Posts Tagged ‘sex magick’
I recently underwent the mild trauma of my first bee sting. According to medieval French superstition, this means a stranger or a guest is en route. According to various ancient Mediterranean and Eastern European rituals, I ought to keep the poor little bumblebee. As the first bee I’ve personally encountered this year, he will bring me prosperity for the coming spring.
Bees, and the honey they so cleverly create, are sublimely steeped in magick and sacred ritual. From the dawn of time to the present, throughout religious turmoil, changing geopolitical borders, steps forward and steps back in morality and human behavior, bees and honey have been a mainstay of human society. Perhaps even more so than our canine companions, bees are man’s best friend (despite the occasional sting).
Though the relationship between man and bees is suspected to have begun earlier, the first appearance of bees in the archaeological record is in an Epipaleotlithic rock art depiction of a figure climbing a ladder to collect honey from a cluster of encircling bees in the Spider caves or Cuevas de la Araῆa, which date to approximately 8,000 years ago. So ancient is human involvement with bees, that the word for mead a( drink made from their honey), is so old that its base roots in proto-Indo European dialects affected its usage in a myriad of later tongues: from ancient Greek, to Sanskrit (where it is still used as madhu), to Chinese dialects and Old English, etc…The latter of which is where we get the current term of ‘mead.’
As the only natural sweetener humans of the Old World encountered until the Age of Exploration (circa 14th century AD, less than 700 years ago), when they discovered the wonders of sugar cane; honey had an early significance among the foods of the forest and later, the town. Typically, that significance falls into the sacred category. Honey appears prominently in early mythology, both as a physical offering of the gods and as something consumed by them. In ancient Babylonia, vows were sworn to the god of honey. Protection spells against evil magick made to the sorcerer-gods Ishtar and Marduk were sealed with gifts of honey. The Greek god Zeus, patriarch of his pantheon, was raised on the honey of sacred bees kept in the Cypriot cave he was raised in. The later Norse gods drank only magickal mead in their mythical Halls, as did the glorious dead they invited to join them there. In the ancient RigVeda, honey and soma are said to drip from the sacred fig tree which stands at the center of the universe. In other words, honey permeates world mythology, coating it in delicious sticky sweetness.
Human use of honey for ritual purposes is also significantly prevalent: from ancient times up until the modern day. Ancient texts and epigraphic evidence describe honey as a frequent offering to a variety of deities and spirits. It was either left out in a cup before an altar, poured on the ground as a libation, or burned. The Iliad describes its use as a funerary gift for the fallen warrior Patroclus. The Odyssey features it in Circe and Odysseyus’ necromantic ritual to ask advice of the spirit-seer Teiresias. The ancient Phoenicians would smear honey onto standing stones and burn it at their altars. The latter of which was later forboden by the Old Testament (Leviticus 2:11), indicating its former widespread use among the ancient Israelites and their attempt to cease such pagan rituals within their new, more monotheistic religion. The controversial use of honey within monotheistic rituals continued (almost begging the question ~ what is it about honey and bees that is so delightfully pagan the Church would consider it dangerous?), despite the initial covenant between God and Abraham featuring the promise of a land filled with milk and honey (Exodus 33:3). The Christian Synod of Auxere in 585 AD forbade the mixing of wine and honey (wine only!) for consecrated beverages. The Synod of 692 forbade the offering of milk and honey at saintly altars. The witch trials of the Burning Times occasionally centered around the magickal theft of honey by presumed witches who were charged both with the theft by demonic means and the use of the stolen honey for nefarious Sabbaths. Ironically, however, the art of beekeeping was most well developed in the Catholic monasteries of the early Medieval period.
Honey (and therefore bees) are particularly associated with happiness and sensuality of love and life. Honey was wildly popular in the ancient world as an aphrodisiac. The famous first doctor Hippocrates advocated the taking of milk and honey to induce love and ecstasy. The making and gifting of honeycakes, particularly in Eastern European traditions, was associated with rituals of courtship and romance. Conveniently, the use of honey, as advocated by the Kama Sutra, has resurfaced in the modern world; returning to its rightful place in erotic magicks. The prevalence of the term ‘honeymoon’ is a further continuing reflection of the associations between honey and the sacred act of sex and bond of marriage. With the exception of certain sub-Saharan tribes, honey has prevalently been considered a particularly suitable wedding gift and a particularly beneficial substance to be consumed at weddings, particularly by the bride and groom. The threshold of the honeymoon suite or first home of a couple is likewise best smeared with an offering of honey to encourage prosperity. Certain areas of Germany still perpetuate the ancient practice of decorating local beehives in honor of a wedding, so that the bees which created the honey for the wedding feast might also partake in the festivities.
On the flip side, honey has often been associated with death. The earlier discussed passages of the Iliad and Odyssey aptly reflect ancient usages of honey in death rituals: namely as offerings to the deceased and in death-involved magick. Funerary and spirit gifts were made of honey, logically, to literally sweeten the deal and the afterlife beyond. Honey was often used to bathe the dead prior to burning or burial. This is especially evident in ancient Egypt, where a ritual honey bath was a part of the expensive mummification process. The deceased are still offered a teaspoon of honey in some modern Hindu funerary rituals, often so that their language might be sweet and powerful in the next stage of existence.
The medicinal uses of honey, as a curative (i.e. to prevent death and discomfort, thereby increasing the likelihood of love and life ~ all of which it is associated with), are also noted in both ancient and modern sources. Its properties as an antiseptic for wounds made it a particularly powerful magickal curative in ancient poultices and medications, evidence for which is outlined from Egyptian magickal-medico texts onwards. The soothing nature of its consumption eases sore throats. Its quick metabolic dispersal rate makes it easy to digest and transfers a considerable amount of comparative energy to the consumer. Recent studies also indicate that consumption of local honey may ease certain allergies via an increased familiarity with the pollens used to create the honey.
Be it for medicinal or magickal purposes, honey is a potent ingredient. As one of the most natural and sacred of binding agents, it can be employed to increase the strength of any concoction. Its utility as a biological offering increases its power as an offering to the gods, and especially to localized house spirits. Spring offerings of honey are particularly effective, especially with regards to the latter creatures.
Bees, as the architects of honey and as creative industrial creatures in their own right, are also due considerable respect. Indeed, the bee, perhaps alone among insects, has been offered its own respected role within mankind’s understanding of ecology. The bee’s complex social formations and patterns of organization have long been lauded: from New Testament references to the honeycomb up through the social theorists of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Though rarely revered as deities in their own right, the bee as a provider of sweet goods to humans has been recognized from the designation of the Lower Kingdom of Egypt as the Land of the Bees, to modern usage of the bees image on consumer goods (like the Honey Nut Cheerios Bumble Bee). Though typically adverse to insects, the bumble is one of the odd exemptions: perhaps simply because there is something innately magickal to them which resonates with the magickal within all of us.
Black Bags and Wrapping Paper: Magickally Warding off Evil One Tinsel Bow and Strip of Scotch Tape at a Time
I’ve been unpacking my suitcases the last few days and am bemused by how many plastic shopping bags I acquired over the past three months of excavation out in the deserts of the Middle East. And while the plastic bags from the cities of Jordan do often follow the same Safeway, Target, boutique store X model; the bags from the smaller stores, and especially the stores out in the boondocks middle of nowhere (like where the dig I work with is based): are all black. No logo, no design, no nothing. Just black. Initially I had thought this was a question of economy. That some black bag producing mini-wonder had cornered the Middle Eastern bag market. But actually, it turns out, it is mostly a question of superstition and folk magick.
The black bags of Jordan are not simply bags. They are a practical device which also wards off evil spirits and bad intentions. They are modern pieces of protection magick practiced by a living culture.
Local superstition holds that if someone were to see what you had purchased (i.e. if you were just carrying it around or used a more see-through type of bag), their envious Evil Eye could curse your purchase. And so when you went to drink your soda or use your shampoo, the bad luck cast upon the item would transfer onto you for having utilized it. The black bag keeps your purchases secret, safe from the nefarious Evil Eye which so haunts the Eastern Mediterranean imagination and customs.
It’s bad enough when You use the cursed object, but its deemed particularly bad form in Jordanian culture to pass on any jinxed purchases. And thus, when you present a gift to your friends, neighbors, or in the case of this past season: your local awesome Department of Antiquities representative; you promptly hand over your gift still in its black bag, and just after you enter their home but before you are introduced to the rest of the household in the ubiquitous social room of their house. The black bag keeps the evil energy of onlookers at bay while outside, but once inside, a quick opening of the present at the doorway is still necessary, lest other guests watch you unwrap the gift and curse it in the tiny window remaining before ownership is firmly transferred.
The formality of the black bag social customs initially struck me as quite a deliciously bizarre facet of modern Jordanian culture. But then it occurred to me that really, western culture is no different. We just wrap our presents in much more expense, even more highly stylized formats. Birthdays and the long list of fabulous winter holidays up for celebration (we do them all in my family) are not complete without some well-wrapped presents. And while much of the importance of the wrapping is placed on the idea of keeping the gift a surprise, realistically: the tradition of and psychology behind wrapping gifts is literally all wrapped up (pardon the pun) in that same idea of controlling the kinds of thought focused onto the gift. Once its unwrapped, the gift is open to all kinds of judgment: from the recipient and from those at the unwrapping. Let’s face it, it’s hard not to immediately judge a gift once given: Was it the right gift for that person? Did the recipient give an equally appropriate gift back to the giver or did they spend more or less money on their gift? Isn’t that just like what so and so got for such and such? All of these swarms of thoughts are out there, presumably affecting the now naked gift. It makes sense to keep it under wraps for as long as possible, just to keep all the potentially negative energies at bay.
It is almost conceivable that the brightly colored, intricate wrapping paper which is used for gifts in the western world adds some good energy to the gift. In such situations where ‘it’s the thought that counts,’ surely a thought that comes with spangly, glittering wrapping paper and bows counts a bit more. Be it stupidly expensive designer wrapping paper or cleverly done up comic books (hipster style!): that bit of extra energy that goes into a lovely wrapping job, that extra dollop of creative good will may well be a form of psychological magick in and of itself. Not only does it feel good to give beautifully looking gifts, it feels good to get them. If the energy of the gift can be altered by the wrapping, it makes sense that the joy of a well-wrapped, well intentioned gift would invoke good energy just as much as it protects against the envious Evil Eye.
So ladies and gentleman, bust out your mini-baubles, your ribbon fringers, your fancy labels, and colored tape. And send out positive energy as you wrap your presents this holiday season. It adds a little bit more magick to every gift you give!
P.S. It’s good to be back in the states (and with working internet!) More blogs on the past few months of archaeology and anthropology-tastic travel, as well as a slew of holiday topics and History of Witches in the Western World promos coming soon! So watch this space! xxx
This past week a group of Israeli archaeologists uncovered a particularly stunning and intriguing group of ancient ritual vessels dating to approximately 3,500 years ago. The objects were found at a site whose name and location have not officially been released in order to avoid looters, which is reportedly just south of Haifa on Jordan’s coast. Based on the vague structural patterns discerned so far, namely a step or potentially a series of steps leading into a natural hollow in the landscape, it either represents a small rustic temple or the merely the ceremonial resting place of the ritual vessels associated with a presumably nearby undiscovered temple: only further excavation will reveal which. The cache of remarkable and intact objects features, among a variety of other things: a cultic incense burner, a particularly beautiful cultic cup featuring the face of a woman (pictured), storage vessels for sacred oils, and a series of flatware, presumably for feasts. All of these vessels were deliberately, and carefully, buried; which has left them particularly intact, a rarity among pottery from this tumultuous time period (trust me on that one, I once excavated a piece of Iron Age cultic incense burner of a similar make from a nearby site and am entirely jealous that they’ve found a complete one). The archaeologists attached to the site, Uzi Ad and Dr. Edwin van den Brink, speculate that these ritual vessels were most likely entombed as such for one of two reasons. Either the local Iron Age chaos of the region threatened the objects, and potentially their temple; and they were subsequently hidden and no one ever came back for them. Or the cult or temple they were associated with fell out of favor, and the items were ritualistically buried as a sort of funerary sacrament for the defunct religion. Overall, it’s an exceptional and exciting find and one which has prompted me to explore the origin and nature of the ritual vessel in more depth.
The Psychology & Origin of the Idea of a “Cup”
Imagine yourself back in the good ole hunter-gatherer days. You sleep in caves and outdoors, you subsist off the land entirely, you move around a lot. You have few worldly possessions, and what you do have you use to hunt with. But what do you store your food and water in? Think about it. You kneel down at a nice lil’ gurgling creek and scoop out water with your hands, but you don’t get very much water. You try using leaves. But while the big leaves are useful for carrying those pesky berries you’ve been collecting for dinner, the water spills out when you travel over long distances and you can’t set it down to drink it later. You need something more substantial. And thus the cup was inevitably born. Cups and bowls carved from rock and wood, made from animal bladders and bone, and molded from clay and metal would have revolutionized the business of eating, living, and yes, praying, for the ancient man (and woman).
It seems like such a simple idea to the modern world. We’ve grown up with the idea of containment: with cardboard boxes, plastic bags, and the convenience of rolling suitcases. You’ve had bottles, sippy cups, wine goblets, champagne flutes, soup bowls, mixing bowls, and all sorts of useful containers around since infancy. But in a world just evolving and creating these things, consider the importance of that initial cup or bowl. The magick it must have held for its creators. You put something in it and it stays. It captures things inside and doesn’t let it out. It is as if you have made a permanent new set of hands, separate from yourself, which can hold the water you were trying to drink from that rambling stream much better than you can. And on top of that, there is simply the act of creation itself. Where once there was nothing, you have made something. You have given birth to this tiny little creature made from mud that can do your bidding and hold your water, grapes, seeds, and what have you. It’s quite a novel concept. Often it is the first creation of fire that is seen as the dawn of civilization, I suggest that it was the first cup instead.
It is difficult to pinpoint the evolution of the idea of the cup and other similar vessels and match them up with the human timeline; but it seems likely that its widespread use was a hunter-gatherer, homo sapien sapien phenomenon. Vessels, especially tiny oil lamps, begin appearing in the archaeological record alongside the infamous cave paintings of continental Europe. In order to light their way around the darkened caves to paint their lovely animals, bird-men, and hunting scenes, these early men and women took little bowls of lit oil in there with them. Archaeologically speaking, where the negative items in the record often are more significant than those we have evidence from, if such bowls were being used to such novel usage then and are accidentally preserved as such, it is likely that by this time the vessel was in much more mainstream usage and that few of these everyday cups and bowls remain for archaeologists to find.
With the advent of pottery about 18,000 years ago, bowls, cups, and other vessels appear more regularly in the archaeological record. From then on much of the archaeological record itself is actually determined entirely by the styles and types of pottery being created. When a man is found with a handled cup with a wide lip archaeologists can estimate he lived circa X thousand years ago, whereas when a man is found with a shallow bottomed bowl with a rippled top edge, scholars can say that he was approximately from Y thousand years ago. It’s a system called typology and it’s been a boon to archaeologists for the past two centuries, one which admittedly is being reevaluated and expanded with the advent of technologies like radiocarbon dating which can test the dating sequences in real time.
The Specialization of the Ritual Vessel
But then, like any priceless item, the value of cups and bowls become distinctly overlooked once there are many of them. Anthropologically, psychologically, and even economically speaking, when we start having plates and windows and cars made out of diamonds, we’ll stop valuing them as highly as we do. And the same thing happened to the once special “cup”. If everyone has something that can hold water, oil, or food it stops being a special invention. It stops being a magickal object of supernatural power and just becomes an everyday item. Or so it seems.
Humans, however, are keen on the specialization of things; and when applied to a civilization’s seemingly uninteresting cups and bowls, this penchant for specializing and using certain items for specific uses makes for quite a more interesting story. Just as we now have the dinner plate versus the side plate, the wine glass versus the coffee mug, so too the early civilizations had a variety of types of vessels. And to some of them, they ascribed that earlier wonder they once felt for this ‘idea of the cup,’ and these became the ritual vessels of the title.
The cups, bowls, and plates for offerings became imbued with the power of the offering, they too were part of the ceremony, part of the power between the supplicant and the god and/or goddess. In richer communities where there were many containment vessels, specific vessels were made ONLY for ritual use: be this holding sacred oil for temple fires, perfumes to anoint statues of the gods with, or carrying the special bits of sacrificial meat up to your nearby temple in. Often these ritual vessels have particularly ornate decoration carved or painted on them. These decorations range from simple designs to more complicated imagery, including the occasional image of the vessel being used in rituals on the vessel itself or an inscription describing the ritual or spell the vessel was intended to partake in. Ritual vessels are often more decorated than was typical for everyday rough and ready vessels which were far more likely to break through constant usage and handling. Ritual vessels on the other hand, were set apart from other objects and used only in special circumstances and therefore in a certain sense “lived” longer. They could be passed down through generations as well, imbuing them with further oomph via associations with ancestors and their worship, a huge part of early ritual and one which has persisted in various forms into the modern world.
So, the next time you bust out your grandmother’s china for Thanksgiving dinner, raise a glass in a toast, or just simply take a sip from your coffee cup: take a second to realize the remarkable meaning and journey of the vessel you’re using and the power it once, and could still, wield.
For more on the Israeli discovery, click here.
So as we’ve talked about, The Great Rite is the union of the God and Goddess in the sacred marriage. The ritual itself pulls from many ancient cultural and their various acts of sympathetic magick to honor the union of the God and Goddess to ensure fertility. It is an act that can either be done in actuality (also called “in truth”) or in token, and is considered one of the most important and most sacred of Wiccan rituals as it truly does embody the core essence of Wicca, the joining of the God and Goddess. The rite is often performed by the High Priest and High Priestess of the coven, or it can be enacted by another couple deemed fit by the group, and it is also part of the Third Degree initiation in many Wiccan traditions when the initiate is brought into the Mysteries of this degree by participating in this rite. When performed in truth the rite is performed, in private sacred space, by the High Priest and High Priestess, while when done it token it is often performed with all members of the coven participating to lend their energy and blessings as well. This ritual, as we’ll be talking about today, is Wiccan in nature though it is thought its roots can be found in some of the OTO rituals and the Gnostic Mass.
First let’s look at the different ways that The Great Rite in token. What this means is that the rite will be performed in a purely symbolic way; as this is an act of sex magick, rather than two people actually having intercourse, a receptive tool will be used to symbolize the womb and vagina while a phallic item will be used to represent the penis. Most commonly this is done with a chalice and athame, however I have heard of it being performed with a wand or rod in place of the athame (this would be considered completely untraditional by many practitioners, but in the neo-Wiccan and solitary practice of “do what works”, it certainly could be one way of performing this rite). Who holds which item is something that can go either way depending on the specific symbolism that you are going to work within your rite. It is common for the High Priest/male participant to hold the athame and the High Priestess/female participant to hold the chalice. However some will do the opposite in order to further work with the aspect of gender and energetic polarity through the rite. As this is a ritual of bringing together two halves to create a whole, this is one way to work with it and to further create an inner balance of the two. But again, it is more common for the female to work with the Goddess aspect and the male to work with the God aspect.
Beyond the decision of who is going to hold which ritual tool and perform which act, the truly important part of this rite is invoking the God and Goddess into one another. It is important to keep in mind that as this ritual, whether in truth or in token, centers on the act of both embodying deity and connecting the polar energies of deity together for creation, both the Priest and Priestess need to draw into themselves the essence of the God and Goddess and then that energy is incorporated into the more simple act of plunging the athame into the chalice. There are a few ways that this can be done; one way to work this is to have the male recite an invocation to the Goddess and then ritually direct that energy into the Priestess and then the Priestess does the same for the Priest, drawing the God into him. There is a method that is commonly known and still used as part of The Great Rite in both forms, an invocation known as the Five Fold Kiss.
The Five Fold Kiss
The Five Fold Kiss is a blessing used before the actual and symbolic Great Rite as a way of acknowledging that the Priestess is the embodiment of beauty, femininity, and is Goddess. This also helps to increase the level of spiritual awareness of the Priestess to help her tap into and truly feel the power of the Goddess flow through her, as well as to help those present truly see her as the embodiment of the Goddess for this rite.
While this is most commonly seen as being given from a male to a female there is a female to male version as well which I’ll include as well for the sake of giving more insight into it blessing. In the case of The Great Rite however, the only version of the Five Fold Kiss commonly seen is that given to the Priestess from the Priest.
The Priestess stands before the altar and the Priest begins by kneeling at her feet and then he will stand during the process, typically placing his hands on her hips. The Priest kisses the Priestess on both feet, both knees, the womb, both breasts and on the lips, starting with right of each pair. As he does this the following invocation is used:
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.
The aforementioned Priestess to Priests version, which includes a kiss to both feet, both knees, phallus, both breasts, and lips, also starting with the right of each pair, uses the following invocation:
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 phallus, without which we would not be.
Blessed be thy breasts, formed in strength.
Blessed be thy lips, that shall utter the Sacred Names.
The next steps will vary based on how the rite will be performed. Will it be in long form or short form? Will it be more traditional or less formal?
Traditional Great Rite
When performed in a more formal or traditional way, which is also a long version of the rite, the Priestess lays down and a veil is placed over her. The Priest kneels at her feet and a female circle member brings the athame from the altar and stands by the Priestess and a male member brings the chalice and stands on the opposite side of the Priestess. This symbolizes woman as the altar, as the place where all magick and creation springs from. The Priest then recites an invocation which begins with several lines which express this:
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 centre is the origin of all things,
Therefore should we adore it;
Therefore whom we adore we also invoke.
After the full invocation, the Priest then removes the veil, handing it to the female who then hands him the athame. The Priestess then rises to her knees so she is kneeling before the High Priest and she is given the chalice. The Priest then 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 Priest kisses the 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 Priestess then holds up the chalice and the Priest lowers the point of the athame into the chalice which is commonly filled with red wine (different groups will use different liquids such as mead, while some will use water as it is considered to be one of the most sacred liquids of all).
The Priestess says:
Here where Lance and Grail unite,
And feet, and knees, and breast, and lip.
The Priest gives the athame to the female covener and then places both his hands around the hands of the Priestess as she holds the chalice and then kisses her and she sips from the cup. In turn she kisses him and he then sips, all the while both keep their hands together holding the chalice. The Priest then takes the chalice and they both stand. Then the Priest will begin the passing of the chalice. In a traditional coven, where all acts are done male to female and female to male, the Priest will start this by passing the chalice to the a female in circle with a kiss and then she to a male with a kiss and so on until the chalice comes back to the Priest.
Next the cakes or bread are consecrated, which is done by the male and female members who assisted in the wine blessing. The woman takes the athame, the man the dish, and he kneels before her holding the dish up to her. She then draw an earth invoking pentagram over the dish 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 athame is placed on the altar and the woman takes the dish and, with a kiss passes it to the man, then he passes it back with a kiss, and then the woman begins the passing of the cakes, by giving the dish to another male in the circle with a kiss.
Traditional Great Rite in Truth
The above is the rite in token. The rite in truth changes at the point where the Priestess would rises to her knees. After the invocation is said by the Priest, all other members will either leave the room, in some cases they simply turn their backs to give some privacy to the Priest and Priestess in the center of the circle and they face outward and the Priestess remains laying down. The Priest recites another piece of the invocation and then kisses the Priestess in the sign of the Third Degree (according to the public Gardnerian version of the rite). The next portion of invocation includes the following verse:
Foot to foot
Knee to knee
Lance to grail
Breast to breast
Lips to lips.
At the point where the Priest says “Lance to grail”, if this section is used in the rite in token, the athame would be placed in the chalice. If the rite is being done in truth, this would be the point of physical union.
Now, this is very much a traditional Wiccan method of doing this and is the publicly know version that is often said to be Gardnerian in nature. This is not a version of The Great Rite that you are likely to see at your next community open Sabbat. You’re more likely to see something one of these. (The above version specifically comes from Janet and Stewart Farrar’s “The Witches’ Bible Complete”.)
Common Long and Short Form Rite
The difference between long and short from rites in a less traditional setting is the amount of wording used. The intention and the act of calling the God and Goddess within one another is most often still there. I do personally find that when it isn’t this portion of ritual is more of an act of blessing the wine and cakes than a true Great Rite. Remember, this is about calling on and honoring the God and Goddess and the act of union and creation. If this is missing, then this isn’t so much enacting The Great Rite, even in token, and is just more an act of asking for the ritual offerings to be blessed (and while this is fine, it’s just important to understand the difference, as this is one of the reasons that, beginners especially, can become confused by what is what in rituals). Here are several different wordings, but notice how the essence remains the same as the traditional version, even with the shorter invocations.
The Priestess holds the athame and the Priest raises the chalice in offering to her (this can also be reversed or they can each place a hand on the chalice and a hand on the athame). She inserts the point of the athame into the chalice and together they say:
As the athame is to the male, so the cup is to the female, and conjoined they bring blessedness.
Another version of the wording is:
HP: As the athame is to the male,
HPS: So the chalice is to the female,
Together they say: And conjoined they be one in truth, for there is no greater power In all the worlds, Than that of a man and a woman, Joined in the bounds of love, From which all life comes forth.
HP: Athame to Chalice
HPS: Spirit to Flesh
HP: Man to Woman
HPS: As the God and Goddess within.
Together (or all members in circle): Conjoined they bring blessedness to life.
For the sake of completeness, I’ll include here a cake blessing as you might see it in a public ritual as well. The Priestess takes the athame and pierces the bread loaf or places it over the food on the plate which is being held by the Priest and says:
We break bread to share in fellowship
As our ancestors have done
Since the dawn of agriculture
Breathe in the spirit of the Earth,
The Sun, the Rain, and the Fire,
Bound together for our nourishment.
Once both the bread and wine are consecrated through The Great Rite in token they are passed around the Circle, often the wine carried by the Priest and the bread by the Priestess, though this varies from group to group, using the blessings “May you never thirst” and “May you never hunger” upon presenting the items to each individual in the Circle. In return they will reply “Nor you”.
When you’re doing ritual in a solitary setting, you shouldn’t feel as though you can’t work this rite. As I talked about in the first part of this article yesterday, you need to remember that you hold within yourself both male and female energies regardless of what gender your physical body is, regardless of what your sexual preference is; you are an expression of both halves of the whole in a divine temple given to you by the Gods to house that spirit for a time. Call up and draw on both of those polarities and draw them into the rite for yourself.
In the sense of how to perform the rite, you can do one of two things. You can hold the chalice in your left hand and the athame in the right hand; the left side is the feminine side, the side where we place the Goddess on the altar, and the left is the masculine side and the side on the altar for the God. Hold the chalice up in the right hand while speaking the invocations of the Goddess and the athame while speaking the invocations of the God and then joining them together can be a simple yet effective way for a solitary to work with this rite. Again, it’s about your focus and intent. Don’t just recite an invocation during this, truly feel it. Feel the presence of the Goddess and the God and feel the power of their union when the tip of the athame goes into the chalice.
The other way you can do this, as a solitary is quite simple; place the chalice in the center of your altar and then use both hands on the athame.
Does it matter of the rite is done in token or actuality? That would truly depend on who you ask, but if the intention is clear, if your focus is to honor the deity resident within yourself and your ritual partner, then you’re doing the right thing and in token the rite fulfills its purpose. The biggest concern is that many people have started to move through the motions of The Great Rite as just a blessing for cakes and ale. This is a rite to unlock the Mysteries, and regardless of whether you’re a solitary or training in a coven this can be a rite to truly aid you in elevating your spirituality and your connection to the Gods.
Rowan’s Note: I have decided to break this article down into two posts in order to give it the attention that it truly deserves. In today’s post, part 1, I will discuss what The Great Rite is, the purpose and some of the history. Tomorrow, in part 2, we’ll talk about the actual rituals. Because this is a rite that is not fully understood by many, and one that many solitary practitioners often miss out on really learning, I wanted to take the time to explore it as deeply as possible here. So be sure to tune into tomorrow’s blog post as well. Blessed Be!
One of the rituals that once took center stage in many Wiccan traditions has today become a
The Great Rite is related to the hieros gamos, Greek for “holy marriage” and is such also known by the name The Sacred Marriage. Hierogamy is the union of a Goddess and God in ritual, specifically through a symbolic act, often one that takes place with two representative elements such as a male enacting the role of the God and a female enacting the role of Goddess. In Wicca these roles are often held by the High Priest and High Priestess though in circles and covens where there is no traditional hierarchy any male or female member who is deemed to be spiritually fit for such an act may perform the rite. In some Traditional Wiccan covens, such as those practicing the British traditions, the act of participating in The Great Rite for the first time can be part of the Third Degree initiation as it is seen as being an introduction into the great Mystery of creation and the Mystery of birth and even death.
The Great Rite, at its core, is an act which celebrates the union of polarities. It is the bringing together of male and female energies, the God and Goddess within us as well as outside of us through intention, while honoring the creation that comes from this. Make no mistake that The Great Rite is a ritual act of fertility, as this is what creation stems from. Before really understanding the act as a ritual, we need to understand the symbolism and the purpose behind it. To best understand The Great Rite as a fertility rite, we can look back to the fertility rites in Paleolithic times to see how symbolism and ritual come together as an act of magick.
During this era, around 23,000 BC, people saw the Gods as being inherent in all things and the view of animism was strong; the Gods were seen in the winds, the rains, the fire, the mountains, the rocks, the trees, etc. But the most important of the Gods where the God of the Hunt and the Goddess of Fertility. These two allowed for the tribes to survive, live and thrive. The God of the Hunt was important because if the tribes weren’t successful in their hunts, they would go hungry, but without the Goddess of Fertility ensuring that the animals were fruitful then there couldn’t be a hunt to begin with. The God and Goddess had to work together to provide for the tribes and ensure their success as a people. This made these Gods of the highest importance to them and therefore they were honored and prayed to through various acts of sympathetic magick. This included things such as creating clay animals with horns to represent the animals being hunted and in a ritual way showing the animals mating to ensure their fertility which would later be followed the a symbolic ritual hunt where a member of the tribe would be dressed in the skins and furs of an animal the tribe hoped to capture, and then symbolically hunt and kill the “animal” representing their success.
About 5,000 years later when agriculture became part of tribal society the Goddess of Fertility became even more important. This is also believed to be around when the year was divided into two halves, summer and winter. The Goddess had dominance during the sumer as she would be seen as vital to the fertility and abundance of the crops to ensure that had all they would need. The God became critical for them in the winter months when crops weren’t available and hunting animals became the only other food source. Eventually the societies began to develop methods for storing crops and the Goddess began to become even more important as she was now looked to to provide not only for the present need but also to provide enough to store after the last harvest as a supplement to the winter hunts.
While in these early times of existence man did not understand his specific role in the creation process; it was seen as a great mystery and woman as see as very powerful as she was able to bleed without dying (i.e. menstruation) and she created life (i.e. birth). How man fit into the creation of life wasn’t know to them but when it was later understood, sex magick, as we would call it together, soon began to become part of these rites of sympathetic magick. Man and woman would gather in the fields at spring time to have intercourse, knowing (or at least at the time knowing, as we know now there is no guarantee of conception) that they would create life through their act and therefore this would encourage the fields and crops to be fertile and multiply as well.
As Merlin Stone states in her book When God was a Woman, “In the worship of the female deity, sex was Her gift to humanity. It was sacred and holy.” And as we see in The Charge of the Goddess “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” So these acts, especially when held in the sense of honoring the divine, like in the instance above, they were seen as holy acts horning woman as Goddess and sex as sacred.
Today The Great Rite becomes another way of honoring this Mystery and this creative force. The Great Rite brings together the forces of polarity, the male and female, in order to ensure the fertility and continuation of man through a symbolic act of sexual union. However The Great Rite is seen in two distinct forms, that of the rite in actuality and the rite in token. For most of us we have seen this rite done in token many times, in either a short form, which is common in public rituals, or in long form, more commonly done in closed coven settings.
The Great Rite in actuality, however, is just as one would imagine. It is an act of sex magick embodied in the physical act of intercourse between a man and woman in sacred space. This is where the ritual has, in some ways, become misunderstood and in some cases even perverted by those who are not true to the path, not understanding of the Mysteries, and plain unethical about the Craft. The Great Rite is not an excuse to have sex with whomever in your ritual circle you wish to without consequence. It is also not intended to be a voyeuristic event for the whole coven to observe, though this isn’t to say that this doesn’t happen. Each coven is its own governing body and can decide how each ritual act will be carried out and how participation is incorporated, however it is more common that the physical act of ritual intercourse take place in private, with the coven escorted out of the sacred space beforehand.
Ideally the act rite in actuality is performed by a couple who are already involved in a consenting, loving relationship where sexual activity takes place. Again, this isn’t to say that other arrangements don’t happen. There are situations where a working, magickal relationship between a High Priest and High Priestess may include The Great Rite in actuality even though the two are not in a personal, romantic relationship. This is something that is, again, part of a consenting and adult relationship.
I have spoken with only a few people that have ever had this sort of arrangement in their coven and each time the individual has been in long term personal relationships with another practitioner who understands that this is a ritual act that takes place in a magickal mindset and in sacred space and they see it as a ritual act rather than a casual sexual act and therefore it is allowed in the relationship. In each of these instances as well the High Priest and High Priestess have been together in their magickal partnership for many, many years and know each other on a very deep level and work together in a special way; and in one of these instances the coven only ever observed The Great Rite in actuality at Beltane, as well as at Samhain in some groups, while performing it in token throughout the rest of the year. Whether or not this is something you may agree with or see as a correct way of honoring your partner or yourself is for you to personally decide, but it is never our place to judge the personal and ritual acts and decisions of another.
In tomorrow’s post we’ll look at some of the rituals used, talk about the symbolism in some of these long and short forms of The Great Rite and discuss how important focus, intention and understanding ones part in the rite becomes in turning what is often seen as just another step of ritual into a powerful glimpse at the Great Mysteries.