We’re bringing something a little different to the blog today. We’ve collaborated with Federica Cosentino, nature wedding planner and stylist, to bring you lots of information on neopagan and Celtic weddings! It covers different types of ceremonies, including handfasting.
All the traditions mentioned can easily be incorporated into your wedding day! Whether you’re looking for something more ‘you’ than a church ceremony, or are wanting to incorporate nature into your wedding, there’ll be something in here for you! They can all be adapted to suit your style and beliefs. It’s important to brush up on the history behind different types of wedding, as many traditions commonly used today are of Celtic or other historic origin. Here’s what Federica taught us…
Photos by Valeria Forno
Who were the Celts? The history of Celtic Weddings
The Celts were an Indo-European group that lived in Ireland, Great Britain and part of Europe from about 400 BC until the progressive conquests of Rome, Germans and then of Christianity. They lived according to nature and their society was founded on the “big family”- what is now called “clan”.
The Druids (both men and women- the Celts made no distinction) were important members of society. They performed the priestly function, were guardians of the “sacred natural order” and were also philosophers, scientists, astronomers, masters, judges and advisers of the king.
The man-woman relationship in this complex social system was equal. The Celtic woman had the right to choose her husband and could not be taken in marriage without her consent. Once married, she did not become part of her husband’s family and remained the owner of her own property.
Celtic weddings were therefore contracts that testified to the free union of two people, who could also decide to separate at any time. It guaranteed the parties rights and duties to safeguard the family. Therefore, there were no great ceremonies and, as a social contract, there were no religious celebrations.
Handfasting - Not Celtic!
Celtic weddings were mere contractual formalities and did not include religious celebrations. In fact, the Celts did not practice handfasting. This tradition was born long after the Celtic period. Handfasting was born in the Middle Ages in Ireland and Scotland. It was used as an engagement, especially for wealthy couples. Handfasting also took on the purpose of a trial marriage. This was already practiced by the Celts, who, during the seasonal festivals of Beltane or Lughnasadh, stipulated temporary marriages of one year and one day. However, they didn’t use the binding of hands.
Neopaganism and the celtic revival
With the Roman, Germanic and then Christian conquest, the Celts almost completely disappeared. Their customs and part of their culture adapted to the invaders and survived in other forms but we lost so much of what the Celts could have taught us.
During Humanism, Renaissance and the Enlightenment in Europe, they began to study what had survived concerning the Celts. England represented one of the most important epicentres of the pagan revival, with the appearance of the first Druid groups. Thus, Neopaganism was born. Celtic neo-paganism brought together the knowledge we had about the Celts, but introduced new ones, including handfasting.
Different Types of Celtic Wedding Ceremony:
When we talk about Celtic or Druidic union rituals, we are not referring to rituals that the Celts themselves used. As for them, marriage was just a contract. So, when I talk about Celtic weddings, I mean the Celtic neopagan marriage.
Since the Druids in the past celebrated their rituals in forests, near sacred sources or in clearings with stone circles, now Celtic unions are carried out in nature. Nature is a very important part of the rituals. Marriage rites are linked to mother earth and the four elements.
A rite is a traditional ceremony that is carried out by a particular group or within a particular society. (Definition from Collins Dictionary). Various symbolic rites can be used, including handfasting. Here are some examples:
The name derives from a strongly symbolic element of the ceremony: the act of tying the hands of the spouses with a ribbon. This represents their union and mutual commitment between the couple and the earth.
- THE STONE OF THE JURY
This is a Scottish tradition. It is linked to the ancestors and to the location in which it takes place. The stone represents the past- the bones of the earth. The spouses represent the present and ask the elements and the earth to bless them. The bride and groom hold the stone together during the promises and once the ceremony is over, the stone is thrown into a river or preserved in the garden of the spouses.
- THE PRAYER OF PROTECTION
This derives from the tradition of drawing a circle of protection to create a sacred dimension, just like the stone circles that the Druids used. The circle is an important symbol of the community and is seen as protection, marked with stones, flowers or simply with a piece of wood in the earth.
- THE CANDLE OF UNITY
An ancient Irish tradition that sees the bride and groom light 3 candles together. The ritual is more tied to fire than earth. The two outer candles represent the families of the spouses and the third that is lit represents the new family that is formed.
- THE RITUAL OF THE 4 ELEMENTS
This wedding ritual invokes the 4 natural elements, the great mother and the great father to form the seventh element, that is the sacred couple. This is closer to the traditional Celtic wedding/union as mentioned earlier. The couple in the photos are performing this.