Friday, January 14, 2011

These Three Things: Themes for a Druid Wedding

So what can you expect from a Pagan-friendly, fringe faith wedding? Well, to get a taste for our faith, first check out my article, "Discovering Druidry," and Jeff's article from several years ago, "The Essence of Druidism" (and if you have time, his follow-up, "Impact of Druidism on Everyday Life"). Go ahead — hop on over real quick and take a look.

Back already? Good! You may notice right away the common theme in each of these articles: the sacredness of triplicity. We Druids have a tendency to think in threes. The three realms of land, sea and sky, the three guardians of the threshold (fire, water and tree), the three roles of Singer, Seer, and Sage (or Bard, Ovate and Druid), the three elements of calas, gwyar and nwyfre (or form, flow and force)... the list goes on. (Okay, the tendency to over-alliterate is all me, you can't blame Druidry for that.) In keeping with this convenient (if slightly obsessive-compulsive) pattern, allow me to introduce three themes that will guide Jeff and I as we plan our Druid wedding.

Three Realms SpiralEdges, Horizons, Thresholds

In Druidry, we celebrate the three realms of land, sea and sky. These are both literal spaces in the physical world, and metaphors for the spiritual realms in which we dwell and move and live. Each of these realms also has an "element" or aspect that resonates with it: calas (Welsh for "stone"), gwyar ("blood") and nwyfre ("heaven"). I have come to understand these elements as expressions of Spirit through form, physical manifestation and limit, through flow, movement and exchange, and through force, energy and light.

Each of these ways of being in the world give us insight into and experience of the sacred, and each also gives rise to the others. The limitations of form mean that the world is filled not with some homogenous fudge, but with myriad particulars and unique individual beings. As these individuals interact, bumping up against each others' boundaries and their own limits, they stir movement and initiate exchange, an on-going give and take. And these relationships and exchanges, all this movement and change, generates energy just as naturally as the wind turns a turbine or the river powers a mill. Thus, in Druidry, we have everywhere the natural emergence of cycles. The turning of the earth and its seasons dance through the three realms of land, sea and sky, bringing new expression and experience to Spirit in the three elements of form, flow and force. The four classical elements — earth, air, fire and water — provide ancient Greek philosophy with a stable, four cornerstone foundation. But in the Celtic-influenced religion of Druidry, the three realms and their three elements are dynamic and interactive, one moving into and giving rise to the other in unending cycles and spirals.

So when we talk about edges, horizons and thresholds in Druidry, we do not mean these in a linear sense, nailed down to a one-way path of progress from a fast-forgotten starting point towards an idealized end. We are ever cycling and spiraling through our lives, and yesterday's certainties and assumptions can become tomorrow's epiphanies and surprises. Our horizons surround us on all sides, and the past holds as much mystery for us as the future or, for that matter, the present. We're not in it for the step-by-step life-plan: get a job, get a spouse, get kids, get the promotion, retire happy, rent a yacht. Let's face it, we've already missed the boat on that plan anyway (no pun intended!). Yet Jeff and I want our wedding to be about thresholds and horizons, and the mysteries and magic that lie just beyond the edges of our vision, in the liminal spaces where we can't quite see. We have these kinds of spaces in our own hearts and minds as well, where imagination, intellect and instinct play out the spiral dance of the three realms. This is one central theme for our wedding, then: the horizon as an invitation to exploration, instead of merely something to be conquered and then left behind. The threshold as the moment when we step into adventure, again and again, as we learn the together-dance of marriage.

Balance, Harmony, Beauty

Yin Yang LilyDark and light, yin and yang, night and day, life and death, activity and receptivity, male and female — in Druidry, as in many religions all over the world, we honor the numerous dualities and dichotomies in life. Yet we also acknowledge that these pairings are often simply ways of thinking and explaining the world to each other. They are not necessarily hard-and-fast rules about reality itself. There is the twilight of dawn and dusk between the darkness of night and the brightness of day. There are the stars scattered in the blackest sky, some larger than our own sun though far distant, and the moon as a silver mirror weaving and circling earth and sun alike. Death is a doorway to life and renewal, and decay is just another kind of growth. Even the duality of male and female is and very well should be challenged in our modern society, giving way to the complexity and ambiguity of gender and relationship, transcending antiquated cultural stereotypes and opening to a greater, more authentic kind of freedom.

When we talk in Druidry about seeking balance, we do not mean a strict tit-for-tat reckoning of positives and negatives, wins and losses, punishments and rewards evening the score. What we mean is something far more intuitive and difficult to pin down. Every duality gives way to triplicity, the triad, the mystery of the third. Once again, it is in the dynamic interrelationship and exchange that balance can be found. A better word for this balance, then, is harmony — the harmony of a melody that moves, meandering its way through the notes of a scale, and the harmony of many melodies coalescing into chords. An even better word for this is beauty.

So although Jeff identifies as "male" and I identify as "female" in both the biological and socio-cultural sense, within each of us we carry the mystery of the third — the seed of strangeness and difference, the glimpse of the Other resting in our own hearts. We carry this seed with gratitude as a gift to one another, and to our larger community. In Asian spiritual traditions, this concept is commonly depicted by the yin-yang symbol, dark spiraling into light, a seed of the other in each. The unofficial symbol that we've adopted for our wedding is the yin-yang lily, the blossom that grows out of this dance of change, exchange and engagement with the mystery and tension of duality. The lily is the Mystery that blooms out of a marriage of difference, and the expression of Spirit at the core of harmonious relationship. It is a reminder that balance must be sought in the service of beauty. We want our wedding to reflect this beauty, and to acknowledge the mystery at the center our relationship with each other and with the world around us.

The One, The Many, Relationship

A wedding is, naturally, about relationship. You might even say relationship is the reason for the whole shebang. But while it's easy to focus on the relationship between lucky groom and blushing bride as they become husband and wife, Druidry reminds us that there are many other relationships at work which deserve acknowledgement and gratitude during a wedding. The role of the community of friends and relatives is paramount, providing a supportive foundation and welcoming social space in which the couple can step into life as a newly created family of their own. Beyond this living community, however, is the community of the beloved dead — those ancestors of blood, land and spirit who helped to shape our physical selves, to cultivate the land on which we live and to create the culture that we will inherit and influence in our turn. Broaden our focus again, and we discover the thriving, sustaining community of the natural world and the Earth herself with her self-giving fecundity and life-giving resources. The land on which we dwell is one we share with countless other beings, flora and fauna, bacteria and bugs, even the mountains and rivers and patterns of weather and wind.

TresAll of this is echoed in the pantheon of gods and spirits that, as polytheistic Druids, Jeff and I work with, worship and love. Spirits of place and beings of the land, the trees with their ancient presence, the ocean with its depth and majesty, the resonating celestial soul of the sun, moon and stars, the Shining Ones of the hills and forests, of tradition, myth and folklore. And, too, the gods of creativity and culture, guardians and guides who have touched our lives with their wisdom and inspiration — the piercing gaze of Odin, the wild fruitfulness of Cernunnos, the youthful brilliance of Apollo, the poetry of Brigid Star-Fire with her hot springs and her forge of transformation. Yet suffused through all of these, giving life and meaning and relationship and presence, is what we might call "Spirit." More often, in Druidry, we call it the Song of the World, of which every soul-song — from the smallest beetle to the oldest oak, from the mischievous little folk to the gods themselves, and every human animal that ever lived — is a intimate part.

The Song of the World and the soul-songs of its beings — the One, and the Many. It should come as no surprise that there exists in Druidry a tension between these, which each Druid reconciles differently. As Pagan Druids, Jeff and I find our focus drawn to the myriad expressions of this unifying Spirit, making itself known through the gods and spirits of the land, as well as through other human beings, plants and animals that share this planet with us. We celebrate that diversity and the uniqueness of individuality, the freedom and beauty it makes possible and even the struggles and sorrows that sometimes result. Other Druids, some Buddhist Druids and Christian Druids, find themselves drawn to Spirit primarily through monotheism or nontheism, seeking the unity that underlies all of these relationships and beings, and calling it God, Anatma or the Ground of Being. But always, there remains this mystery, the relationship between the Many and the One.

In our wedding, Jeff and I see this mystery of relationship reflected in our promise to honor each other's uniqueness and individuality as well as our union. In other traditions, the exchange of rings or the lighting of a unity candle* might represent the blending and merging of two distinct beings into a single one — yet, in Druidry, we acknowledge that this is only part of the story. When mentioning this to my mother recently, she told me something I hadn't known about my parents' wedding. During their ceremony, after exchanging their vows and lighting the unity candle, they left the two smaller candles burning as well, a symbol of their individuality shining even within their new marriage. And so, three candles flickered together on the altar.

With a wedding on the beach gently tussled by an ocean breeze, it's unlikely that Jeff and I will be incorporating any candle lighting into our ceremony. But the symbolism of the triple flame will find other expressions, a reminder of that dynamic and beautiful relationship between union and uniqueness, between the Many and the One. As Pagan Druids seeking to honor our families and friends, our ancestors, our land and our gods, we want our wedding to celebrate the beginning of our marriage as a partnership supported by the myriad individuals and relationships that have guided and sustained us thus far, and to ground our union in that greater sense of Spirit, the Song of the World.

*An interesting note: It seems no one is quite sure where the unity candle wedding custom comes from, though it became popular mainly in the United States starting anywhere from forty to seventy years ago. Some Catholic Churches refuse to incorporate the ceremony into the traditional wedding mass because of suspicions that it may have originally been adapted from the Wiccan Handfasting ceremony. So there you are! Bet you didn't know you've probably already been to a Pagan-influenced wedding!


  1. Thank you for this post - comforting because grounding, inspiring because lifting our gaze to new horizons, and - to complete the triplicity - thrilling because you use beauty to portray truth, and this is so very rare!

    Thanks for taking the time to so carefully envision this vision, in a way that can be shared with all of us who are passing by. All the luck and blessings in the World (and in its Song)...Carol