My weddings (I am a celebrant) went well last weekend. The first was in an old mansion that is now used as a Youth Arts Centre. It was gusty and windy, so the decision was made to move it inside to the central stairwell, with many of the guests gathered around the upper balcony and looking down. Others were clustered around the bottom. Ceremonies on stairs can be very tricky as if the photographer is positioned further down the stairs, he or she captures the double chins and those great views up your nose.
I warned the photographer about this aspect, but noticed that this was exactly what she was doing. She stayed lower on the stairs the whole time. She was not a professional wedding photographer but a friend of the bride and groom (B&G) whose hobby is photography. I know that this is a big saving for B&G as they do not have to pay their friend, or if they do it is a cost-recovery amount but so often I have seen that using friends for this task leads to less-than-optimal results. In part this is through not having appropriate equipment, and in part in not having the experience and understanding enough about positioning, framing, lighting, etc.
After the ceremony, the guests adjourned to the ballroom for nibbles and drinks while the B&G had the family photos. There was also Bocce, quoits and some form of croquet happening outside for those who preferred more active pursuits while they passed this time away. All in all, it was very civilised. The bride looked stunning in an elegant slim-fitting strapless gown with a fishtail train. The groom, who was in the armed forces, wore his dress uniform. This was not quite in the style of Prince William, but the Aussie khaki outfit, with various badges, insignia and bits of braid.
The second ceremony was quite different. It was in a public park on the banks of the River Torrens, and took the form of a handfasting with pagan elements. It was not a fully fledged pagan ceremony as the bride was concerned that it may perplex her guests. It took place within a sacred circle which I cast at the beginning of the ceremony and before B&G entered, I ceremonially washed their hands with salt water to cleanse them and wash away the burdens of their every day life so that they might focus on their promises. I also called upon the gods and goddesses to bless their union.
Before the exchange of vows, I bound their left hands together with a length of ribbon, explaining to the guests as I did so about the ancient ritual of handfasting. It was initially a form of betrothal and if the couple were still together a year and a day later and chose to remain in the relationship, then they were considered to be permanently married. Before that however, either was free to leave. A sort of cooling off period. The vows, which were quite poetic, were exchanged while the hands were still bound. We finished the ceremony with a honey mead ritual, involving the B&G sipping from a chalice of Liqueur Honey Mead, which is absolutely lovely. It tastes like a mixture of chocolate, orange and honey – a form of liquid Jaffas.
This couple were arranging their wedding celebrations on a shoe string and the Bride had done all the catering. They had taken a small gazebo down to the park and also carried a dining table down there as well. The food was laid out on this. On the grass, they had laid out lots of picnic blankets, and on each blanket was a picnic basket. I think that there were named labels on each basket and inside there were plates, cutlery, glasses etc for each person who was named on the label. The baskets looked as though they were collected from various op shops. The wedding guests were therefore clustered around the picnic area on their blankets.
The wedding cake was a large chocolate cake, and B&G had collected a heap of pretty plates from op shops as well – the sort that afternoon tea would be served on. This was for the cake and each guest could choose the plate that they liked and could take it home with them – a unique form of bomboniere. A young woman was singing and playing guitar. She was so slight and skinny but had a powerful voice. I enjoyed listening to her for the time that I was there.
I didn’t stay too long, and unless the B&G are friends or there is good reason then I don’t stay too long. My work is done and I don’t like to impose on the gathering. It took ages to pack up of course as these ceremonies, with their various props and supports for different rituals are a lot of work to set up and then to dismantle again. I was a bit tired as well and was happy to head for home where more prosaic tasks awaited like mowing the lawn.
I still have to catch up with this couple again as this was not a legal wedding ceremony that I conducted for them. They did not submit all of their required paperwork to me before the ceremony so I could not marry them. What I performed was a betrothal ceremony, with careful re-wording throughout. When their paperwork has arrived from interstate, I will conduct a small private ceremony for them then.
I am off work today as I have a sore throat and laryngitis. I shall use some of the time to work on the structure of a renewal of vows ceremony, for a couple who would also like to include pagan-influenced rituals as well. I think that this is a twentieth anniversary, so it is good to see that some unions last the distance and presumably is still going strong.
A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day. (Andre Maurois)