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My Big Fat (Pagan) Wedding: How to Have Your Pagan Ritual Without Offending Your Non-Pagan Guests

Author: Michael Dolan
Posted: January 9th. 2005
Times Viewed: 18,324

Your handfasting is one of the most important events of your life, and you have every right to have the kind of ceremony that you want to remember twenty years from now. The sometimes-hard reality is, however, that while we would all like to practice our faith publicly, many of us still feel uncomfortable doing so. Very few of us come from an all-Pagan family. Some are still in the broom closet, and some have a policy of simply not bringing up the subject of religion with loved ones who just wouldn't understand. While you may not agree with your fiancé's parents on the subject of the Rapture, marriage is a package deal: They are about to become part of your family, and that sometimes means compromises in the name of civility.

This does not mean that you must have the church wedding your families want. It does mean that if there is a way to have your Pagan ritual without being disowned, you may want to consider it. Luckily, this is a situation where others' ignorance can actually work to your advantage, as in: What they don't know can't hurt them. With a little forethought, it is entirely possible to put together a ceremony that will have your Wiccan guests nodding in agreement, and leave your Baptist in-laws none the wiser. Here are a few tips for planning the handfasting of your dreams without depriving your parents of the wedding they always wanted. Um, wanted for you, that is...

Something Old, Something New:

First, decide on what elements of the ritual are non-negotiable. This gives you a good starting point. Then decide what outside influences you consider acceptable: Many elements of a church wedding, such as the white dress, the walk down the aisle, the best man and bridesmaid, have become like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, in that they are so embedded in our cultural heritage that they have lost all their original connotations. You may feel differently about different elements. Start by making a list of all the things you want in your ceremony, and sort it in order of importance. Then, make a list of all the things your relatives will expect to see, and sort it according to how drastically each item relates to your own priorities.

Remember that just because you include an element of ritual in the process does not mean you need to explain or even show that part of the ceremony to the guests. How often does anyone further than the third row ever hear the vows without a PA system? Simply speak softly - the only people who truly need to hear your vows are the two of you, the officiant, and your own gods. What the rest of your guests can't hear won't offend them. Weddings are often all day events. There is no reason you can't cast your circle or call the quarters at dawn - long before anyone else arrives. This is also a good time to make offerings or perform a divination.

Many Pagan elements have found their way into other religions' rituals. The lighting of candles and the burning of incense are so widely used in weddings that they will hardly be noticed. Drinking together from a vessel of some sort is also widely practiced, and without your explaining the true intent, the guests will see all of these practices as comparable to their own beliefs.

House of God (s) :

No, not a church - we know better than that, and believe it or not, so do they. An outdoor wedding is the first thing a Pagan couple generally thinks of, and happily, it is universally appropriate for any religion. If private land is not an option, most state parks have facilities available. They are often reasonably priced, and many are likely to have restroom facilities and some sort of handicap access. Make sure there is a covered area, or that you can put up a canopy in case of rain.

Many ski areas make their money from private functions during the warmer weather. If it is within your budget, I strongly recommend this for any handfastings between Beltaine and Samhain. If functions are a regular part of their business, the typical ski resort will likely have not only a beautiful outdoor setting, but also banquet facilities, liquor license, catering services and a wedding coordinator. (My wife and I did this, and it worked wonderfully. They took care of the whole reception and worked with us on everything else. We had a perfect wedding, and all things considered, they were reasonably priced.)

Having an outdoor wedding also allows for creativity with the layout of seating. There are several ways to arrange chairs to create a circle, aligning the aisle or adding candles or incense at specific points according to the compass.

Honoring Your Ancestors:

Many elements of your ritual that could raise eyebrows among the non-Pagans present can be quickly explained as "traditional." This is usually sufficient to suppress judgment by the less enlightened. If the men in your wedding party are wearing kilts for example, you can simply explain away any references, or even the handfasting itself as "an ancient Scottish tradition." It's true, and you are under no obligation to explain exactly how ancient or what tradition. This works wonderfully for anyone on one of the Reconstructionist paths. If not, simply brush off any comments with, "It used to be fairly common in Europe, and we thought it was a neat idea."

Someone You Trust is One of Us:

Not all Pagan traditions are fully recognized by the federal government, making it sometimes difficult to find someone legally ordained in your specific tradition. Weddings do not necessarily need to be performed by an ordained minister, although it is customary. For those who do not attend their local Methodist church, there are still several options in choosing an officiant.

Unitarian Universalists are generally accepting of those with Pagan paths. Many UU churches have CUUPS chapters with clergy familiar with our traditions. Call around your area to see if there is anyone available, but be warned that some may only have the time available to perform ceremonies for members of their own congregations.

You can have a trusted friend ordained through the ULC or other organization. This will allow them to perform in a legally recognized capacity, although they should still take the time to familiarize themselves with any local ordinances.

If you do have a member of your coven or grove officiating, you are under no obligation to announce the person performing the ceremony as Pagan clergy. Your printed materials can simply refer to this person by their proper name without titles, and if anybody not in the know asks, you can imply that they're a JP. And of course, a genuine JP is always an option.

Some states allow for anyone to perform a wedding, provided they get approval through the appropriate channels. It can be a wonderful idea to choose a close friend or family member for the role, and while perhaps unconventional, no one would question your logic for doing so. As with any advice pertaining to legal matters, you should be sure of all the relevant local laws ahead of time. Your city clerk is usually a good resource to start with.

Butting Heads:

There are of course, times when you will need to put your foot down. Your family may be Jewish or Catholic, and try to sell you on an officiant from their own clergy. They may insist on the bride wearing her grandmother's wedding dress. They may refuse to pay for the wedding or withhold their blessings if you don't agree to do things their way. As much as you should try to accommodate their feelings, remember that this is your life, and you have a right to insist on the things that are important to you. Take charge of the situation, because if you don't, someone else just might.

Happily Ever After:

Parents often try to become highly involved in their child's wedding because it is a very stressful time for them. They know you will no longer be dependent on them, because you will no longer be their child, but an adult with a family of your own. Your new priorities will be focused less on your relationship with your parents, and more on your new spouse and your life together. This is normal and healthy, even if it does take some getting used to. In essence, it is the very reason people invented marriage ceremonies in the first place: To give us a tangible moment of transition.

Try to remember that while your loved ones want you to be happy, this is a big day for everyone. If you take the time to think about what parts of the ritual are important to you and what parts are important to your families, you should have little trouble incorporating everything into a wonderful and complete ceremony. As with marriage itself, sometimes a little compromise can give you the best of both worlds, and years from now you and your guests will be able to look back and say, "What a beautiful wedding that was..."

."..Now when are we going to see some grandchildren?"

Michael Dolan


Michael Dolan

Location: Rochester, New Hampshire

Author's Profile: To learn more about Michael Dolan - Click HERE

Bio: Michael Dolan is a musician and artist who performs as The Reverend Rat. He lives with his wife near the New Hampshire seacoast area, and has been involved in facilitating the Pagan Coffee Talk, Musician's Coffee Talk, and NHS Pagans. He is a ULC minister and was a founding member of two Celtic Reconstructionist groups. This is his first article on The Witches' Voice.

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