Wedding Rituals

 

Renewal of Vows

(Scroll to Bottom of Page for Renewal of Vows)

 

There are many ways to visualize, symbolically, the coming together of a couple in marriage. Here are some of the ideas that I have used over the many years of officiating weddings. Feel free to make any of these your own by adding or changing elements so that it speaks more directly to your experience, ethnicity or philosophy. 

If you choose to work with me, I am happy to help you personalize a traditional ceremony element, or create a brand new one based on your own “centering metaphor”! The descriptions below will help you begin imagining what kind of visual and symbolic gesture might fit into your particular ceremony. I can then help fill in the details of meaning and methods for any of them.

Here is a list of rituals or symbolic gestures - in alphabetical order - that you may personalize and incorporate into your own ceremony. I am happy to work with you to create something new based on your own visions and values.
 

 

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archeology of love (sand ceremony)
 

ARCHEOLOGY of LOVE (The SAND CEREMONY)



Using a large, glass vase or bowl and smaller vials of colored sand, a many-layered decorative piece can be created during the ceremony that will give many years of memories. This is especially nice for ceremonies with children or relatives who’d like to participate but are shy of speaking in public!

After family members have poured in their sand, the couple each pour half of their sand (different colors) into the vase and the minister then notes that marriage signifies the blending of two lives into one shared life, at which the couple pour their remaining sand in together so that the colors mingle, creating a new color.

 

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BLESSING OF THE HANDS

 

This is a contemporary ritual that is deeply moving and guaranteed to make the meaning of the moment clear to both participants.

Each member of the couple in turn places his or her hands palms up, cradled by their partner’s hands. The minister reads a beautiful blessing that celebrates the significance of everything that hands represent in human life and love.

Very often I will use this as a lead in to the exchange of rings or the Handfasting ritual. 

 

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coin ceremony
 


COIN CEREMONY



This ritual has many variants from different countries. Sometimes it is the parents offering coins to the new couple, or the couple offering them to each other. Another variation has the coins being passed through the guests to receive their blessing. The coins can be blessed by the minister prior to being used in the ceremony.

The coins may be standard currency or you may wish to create some (3-D printing or buy on Ebay) with your names and wedding date engraved on them.
 

A variation that I created for a couple getting married by a great fountain, was to tape a small coin on each of the wedding programs. At the end of the ceremony, I invited all the guests to make a wish for the new couple, take their coin from the program and go forward to throw their penny into the fountain. Everyone agreed this was great fun!
 

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Wine Box for FIRST ANNIVERSARY


As an addendum to the ritual of the wine sharing, or as a separate ritual, the couple may wish to gift each other with a special bottle of wine which is placed in an elegant box and two letters (unread) are placed alongside the bottle. On their first anniversary this bottle will be shared by the couple and the letters read aloud to each other. 

A more elaborate setting could have the letters, the box and the bottle of wine all brought up by different people, or additional letters of blessing added by family and friends. 

One couple chose to leave the box with the wine bottle open on the table during the reception with small notecards nearby and guests were invited to write a wish and drop it into the box for them to read on their first anniversary.

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FIRST GIFT

 

This is an old tradition with echoes of the northern European folk custom of “the first foot” – that the first person coming through your door after the New Year must share gifts to ensure prosperity for the rest of the year. The nature of the gifts indicated the kind of year that one could look forward to. Building on this idea, couples may choose to gift each other during the ceremony, to ensure that the first gift received at this liminal (threshold) moment has potent symbolism. 

In one ceremony, the groom serenaded his bride with a surprise rendition of “It’s You” accompanied by a guitarist who materialized from among the guests! Another first gift that brought much merriment was the television remote, carefully wrapped, with a promise to let the new spouse choose favorite programs for the first year. 

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FOUR SEASONS OF LOVE

 

I created this ritual for a couple who want to honor special friends and family members during their ceremony. 

To represent each of the “four seasons” of life and love, four couples or individuals are asked to participate in this ritual. To add a visual component, each of the four couples is asked to bring some object that symbolizes to them their love and marriage. Or, the couple select on object for this purpose. This token is placed on the table before or after they do their reading.

 

Springtime & New Love – a reading or sharing by the guest 

Summertime & Fruitful Love – a reading or sharing by the guest

Autumn & Mature Love – a reading or sharing by the guest

Winter & Wise Love - a reading or sharing by the guest

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rings
 

GUESTS BLESSING OF THE RINGS

 

I started using this ritual just in the last few years and it is a beautiful addition to a ceremony as it involves the guests in an easy way that seems to spread blessings all around. I have had many guests tell me how meaningful it was to be asked to contribute in this personal way, and one bride told me it was her favorite part of the whole wedding!

In this ritual, the wedding rings are placed in a small bag or bags (mesh or silk are good as the rings can easily be felt under the fabric). The minister explains that the bag(s) will be brought to the back row by the Best Man (or whomever is designated) and are to be passed through the rows of guests where they will receive their silent blessings. Thus, the ceremony continues while the ring bag makes its way up and down the rows until it (or they) comes to the front row, where they can be held by the mothers or other significant person until the Best Man retrieves them for the ring exchange.

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GUESTS VOWS of LOVE & SUPPORT

 

I started using this ritual as a bookend to the guests blessing of the rings at the beginning of the ceremony. It keeps people so engrossed in the ceremony!

After the couple say their vows, the minister turns to the guests and asks them if they will also take vows to love and support the new couple. You can make these as solemn or as humorous as you wish. At the conclusion, the minister prompts everyone to respond verbally with "We Do!" 

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handfasting
 

HANDFASTING



Originally a form of secret marriage in Scotland during the times of rebellion when local clergy were barred from practicing, the tradition of Handfasting has come into its own as a beautifully symbolic way of two people coming together to bind their lives and hearts. 

The cloth was traditionally two strands of tartan, representing the two clans of the families. Today it can be any type of cloth that holds some value to the couple. In one same-sex wedding I did between a Scottish groom and a Japanese groom, a piece of the grandmother’s wedding obi (the sash worn around the gown) was used along with the green and red tartan of the spouse. In another wedding, the couple’s mothers had embroidered the names and wedding date of the couple on opposite sides of a cloth in the wedding colors. Another couple used the Spanish lace mantilla from the bride’s grandmother’s wedding. Almost anything that can be flexible enough to be wrapped around the couple’s hands is suitable.
 

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HONORING THE ANCESTORS

 

At times like a wedding it is natural for thoughts to turn to family and the generations of ancestors who have come before. Not infrequently, a couple may have lost a beloved family member or close friend in the year before a wedding. Especially in the case of a close family member it is obvious that many of the guests will be thinking of this dearly departed one at the wedding, so it’s better to embrace the reality than to try and ignore it. I usually recommend a brief moment at the start of the ceremony to remember the departed friend.

To add a visual element, candles may be lit as the names of the ancestors are read, or flowers can be placed in a vase to honor them.

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love is a garden
 


LOVE IS A GARDEN

 

I created this ritual for the many couples I work with who want to honor Nature in their ceremony. 

The minister introduces the image of the garden, where every flower might be a different color and shape, but all add to the glorious beauty of the garden – then compares that to the human family where each person is completely different and therefore beautiful and necessary for the whole.  

At a small wedding every guest might participate. At a larger wedding selected family or members of the wedding party might be enlisted.  The minister invites the first person to add their flower to the vase and say a few words. When everyone has added their flower, the minister holds up the last flower and asks everyone to take hands and offer a silent blessing while she offers a spoken blessing for the new spirit of love coming into existence because of this marriage. The flower is then added to the bouquet. 

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MARRIAGE OF MUSICAL SOULS



This is a ritual I designed for a couple who had met on Match.com and become “opera buddies” before falling in love!

Bride and Groom sit, facing each other. Behind each of them stands (sits) a musician. The Bride and Groom take turns speaking the words from Kahlil Gibran (or some other poem) on the meaning of marriage and the musicians offer a “musical echo” to the words. These musical phrases (approximately 30 seconds long) appear to be separate melodies; the finale reveals that they are actually fit together in beautiful counterpoint – a marvelous musical metaphor for marriage! [A Bach cantata was perfect for this – using the first violinist and the cello - but other composers will work as well. Or spice it up by using a contemporary love song!]

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quaiche or loving cup

QUAICHE OR THE “LOVING CUP”



The quaiche (from the Celtic word cuach, meaning cup) is a shallow, carved bowl or cup used to share a drink of honey-mead or wine or water between two lovers or friends. Sometimes the cup has two handles and the two individuals stand facing each other and take turns drinking while both hold one of the handles. 

It is part of the ancient tradition of hospitality from the Celtic honor system – whoever had shared a cup could not do injury to the other, hence the “loving cup” appellation. A Scottish king once gifted a Scandinavian Queen with such a cup in honor of her engagement, and it became fashionable for lovers to announce or celebrate their nuptials with a drink from the loving cup. One folk custom that has taken hold is that the Groom kisses the bottom of the quaiche after they’ve drained the contents. The quaiche can also be used at the Christening of a child born to the couple – the water is scooped from the same cup that graced the parents’ wedding!

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RED THREAD RITUAL
 

Sometimes, when lovers meet for the first time, there is a shared sense of destiny; a sense that one is remembering, rather than meeting this new person. This is the sense that is called “soulmates” in the West. In the East it is the tradition of The Red Thread. The sages say:

"An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break." Some versions of the tradition insist that only when the individual has made “the right choices” in life that the heart turns and thus winds the thread so that the meeting with the beloved takes place. Making this image visual can add a delightful dimension to this ritual!

The minister winds one end of a red ribbon around the hand of each partner, as they stand apart from each other. They slowly walk towards each other winding the thread around their hand until they are brought face-to-face. As they walk, they may take turns naming the “right choices” they made that brought them to their meeting with their mate. 

Alternatively, the minister can be the spokesperson for them and tell the story of their meeting with the highlights of their earlier lives. This can be serious or alternate the humorous with the sublime; “Then he took that horrible job in Toledo which he hated, but that’s when he met Joe who introduced him to woman who would be his wife!”

[Note: This ritual is the one featured in the video on the home page!]

 

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SACRED SPACE

 

When a couple has family and friends from all over the world, it is a lovely gesture to create “sacred space” by inviting people to bring offerings of sand or a small stone from their homeland.

These offerings are gathered up at the start of the ceremony in a beautiful dish or bowl, which may then have candles or flowers placed on it, or the ring box may be set on it, or the printed marriage vows placed in the bowl, etc.

As an idea of how this is framed, the minister may explain to the guests: “The groom’s mother carries the land of his childhood home (name the place). The bride’s mother carries the land of her childhood home all the way from (name the place).  I invite the mothers to lay their sand/stone here and close the circle of your children’s journeys that led them to this day.”

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SEVEN-STEPS

 

In India, one of the ancient elements of the marriage rite was the circling of the bride and groom together around the sacred fire. In fact, this custom is also known in the Middle East and may go back millennia to times when the Indo-Aryan culture was still centered in the Caucasians. The seven-times circling has mystical properties and is certainly a powerful yet simple way to symbolize the new covenant – the “coming together” – of the new couple.

I wrote a simple poem based on the seven chakras – each step reflecting the guardian principle of that chakra - making it applicable especially for Hindu or Buddhist-based ceremonies. The couple stands seven paces apart, facing each other, and as I read they take one step towards the other until they are face to face and can take hands in preparation for saying their vows.

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TREASURES FOR THE JOURNEY

 

Many marriages are taking place between partners who have children from previous marriages. To honor the aspect of a new marriage that includes a blended family, I came up with this highly visual, fun and meaningful ritual to add to the ceremony. 

Each member of the new family selects an object – something from the home – that represents what they are most looking forward to in being part of this new family. For instance, a deck of cards which represents the fun of families playing together; a map which represents the adventures of family vacations; a silver platter representing the many festive holiday dinners that will bond the new family… you get the idea!

These objects are added to a box or basket and the child(ren) get to carry them out at the recessional.

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TWELVE VIRTUES

 

Twelve small tokens – flowers, stones, coins, ornaments, etc - each representing some virtue that the couple wants to add to their marriage, are gathered together and then distributed to selected family and friends prior to the start of the ceremony. As each friend/family member brings up the token Rev. Rebecca names one of the virtues, one for each token: honor, generosity, patience, courage, prosperity, diligence, etc.  

Alternatively, each person may read a short passage which names the virtue they are contributing to the couple. Even more special, the bride and groom may prepare a short statement for each of the twelve virtues and then explain why they have selected each of the twelve relatives or friends to stand for that virtue. Or – if this feels like too much work – I would be happy to suggest twelve virtues that have been held in high regard in any of the great traditions: Classical Greece; Troubadours & Rules of Courtly Love; The Way of the Tao; the Buddha’s teachings, etc.

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unity candle
 


UNITY CANDLE

 

Many traditional Catholics will include this ritual in their wedding ceremony, but its symbolism is so wide that many other meanings can be attached to it. It is frequently used in humanist and nature weddings as a celebration of the fire element and its important symbolic meaning in human life and love. For an evening wedding where the light of the candle is a focal point, the effect can be very dramatic.

The couple takes the two tapers and as minister speaks, they light the unity candle together and replace the tapers in their holders. Alternately, the mothers can come forward and light tapers, from which their offspring light their own tapers and then proceed to light Unity Candle.

A twist on the theme that I created uses the idea of love –represented by the Unity Candle - as the starting point for the ritual. Upon entering everyone is given a small taper with a safety cone around it. During the ceremony I speak about marriage and light the candle and explain that LOVE is a place from which to draw strength and inspiration. The couple each light a taper from the Unity Candle and then turn to light the candles held by the wedding party. Then they walk to the front row of guests (usually where the immediate family is sitting) to light their tapers. The bridesmaids and groomsmen walk down the aisle and light the tapers of the guests seated on the aisle who then turn and light their neighbors candles. This can be very moving at night when the space is dark. Many churches have similar ceremonies at Easter or Christmas and so will allow you to have lighted candles during your wedding.

If you want to try this ritual at an outdoor wedding I suggest the option of floating candles in a deep, transparent bowl, so that the flame is less easily extinguished by the breeze.

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WINE SHARING

 

Another traditional ritual with versions from Judaism as well as from medieval Christianity and new Wiccan traditions is the sharing of wine. In the Christian version the sharing of wine echoes the celebration of the mass and the sharing of wine between Christ and his disciples.  The Jewish version celebrates the bounty of the earth and praises the Maker for providing the fruit of the vine. The Pagan version celebrates the role of Nature as the giver of all gifts.

The couple pours wine from the two carafes into a single glass or goblet and share the wine as minister reads a poem or blessing. The wine and cup can be brought up by parents or friends or members of the wedding party.

 

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zen stone cairn
 

 

ZEN STONE CAIRN

 

A cairn is simply a pile or small tower of stones like the ones found along pilgrimage routes to sacred places. In a wedding, creating a stone cairn can be a beautiful ritual that leaves you with an enduring totem to the ceremony and its meaning.

I often combine the idea from the "Twelve Virtues" ritual and this one. It is possible to buy "Zen Stone Cairns" from Etsy or other online shops made from smooth river stones that have a hole drilled through so that the stones fit on top of one another to form a sturdy tower. Other shops sell stones that have words etched on them so that you can create a stone cairn using your significant values and virtues. As in the previous ritual, the stones can be brought up by family or friends and the virtues named as the stones are placed. 

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renewal_of_vows
 

Renewal of Vows

You are two who, by your patience, persistence, and promises, have arrived at that magical moment called the (insert years of marriage here! 10th, 25th, 50th, etc.) Anniversary. This is a mountain top that most of us dream of arriving at when we are young and full of hope. We know how few actually reach this pinnacle, and so it is wonderful to acknowledge and celebrate those who do get there. Today we celebrate as you begin the next marvelous chapter in the book called LOVE!

When two people come together to remember the years of their union, it is right and good to give thanks to those whose love and support made their progress possible; those still with us and those who have gone before. Today we honor departed parents and grandparents, friends, mentors, and all whose love and support will be cherished forever.

Readings for a Renewal of Vows

What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined together, to strengthen each other in all labor, to minister to each other in all sorrow,
to share with each other in all gladness, to be one with each other in all the silent, unspoken memories of life.

- George Eliot

 

It takes years to marry completely two hearts, even the most loving and well assorted. A happy wedlock is a falling in love. Young persons think love belongs to the brow-haired and crimson cheeked. So it does for its beginning. But the golden marriage is part of love which the bridal day knows nothing of.... Such a large and sweet fruit is marriage that is needs a long summer to ripen, and then a long winter to mellow and season it.

—Theodore Parker from Marriage Joins Two People

 

Marriage offers opportunities for sharing growth
that no other human relationship can equal. 
It is an emotional and physical joining that is promised for a lifetime. 
Within the circle of love, 
marriage encompasses all of life’s most important relationships. 
A wife and husband are each others best friend, 
confidant, lover, teacher, listener and critic.
Marriage deepens and enriches every facet of life. 
Happiness is fuller; memories are fresher; 
even anger is felt more intensely, and passes away more quickly. 
Marriage understands and forgives, 
the mistakes that life is unavoidable to avoid. 
It encourages and nurtures new life, new experiences
and new ways of expressing your love through the seasons. 
When two people pledge to love and care for each other in marriage, 
they create a spirit unique to themselves, 
which binds them closer than any spoken or written words. 
Marriage is a promise and potential, 
made in the hearts of two people who are in love, 
that takes a lifetime to fulfill.

— Edmund O’Neil    from I Carry Your Heart With Me

 

I could open the doors and the windows
to great winds
Let everything be scattered,
like loose sheets of paper
Let tumbling take sense and proportion
from what we have put in order.
That suits us,
but it would not change anything.
You have come in,
and your entrance has been final.
You do not leave me,
nor do I leave you, beloved.
We have made this house our place,
And our shelter.
When we go out, 
we will go out together.

—Ted Enslin

 

A Renewal of Vows ceremony is usually less formal than the original wedding, but often more emotionally moving. Your union has now been tested and proved worthy and the sharing with friends and family will be even more powerful for that. You may wish to re-state the vows from the wedding, and/or write some new ones based on what you now know of love and marriage, and what you now wish to claim for your unfolding future together.

Please call me and we can discuss how to make your ceremony reflect just who you are and give voice to your true heart!


Rituals