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.