Taking the Walk Down the Aisle

Rites of passage are marked by actions that help connect to things greater than ourselves. They connect us to the past while moving us into the future. Sometimes the most basic of elements make the most powerful statements. Many human rituals involve common everyday things such as fire or water.

That is why the simple act of walking, which almost all of us do, can also be a ritualistic element. While I was studying funerals at the Celebrant Foundation it made a lasting impression on me when an instructor pointed out that simply walking forward to touch the coffin was a powerful moment.

Down the long aisle of the church.

And when the bride, groom, or others, walk down the aisle, it is kind of a big deal! We even use the phrase ‘walk down the aisle’ to mean getting married.

The question of who walks down the aisle and in what order is often daunting. There are many different rules for the processional, depending on your faith tradition, but today almost any order is acceptable, especially given the complexity of families. One of the best reasons to have a wedding rehearsal is to work out the processional. I’ve often found that some detail for the processional we thought would be good in advance of the ceremony, changed at the rehearsal.

The recessional – when the couple exits the ceremony – is another time where walking is key. You walked in single and you walk out married. You are changed.

Walking out - the recessional!

Think of how grand an entrance is when walking down a large majestic set of stairs. The coronation of a king or queen would be less grand without the walk down the aisle. By contrast its amusing to think of ancient self-appointed gods and emperors who had themselves carried around in sedan chairs. I guess they thought they were above walking like mere mortals.

Making an entrance on the stairs.

Beyond simply getting down the aisle, there are several fascinating ancient wedding rituals that involve more walking. The Jewish ritual of Hakafot, and the Hindu Seven Steps are two great examples.

In the Jewish ritual the bride walks around the groom, who is seated, offering her protection. Some say it harkens to the battle of Jericho when the Israelites circled the walls seven times. While it may seem counter-intuitive that the bride offers the groom protection, going a little deeper, it also signifies that he is the anchor, in the center or the focal point. Others say it comes from the book of Jeremiah states that “A woman encompasses a man” [31:22].  Some versions of this ritual differ on the number of times for the circle, but in any case, this is all very ancient, and it does provide interesting symbolism that we can draw from, especially for an interfaith ceremony. I guess you could say that that once you find a good man, encircle him with your love.

With the Hindu ritual the couple, together, holds hands and walks around a fire seven times. A key aspect of the Hindu ceremony is to light a sacred fire, and for the Seven Sacred Steps, with each step, the couple agrees to blessings or vows for their marriage. I love this idea very much, although I doubt most modern wedding venues would allow a fire! Sometimes the bride’s sari is tied to the groom’s kurta, or a sari shawl might be draped from his shoulder to her sari.

I have created rituals drawing from both of these traditions, finding inspiration and offering modern adaptations.

When you walk down the aisle it is awesome to think of the long and deep history of taking that metaphorical and literal step in life.


Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the gorgeous photos.







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