Published: Monday, Apr. 12th, 2021
At the rate that modern Paganism is growing in the US, it’s hard to imagine we won’t all be invited to sit inside a sacred wedding circle at some point soon, to bless a new union while breathing in the sweet musty scent of ceremonial incense wafting through the evening air.
Paganism is the fastest growing spiritual movement in the country: There were nearly 1 million to 1.4 million “Wicca or Pagan” followers in the US in 2014, up from 340,000 in 2008, and only 8,000 openly practicing members in 1990. The number has continued to skyrocket since.
To put that in perspective, there were only an estimated 1.4 million mainline members of the Presbyterian church in 2018.
Unfortunately, despite being increasingly mainstream, Paganism and its various rites are often misunderstood. This is partly because popular media and entertainment frequently lump all modern Pagans together into one big group (and that group is usually Wicca).
In truth, there are many smaller movements under the broad umbrella of modern Paganism, and many denominations within each movement. This means there are dozens and dozens of ‘types’ of modern Paganism.
A ceremonial circle in the woods sets a magical stage.
Well, the style of wedding you’ll attend will depend on the style of Paganism your friend or family member practices! But in general, most Pagan weddings will involve these elements:
Although there will be many similarities between their wedding rites, all of these earth-based faiths are unique. They each have their own gods, their own stories, their own histories, and their own rituals, including the wedding rite.
Note: This article is in no way intended to offer a complete look at modern Paganism.
Scroll down for sample wedding and handfasting scripts.
Every part of the ceremonial altar has a meaning.
Wicca is probably the most recognized modern Pagan movement in the US. It’s a staple in teen television shows and late night movies, and it’s traditional study of plant magics and remedies shares countless similarities with mainstream homeopathic medicine. Common denominations of Wicca in the US include Celtic, Gardnerian, and Eclectic Wicca, and the solo practice of Hedgewitchery.
In the US, Wicca can sometimes seem synonymous with Paganism, but this isn’t the case. It’s only one movement under the larger umbrella of earth-centered faiths called Paganism. It can also seem synonymous with Witchcraft, but again, not all witches consider themselves Wicca, although all Wiccans are witches.
In the simplest terms, Wicca is the earth-centered practice of witchcraft and worship of nature -- especially the gods, goddesses, and spirits that organize the natural world. It is heavily grounded in the protection and stewardship of the earth, and celebration of the seasons. Followers may belong to covens (close-knit groups) or practice alone.
Handfasting: For many Wiccans, handfasting is an essential part of the marriage rite. However, many others view handfasting as a ritual of betrothal, part of the Year and a Day custom, so you might see it at either type of ceremony. During a handfasting, a priest, priestess, or honored guest will tie a decorative rope or ribbon around the two lovers' hands, wrists, or forearms, while offering a blessing and uniting the two spiritually. This ritual takes place within a sacred circle, and may involve invoking ancestors, the four corners or elements, or specific god/s or spirits.
Wedding Altar: The Wiccan wedding altar will include meaningful objects (such as an athame, wine, crystals, candles, incense, flowers, and herbs) and offerings to the gods. These offerings are burned over a bonfire or hearth fire during the ritual -- right before a large meal to close the celebration.
If you’re invited to a Wiccan wedding, be prepared for celebratory fires and feasting.
All Druid rituals take place outdoors, among the spirits of the Earth.
Neo-Druidism, also called Modern Druidism or simply Druidry, is the second most popular polytheistic movement in the country. With deep ties to ancient Celtic spiritual traditions, modern Druidry is marked by a search for harmony, balance, and closeness with the natural world, and the veneration and respect for all living things, including the earth. Interestingly enough, while most modern Druids are Pagan, in the 1700s, many European Druids considered themselves Christians.
In the simplest terms, Druidism is a spiritual practice centered in the veneration of and interaction with the gods and spirits of the natural world. They believe that all natural things, from human to tree to stream to stone, have inherent value, and share an interconnected purpose. Many Druids believe that all these things also have a soul and consciousness -- something common to animistic faiths.
The Druid marriage rites almost always include a handfasting ritual. A decorative cord or ribbon is tied by a Priest or honored guest around the hands, wrists, or forearms of the couple, uniting their spirits in front of the gods and their community.
These rites are usually performed outdoors in nature, within a sacred circle that is either cast magically, or marked with flowers, straw, stone, or other materials. There may be a calling to the quarters, and a blessing is placed on the couple. Guests will be plentiful -- these joyful bashes include many friends and family members, all of whom may participate with poetry, song, and storytelling.
If you’re invited to a Druid wedding, take a nap beforehand. These gatherings can last well into the night.
Viking weddings often include traditional clothing, drinking, songs, and ceremonial fire.
In the US, Modern Heathenism is less understood than other movements, (in part because of its contentious history, noted below) although it continues to grow steadily. One of the most popular denominations of modern Heathenism is Asatru, an earth-centered religion steeped in Viking lore and filled with the harsh and heroic mythology of Norse gods. But there are many other paths for Heathen practitioners to follow, and even non-denominational organizations, as well.
In the simplest terms, Heathenism is the worship of and relationship to pre-Christian Germanic, Norse, and Viking spirits, gods, and goddesses. They also honor their ancestors, have a deep appreciation for family, and interact with the spirits of the earth.
Note: Heathen organizations within the US, especially Asatru, have struggled and fractured as a result of widespread adoption of the religion by white supremicists and neo-nazis. Many modern organizations emphasize inclusiveness, and a majority of modern Heathens disavow any connection to racist groups, but these strong divisions continue.
Viking weddings can often last several days and nights. They are usually filled with feasting, storytelling, throat singing, drinking (sometimes out of a ceremonial drinking horn), and calling to the ancestors and spirits to honor them and ask for their blessings. In some cases, there are even blood rituals, although these are less gruesome in practice than they might sound -- involving small cuts on a bride or groom’s hands.
Some traditional variations call for the slow roasting of a pig followed by a feast with all of the couple’s friends and family, others involve a blessing under a full moon, and most are officiated by a priest or priestess (gothi or gythia).
If you’re invited to a Viking wedding, bring your heartiest thirst and appetite!
Head wreaths and white gowns are common at Pagan weddings, too!
We encourage you to continue to do your own research to learn more about these unique faiths. Defining Paganism is actually very difficult, and the term means something different in an ancient context than it does in a modern one. Historically, ‘pagan’ meant anyone who was ‘non-Christian’ and was used in a derogatory way, and the term has been reclaimed and redefined in many ways since those early days. Making things more complex, not all ancient Pagans were polytheists, though most modern practitioners believe in a pantheon of gods or spirits.
The three examples listed above are all reconstructed from ancient practices found in Europe, predominantly Northern Europe. They're considered “Neo-Pagan”, having only taken shape in the last century. For example, Wicca first gained popularity in England in the 1950s, and its rituals were recreated through the study of folklore, historical texts, mythology, and indigenous religions. But Paganism (and its sister polytheistic, pantheistic, and animistic faiths) can be found around the world, on every continent, and in every culture and time period.
Other popular movements in the US include Voodoo or Vodun, Dianic Wicca, Green Witchcraft, Mexicayotl.
Explore the origins of ancient Paganism and learn how to add the magic of handfasting into your own wedding or commitment ceremony.
This deep dive into one of the most exciting trends in weddings is inspired by love stories that reach far back into the misty origins of human history, when Druids and Priestesses dispensed esoteric wisdom, cast powerful spells, and magic and nature were one-and-the-same.
Written and illustrated by AMM’s own Jessica Levey, this book is full of whimsical illustrations, and carefully researched and crafted stories and imagery that are your ticket to your own adventure.
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