The Wiccan Great Rite is the sex act, either literal or symbolic, that celebrates the union of the God and Goddess upon the sabbat of Beltane. It is usually the central part of the Beltane ritual and is considered a form of sex magic that ensures fertility, blesses the growing season, and brings a bountiful harvest. It could also be seen as the harmonious union of male and female energies within oneself.
In a coven, the parts of the God and Goddess as sacred lovers will be re-enacted by the High Priest and the High Priestess. They might literally go ahead and make love right there on the altar. It is said in ancient times young lovers coupled in the fields on Beltane night to send the energy into the ground for a rich growing season. As far as raising energy goes, it doesn’t get much more powerful than actual intercourse. The rising of pleasure toward climax is probably the strongest form of energy-working known to witches, and almost every culture in the world contains traditions on how to shape and direct this kind of energy. One such example is Tantric Buddhism.
Probably, though, a literal re-enactment of the Great Rite is more likely to happen between a Wiccan couple in the privacy of their own home. In a group setting, the High Priest and High Priestess are more likely to perform the Great Rite symbolically with the ritual tools of athame or wand and chalice, which of course a solitary practitioner can do as well.
In a symbolic ceremony, the athame or wand, which represents the male, is placed by the High Priest into the chalice, which stands for the female and is held by the High Priestess. The chalice usually contains wine that has been blessed. The solitary practitioner doing all this alone would hold the athame or wand in his or her right hand and the chalice in his or her left hand to unite them during the solitary Beltane ritual.
Think of the Wiccan Great Rite as a primal celebration of the essence of life and creation. Wicca is both an agrarian religion and a way of life that brings opposites such as male and female into harmonious balance. The Great Rite reflects this as it unites male and female energies, neither of which is inherently stronger than the other. Okay, so what about the gay solitary practitioner or groups such as Dianic covens which are exclusive to one gender only? To them, the Great Rite can still be meaningful, albeit in a more abstract and less literal form. At heart, it is a celebration of fertility within the growing season and can be viewed as a metaphor for any act of creation.