What to Expect at a Pagan Wedding

by Maria

OK, I’ll be honest: I got this assignment only partly because I’ve actually been to a couple of Pagan weddings. (I roomed with a philosophy/art major in college). I think I really got it because I’m the one from the most solidly traditional family and Pagan weddings seem to freak solidly traditional people out more than any other kind.

It’s true that a Pagan wedding will probably be very, very different than what you’re used to. The good news is that Pagans believe in inclusiveness, and the happy couple is almost certain to be almost hyperaware that some people may be anxious or uncomfortable. They’ll be very careful to let you know what’s coming, and will give you at least a brief overview of what it all means. If you want to know more, just ask – they’ll be as happy to explain the symbolism of their wedding as you would be to talk about yours.

What if your religion doesn’t match?
First off, let’s get a little terminology out of the way. Technically, any wedding that isn’t Christian or Jewish is Pagan, but your friends who call themselves Pagans are probably drawing from Celtic or Druidic traditions (or their best guesses at reconstructing them). Pagans and Wiccans have a lot in common, but they aren’t necessarily the same thing. If the wedding is a Wiccan wedding, they’ll call it that.

A few notes for the concerned:
Paganism is NOT the same as Satanism. Pagans are very into positive energy and tend to focus on the good in the world. Even Pagans who identify as witches tend to be goody-goodies. A common tenet is that any harm you wish someone else comes back to you threefold. So while Pagans have received some bad word-of-mouth in many parts of the country, you’re actually dealing with some very gentle souls. Believe me, if your loved ones are having a Satanic wedding (and there are at least two breeds of those, which we won’t get into), they will be very sure to let you know.
Pagans don’t necessarily see Christianity or Judaism as incompatible with their religion. If you’re from a Judeo-Christian background, you may have been brought up to believe that your religion and Paganism are diametrically opposed, but that isn’t necessarily the case in the view of your hosts. They may see the Judeo-Christian deity as one legitimate choice in an array of deities, or they may see their pantheon as different aspects of essentially the same big God you’re used to. Or they may worship nature itself. That point of view still may not thrill you, but it’s important to note that a Pagan ceremony won’t involve any kind of a refutation of your personal beliefs.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be asked to pray to any alternate deities. Again, Pagans are inclusive, and as members of a religious minority they will understand your potential discomfort. You may be asked to take a moment of silence to pray to whomever floats your boat, or there may be parts of the ceremony in which the four elements or the Masculine and Feminine energies are honored. Nothing will get too hardcore on you.
If you feel the need to (gently) decline the invitation due to your own religious beliefs, the happy couple will understand. But they’ll miss you. They invited you because they love you and want you there. If you can possibly get past any theological qualms, do go. Pagan weddings tend to be harmless, very fun and – in my experience – very moving.

What to wear
Ideally, your invitation will give you a hint, but odds are your Pagan wedding won’t involve traditional suits and cocktail dresses for the guests. An outdoor wedding is a good bet. When in doubt, opt for natural fibers and earth tones with a splash of color. A spring wedding may involve lighter or brighter colors – just be careful, as always, not to outshine the bride.

The ceremony
Pagan ceremonies vary widely, both because there are many different kinds of Pagan and because couples tend to design their own ceremonies.

The ceremony will often start with casting a circle. (Though sometimes you’ll walk in and see a circle that has been cast and consecrated a few hours beforehand.) This involves the officiant turning to each point of the compass and honoring the four elements of earth, water, fire, and air.

You may see an altar in the circle, with traditional implements such as a cup, a knife, and a trowel. It’s possible that you’ll see objects that symbolize the elements, such as salt (earth), a candle (fire), a feather (air), and a bowl of – you guessed it – water.

It’s unlikely that you’ll see the bride given away because Pagans tend to be egalitarian, but you may see something that honors the families – and even the ancestors – of both the bride and groom. The couple will probably approach and enter the circle from the east to symbolize the growth of their relationship.

Like the weddings you’re used to, the officiant may ask if there are any objections to the union, and the couple will state their vows – almost always highly personalized – and the couple will usually exchange rings.

The officiant may have the bride and groom cut locks of each other’s hair and put them in a wooden or silver box to symbolize their union, or you may see them drink from the same cup.

Handfasting
Many Pagan weddings involve handfasting – wrapping a cord or ribbon around the couple’s joined hands. This symbolizes different things to different people – a traditional handfasting was a trial marriage, in which the couple stayed together for a year and a day and then had the opportunity to make their marriage permanent. Nowadays a couple is likely to consider the marriage permanent immediately, but keep the handfasting ritual as a part of their ceremony. They may come together in a year and a day to repeat their vows. (If you’re an attendant at a Pagan wedding, be aware that they may exchange vows while their hands are tied, so part of your job may be to hold cards with the vows on them for the bride and groom.)

The officiant will probably give the couple some sage advice on treating each other well and tending their marriage, and then may ask the guests to affirm their approval of this union. You’ll probably be told what to say here, but if not, any positive sentiment delivered with enthusiasm will do.

Finishing the ceremony
The officiant will pronounce the couple married and the bride and groom will kiss, as brides and grooms do. They may also feed each other and use a trowel to bury their locks of hair or handfasting cord. The couple may also jump a broom, which depending on who you ask is either from the exact same or completely different origins as the African-American broom-jumping ritual. At any rate, this symbolizes the couple jumping into their lives together, and to their commitment to making the effort to make their marriage work.

The couple may walk around the circle and greet friends and family, and then the officiant may uncast (or banish or deconsecrate) the circle. This may be the time to break small seed cakes over the couple’s heads – with roughly the same symbolism as throwing rice or birdseed.

The party
Don’t let the earnestness of Pagan wedding celebrants fool you: These people know how to throw a party. Be prepared for some fun feasting and bring your dancing shoes (or dancing bare feet). Above all, cast your worries aside. Pagans tend to be people who have fought for the right to let their freak flags fly, so even if you’re out of your element, you’re not going to get judged. There’s no better time to toss self-consciousness lightly to the side and try a new dance or even take over the conga drum for a minute.

A Pagan wedding is definitely not everyone’s thing, but it sure can be a fun thing for a few hours.

  • 1. Liz G. (not verified) said:
  • Overall, a great article... except this line: "Pagans tend to be people who have fought for the right to let their freak flags fly". I was rather thrilled to read the article because it hits on some great points, but this really killed it for me. As a pagan, I definitely appreciate the sentiment, but expressing it as letting our "freak-flags" fly is just not appropriate. It comes off derogatory and totally ruins this article.

  • 2. Rae H. (not verified) said:
  • Actually, I kind of liked it. It was honest. Props to you! We've been talking about having a Pagan ceremony and I think I really liked this over view. You can expect I'll be showing it to my fiance!

  • 3. Anonymous (not verified) said:
  • My boyfriend is Pagan and I grew up Wiccan...this article is so on point its great! Honestly yes! We are different from "traditional Christian or Jewish" society and some people may consider us "freaks" but you know what? Who cares?! We are all human with our own ideas and that is why America is the greatest country to live in because we have the born right to choose whether we marry in a church before 1000 people or we do a traditional handfasting ceremony outdoors before an intimate group of family and our closest friends. Thanks for writing the article.

  • 4. Anonymous 414 (not verified) said:
  • A family member married in a non Christian/non Jewish ceremony on a lovely sandy Mexican beach by torch light. The officiant was a female in veil evening attire, but dignified. She conducted, in English, what was clearly a generic ceremony full of pleasant symbolism. Not long into the ceremony some sort of object/image items were tossed into a small dip in the sand. The service reminded me of a Free Mason non-religious, most uninteresting and certainly far-out concoction. The attendees I'd wager knew nothing of the mumbo jumbo that went on for the 10 -15 minutes.

    The dinner that followed immediately was superb French/American cuisine.

    Upon returning to the United States that couple had a Christian wedding with additional invitations issued - that came, for me as a surprise yet understandable since the first wedding was clearly a fraud - kinda like Pagan ceremonies of old - to folks who recognize one true God, whose only begotten Son working through His Holy spirit is for real - being The Alpha and Omega . . . before whom no other gods can prevail.

  • 5. Williow N. (not verified) said:
  • A great article, loved it! Since I've decided I wanted a handfasting I've been searching for details as to what exactly happens at one and found this very informative. I used to have being called a freak but recently I've decided to use it in a positive light. All it really means is 'different' so yes, I am a wierdo / Moshe r/ freak, and I'm damn proud of it! R.I.P Sophie Lancaster <3

  • 6. austin H. (not verified) said:
  • my fiance is a pagan and we plan to marry next year im an atheist personally and i find this spirituality the most entreating compared to the others i really like paganism its very down to earth "literally" its amazing really i feel as we are just two people that love each other and do really want are lives together pagans do really know how to make you comfortable its very nice if anyone reads these out of curiosity or other wise and feel negatively towards paganism you might want to look at it again and if you know someone pagan give them a chance they may just surprise you in ways you never could have realized they really are the most fantastic and open minded people ive ever met kudos to those who agree and i wish all that's also having a union of two people luck and and i wish you all the best.

  • 7. Dragonssong (not verified) said:
  • I dont think it could be put any better than you have () * ().

    Blessed be...

  • 8. John D (not verified) said:
  • Vert nice article. I am practicing Kemetic Orthodox and my fiance is Neo-Pagan. We are having a handfasting ceremony on Ostara 2013 and I can share this with pepople who plan to attend.

  • 9. Kelsey D. (not verified) said:
  • As a newcomer to Wiccan/Pagan knowledge and lifestyle for the fact that my fiance is Pagan, and as a rather adventurous and creative cat, I find the line rather expressive. The term "freak-flags" isn't calling Pagans freaks. It's not exactly saying anything about Pagans specifically at all. It's more or less summing up all the unique qualities people have and it's about being yourself and expressing what makes you you.

    I must applaud the author of this paper. Such an amazing collection of words and symbolic measures about the Pagan culture. As well as having the mind open enough to come up with such a crazy and wonderful alternative to "express yourself".

  • 10. lil pagan (not verified) said:
  • Frauds really? Ignorance must be a really strong value for u. Paganism has been around long before christanity. We r the reasons you have easter I mean what do bunnies have to do with some guy comming back from the dead. Bunnies, eggs it is all a symbol of rebirthChristmas, pagan holiday. Jesus according to the bible itself was born in march if you check astronomy you would see it. So why celebrate it in December? Because we pagans refused to give up Yule , our celebration of the return of the sun king,even as you christans killed us for refusing to sell out. Your wedding ceremony, baptism, confirmation all have roots in paganism, your story of Jesus sounds a lot like Hercules. So if our handfastings, or weddings are frauds you may want to consider if it wasn't for us and our rites christanity would have nothing. Do not fear that you do not understand. Fear is ignorance. And ignorance only makes you look unkind and prejudice.

    Blessed be

  • 11. postedmarchdrupal (not verified) said:
  • Udeqises

  • 12. Babygirl17 (not verified) said:
  • My boyfriend and I plan to get married soon. I'm Wiccan and he is athiest i don't know how to work around this issue anyone wanna help?

  • 13. Anonymous (not verified) said:
  • im going to go to a pagan wedding next week not sure what to expect or what to wear but it soundz fun n like something ill enjoy the only dress ihav is a summer dress black n white with flowers n swirlz itz mostly black would that b okay?

  • 14. Anonymous (not verified) said:
  • "They’ll be very careful to let you know what’s coming, and will give you at least a brief overview of what it all means. "

    Not always. We were just blindsided by a pagan wedding. We had no clue and actually found this site while searching to find out what the heck that ceremony was all about. We were not given the benefit of knowing what was happening and we were not made to feel welcome or informed during the ceremony or later at the reception. (Um, is animal sacrifice usually part of a pagan wedding?) I am open minded but a little heads up would have helped. It is very difficult to make me feel like an outsider, I am quite outgoing and friendly as are most people in my family but it was like attending a wedding where one side only spoke Russian and the other side only spoke Gaelic. It was an uncomfortable mess, though the bride looked lovely, as they always do...

  • 15. Marilyn D'Auria (not verified) said:
  • I was delighted to come across this article on pagan and nature based weddings. As an officiant, I officiate a few pagan / wiccan ceremonies a year and most guests really enjoy them. Depending on your officiant, an explanation to guests is advisable, because it will be a different experience for many people and by human nature, we tend to be suspiscious of things we don't understand. I love doing these type of weddings because they are the most creative and fun. The sky's the limit. Literally. :) http://www.withthiskissitheewed.com

  • 16. Lizzy K. (not verified) said:
  • I don't believe it was meant as rude, just an expression.

  • 17. StarrGazer (not verified) said:
  • Love this article, we are having a hand-fasting ceremony ourselfs in a years time and were trying to find a good way to help bridge the religious gap between outside family and inner family, so thank you for this! I'm defiantly going to send this to the relatives whom may be concerned with our wedding.

  • 18. openxxeyes (not verified) said:
  • Do not condescend Satanism so flagrantly. It is just as valid a belief as any other, and Satanism as a whole isn't full of psychos. The satanic bibles makes it perfectly clear that no one is to use children or live animals in their ceremonies, ANY ceremonies, as they cannot give consent. This includes animal sacrifice at a wedding...that is absurd. Anyone who says otherwise isn't a Satanist, they are a devil-worshipper. These two things are vastly different. I'm unsure about using dead animals in ritual, as I don't believe in magic, and don't waste my time on it.

    My husband and I are the non-theistic, LaVeyan Satanist breed of the Satanic branch. We are kind, gentle, and hugely caring about other people. Not monsters. Perhaps you should look into it a bit more. Satanism is more than angsty, misunderstood teenagers who shoot up their schools.