A powerful, magic rite of sexual intercourse, in neo-Pagan Witchcraft and neo-Paganism, which pays homage to the male/female polarity that exists in all things within the universe. It expresses the physical, mental, spiritual and astral union between man and woman as well as the God and Goddess aspects of the Divine Force. Neo-Witchcraft is a fertility religion, a reconstruction of ancient pagan rites and beliefs, which included the ritual of sexual intercourse. Sex was and is considered sacred.
The Great Rite is associated with the hieros gamos, the Sacred Marriage or Holy Matrimony, which is union with the deity or godhead. The hieros gamos was part of pre-Christian women's mysteries in Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean, in which women sacrificed control of their feminine power to the Goddess to be renewed by her.
It is believed that in neo-Pagan Witchcraft that the Great Rite releases enormous power, which maybe directed for magical purposes. It is one of the "Eightfold Paths" to magical power in the Craft.
The Great Rite is performed in the magic circle at some sabbats and initiations, depending on the tradition of the coven. Ideally, it is performed by a high priest and high priestess who are sexually intimate as spouses or loves, except in the rite of handfasting where the bride and groom, who are already intimate lovers, perform the rite. The rite is not always performed in actuality, but may be performed symbolically; the high priest plunges the athame, or ritual knife (the male symbol), into a cup or chalice (the female symbol) that is filled with wine and is held by the high priestess. Some hold that when this rite is performed symbolically it should later by performed in actuality in private by the high priest and high priestess.
If the rite is performed in actuality, it is done in private, as the coveners leave the room until it is completed. In some covens they merely walk to the edge of the circle and turn their backs. Some feel the Great Rite should be performed openly because of its importance.