"Blessed be" - Meaning and Origins

In line with the meaning of this phrase, I wish you all infinite happiness and thank you for visiting my blog! :) 

The phrase "Blessed be" is the most frequently heard and spoken phrase in the Neopagan and Wiccan community. It is a common greeting among both the followers of these Pagan paths as well as many Witches.

The phrase may be familiar to some of you from other faiths because many of them accept the terms "blessings", "to bless" and similar notions into their practices. But what lies at the core of these words and phrases?

The root of the verb "bless" can be found in the Old English word bletsian (also spelt bledsian) "to consecrate, make holy, give thanks". It was used in Old English Bibles as a translation of two other verbs: the Latin benedicere and Greek eulogein which basically mean "to speak well of, to praise". These two verbs were, in fact, used to translate the Hebrew word brk which means "to bend (the knee), worship, praise, invoke blessings". It seems that a false etymology occurred because "bless" was connected to the word "bliss" (which is completely unrelated, although seems similar spelling-wise) and soon began to mean "pronounce or make happy". The noun "blessing" comes from the Old English bletsunga, bledsunge which basically means "a gift from God". In the 12th century, the adjective "blessed" (pronounced /ˈblesɪd/, which forms the center of the phrase I will be talking about) used to mean "supremely happy," or "consecrated" as I have indicated in the first paragraph.

And now that we're done with the boring etymological part of the post (which I love so much for some reason), it's time to get to the fun part! :D

You may be asking yourselves the following questions:

"When is it appropriate to say 'Blessed be' to someone?"

This phrase has become not only an essential part of rituals but also of everyday life of Pagans everywhere. It is now a greeting so you would say it to someone like saying "Hello" or "Goodbye". Some may find that this is inappropriate and believe that phrases such as these should be reserved only for rituals, but this is very individual. Generally speaking, nobody will take offense if you address them in this manner. 

Also, even if you're not Pagan yourself, Pagans will equally wholeheartedly accept this wish from you too. These words aren't only reserved for Pagans. :) 

You may come across an abbreviated version of the blessing: "BB" which is often used on the Internet. It can also stand for "Bright(est) blessing(s)" which is another version of "Blessed be" but is much younger in origin and doesn't come from the same source.

In rituals, these words often play either an introductory role or serve as a conclusion (mainly to various invocations/evocations) and are often used to either open or conclude a group ritual where they imply giving blessings and wishing your best to everyone present in the circle. Since we're on the topic of rituals, I believe it's time to say a few words about the history of this phrase.

"Where does the phrase originate from?"

It is usually believed that it originates form the ceremony of Drawing down the Moon in which the High Priest invokes the Goddess into the body of the High Priestess (as it is fitting for a woman to be a representative of the Goddess). I talked about this ritual in more detail in my previous post on the Opening Ritual but I will say a few more words on the subject here as well. 

The first part of the Drawing down the Moon ritual is the Fivefold kiss. Now this is where the phrase "Blessed be" really originates from. The ritual itself serves as a symbolic worshiping or reverence bestowed (usually) from the God to the Goddess. It is basically the ritual kissing (or another symbolic act) of five parts of the body (actually ten since they are mostly in pairs). The ritual is described in great detail in Janet and Stewart Farrar's wonderful book entitled The Witches' Bible (a previous version can be found on the Internet under the name Eight Sabbats for Witches), but this is basically how the ritual goes:
The High Priestess standing
in the Osiris position just
before the Fivefold kiss
  • the High Priestess stands 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 High Priest kneels in front of the High Priestess
  • the High Priest kisses the High Priestess 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 welcoming 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 (usually with two fingers), or he can place his hands in the blessing position and hover over the specific body part. This way, you can feel more comfortable, but the energy has still been transferred. If you're not familiar with the terminology used (for poses and gestures for example, you can find out more in this post).
  • While the High Priest 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 High Priestess gives the High Priest the Fivefold Kiss and she has to substitute "womb" with "phallus" and "made in beauts" with "made in strength".)

This part of the ritual is followed by the actual Drawing down the Moon and other shorter ceremonies which you can read about in the "Opening Ritual" post. But to return to our main topic, you may notice that the words "Blessed be" are mentioned five times in this ritual. In short, when someone says "Blessed be", this implies the whole ritual. Of course, not in the sense that it has just been enacted, but that all of these blessings are given. The mentioned body parts symbolize the entire person (both their physical and spiritual body) as well as the symbols and implications these body parts carry with them (e.g. the womb is a symbol of fertility, so one bestows the blessing of fertility when saying "Blessed be" and so on). In case you still have some questions about the Fivefold kiss, I think this video will explain it nicely (and in a very short time too!).

We can claim that the Fivefold kiss and Drawing down the Moon are a normal part of basically every group ritual and therefore, this phrase is a part of practically every ritual. Although, it isn't necessary to perform these rituals to be able to say the phrase. You can just as easily welcome the other coven into the circle by saying "Blessed be". You can also (and by the way, this is very common), end the calling of the quarters or any other invocations and evocations with this phrase. Basically, use it as a "hello" or "goodbye" in these contexts.

Gerald Gardner and the Fivefold kiss

Some claim that Gerald Gardner was the first one to use the phrase "Blessed be" in his (so called) fictional work entitled High Magic's Aid which was the first published book to openly describe a Pagan coven ritual. Since witchcraft and such practices were practically illegal at the time (and some other restrictions existed in addition to this), the book was published as a novel. Although, it was based on Gardner's personal experience with his coven. Do not be surprised if you don't see Gardner's name on the cover. As I mentioned, the circumstances at the time of publication were not really in his favor so he used the pseudonym "Scire" to protect himself and his privacy.

In this book, he describes the Fivefold kiss as follows:
"Suddenly he was pulled to a stop, at the south side of the altar, where he stood swaying, his head reeling. Morven struck eleven strokes on a little bell, then knelt at his feet, saying: "In other religions, the postulant kneels as the priests claim supreme power. But in the art magical, we are taught to be humble, so we say
(kissing his feet): Blessed be thy feet that have brought thee in these ways.
(kissing knees) Blessed be thy knees that shall kneel at the sacred altar.
(kissing phallus) Blessed be the organ of generation, without which we would not be.
(kissing breasts) Blessed be thy breasts, formed in beauty and in strength.
(kissing lips) Blessed be thy lips, which shall utter the sacred names.
I would ask any readers who are not familiar with Pagan rituals not to take anything out of context. You can find the full novel on the link above. This excerpt can be found on page 183.

This phrase has managed to find its way into another interesting story (actually, a myth):

The Legend of the Descent of the Goddess

Persephone and Hades: tondo 
of an Attic red-figured kylix
ca. 440–430 BC
This myth is centered around the symbolic descent of the Goddess down to the Underworld (which represents death). Stories such as these existed in Greek (the myth of Demeter and Kore), Egyptian (Isis and Osiris) and Norse mythology (Odin's hanging on Yggdrasil and looking down into the Well of Urd/Wyrd) as well as in Shamanic practices (where the character of the Guardian of the mysteries plays an important role as one has to pass him in order to face Death). These myths don't represent actual death but rather a confrontation of the individual with the fear of death (which must be conquered). It can also be connected to Jungian concepts of Anima/Animus (which are represented by figures such as the Guardian of the mysteries) and the Shadow (Death itself).

The story of the Descent of the Goddess is enacted during second-degree rituals in the Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions. During these rituals, the roles are assigned so that the High Priestess usually plays the role of the Goddess, the High Priest plays Death and the other characters are chosen accordingly, although this isn't a rule. There also has to be a narrator who speaks everything that is no in quotation marks. The story reads:
Now our Lady the Goddess has never loved, but she would solve all the mysteries, even the mystery of Death: And so she journeyed to the Underworld. The Guardians of the portals challenged her: 
“Strip of thy garments, lay aside thy jewels; for naught mayest thou bring with thee into this our land.” 
So she laid down her garments and her jewels, and was bound, as are all who enter the Realms of Death, the Mighty One. Such was her beauty that Death himself knelt and kissed her feet, saying: 
“Blessed be thy feet, that have brought thee in these ways. Abide with me; but let me place my cold hand on thy heart.” 
She replied: “I love thee not. Why dost thou cause all things that I love and take delight in to fade and die?” 
“Lady,” replied Death, “’tis age and fate, against which I am helpless. Age causes all things to wither; but when men die at the end of time, I give them rest and peace, and strength so that they may return. But thou! Thou art lovely. Return not; abide with me!” 
But she answered: “I love thee not.” 
Then said Death: “An thou receivest not my hand on thy heart, thou must receive Death’s scourge.” 
“It is fate—better so,” she said. And she knelt and Death scourged her tenderly. And she cried, “I feel the pangs of love.” 
And Death said, “Blessed Be!” and gave her the Fivefold Kiss, saying:“Thus only mayest thou attain to joy and knowledge.” 
And he taught her all the mysteries, and they loved and were one, and he taught her all the Magics. For there are three great events in the life of man: Love, Death, and Resurrection in the new body; and Magic controls them all. For to fulfil love you must return again at the same time and place as the loved one, and you must remember and love them again. But to be reborn you must die and be ready for a new body; and to die you must be born; and without love you may not be born; and this is all the Magics.

Of course, these aren't the only places you will come across the phrase, but they do form the basis of understanding the implications that go with it. You may see it in many other books, rituals and hear it during a ritual or Pagan meeting. All I hope is that you remember what you read here and recall the meanings and value of this phrase.

I am relieved to finally be able to say this to all of you with the confidence that you fully understand what I mean:

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