Drawing down the moon

This is an extremely important ritual in many neo-Pagan Witchcraft traditions. During the ritual the high priestess of the coven enters a trance and becomes the Goddess, which is symbolized by the moon. This transformation is accomplished with the help of the high priest, who invokes, or draws down, the Goddess into the high priestess.

The origins of the ceremony can be traced to classical times. Ancient Thessalian witches were believed to control the moon, according to an old tract: «If I command the moon, it will come down; and if I wish to withhold the day, the night will linger over my head; and again, if I wish to embark on the sea, I need no ship, and if I wish to fly through the air, I am free of my weight.»

In the modern rite, the high priestess has the option of reciting the Charge of the Goddess, a poetic address written be Doreen Valiente, a high priestess in the Gardnerian tradition (see Gerald B. Gardner, or delivering a spontaneous address.

Drawing Down the Moon is one of the most serious and beautiful rituals in neo-Pagan Witchcraft. Depending on the altered state of consciousness (see Altered States of Consciousness) of the high priestess and the ceremonial energy raised, the words that come forth can be moving, poetic and inspiring. During the Drawing Down the Moon, many women connect with the power of the Goddess and therefore with the power within themselves.

To capture more of the essence of this rite the description of it given by Margot Adler in her book Drawing Down the Moon will be paraphrased. After listening to a tape called Drawing Down the Moon sent to her from a coven in Essex, Adler writes: «I did not know it then, but in this ritual, one of the most serious and beautiful in the modern Craft, the priest invokes into the priestess (or, depending on your point of view, she evokes from within herself) the Goddess or Triple Goddess, symbolized by the phases of the moon.

She is known by a thousand names, and among them were those I had used as a child. In some Craft rituals the priestess goes into a trance and speaks; in other traditions the ritual is a more formal dramatic dialogue, often of intense beauty, in which, again, the priestess speaks, taking the role of the Goddess. In both instances, the priestess functions as the Goddess incarnate, within the circle.»

On the tape the background music sounded as if it might have been Brahms. The voices of the man and woman possessed an English accent. Clear were the words of the invocation:

Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who was of old also called Artemis, Astarte, Melusine, Aphrodite, Diana, Brigit, and many more other names…»

Judging from Adler’s descriptions this one ritual of Drawing Down the Moon can, and sometimes does, embody many of the major activities of modern Witchcraft. Generally the ritual is conducted within a circle, sometimes called a magic circle. The circle is a place set apart; its physical location makes no difference, because in the mind it becomes a sacred place through its casting and purification. It is a placed between worlds where the gods are met.

Within the circle psychic power is raised, a work that is known as «raising the cone of power.» This is accomplished through music, chanting, and dancing that can at times combine the wills of the participants. When the priest or, more often, the priestess senses the cone of power has been raised she can focus and direct it with the mind toward its destination. One such destination, or purpose, is the psychic healing of someone who is sick, or the purpose might be to seek something which is needed by someone.

This is the essential reason why gods and goddesses are invited into the circle. When the moon is drawn down, the high priestess often enters a trance in which the Goddess possesses her. Acting as the incarnate Goddess, the priestess speaks and acts as the Goddess. The circle’s psychic power now becomes Goddess power.

Frequently this is thought of as a mystical experience, and possibly it could be class as monistic mysticism. Similarly, when the God force is drawn into the circle, the high priest becomes the God incarnate. The latter ritual is known as Drawing Down the Sun or Drawing Down of the Horned God or Calling Down the Moon.

The state of the altered consciousness that the high priest or priestess experience during the ritual determines the after effect that is felt, some priestesses have said they feel the presence of the Goddess within them for days afterwards. Others have reported seeing changes within some persons following such rituals, but also say there are pretenders. A.G.H.

Sources: 4, 107; 28, 19-20, 109-110.