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Life Ceremonies – Weddings and Handfastings

Guest Post By: Rev Morag Cameron

Over the last few weeks I have conducted quite a few wedding ceremonies. It’s a privilege to be involved in such happy and momentous occasions, and although nowadays much fuss and expense surrounds these events, I am often pleasantly surprised by how emotionally and spiritually focussed couples become when they make their vows. I believe this is because marriage is a rite of passage, like other important times we mark with ceremony, a birth or a death, and that these are as ancient as the human race itself.

We tend to think of these ceremonies as associated with religion, but they are a cultural phenomenon too, and peeking into the tradition and history of ‘life rites’ can be a fascinating study.

For the celebration of a wedding, the rites that our ancestors observed were many, and sometimes strange. For instance, on the morning of the wedding day, a sixpence coin was put in the bride’s wedding shoe. The aim was to help bring her good luck for this important day. Also, for the same purpose, a sprig of heather was added to the bride’s wedding bouquet. Sometimes, during the wedding ceremony, the bridegroom would pin a scrap of his family tartan onto the bride’s dress in order to welcome her into his clan. The traditional “scramble” when the groom would throw a handful of coins out of the car window as he set off for the wedding has become quite rare now, perhaps due to the danger presented by modern traffic!

In Scotland, marriage has traditionally been held in a less permanent way than we are used to nowadays. The rite of Handfasting, (of “Brave Heart” fame) involved a temporary commitment of a year and a day, the couple deciding after that whether they wanted to stay together permanently. Other ways a couple might show their connection could be to jump hand-in-hand over a broomstick, as both an indication of domestic harmony, and to bring good luck. A quaich, or loving cup, might also have been shared at a wedding to cement the two sides of the family.

Nowadays, many couples enjoy including one or other of these Celtic traditions in their weddings, and they can bring a touch which is both light-hearted and romantic to the ceremony.

As a modern-day celebrant, I find it interesting, and yes, reassuring that in our top speed, materialistic world, folks still need rites and rituals that mark our journey through life and satisfy and celebrate the connection to others and the greater whole.

Rev Morag Cameron, Interfaith Minister,

Celebrant and Spiritual Counsellor

Morag conducts legal wedding ceremonies in South Scotland, and specialises in individually tailored services, often with a Celtic theme.

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