The Great Rite

According to one legend, in the very early days of Wicca Gerald Gardner considered using sex as a means of raising energy in ritual.  Realizing he was working primarily with the British middle class (who are every bit as uptight as their American counterparts) he settled on dancing instead.  But he kept sex in its rituals in the form of the Great Rite.

In every group ritual I’ve ever participated in, seen, read or heard about, the Great Rite has been celebrated “in token.”  The priestess raises her chalice while the priest lowers his athame and they come together with the words

“As the athame is to the male, so the cup is to the female;
and conjoined, they become one in truth.”

As with actual sex, when done with care and with love it is an act full of beauty and power.  But in a large open circle, there can be problems with inclusiveness.  The ritualized Great Rite is clearly heterosexual – what about the gay people in attendance?  What about those who aren’t in relationships?  Or what if the intent of the ritual is to promote individual growth?  How do you celebrate sacred union in a way that’s meaningful and inclusive?

I posed this question to Thorn Coyle, who suggested uniting the receptive with the directive.  From that idea came this variation on the Great Rite, which Denton CUUPS presented last night at our Beltane circle. 

The Great Rite (a variation)

Priestess and Priest move to main altar

Priest:  “Beltane is the last of the three Celtic festivals of Spring.  It is the season when the Maiden Goddess and the Young God unite in sacred marriage.  From that fertile union will come the crops of the fields, the fruits of the trees and vines, and new additions to the herds and flocks.  Beltane celebrates the union of the masculine with the feminine, but it also celebrates the union of fertile receptivity with virile directivity.”

Priestess:  “Each of us carries inside us undirected Will:  ideas, desires, inspiration – hopes and dreams waiting to be made manifest.  Each of us carries inside us receptivity:  fertile ground, nourishing water – work we are ready and able to do, if we only knew what to do. 

For our main working tonight we will unite the directive with the receptive inside each of us.

Please take a cup of water as they are passed around.” 

Servers carry trays with cups of water, distributing them to all.

Priest:  “This water represents the receptive within you.  Hold the cup before you in a gesture of receiving.  Gaze into it:  see the nourishing, nurturing aspects of yourself, waiting with the anticipation of a lover awaiting a beloved.”


Priestess:  “What is your True Will?  Not your whims or what you’ve been told you should want, but your Great Work – your mission in this life.  What desire burns in you night and day?  What is waiting to be directed, projected with the anticipation of a lover awaiting a beloved?”


Priest:  “Now, from your Third Eye, that spot within your forehead where your psychic awareness lies, project your True Will into the water.  See it entering the water, moving in the water, stirring it, shaking it.  See the water move in response, swirling and churning.”

Priestess:  “See the receptive and the directive in you joined together in sacred union.  See the new life, the new creation, sparked by the Will and nourished by the water.”


Priest:  “Now drink the water.  Feel it sinking into your body, being absorbed into your muscles, moving, spreading, growing.”


Priestess:  “That which was divided for Love’s sake has been reunited.  Through acts of Will and Love we are made whole, and from this sacred union great things are already growing.

Blessed be!”

All:  “Blessed be!”

The Great Rite (a variation) – by John Beckett, Denton CUUPS, Beltane 2011.
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