."

Believe me when I say that this was quite hard for me to write since this kind of writing usually gets very bad criticism and bad reactions. I sincerely hope that you will continue reading this post and see for yourselves that this rite really isn't harmful or vulgar in any way. Nothing in Wicca is made to cause harm. It's enough to only remember the main rule of Wicca: harm none.

Enacting the Great Rite

This is usually done on the Sabbats since they are the energetic high points of the year. Usually, the ritual is lead by the High Priest and Priestess, but they can decide to let another couple (or simply two other coven members) lead it instead of them.

I repeat, we are not dealing with the actual act here, but a representation of it, a symbol of the sex act, as you will see soon enough.

Other than the usual ritual tools (which you can read about in this post), you may need a veil about 1m² in size. The preferred colors are blue, green, silver or white (the colors of the Goddess). The chalice is usually filled with wine, but I think you can drink anything you like and see fit for this Sabbat :) I personally don't like wine, so I usually drink some kind of juice or milk, depending on the occasion.

I will explain how the Great Rite is enacted inside a coven, and if you are working alone, you can simply ignore everything the coven says and does and take on the role of the High Priest and/or High Priestess. You can leave certain tools that are held in this ritual on the altar for practical reasons if you see that you cannot hold everything. A bit of logic will help you adapt the rest of the ritual :)

The Great Rite is enacted just after the invocation of the Goddess and God, or rather after the whole Opening ritual. I will take it that it is lead by the High Priest and Priestess, so for practical reasons, I will write HP for the High Priest and HPs for the High Priestess.
  • the coven stands on the edge of the circle facing inwards (ideally, they are ordered man-woman-man-woman etc.)
  • the HP and HPs stand in the middle of the circle. She stands with her back towards the altar (her back is towards the North) and the HP stands facing her (with his back towards the South)
  • the HP gives the HPs the Fivefold Kiss (you can read it in the link just above which will lead you to the Opening ritual)
  • the HPs lies down on the floor in a relaxed position (face upwards) with outstretched arms and legs and her head towards the altar. Her belly button i.e. womb should be in the middle of the circle thus emphasizing the importance of female fertility
  • the HP takes the veil and covers the HPs from the neck downwards (as much as it can cover).
  • the HP kneels between the HPs' feet facing her
  • the HP calls on a woman from the coven to bring him the athamé from the altar, and on a man to bring the chalice (if you are working alone, all of this will be on the altar already and you don't have to lie down because this would be very impractical)
  • the HP does the invocation (all of this time, the HPs is lying down and relaxing):
"Assist me to erect this ancient altar, at which in days past all worshiped;The great 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 root, and stem and bud,And leaf and flower and fruit do we invoke thee,O Queen of Space, O Jewel of Light,Continuous one of the heavens;Let it be ever thusThat 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 in strength were they erectedTo the wonder and glory of all men."
The Great Rite, photo from the book
A Witches' Bible by Janet and Stewart
The part with the twin pillars is probably unclear, so let me explain it. These two mythological pillars were thought to have stood at the entrance of the holiest part of King Solomon's temple. They were identical in appearance but in one thing. One pillar was called Boaz (severity, strength) and was colored black, while the other one, which was colored white, was called Jachin (mildness, beauty). In the Great Rite, they symbolize women's legs and I think that you can make your own connections to fertility from here :)
  • the HP removes the veil from the HPs
  • the HPs kneels facing the HP and takes the chalice from the man that brought it there while the HP takes the athamé from the woman
  • the HP 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 HP kisses the HPs (traditionally, this is done on the lips but of course you don't have to do this if you don't feel comfortable, that is if you are doing it with someone else). If you are working by yourself, then I recommend you kiss your athamé or find another suitable replacement. You can remove this step entirely from your ritual, though I wouldn't recommend it since a kiss is a very important symbol of love and fertility
  • the HP 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 fellowshipHere where the Lance and Grail unite,
And feet, and knees, and breast, and lip."
  •  Just before the part "Here where the Lance and Grail unite", the HP lifts up the athamé and the HPs the chalice. The HP then immerses the athamé into the wine (or whatever liquid is in the chalice). Pay special attention to this part of the ritual because this is precisely the part that replaces the actual act of sex in the way that the athamé symbolizes the male sexual organ and the chalice the female sexual organ
  • the HP hands the athamé over to the woman who brought it to him and puts both of his hands on the Priestess' hands which are on the chalice
  • He kisses her and she takes a sip of the wine
  • She kisses him and then he takes a sip of the wine (they both keep their hands on the chalice)
  • the HP takes the chalice from the HPs and both rise to their feet
  • the HP hands the chalice over to a female member of the coven with a kiss. After she takes a sip, she hands it over with a kiss to a male member and so on until every member has had a sip (if you are working alone, it is more than clear that there will be no passing around or kissing going on, and even if you are working in a coven, a kiss on the cheek is enough)
  • the HP and HPs now consecrate the food which they then hand over to each coven member
Josephine Wall, Nature's Embrace
You will notice that this ritual simply continues the Opening ritual i.e. it immediately follows it. 

In my next post, I will write about the Closing ritual which naturally follows the Opening Ritual and the Great Rite. This will be the final post of this "cycle" on the subject of ritual form.

The aim of this post was to explain the role of sexuality in Wicca and I hope I succeeded in doing so. This rite can really be very powerful if it is done properly. After the invocation of the Goddess and the God, it helps raise the energy in the circle to its peak because this energy will be needed for any Sabbat/Esbat ritual or magical works that will follow. For a moment, just remember that feeling you get when you see someone you have a crush on. Remember that feeling of being in love and how your heart flutters...well this ritual should make you feel like this. This type of love simply cannot be vulgar  If your love is true, it will be pure and beautiful. Love is in itself almost godlike and it is up to you to completely raise it to that level.

I hope that I won't get too harsh reviews of this post. ;)
Witch's Cat

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