How to Perform a Pagan Wedding
You’re about to get married, and you don’t want an ordinary wedding. What you feel for each other goes deeper than the sentiments expressed in mainstream organized religion. Your love is like the sky, like beautiful forests or dawn over the mountains. Your wedding should reflect these feelings of closeness to nature. You might feel drawn to ancient Ireland, or Greece, to the beauty of old places and forgotten goddesses. This is romantic paganism, and you should consider a pagan wedding ceremony.
Paganism applies generally to any spirituality that is deeply connected with nature. It does not have to be a religion. Some neopagan religions did originate in romantic paganism; Wicca, for example. But there are also reconstructionist faiths, whose members resurrect half-remembered, legendary traditions of pre-Christian England, Ireland, Europe and the Near East. You can do extensive research and recreate the ceremonies of one of the ancient faiths, or you can create your own pagan wedding ceremonies. There are licensed ministers who specialize in conducting pagan weddings. Most pagan wedding planners you will find online are dedicated to Celtic, neopagan or Wiccan traditions.
In former times, the couple often exchanged vows before witnesses or family members, with no officiant needed. Today, marriage by mutual consent is not covered under most U.S. State law. So if you plan this sort of pagan wedding, be sure that all legalities are observed.
The best-known pagan wedding ritual is handfasting, which is probably Celtic in origin. The couple’s hands are bound together with a ribbon or cord. Handfasting can be performed by an appropriately credentialed officiant or simply by mutual consent before witnesses.
The Hellenic pagan ceremony is based on its ancient Greek counterpart. It is based on an agreement between the two families. Again no officiant is needed. You can learn more about Hellenic wedding rites at www.revallyson.com/hellenic.html and www.ecauldron.net/dc-wedding.php.
Be sure to obtain a legal marriage license and clear everything you are about to do with the appropriate authorities. You want to make sure that your marriage is legally binding.
Take time to research and prepare. There are several books on pagan wedding ceremonies, such as “Handfasting and Wedding Ritual: Inviting Hera’s Blessing” by Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein, or Kendra Vaughan Hovey’s “Passages Handfasting”. Look at Selena Fox’s guide to pagan weddings at www.circlesanctuary.org/events/weddings.html. The questions she asks are valuable in planning any kind of pagan wedding.
Select an appropriate day and time. Hellenic ritual prescribes the month of Gamelion for weddings, that is mid-January to mid-February, so you could hold your wedding right around Valentine’s Day. Irish pagans believe May is an inauspicious month for weddings. Check the astrology if that is important to your faith.
Invitations should have appropriate art and lettering. The message should let people know what to expect and what to wear. Colors have great symbolism in paganism, with slightly different meanings from one faith to another.
Botanical gardens, state and national parks and forests are good places for pagan weddings. Make sure you have permission to use the area and that it is accessible for disabled guests.
What to wear and bring
Dress should be elegant, but comfortable, made of natural fibers. It is perfectly acceptable to dress in the romantic styles of former times, to create a fairytale atmosphere. Witnesses as well as participants can wear flowers of the season, and jewelry made of natural materials. Choose colors to match the season, or that traditionally mean new beginnings, such as white or green. Careful research is necessary here. For example, it is bad luck to wear green at an Irish wedding, particularly for the bride.
You may need incense and anointing oils in appropriate scents, candles in appropriate colors, and some kind of beautiful cord, ribbon or tie if you are planning on a handfasting ritual.
Songs to play
There are many recordings of traditional music, including wedding music. Go to www.emusic.com and look up their collection of Smithsonian archival recordings. Live music is always better. Nowadays it should be fairly easy to find musicians who know how to play traditional music. Check your local university’s music and theater departments.
Dining / Foods
Serve traditional foods of the region from which your traditions are drawn. Everything should be made by hand and from scratch.
Celtic Wicca, Fairy Faith and neopagan traditions always have small cakes made with oats or wheat, honey and raisins. In Irish paganism, the bride and groom should eat three mouthfuls of salt and oatmeal together, said to promote health and keep evil spirits away.
In Hellenic tradition, after the couple exchange vows, the bride is given a piece of cake made of sesame seeds and honey, and quince fruit which represents fertility. Instead of throwing rice, the guests throw dried fruit and nuts. There should also be plenty of homemade bread.
The beauty of a pagan ceremony is that you can write and recite your own wedding vows. Depending on what goddesses or gods are being honored, you will wish to include invocations and thanks to them, and requests that they bless your union. Specific prayers, songs and poetry exist — both traditional and modern — which you may wish to incorporate.
The bride should be welcomed to her new family with a banquet and gifts. At some point, she and the groom retire for the night. In Hellenic tradition, the guests sing hymns outside the bridal chamber, and more gifts are brought on the following day. Some pagan wedding parties go on for several days.