The Great Rite is in contemporary Witchcraft, a powerful, magical rite of sexual intercourse that pays homage to the male/female polarity that exists in all things in the universe. The Great rite expresses the physical, mental, spiritual and astral union between man and woman, and the union of the Goddess and God.
The Great rite is the hieros gamos, the Sacred marriage or Holy matrimony, which is union with a deity or godhead. It dates to the Neolithic era. Ancient kings required the hieros gamos, a union with a priestess representing the Goddess, in order to rule. The hieros gamos also was part of ancient women’s mysteries, in which women sacrificed control of their feminine power to the Goddess and were renewed by her. It was part of the mysteries of Isis and reportedly was part of the Eleusinian mysteries.
The Great rite represents the inner marriage of the soul and spirit, Ego and Self. As an Initiation, it represents the gateway to individuation, or becoming whole. It also releases great power, which may be directed for magical purposes; it is one of the Eightfold Paths to magical power in the Craft.
Depending on the tradition, the Great rite is performed within a magic circle at Initiations (such as the third-degree initiations in the Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions), seasonal festivals (see Wheel of the Year) and Handfastings. The high priest and high priestess may perform the Great rite together. As part of an initiation, the rite is done between the initiate and high priest or high priestess. It is done either “in token,” that is, symbolically with ritual tools (such as an athame inserted into a chalice), or “in true,” as a sexual act. If done in true, the participating couple usually are intimate partners. An outer portion of the rite is done with the coven, and the sexual portion is done privately.
Gerald B. Gardner had the Great rite performed with the coven watching. Gardner also favored ritual scourging as part of the rite, a practice which has fallen out of favor.
FURTHER READING :
- Crowley, Vivianne. Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millennium. Revised ed. London: Thorsons/Harper Collins, 1996.
- Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. A Witches Bible Compleat. New York: Magickal Childe, 1984.
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