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Ch.13 The Great Rite (WMB 13.c)

Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @


Chapter 13 - The Great Rite - part c

Looking back in time, the earliest root of the hieros gamos can be seen in ancient Sumeria, with the public ritual union of the king and the priestess of the goddess Inanna as an act of fertility, empowerment and prosperity. The king took the part of the shepherd god Dumuzi and the priestess of Inanna, the great goddess who loved him, and the two enacted a graphic and beautifully poetic dialogue prior to their union. There was even a blessing of the food by the divinely inspired king after the hieros gamos which parallels the blessings after the Great Rite:

“The king reaches out his hand for food and drink.

Dumuzi reaches out his hand for food and drink.

The palace is festive.”[1]

This is quite clearly one of the earliest sources of the ideas expressed by the Great Rite, both in symbolic form and actuality, in an act which is pure Hieros Gamos, as opposed to the act of Sacred Sex.

The Celts also had their own version of the hieros gamos in their myths and tales. The Celts viewed the land as being female, and the sovereign responsibility of the goddess in one of her guises, which is reflected in the Bestower of Sovereignty tales. The ancient idea of the ’king and the land are one’ is clearly expressed through the testing of the hero. If the king (or knight) accepts the goddess and sees past the hideous physical appearance she assumes, to recognise her sovereignty of the land, which he holds through her grace, she transforms into the beautiful young goddess and consecrates him as the rightful king (or rewards him with a beautiful and faithful magickal wife). This theme occurs in Irish myths, such as Niall of the Nine Hostages, and The Adventure of Daire’s Sons.

This theme of the sovereignty bestowing hag who transforms into a beautiful maiden during the hieros gamos continued as a very popular one into British literature throughout the fourteenth century and into the fifteenth century. We see it in The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell, The Marriage of Sir Gawain, The Ballad of King Henry, The Ballad of Kemp Owyne The Ballad of the Knight and the Shepherd’s Daughter, Tale of Florent and Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale. The Scottish tale Nighean Righ fo Thuinn (“The Daughter of the King under the Waves”), and the Icelandic Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, also demonstrate the popularity of this theme.

The goddess in alchemy is often shown with either a lunar crescent on her head, or a crescent or full moon for her face, and indeed is often referred to as Diana, harking back to ancient Rome (and also witchcraft). Likewise the god is often referred to as Apollo, and shown with a Sun on his head or a rayed solar face. Whilst all the classical planets were depicted and significant in alchemy (especially Mercury as Hermes), it was the interaction of female and male, Diana and Apollo, that embodied the alchemical process of transformation. From here the model of the solar male and lunar female united in the hieros gamos became an iconic image found in many texts.

If we look particularly at the alchemical imagery from the sixteenth and seventeenth century of the union of the king and queen, we can see a strong case for a precursor of the Great Rite. In these images the empowered man and woman (i.e. king and queen) are united sexually in a sacred vessel, such as a sepulchre (The Rosary of the Philosophers, La Bugia) or flask (Anatomia Auri), which can be seen as representing the otherworldly space of the magick circle as a place of divine union.

[1] Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth, Wolkstein & Kramer, 1984

Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @ Shared here with the intention to inspire and inform the now and future generations interested in Wicca and other Pagan traditions inspired by it.



My name is Sorita d'Este

and this is my website and blog!  Thanks for visiting - I hope you are finding what you are looking for!


Many years ago I dedicated myself to the pursuit of both esoteric knowledge, and an understanding of polytheism, the Gods and Nature.  I have been a full-time writer, author and publisher, specialising subjects linked to the occult, witchcraft, Paganism, mythology, ancient religions and magic - and all kinds of things in between since 2003. 


I live on a hill in Glastonbury, overlooking the marshes of Somerset,  a place of myth and legend, and a crossroad for many different religions. Here I am frequently found digging and growing, serving my fluffy rescue cat and navigating the unknown with my teenage son.  

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