On Planning a Pagan Wedding

I know I promised this blog wouldn’t turn into all wedding all the time, but I do want to share a bit about the details of my experience trying to plan a pagan wedding in the real world. From what I’ve seen, there isn’t all that much out there about planning an authentically pagan wedding that doesn’t either

a)basically say “have a handfasting! It’s where you tie your hands together!” as if that allows you to actually know what that means, and as if that tradition will hold meaning simply because “it’s how pagans do it” even if you’ve never seen one done, or

b) as if everyone at your wedding is either pagan or at least comfortable with the idea and willing to try new things.

Now, I have neither ever seen another pagan wedding in real life nor a family happy about (or even necessarily aware of) the fact that I am a pagan. Family-wise, I’m only out of the broom closet to my parents and my siblings. I have no desire to come out further than that because I don’t think it’s necessary to stir up the kind of drama that would stir up. On top of all that, I’m having an interfaith wedding because my fiance (as well as almost everyone else who will be in attendance) is Christian. And I know that I’m not the only Pagan lady out there planning an interfaith wedding.

Our challenge, therefore, has been to figure out how to plan a wedding that is both mutually respectful and mutually meaningful. That will make both of us feel like a wedding has occurred that reflects our religious viewpoints.

The Location

The first thing I knew was that we had to get married in a forest. I didn’t care if that seemed weird, but the wedding definitely had to happen in a forest, and it definitely had to happen in a circle, with Gent and I in the center and our families and friends around us in the clearing. And instead of an aisle, there had to be a spiral from the entrance to the center. I love the forest, and it’s where I learned how to be spiritual. The same is true for Fiance with forests, so I got no arguments there. The circle is another big religious one for me–I don’t like experiencing religion from pews, but rather in a circle of equals. And the spirals–spirals are everything from the galaxies to the whirlpools and the atoms.

That left the question of who would marry us. We certainly didn’t want it to be the pastor of Fiance’s church–that  wasn’t likely to make anyone comfortable (except my Mom, who thinks I really need to have a minister.)

So who will marry us?

And then we found out that in Pennsylvania, there is such a thing as a “self-uniting license.” It’s just like a regular marriage license, except instead of an officiant, a witness, and the couple, all you need is the couple and two witnesses. So we could marry ourselves instead of getting someone to marry us! We are having a friend Emcee the ceremony to help keep everyone clear on what’s going on. But we decided that we wanted to be married by our family and friends, so instead we’re having our bridesmaids, groomsmen, and groomslady officiate at each of four mini-ceremonies within the main ceremony.

The deity issue

I wasn’t comfortable calling on gods and goddesses (or directions, or elements or whatever other Pagany thing you can call on in a Pagan ceremony) because of the closet issue. Plus I thought it wouldn’t be the best idea ever to call on a bunch of Pagan deities and Jesus in the same circle. And since I didn’t want to call on Pagan deities, we decided it also wasn’t fair to call on Jesus. Besides, people talking about Jesus kind of makes me uncomfortable, as much as I wish it didn’t. (Yes, I worry that my leftover hangups about Jesus and Christianity and all associated capital letter words and manners of phrasing things means that I’m not really going to be a supportive wife. But then I decide that worrying about it is a good thing, and at least I can recognize that they are just hangups, even if they are hangups that led to my conversion). Anyway. We decided that we weren’t going to have any deities at all in our ceremony. We were going to take our self-uniting license seriously and just marry each other without officiants or deities to do it for us.

The Christiany Ritual Stuff

Growing up with the Protestant weddings we are used to, there are three main event rituals in a wedding ceremony: The unity candle,  the vows/exchange of rings, and the pronouncement and kiss. We’re keeping the unity candle just how it normally is–our mothers will light candles and hand them to us, which we will use to light a big giant candle that represents our two families becoming one through us.

We’re keeping the ring vows, too, but we’re having my maid of honor and twin sister ask Fiance if he takes me to be his lawfully wedded wife, and Fiance’s brother and best man ask me if I take Fiance to be my lawfully wedded husband.

We’re also keeping the pronouncement and kiss, but we found wording somewhere on the internet that was so much better than the usual “by the power vested in me by the state of ______, I now pronounce you Husband and Wife. You may now kiss the bride!” Which, of course, has all kinds of feminist and other issues in it. What we have decided on was for our Emcee to say “By the power vested in (Fiance) and (Me) by their hearts and minds, it is my pleasure to observe that they are now Husband and Wife. Please kiss.”

The Pagany Ritual Bits

As I mentioned above, the Pagany ritual bits I’m familiar with are the fact that you’re supposed to have a handfasting. I can get behind the idea of a handfasting, really. And we’re doing one. BUT then I started reading up on the wording of handfastings and watching youtube videos of them happening, and things got kind of scary kind of fast. It’s just that they all look so bulky and unpracticed and uncomfortable. I know that’s because they ARE and modern paganism is so new that everyone is doing things for the first time and we don’t have the kind of cultural knowledge to just KNOW how a wedding ceremony goes. And I don’t want that. Plus, they all go:

Sir, will you hurt her? I might. Is that your intention? No. The first binding is made! Lady, will you hate him? I might. Is that your intention? No. The second binding is made!

I don’t know. I want to HAVE  a handfasting, but I don’t need that part alone to last fifteen minutes, I don’t need to have twenty handfastings, and I certainly don’t need to be vowing that it’s possible I might end up hurting my new husband. I understand that it’s supposed to be more realistic. I really do. But weddings are about creating bonds in sickness and in health without encouraging the sick part, and without losing the good parts into the possibility of bad. So we had to figure out what to do about that. We’ve decided to do a single cord, and a very short vow in the meanwhile. We haven’t finished writing it, but it’s going to be based on this blessing we found perusing the internet:

Lady- To wed me, your promise I must be certain of, so that we may live out our lives in sweet contentment, love.

Gent:Here is my hand to hold with you, to bind us for life so that I’ll grow old with you.

It’s going to be short and sweet. And then as we take the knot off our hands, someone will read this poem by Kahlil Gibran:

You were born to be together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in your silent memory.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not bondage of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup, but drink not from one cup.
Give one other of your bread, but eat not of the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone, though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping,
For only the hand of life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together,
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

So our Pagan/Christian ceremony will go like this:

First, we will have the Emcee say all of the requisite “hey! Welcome! Love is awesome! Turn off your phones!” speech. Then we will do a Unity Candle to have the Christian ritual part taken care of. Then we’re having the handfasting, followed by saying self-written vows to each other and signing our marriage license. My sister and his brother will come in to ask if we take each other to be each other’s lawfully wedded spouses, to have and to hold, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health as long as we both shall live. And we’ll put rings on each other’s fingers, and our Emcee with observe that we are husband and wife and we will kiss and my nephew will ring a bell.

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On Transition

So I’m coming out of probably the most change-ful twelve months of my life, and I feel like the butterfly finally emerging from the cocoon.

It all started a year ago when I realized I hated my job. That stressed me out so much that I lost a lot of hair. It also got me a new job I hated even more selling welding equipment. But that was good because the new job gave me health insurance that allowed me to get proper treatment for my hair loss, which is now mostly better. The hair loss made me depressed which made me quit dancing, but which eventually made me realize I needed to move into a nicer house. Which we did. After that, I got to quit my welding job for a much nicer job in a BEAUTIFUL office working for an art and architectural conservation firm who keeps our national artistic heritage alive. My new life is so much more in line with who and where I want to be, but MAN was that change ever painful and horrible.

On the one hand, all of that plus wedding planning some days seems like too much. On the other hand, having all this other stuff happen at the same time makes it feel ever more like a rite of passage, this liminal period of engagement. This liminal year where I learned in a way I never had before what kinds of sudden trials and tribulations life can throw at us, where I grew from a struggling artist with a horrible part time job that barely covered my bills to a businesslady who is an artist on nights and weekends, for better or for worse. I can start to see why people “sell out,” why artists get businessy daytime jobs to feed their art. Because now that I’m marrying Gent, I’m a part of a family and I want to do my part. Not just financially, but emotionally as well. As much as I can wish I wanted to be a romantic starving artist, I don’t want to live that reality. I was miserable and I felt poor and horrible about myself, and that wasn’t any way to feed our relationship. And it helps so much that I have finally gotten out of that wasteful industry I despised into an artistic industry that believes beautiful things should be preserved instead of thrown out for a newer model.

I’m happy. I’m happy in a way I never believed Philadelphia could make me. I miss the forests desperately, and I ache to sit outside and hear the crickets instead of the cars. But for now, I can love my life here in my beautiful apartment with my beautiful fiance and my beautiful sister. I can love going to dance class on Sundays and walking to work in a world where all of the trees are flowering. Where I can identify all kinds of problems with the city where I live, but where I can see past it into the beauty of life that breathes below the surface in the flowerpots and sidewalk cracks.