This weekend past I had the very great pleasure of attending the wedding of one of my students, sister witch, and dear friend. Which would have been wonderful enough. But I also had the pleasure of being a bridesmaid. Again, by itself, so fun. But I also had the pleasure of being the Magistra of The Rite, writing the ritual and blessing the happy couple. That too seems like it should be well wonderful by itself. But the clever bride was eager to have a ceremony that was participatory, and so I also made a small rattle for each of the guests.
Needless to say, that weddings always involve a lot of work and planning, and watching my friend go through those stresses was quite fun. Doubly so when preparing as a bridesmaid, writing and performing the ritual blessing, and crafting 60 rattles from natural native materials was stressful enough for myself, and our weekly, sometimes daily wedding banter was peppered with our laughing at each other’s stresses and rushing and preparing.
It was, in fact, entirely wonderful and completely worth it. And hot, and I came away very sunburnt after a day in the high Summer sun. It was also a learning experience for me. The first time I have stepped up in this capacity at such a public and not exclusively pagan event, and the first time I have ever attempted a make of that size and scale.
Some of those things I learned I wanted to share, as several of my pagan peeps are being married, just been or thinking tentatively about it, or might in the future.
The Pagan Marriage Celebrant
When we first discussed the wedding being of a pagan flavour in line with my friend’s practices, we considered that I might go through the process to be legally able to marry the couple myself. The more I read, the more unpleasant the idea sounded. Not only is the process long and expensive, but there appears to be an over-abundance of similarly qualified people in the country, half not able to find work, the other charging unmentionable amounts, or worse, the standards of which are well below par.
For myself, being legally registered to perform such ceremonies is not my life’s calling. Being a ritualist in the tradition of my House, on the other hand, is way more up my ally. Two things occurred to me:
- That a “pagan celebrant” does not immediately mean that they are well versed and able to perform a Rite in your Tradition. Wiccan celebrants abound in the Pagan community, but, you know, what if you are not one? What is a Priestess of Hekate to one who devoted to Frejya? As an animist, I’m not wholly interested in a pantheist officiating such a personal ceremony. It is not that these people are not offering a wonderful service, but, simply put, they are offering a service to a very small group of people.
- What’s preventing me from saying or doing anything within the ceremony without any other qualification besides the fact that my sister witch and student wants me to bless her marriage?
The answer to that second point is very simple: Nothing. Your Mum, neighbour, Best Man, Bridesmaid or that random dude down the street can be invited to say, read and do any number of things at the bride and groom’s leisure, as part of the ceremony. The minute I realised this fun and simple fact, things began to go very smoothly.
The bride found and engaged a wonderful civil celebrant, fully able to legally marry the couple and register their marriage. She provided us with what was legally required in the ceremony. I took that skeleton and wrote the ritual around it. The three bridesmaids all read a stanza of a poetic reading, I performed the Blessing, and the celebrant officiated. Too easy.
And it’s the sort of thing that to-be-brides should remember when they consider the spiritual aspect of their ceremony. Your Magister, Coven Priestess, sister Witch or Teacher can, without any issue, enact, and say any spiritual ritual aspect inside the ceremony around the legal requirements. They do not need to be a registered celebrant. The celebrant does not need a crash course in your Tradition. Indeed, the celebrant at this wedding was not even a Pagan of any kind. She didn’t need to be, as a celebrant, that is not her job.
That was my job. We wrote a rite that was at once in line with the beliefs of my friend, as a witch and an animist, as someone who honours the Ancestors, and the Spirits of Land, and that was not overly daunting and inaccessible to the majority of guests who were not Pagan at all, including the groom.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. If one of my friends in my community, witches of my House, or family every wished me to perform such a ritual task, I would not hesitate. And the ritual can be structured perfectly around their individual and personal beliefs without needing to find that rare as hens’ teeth combination of specific pagan tradition-cum-legal celebrant. You can have both, either, or more. Provided someone is there to tick all your legal boxes, you can add the rest at your leisure.
Participatory Ceremonies are the Bomb
The vast majority of weddings I have attended in my life have involved a great amount of sitting about and listening. At least, until one gets to dance at the reception. Of all the moments I recall of the day, one that will stay with me for a very long time was standing at the beginning of the ceremony, in front of the altar, as the bride skipped down to her groom, I drummed, our pagan friends who brought their drums along drummed with me, and all the guests rattled away furiously, the sound was a little overwhelming. My drum and rattle, and indeed the drums and rattles of other people, always hit me personally in the sweet spot, and instantly I feel enlivened, the waves seem to grow my person beyond the confines of my body, I’m ready for ritual. That is the cue. But never have I experienced this volume. The sound was tremendous, and surround and engulfed the whole party.
Afterwards, pagans and non-pagans alike spoke to me about that moment, the sound, how wonderful it was, the clicking and clattering, the drumming. Everyone was there for that single purpose to share in the joy of their friends’ marriage. Each guest having a rattle along with our pagan drums, was a vital, kinetic manifestation of those blessings and well wishes merged into a single musical entity. And it was fabulous.
Afterwards at the reception, guests continued to play with their rattles, some dancing with them, others found their way into the hands of the small children running about the dance floor. All the guest got to keep them, which is something like paganism-by-stealth. Way to hit them with the awesome pagan bling!
60 Shamanic Ritual Rattles for Guests at the Wedding
Never have I attempted such a mammoth project before! Despite the sharp learning curve, I really enjoyed the process, and learned a lot about how I craft, and what I use and how.
Unlike my usual makes, the wood here is branch stock, seasoned in my own yard and coming from my Black Wattle tree, after it split in a storm. It’s my tree, standing as it does over my offering stone, an ever friend and ally. Using its wood for this purpose brought me large amounts of pleasure. For this, the bark was left, and the wood roasted and varnished (for international wedding guests particularly). But the process does wonderful things to the colour. Activating the natural oils in the bark and sealing the colour in.
In addition, the same process was applied to three species of Corymbia, and one species of Eucalyptus nuts. Along with She-oak beads, wood beads and shells, and a handful of silver bells, because weddings, the only thing I didn’t shape, sand, and prepare myself.
It was huge, but another thing I would happily do again, and already have plans and projects forming in my mind now I am aware I can actually engage with something this size. How the process works when working large batches, how much time I need. To give you an idea of the transformation and scale (1200 individual pieces were drilled, sanded, gutted, roasted and varnished altogether!) here’s the photographic evidence.
It’s been over a year since wedding planning proper began in earnest, slowly gaining momentum in that time and reaching fever pitch the days before the wedding. And it was absolutely Pagan Wedding Wonderful! An honour, a joy, and a privilege.