Understanding Pagan Rituals

There is often a misunderstanding about what pagan, wiccan, and nature- based ceremonies are all about. Occasionally I have requests to include pagan rituals in weddings and I’m happy to do so. Now, I am no expert, and certainly am not conducting a true Wiccan or Pagan wedding ceremony, but it is fun to include an element or two from these traditions. They are quite lovely in many ways. Fear not!

But first the language: Paganism is the wider term that can embrace many things, from Wicca, a nature-oriented faith, Druidry, which are ancient Celtic practices, or even Asatru, which is a sort of reconstruction of Northern European pre-Christian beliefs (think: Vikings). These beliefs go back thousands of year and pre-date Christianity.

When people ask about Celtic traditions, they are often honoring their Irish or other countries and locations, their family roots, but when they use the word ‘pagan’ they are not identifying heritage as much as beliefs. There is also the term Celtic Paganism. No matter what you call them, these practices originally took place between 500 BCE and 500 CE.

Native American traditions are loosely associated, because they also share a reverence for nature and have an overlap of symbolism and ritual. I love how that happens!

Handfastingis probably the best known of the Celtic traditions that is still popular. It is thought to originally be more of an engagement ritual, but has evolved into a wedding ritual. It is as simple as the name implies – the couple’s hands are tied together (tying the knot), some words are said, and the knot untied. There are countless variations.

Blessing the Space, or creating a sacred space, is exactly what is sounds like. This can be done in many ways, but most dramatically by conducting a smudging  – which is waving smoke around.  It signifies cleansing the area. Sage is most often used, and sometimes cedar or the herb sweetgrass. This custom is not only pagan but done in some Native American cultures. It is fascinating to see how in different places and times, humans devise similar or even identical traditions or adapt them from coming into contact with the ideas. Some other variations include places stones on the ground, creating a circle with items such as flowers, stones or even candles. Mainstream religions also bless spaces but perhaps not so dramatically.

Jumping the Broom, is a ritual most Americans think of as an African-American one, but it can also be Celtic or Wiccan and signifies crossing the threshold and entering your new life together. When you think of a groom carrying his bride over the threshold of the doorway you see exactly the same symbolism. Additionally, brooms can sweep out the old, or clean or cleanse, and that, too, has meaning when beginning a marriage. Again, we see a cross-pollination and similar symbolism in places quite far from one another in place and time. This is one of the most fascinating things about rituals.

Calling the Quarters, also known as the Four Directions, assigns properties to North, South, East and West. It can also intersection with the elements or earth, air, water and fire

Earth coordinates to North, representing the physical realm with the qualities of good health, a happy home, groundedness, and fertility.

Air is East, the mental realm of wisdom, symbolizing good communication, learning, and intellectual growth.

Fire is South, the action realm representing creativity, harmony, sensuality, and vitality.

Water is West, the emotional realm, with the qualities of understanding, emotional support, intuition, and friendship.

You can well imagine how all of those characteristics would be important in any relationship and why one might invoke them in a wedding.

Including any of these ancient traditions into a modern marriage can be interesting and meaningful. It doesn’t mean you are turning away from your faith tradition or family roots. It is a way to connect to something much older or connect to the earth.


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