Published: Wednesday, May. 26th, 2021
Centuries ago in Scotland, young couples and their families would gather together near a pond or stream, or along a rocky coastline, on the wedding day. Surrounded by the beauty of the natural world and the spirits and gods that resided there, the couple would clasp a stone in their hands and take their vows of love and devotion -- sealing the marriage oath in stone.
At the time, it was thought that vows made upon a stone or rock were stronger than others, and that taking them near water made them even stronger. Couples would sometimes carve a Celtic knot into the stone’s surface, or etch their names across it. Making vows this way was referred to as “setting an oath in stone,” and it’s probably where the modern expression ‘set in stone’ comes from.
Once the oath was set and the marriage vow sealed, the couple’s wedding stone would either be tossed into the water or kept in their home as a lasting symbol of their commitment. Guests at the wedding might do the same with their own stones -- called blessing stones -- by tossing them into the water, or placing them into a container or garden as part of a stone blessing ceremony.
Oathing stones are still a part of traditional Scottish weddings but they’re also seen in wedding ceremonies all across Europe and throughout the U.S. as a way for couples to pledge their lasting love. As modern couples search for new ways to personalize their ceremony with unique unity rituals, wedding officiants can expect to see the oathing stone custom (or its counterpart -- the stone blessing ceremony) more often.
Because the oathing stone ritual doesn’t belong to any particular religion or region, it’s easy to modify to fit any style of wedding, and to align with any spiritual meaning or personal significance. This makes it a versatile choice for religious or non religious weddings, ‘spiritual but not religious’ weddings, Pagan weddings, formal ceremonies, simple outdoor elopements, and everything (and anything!) in between.
This simple outline and sample script will help you get started planning or officiating an oathing stone ceremony. Change what you need to to make it work for you, and combine it with other rituals (like a handfasting) or a special reading to make it more personal and meaningful.
Most importantly, have fun with it!
Couples: Choose an oathing stone! Pick one at your favorite outdoor spot -- such as a state park or forest, vacation spot, or beachfront. Your stone can be any size, but pick something smooth and flat if you plan to add a design -- one that’s suitable for carving or etching. Some couples choose to use a stone sculpture instead.
Clean the stone and let it dry thoroughly. This might take a day or two. Then polish it with a natural oil, such as almond oil or linseed oil to add a bright shine. But remember! Oil will bring out the natural texture of the stone, but it will also change and darken the surface color of the stone.
This ritual is usually combined with a couple’s wedding vows. The couple takes their vows while clasping the stone between them. If it’s a large stone or sculpture, they can rest their hands on it while reciting their vows.
The officiant asks the best man or maid of honor (or whoever’s in charge of the stone) to step forward and hand the couple their stone when it’s time for the vows exchange. The couple holds the stone while the officiant leads them through the marriage oath. Because the couple will have their hands full, it’s best to have them repeat after the officiant, or stick with a simple call and response style “I do.”
After the vows have been exchanged, they’ll hand the stone for safe keeping, or throw it into the water.
If the ritual’s combined with a Stone Blessing Ceremony or traditional Irish Blessing Stones, guests will add their own stones to the vase or container the couple’s chosen, or toss them into the water (a wishing well, river, ocean, etc.).
Officiants: Use this sample script to get started, and modify it to suit your couple and their style. The most important thing to remember is that some of the guests won’t be familiar with this type of ceremony, and might not understand what’s happening, or why.
In a sentence or two, let guests know why the couple chose this ceremony and what it symbolizes to them. If the stone carries a special connection to a place or region, share that too, along with any relevant history or cultural significance. Include any details they might need to know in order to participate or feel included in the ceremony.
“Friends and loved ones, ___________ and ___________ will now take their vows with a traditional Scottish oathing stone, symbolizing the lasting quality of their love.
___________, please step forward with the stone.
[The best man, maid of honor, or honored guest will step forward and hand the stone to the couple, who hold it between them.]
For those not familiar with this tradition -- love sworn over a stone strengthens a bond, and connects two people with the wisdom of the past and love of their families.
___________ and ___________, you chose this stone during a long, laughter-filled hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains -- one that ___________ later described to your friends as ‘comically heroic.” It represents your sense of adventure, your appreciation for time spent exploring the world together, your ability to always rely on each other -- and ___________’s sense of direction -- and the rock-hard strength of your love.
As you join in marriage today, let this stone represent a lasting foundation, grounded in the past as you look to the future.
___________ , do you promise to love and respect ___________ for the days and years to come, supporting them through good and bad, and welcoming each day and each opportunity together with honesty, humor, and faith?”
Partner One: “I do!”
“And ___________ , do you promise to love and respect ___________ for the days and years to come, supporting them through good and bad, welcoming each day and each opportunity together with honesty, humor, and faith?”
Partner Two: “I do!”
Once the vows have been taken, the couple hands the stone back (until the ceremony is complete), places it on the wedding altar, or tosses it into the water.
If the ceremony is part of a traditional Irish Blessing Stones ceremony, guests can toss their stones into the water now too, with direction from the officiant.
As you can see, this timeless custom offers plenty of creativity and versatility, whether the couple is looking for something traditional or entirely unconventional. Because it gives the couple a chance to share their story with guests in a unique way, we’ll likely see more of it for years to come!
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