Witchcraft Or Healing? Hieros Gamos Described In Paganism And Wicca
Today, in the second part of the series on Hieros Gamos, we explore mysterious traditions and beliefs that have surrounded and shaped Wiccan society and related cultures like Paganism.
While even in modern times, sex is a topic which can make many people uncomfortable to talk about it, many ancient cultures considered it as a form of life itself. Honouring its reproductive nature and spiritual connect, the Wiccans used it in times of communal distress and conducted the ritual as a means to find relief from their troubles. The Great Rite could be conducted either symbolically or practically by the High Priest and High Priestess within a sacred circle. In the symbolic version, the High Priestess would dip the athame, the ceremonial blade into a chalice which was filled with wine and held by the High Priest. The union of the chalice and blade depicted the union of the Maiden Goddess with the Lover God and was viewed as an act of creation in itself. This creation referred not only to the creation of the Universe, but also creation of the Godhead (spirit). This divine union was purported to attract the spiritual forces and bestow the society with fertility, fortune and the power to overcome its difficulties.
The Great Rite could not be performed by just anyone, as it was a consensual act conducted between two people who were already committed to each other. It was usually performed between people of equal stature in the society and moreover required a good deal of knowledge and understanding about the practice. Therefore it was usually limited to the High Priest and High Priestess who had to undergo a training period similar to a degree system to attain their post in the society. In fact, in some Wiccan traditions, one could attain the Third Degree and become a High Priest and High Priestess only after conducting the Great Rite. The Great Rite was performed during other occasions as well, such as handfastings (a traditional engagement ceremony which also served as a trial marriage) or seasonal festivals. One famous festival was the May Day festival Beltane, during which the ritual was performed to seal the chances of a good harvest, fertility and prosperity of the society.
The Great Rite was not limited to only straight couples and could be performed between same-sex couples too, as long as one partner was ready to embody the opposite sex to create the perfect balance of the male and female energies. The Great Rite recognised the fact that female energies could be represented in a male as well and vice versa, which enabled it to keep aside trivial considerations of sexual inclination and view the sacred ritual as an act of invoking the spiritual powers for the betterment of the community. In modern cultures, puritan philosophy that has seeped into the society has made us view sex as a sinful and/ or private act. This is a major reason why today, modern believers conduct the Great Rite in secret, after making all the members present comfortable about being a part of the act and also being in sync with their spiritual energies. Although the rite is not widely practised today, it is still kept alive by a handful of people who rise above the common notions of the corrupt and sinful nature of the act and truly believe in its power and sanctity.