In Alexandrian/Gardnerian Wicca, one aspect of getting to Third Degree is the assumption that you will, at some point, be performing the Great Rite. This opens up the possibility of having sexual intercourse with someone other than your significant other.
For some, this is not a problem at all. For others, such as myself, who are in a monogamous relationship, this poses a perplexing problem.
As a Priestess, I face the possibility of “putting out” for my religion, which, on the face of it, I consider to be a violation of my marriage vows and my integrity. But just what is a Great Rite, and is it cheating on my spouse?
Cheating on one’s spouse is usually considered to be simple sexual infidelity. Strictly speaking, having sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse is infidelity. But is it “cheating”?
Cheating implies that someone is losing something in the act. In a true Great Rite, no one is losing anything and much is gained. So what is a “true Great Rite”?
To me, a Great Rite is (a) each person invoking the God/dess and celebrating their Sacred Marriage through sex; (b) one person invoking the God/dess on the other and expressing their love for that deity through sex; or (c) one person invoking the God/dess on themselves and expressing that deity’s love for the other person through sex. Form (a) is the “truest” form, but the others are sometimes more appropriate, depending upon circumstance.
The gender of the persons involved does not matter as much as some seem to think. For the celebration of the Sacred Marriage, it is inappropriate for the deities to be of the same gender, in whatever facet, but the gender of the persons doing it isn’t at issue. A man can manifest the Goddess and a woman can manifest the God. It isn’t easy to manifest deity cross-gender, but it can be done with a bit of practice.
Expressing love through sexuality is wonderful, but, unless the Gods are specifically invoked into the bodies of the participants, it is not a Great Rite. The ritual is not an excuse to have sex with someone, nor is any sexual activity in a properly consecrated circle a Great Rite. The Great Rite is a powerful and specific magical act that is difficult to perform and should not be performed lightly or, if you will excuse the expression, wantonly.
The performance of the Great Rite is a necessary part of the Third Degree elevation ritual and this requires a that the candidate and the priest(ess) think very carefully about the way in which the Rite will be performed.
A Great Rite can be physical or can be platonic. (I dislike the term “symbolic” for a non-physical Great Rite — all Great Rites are symbolic in a mystical sense.) It is up to the initiator and the candidate as to whether physical sexual activity will take place. Both have the right to refuse.
Although I believe that any Third should be theoretically willing to perform a physical Great Rite, it is not always appropriate to do so, even for an elevation. Sexual politics, ethics and mundane practical matters should be considered.
On a theoretical level, there should be no problem with a Great Rite. Any priestess is the earthly representative of the Goddess in the circle and wedded to the God, and any priest is the earthly representative of the God and wedded to the Goddess. As such, sexual relations between the two is perfectly appropriate.
Politically, however, each case must be examined on its own. If either is in a couple, and the other partner is Wiccan, there should also be no problem. However, if either is attached to someone who is not Wiccan, their feelings must be taken into consideration. If the partners do not object, fine, but if they do, the priest/ess must weigh the feelings of his/her partner against their religious convictions and the importance of a physical Great Rite for a ritual. Simply refusing to tell the partner is not an option, in my opinion. In issues that touch upon the partnership, honesty is far too important to the harmony of the relationship. If a partner makes clear that they do not want to know whether their spouse is doing the Great Rite with someone else, fine. But to withhold that aspect of their religious faith, when it does touch upon the relationship bodes ill for the relationship to remain solid.
There are also interpersonal aspects to be considered. Will sexual activity, even in this context, ruin the relationship?
Then there is the problem of elevating a relative to Third. With the growth of Wiccan families, does the incest taboo still hold? For many people, regardless of any theoretical intellectualising, it is wrong to have sex with a sibling, a parent, or a child.
Then we come to physical problems. If he can’t get an erection (due to fatigue, shyness, unfamiliarity with the ritual, tension, physical problems, etc.) or she can’t respond (for similar reasons) enough to make physical penetration possible, the ritual will not be very effective.
The spectre of sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy must be considered. Condoms can be awkward to use in a ritual context, so the ritual must be adapted to include the use of one. Or, if the participants are assured of being free from disease and pregnancy would be welcomed, this should be discussed and understood before the ritual.
All of these things should be discussed frankly and honestly before accepting or offering a Third Degree. If the candidate and the initiator cannot discuss the whole issue, a sexual act, regardless of circumstances, will not have the love and trust necessary to do a Great Rite.
After all the discussion and all the aspects being considered, and one or the other of the participants decide that they, for whatever reason, cannot perform a physical Great Rite, can the ritual still be done?
While a platonic Great Rite will not have the sheer energy of a physical Great Rite, it can still have the rapport, love and sense of connectedness necessary to understand the Mystery which lies behind the act. It is, in my opinion, necessary to have achieved a mystical transcendence of the physical plane to be able to accomplish the Great Rite in either form, but it need not be at the moment of the ritual. Once a person has experienced that moment of transcendence, it is not necessary to follow the physical actions to achieve it again. This is why I require all persons coming up on Third Degree to work with the Great Rite before elevation.
Being unwilling to share one’s sexuality is not a bar to Third degree. Unwillingness to perform a physical Great Rite with anyone but a lover is a personal feeling, and a personal decision. No one, not even the Gods, have the right to make decisions regarding personal sexual activity. Being unable to perform the Great Rite at all, even platonically, would be a bar to Third degree, though, considering that the ability to celebrate the Sacred Marriage is necessary to the degree.
All of this is assuming that the Great Rite is done as an in-circle ritual, with both persons being fully aware and participating. To my way of thinking, it isn’t the only type of Great Rite.
The Great Rite can also be a personal expression of love for and of the Gods. That is a matter of invoking the God/dess into your partner, whether they are aware of it or not, and making love as yourself, or invoking the God/dess into yourself and making love to your partner as him/her self. I do not recommend this to any but established lovers. I cannot think of any circumstance where it would be appropriate to try variations of the Great Rite with anyone but a significant other.
To attempt to try a Great Rite with anyone not already experienced in the Great Rite or experienced in lovemaking with the priest/ess is inappropriate. To expose such a powerful Mystery and perform such a significant magical act without the love and rapport that exists between established lovers or is easily created between experienced Wiccans is potentially very harmful. Attempting the Great Rite without that level of love and rapport is almost certainly doomed to failure and denigrates the Great Rite to merely fucking. There is a great deal more to the Great Rite than sex; sex is almost incidental to the magical and Mystical act.
There are two things everyone in the community needs in order to prevent victimization: empowerment and safety. “Empowerment and safety for everyone!” should be our new rallying cry when we think about our community spaces.
This is to prevent victimization.
Victimization is a lot less likely to occur when people know exactly what is ok and what’s not, understand how to navigate these complex situations, and have a guaranteed support network from their entire community if something bad happens. Uncertainty and secrecy are the tools of predators. Let’s do our damnedest to take them away.
The first thing we need to do to make that happen is figure out a new code of conduct. The old rules we relied on to prevent victimization were all based on ideas of sexual repression. When we ditched the repression we ditched those old rules, and Paganism as a whole community has not yet replaced them with something that works with ideas of sexual openness. A commonly held set of community guidelines would take away the confusion, and give us at least the seeds for a united community response to violations.
I figured I’d do my part to get that particular ball rolling. So here are my Six Rules for Safer Pagan Sex.
What are the Six Rules?
I’d like to state up-front that I couldn’t care less about the specific activities a person chooses to engage in. As long as all people involved are happy then all’s well. These rules all address the interpersonal skills needed before, during, and after indulging in those activities.
These rules are:
1) No means no. Period.
2) Negotiate your sex prior to getting naked.
3) Altered people can’t consent.
4) Sex space is safe space.
5) What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
6) Don’t be that guy.
No means no. Period.
This is a big one. No one can touch you without your expressed consent. You and only you are in control of who touches you and how they touch you – I ask if hugs are ok until I know the person well. That extends to hair, jewelry, clothing, and anything else that is not community property.
Permission given once does not mean that that permission is given forever. It can be revoked at any time for any reason. And agreeing to a touch from one person does not extend that permission to anyone else.
If someone says “no”, whether it’s for a conversation or a touch or sex, that “no” is accepted at face value. There is no “trying to talk someone into it”, no questioning it, and no justification required. A simple “no” should end whatever the hell is happening immediately, and a “no” can be given at absolutely any time. You’re in the middle of ritual sex and one of the people involved suddenly feels uncomfortable? Then that sex stops, on a dime, and the person who put the brakes on it can’t be hassled about that decision.
This has to be community enforced. If for whatever reason someone isn’t listening to someone else’s “no”, other members of the community should damn straight step in and assist, up to and including removal of the person with boundary issues. No one should ever feel unsafe.
Negotiate your sex prior to getting naked.
Agreeing to sex doesn’t mean your partner now has total freedom to do whatever they want to you. Agreeing to have sex means you’re agreeing to have sex. How that sex happens still has to be decided. That’s negotiation.
The preferences and boundaries of all participants have to be made very clear before anything happens, and everyone has to be ok working within those expressed boundaries. “I’m ok with this, and love this other thing, but if you do that I’ll have to kill you so don’t.”
Negotiation requires a lot of honesty and communication, but it’s another way to help make sure everyone feels safe. Regular partners can usually boil this down to a short-hand form, since they’ve negotiated before, but it’s still an important step. Things could have changed.
If anything is not specifically agreed to during negotiation, it’s not done in the heat of the moment. Coitus – especially with a new partner – is not the time to whip out the surprises. But saying no at any time is perfectly ok.
In other words, agreements during negotiations are not binding, but refusals are.
If the idea of talking about sex like this makes you uncomfortable, you might want to reconsider whether you’re ready to engage in sexual activity at all. If you can’t talk about it you probably shouldn’t do it.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with sitting out until you’ve figured out what you’re ok with, either. I have personally witnessed negotiated “sex” that was three hours of a guy brushing a girl’s hair. And that was perfectly ok. No one present gave it a second thought – except to comment on how gorgeous her hair was.
Sometimes negotiations break down in the middle, and that’s ok too. Maybe the only thing you like sexually is the one thing that freaks your negotiation partner right the hell out. Or vice versa. Aren’t you glad you figured that out before getting naked?
Altered people can’t consent.
People cannot consent if they are chemically altered in any way. If you get drunk or high before the event, stay the hell home. If someone shows up to an event drunk or high, don’t let him/her in. If you were a little enthusiastic with the mead cup during the event, leave if possible or tell someone in charge what’s going on so they can look out for you while you sober up. If the person you want to have sex with is drunk or high, don’t have sex with them.
On this note, the endorphins released by your body during sex are also drugs. Naturally occurring drugs, true, but drugs all the same. That’s why negotiations are done before the sex and not during the sex. Someone suddenly being open during sex to something they were not down with during negotiations? That’s the endorphins talking, and does not constitute consent. They’re altered. Talk about it after the sex, and if they still want whatever you can always have sex again and include it.
Sex space is safe space.
There are a bunch of different types of people involved in the Pagan community, and for many of them the Pagan community is the only one in which they feel completely accepted.
Discrimination in any form – racism, sexism, homophobia, trans-phobia, size-phobia, ageism, etc – is simply not acceptable. Anyone who expresses or acts on any of the above is not helping other people feel safe and should either leave or be removed from the area. That goes across the board in general, and is even more important when sex is on the table. Getting naked makes people feel vulnerable enough in this society. There’s no excuse to make that worse.
This also extends to the types of activities people are doing. If someone is doing something that makes you uncomfortable, it’s not your right to interrupt him or her or make them feel bad for liking whatever it is (unless there’s a clear consent/safety issue) . You don’t have to watch it either, though. Simply remove yourself from the space, quietly and without fuss.
I’d put relationship drama under this category too. Dragging your relationship drama into a space where people need to feel safe isn’t cool – it drags in a bunch of bad vibes that these people did not sign up for. If you run into an ex, or start that big break-up fight with a soon-to-be ex, take that noise elsewhere. There’s no reason to make everyone present uncomfortable with your personal issues.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Or wherever.
This is another way of making sure people stay safe. Who does what to whom is not discussed with anyone else. You can talk about the event in general terms, and you can certainly discuss what you did, but names and/or identifying characteristics of other people are not yours to share. So don’t. Respect the fact that some people have reasons for not advertising their involvement in whatever went down, and it’s not your right to question their decision. We’re all adults here, and maintaining confidentiality is respectful.
However, if something happens that makes you unsafe? If you see someone else feeling unsafe? If someone is victimized? Then toss confidentiality out the window. Report what happened immediately to whoever you can find. Safety trumps confidentiality every time.
Don’t be that guy.
There are a few special rules for those who are doing their thing in group settings, which for Pagans is generally at festivals and conventions. Different venues may have different rules, but these are fairly standard. If you find yourself in one of these more public venues please follow these guidelines. Please.
Do not perv on someone having sex in front of you. You can watch. You can get turned on. Depending on the rules of the space you might even be allowed to masturbate. But don’t get right on top of them to watch, don’t interrupt them, don’t ask to join in while they’re in the middle of things, and don’t have a loud conversation right next to them. It’s just rude. Keep a respectful distance away and make sure your enjoyment of what you’re watching doesn’t interfere with what they’re doing.
Clean up after yourself. Dispose of used safer sex materials in the appropriate place. Wipe things down. Sanitize surfaces. Take soiled linens to wherever the soiled linens are supposed to go. Keeping people safe doesn’t just mean emotionally – when body fluids are present there are physical health concerns too.
Keep activities to the designated space. Usually there’s a “social” area and a “sex” area, and the two are kept distinctly separate. Respect that, and use that. Do negotiations in the social space, so that the rules are set before you get lost in the middle of things and agree to something you wouldn’t otherwise be ok with. Overwhelmed in the sex space? Hit the social area. I’ve done entire events in the social area, and that’s ok. Things start heating up between you and your soon-to-be sexual partner (s) ? Move it to the sex area. You might be fine having sex in the social area, but that chick in the corner who feels brave for sitting in a chair around naked people won’t like it nearly as much. Respect the space, and by doing so respect the needs of the other people present.
I’d like each and every one of us to start taking responsibility for what’s happening around us. If you see something that makes you or someone else feel unsafe, say something. Speak up for those who, for whatever reason, have difficulty speaking up for themselves. If someone isn’t being heard, add your voice to his or hers. Do not be silent. Safety wins out over secrecy every time.
Hence, my posting this. Read it. Share it with your friends, your working group, the people you see at the next PNO, those at the next festival or convention you attend. Discuss it.
Disagree with me, even! Because as long as we’re actively engaging these topics we’ll pay better attention to them.
Lady Hannah – BWC