The Opening Ritual

I decided to write a post on this topic because it is quite ample and important, but it also confuses practitioners quite often. The Opening Ritual is made up of several smaller rituals which include the Drawing down the Moon ritual and the Great Rite. I will try to explain the construction and meaning of the Opening ritual throughout this post according to the version which is most popular (the one from Janet and Stewart Farrar's book A Witches' Bible). 

As I said, the Opening ritual is an important part of any ritual, as is the Closing ritual. This can be (and usually is) the opening/beginning of any ritual, if you want it to be, but this is me speaking in general :) you are free to adapt anything you feel needs to be adapted to your own needs.

Before the beginning of any ritual, it is important that you set your altar and appropriately decorate the space you're working in. You can read more about the ritual tools you can have in my post entitled "Ritual Tools". 

From this point onward, I will try to give alternative ways of doing things for those Solitaries out there in addition to the original coven form of the ritual. If you are working alone, you will automatically have to take on the role of High Priest and/or High Priestess. If there are two of you, then each will take on one role and the others (if there are any more) will take on the role of the (rest of the) coven.

So I don't start repeating myself too much, you can have a look at my older post about ritual form in which I described how things are done in any ritual from a traditional standpoint with examples of invocations and everything else you may need. I hope this will be detailed enough for you. But, to summarize, what you  need to do at the beginning of any ritual is:
  1. Prepare your working space/altar (decorations, ritual tools, get the place warm, get the music ready etc.)
  2. Cleanse the water with salt
  3. Open the circle with your athamé (in covens, this is done by the High Priestess who leaves a gap at the northeast part of the circle where the High Priest and rest of the coven wait to be let in)
  4. For covens: the High Priestess lets the High Priest into the circle with a kiss, he lets in one woman and this continues until everyone is inside
  5. Close the aforementioned gap in the circle (if you are working alone or with only one more person then you don't even have to make the gap since you don't have anyone to let inside)
  6. Mark the circle with the Elements (in covens, these tasks are assigned to four people so that each person gets one Element)
  7. Visualize the protecting of the circle
  8. Invoke the Elements (in coven rituals, the coven usually repeats after the High Priest and High Priestess)
  9. Invoke the Goddess and the God

Invoking the Goddess and God

In my previous post on ritual form, I gave you a shorter and simpler version of this invocation, while the longer version, which I will give to you in this post as i promised, is (accordingly) a bit more complicated. Of course, you can choose to do the invocation the simpler way if you like it more :)

Also, I would like to emphasize that these rituals are mainly for covens. You can do some invocations alone, but you would need to adapt them a bit.

The first smaller ritual which makes up this part of the Opening ritual is the Drawing down the Moon ritual.

This is a short ritual in which the High Priest invokes the Goddess into the body of the High Priestess. I find it quite fitting that a woman be the manifestation of female energy, don't you?

This ritual begins with the High Priest giving the Priestess the Fivefold Kiss. Of course, it is not possible to do this part of the ritual if you're working alone but it is if you at least have one more person with you. I will describe the ritual nevertheless because you never know if it could come in handy one day :) For practical reasons, I will refer to the High Priest as HP and the High Priestess as HPs.
  • the HPs stand with her back to the altar, with a staff/wand in her right hand and a scourge in her left (her hands are crossed in the Osiris pose)
  • the HP kneels in front of the HPs
  • the HP kisses the HPs in the following order: right foot, left foot, right knee, left knee, womb, right breast, left breast, lips. When he kisses her on the womb, she spreads her arms in the blessing position (simply outstretched arms as if you are about to hug someone). I understand that this part might be quite strange for some of you, but don't worry. There is always alternative. For example, the HP can kiss his hand and with it lightly touch these body parts. This way, you can feel more comfortable, but the energy has still been transferred.
  • While the HP kisses the aforementioned body parts, he says, after each "group" (feet, knees, womb, breasts, lip) the following sentences:
"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."
(Note: on Imbolc, the HPs gives the HP the Fivefold Kiss and she has to substitute "womb" with "phallus" and "made in beauts" with "made in strength".)
  • the HP kneels once more in front of the HPs and begins drawing down the Moon (also given according to Janet and Stewart Farrar). While speaking the following words, he makes a triangle symbol (pointing downwards) by touching the HPs' womb, right breast, left breast and then womb again:
"I invoke thee and call upon thee, Mighty Mother of us all, bringer of all fruitfulness; by seed and root, by bud and stem, by leaf and flower and fruit, by life and love do I invoke thee to descend upon the body of this thy servant and priestess."
(Note: some people will put one more invocation here, but I would rather go on to the part where the HPs begins the Charge of the Goddess

The Charge of the Goddess

This is the time of the ritual when the High Priestess is filled with the Goddess' energy i.e. being charged with it. Only this version exists (with minor adaptations), so I would recommend you stick to it. It is usually said that his beautiful poem was written by (the recently deceased) Doreen Valiente, one of Gerald Gardners' followers. I have written a detailed post on this topic which you can read here.
  • the HPs does and invoking pentagram of Earth in the air (you can find it in the post on ritual form) with her wand and says:
"Of the Mother darksome and divine
Mine the scourge, and mine the kiss;
The five-point star of love and bliss - 
Here I charge you, in this sign."
The five-point star which is mentioned is the pentagram (which is mentioned just above) with which the invocation of the Goddess is finished. But just so you don't get the wrong picture, nothing bad is going on here. As soon as people see anything with the word "dark" in it (like darksome), they start jumping to conclusions. The first line simply talks about the good and bad side of the Goddess that all of us have. As divine and perfect as she may be, she also has a dark side which we have to be conscious of. The symbol of the scourge is closely related to this. The scourge usually has negative connotations, while the kiss almost always has good ones. This part of the ritual signifies the end of the drawing down the Moon and the beginning of the Charge of the Goddess which is done only by the High Priest and the High Priestess.
  • the HP stands to the left of the HPs and speaks the beginning of the Charge:
"Listen to the words of the Great Mother; she who of old was also called among men Artemis, Astarte, Athene, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Dana, Arianrhod, Isis, Bride, and by many other names."
  • the HPs continues:
"Whenever ye have need of any thing, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full, then shall ye assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of me, who am Queen of all witches. There shall ye assemble, ye who are fain to learn all sorcery, yet have not won its deepest secrets; to these will I teach things that are yet unknown. And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye be really free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in my praise. For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit, and mine also is joy on earth; for my law is love unto all beings. Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever towards it; let naught stop you or turn you aside. For mine is the secret door which opens upon the Land of Youth, and mine is the cup of wine of life, and the Cauldron of Cerridwen, which is the Holy Grail of immortality. I am the gracious Goddess, who gives the gift of joy unto the heart of man. Upon earth, I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal; and beyond death, I give peace, and freedom, and reunion with those who have gone before. Nor do I demand sacrifice; for behold, I am the Mother of all living, and my love is poured out upon the earth."
  • the HP now says:
"Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess; she in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven, and whose body encircles the universe." 
  • the HPs continues:
"I who am the beauty of the green earth, and the white Moon among the stars, and the mystery of the waters, and the desire of the heart of man, call unto thy soul. Arise, and come unto me. For I am the soul of nature, who gives life to the universe. From me all things proceed, and unto me all things must return; and before my face, beloved of Gods and of men, let thine innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite. Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you. And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the mystery; that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee. For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire."
 You can find quite a correct version of this poem in verse form on this website. This marks the end of the drawing down the Moon ritual, but before going on, I would like to explain a few things.

People often wrongly interpret the words in this poem or invert their meaning. One of the parts which often causes dilemmas consists of the following two lines:
"And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye be really free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in my praise."
I have already said several times on this blog that you don't have to be naked in your rituals if you don't feel comfortable that way. But, the fact is that nudity is completely natural. Modern society looks at the human body almost pornographically. The naked body has lost its enchantment and freshness and has become connected to feelings of shame, perversity and eccentricity. The human body used to be something completely normal that nobody was ashamed of. As it so happens, I have chosen that the only person who will see me naked is the person I love and I have stuck to that. If you have a certain reason for not wanting to be naked in your rituals, I support you!
The last thing I would like to discuss is the part where it says "make music and love". I think it's clear that music can be made in the ritual space using instruments, singing, clapping your hands, beating sticks etc., but what does "make love" mean? Well it certainly doesn't mean that you have to make love to someone during the ritual (so no, there are no orgies!). What this refers to is the fact that love should be expressed in the ritual. There should be no negative emotions in the sacred circle because we are talking about a celebration here, and we all know that negative emotions and bad moods just kill the whole atmosphere. Of course, there is another smaller ritual inside the main one which metaphorically shows us the importance of sexual intercourse and its sanctity, but remember that there is no actual, physical sexual intercourse in the circle.

But let us get back to the ritual...
We have covered the first ten points. After we have finished the Drawing down the Moon ritual and the Charge of the Goddess has been spoken, we have to do a few more things, including the invocation of the God.
  • the HP and HPs stand facing the altar with their arms raised in the position of the Horned God salutation (clenched fists with the little finger and forefinger up). The HP invokes the God:
"Great God (Cernunnos), return to earth again!
Come at my call and show thyself to men.
Shepherd of Goats, upon the wild hill's way,
Lead thy lost flock from darkness unto day.
Forgotten are the ways of sleep and night -
Men seek for them, whose eyes have lost the light.
Open the door, the door that hath no key,
The door of dreams, whereby men come to thee.
Shepherd of Goats, O answer unto me!"
I would like to note that this invocation (also taken from Janet and Stewart Farrar) isn't the whole thing. I left out a few things in order to simplify it for you. If you're interested in what the original looks like, you can find it here.

When this part is finished, the Witches' Rune can begin. This is a dance lead by the High Priestess with the goal of raising the energy in the circle. You dance in a circle or rather a spiral clockwise (deosil). This obviously can't be done if you are working alone, but there are other ways of raising energy, such as dancing, singing, mantras, visualizations and directing energy. In case you do have someone to dance with, I would like to explain how this works :)

So, each person has to hold hands so that their left palm is facing upwards and right palm downwards. The HPs leads the coven in a dance going spirally from the perimeter of the circle towards the middle clockwise. Nobody can let go of their hands until she says so. While everyone dances, the following song is sung:
"Darksome night and shining moon,
East, then South, then West, then North;
Hearken to the Witches' Rune -
Here we come to call ye forth!
Earth and water, air and fire,
Wand and pentacle and sword,
Work ye unto our desire,
Hearken ye unto our word!
Cords and censer, scourge and knife,
Powers of the witch's blade -
Waken all ye into life,
Come ye as the charm is made!
Queen of heaven, Queen of hell,
Hornèd hunter of the night -
Lend your power unto the spell,
And work our will by magic rite!
By all the power of land and sea,
By all the might of moon and sun -
As we do will, so mote it be;
Chant the spell and be it done!"
Again, I have simplified this version slightly, but you can find the full version with a few notes here, and as it turns out, many people have put it to music so you can even listen to it here

Anyway, when the HPs decides that the dancing has realized enough energy, she yells "Down!" and everyone falls to the ground. After this, everyone sits around in a circle (staying inside the consecrated space) facing inward. This is officially the ending of the Witches' Rune which is followed by the Sabbat/Esbat ritual (or both) and everything that goes with it, the cakes and wine part as well as the Closing ritual which includes the thanking of the God and Goddess, dismissing the Elements and closing the circle. If this part isn't clear enough for you, I suggest you read my "Ritual Form" post where all of this is explained. :)

To summarize, the Opening ritual consists of the following parts:
  1. Preparing the altar and ritual space
  2. Cleansing the water with salt
  3. Opening the circle with your athamé
  4. Marking the circle with the Elements
  5. Visualizing the protection of the circle
  6. Invoking the Elements
  7. Invoking the Goddess and God: Drawing down the Moon (the Fivefold Kiss+the Charge of the Goddess) + the invocation of the God
  8. Dancing the Witches' Rune
Everything that comes after the Rune falls under the main part of the ritual with differs too much from occasion to occasion for me to be able to describe it here.

So you don't think that too big an emphasis was put on the Goddess in the invocation, you have to know that a Drawing down the Sun ritual also exists. In this ritual, the High Priestess invokes the God into the body of the High Priest. A general invocation of the God does exist, as you saw in the previous invocation (which is called the Great God Cernunnos invocation), and for most of the Sabbats, some kind of invocation of the God does have to exist. But, this part is never as emphasized as the invocation of the Goddess since Wicca is, in fact, more Goddess-oriented. Nevertheless, a drawing down of the Sun does exist but that is a separate topic. It's important to note that Doreen Valiente believed that an invocation of some sort for the God similar to this one did exist, but that it was lost, like many other things.

I hope that I will have the chance to write about the Drawing down the Sun ritual some time, but until then, I guess I'll just have to occupy you with other things :)

Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

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