Expressing Your Love In
A Sacred Wedding Ceremony
By Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway
“There is a unique anticipation that fills the hearts of every bride and groom,
and the hearts of those who come to witness their sacred union.
While it has been experienced by so many people in love, throughout the ages,
it is a moment in time that is unique and unto itself.
Your wedding ceremony experience will be your unique moment in time!”
- From Wedding Goddess: A Divine Guide to Transforming Wedding Stress Into Wedding Bliss, by Laurie Sue Brockway, May 2005
Every time I officiate at a wedding ceremony I am awed by the extraordinary energy that becomes available when two people in love literally step up to commit themselves to sacred union. Because I am frequently called upon to solemnize marriage vows outside of traditional religious settings, I have seen time and again that a holy temple can be created anywhere love is present. All weddings ceremonies have a rhythm, and a life, of their own. The energy comes alive as the bride makes her silent walk to the altar and builds like a symphony with each segment of the ceremony. By the time vows are exchange, it is as if the heavens open to rain love upon the gathering. Couples can seize the opportunity to unite not just their hearts, lives and families, but to unite their very beings.
From my perspective, the first dance between the bride and groom begins not at the reception, but when they first set eyes on one another at the altar. It is as if their souls begin to gently swirl in a silent, slow, steady ascension into a higher state of love. I believe in working closely with couples to structure a wedding ceremony that truly allows them to express their love in a personal way, and in offering the support that will enable them to surrender to this sacred moment in a profound and meaningful way.
Although many of us grew up attending traditional weddings, in churches, synagogues, temples and lavish catering halls, in recent years we have seen the emergence of a new type of wedding, where couples marry outside of a formal house of worship. One of the reasons is the increasing numbers of interfaith couplings, which often lead bride and groom to seek a neutral venue for marriage. Another reason is the soaring numbers of people joining the ranks of the “unaffiliated,” or feeling disenfranchised from the faith they were born into. More and more non-religious people in love are seeking meaningful, personalized and loving ceremonies – without dogma or traditional religious fanfare. Spiritually oriented couples are seeking a secular or interfaith approach. Then there are couple so devoted to honoring the sacred nature of their love, and the divine within, that they choose a sacred love ceremony to fully celebrate and seal their union.
The concept of the sacred marriage or sacred love ceremony originated with the ancients, who typically enacted annual ceremonies to bring fertility and prosperity to the people and the land. Many cultures enacted or emulate sexual rites between God and Goddess, or between the Gods and a human who “impersonated” or energetically acted out the role of a deity. The Greeks called it Hieros Gamos. Many mythologies describe it as a marriage between heaven and earth. In ancient Egypt, the marriage between Isis and Osiris was considered sacred union of heaven and earth, of yin and yang, of the feminine and the masculine principles.
In the Hindu tradition, man and woman came to the wedding altar as God and Goddess in human form. To this day, in many parts of India, the bride is looked upon as Goddess Lalkshmi (divine female who rules abundance, prosperity and beauty) and the groom as Lakshmi’s consort, Lord Vishnu (the Great Preserver, and a God who incarnated as Krishna).
The Celtic tradition brought forth one of the most widely practiced forms of sacred ceremony today -- the hand fasting. It was once a form of “engagement” that committed couples for a year and day. If they found marriage suitable, they’d marry. It grew into a self-initiated ceremony couples would conduct in the days before there was such as thing as a wedding officiant. The custom is still widely practiced by Pagan practitioner. The contemporary hand fasting is presided over by a High Priestess and High Priest to represent male and female energies; often one of them is a clergy registered to perform legal marriages.
Many couples relish the idea of a memorable and special sacred ceremony – but they want to tread lightly on some of the traditions and trimmings that relatives with strong religious beliefs would find upsetting or offensive. They also want ceremonies that are welcoming to loved ones and can easily include the participation of friends and family.
The modern sacred love wedding ceremony is one that has to be crafted by and for each individual couple. It’s rarely something you can just pull out of a book. It’s personalized, and has to include elements that will help that couple truly seize on the energy of the moment – such as creating a sanctified space that is like a sacred container for their love and vows. It doesn’t have to look like a Hindu ceremony or a Pagan ceremony or seem like a reenactment of the Celtic Holiday of Beltane when men and women took to the fields to make love in the name of the Goddess. It can be a groom in a tux and a bride in white who walks down the aisle, or a shoeless couple on a beach in Maui. It can contain elements or rituals of existing traditional or non-traditional ceremonies; it can include any religious, spiritual, cultural or family traditions the couple chooses. The main ingredient is their love and their conscious intent to express that love to one another – and share it with their community –in a way that is holy and sacred to them personally.
Keep in mind that when a couple marries outside of a traditional religious institution in the United States, there are very few things that they have to include. Most aspects of the ceremony can be created and selected purely on personal preference. Legally, the requirements are minimal – that is why a civil ceremony is so short. In many states you need one adult witnesses, and a clergy person to sign the license; the officiant has to ask a question that allows the couple to say they have come of their own free will (this is usually implied in the “I do”) and they have to be pronounced husband and wife. In a sacred commitment ceremony between a same sex couple (outside of Massachusettes, where it is legal), or a couple not opting for a legally recognized marriage, you do not even require a witness or an ordained clergy person.
Some things to consider as you plan and prepare for your sacred love ceremony:
In the Eastern traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism wedding dates are decided upon with the assistance of professional astrologer. It is firmly believed marriage rites should occur on a day that reflects the most astrologically favorable aspects for love and commitment for both the bride and groom. Many modern couples ask astrologers or clairvoyants to suggest dates. Some pick a symbolic time – the anniversary of the first date, a new moon (great time for fresh starts) or a full moon. It is not recommended that a wedding date be selected to accommodate out of town relatives or the availability of the venue. It is also not a great idea to choose to marry on the anniversary of a sad or inauspicious occasion, unless you intend to very consciously and lovingly replace a difficult memory with an empowering one.
Love between a couple is what creates a wedding altar and temple – anywhere. Pick a place that is personally meaningful and sacred. Many couples are married in the same local as the ceremony – in a room or area set off from the reception Hall. Some couples opt to have the ceremony in a park, on the beach, in nature or in their own back yard, and then head over to a local restaurant for a celebration. Let it be a place that represents the spirit of your relationship, and that lends itself to the kind of celebration you would like to have.
Obviously, I am biased here and will always recommend a loving, caring, supportive clergy person that you feel a connection to. If your family clergy person is open-minded and game, by all means ask that person to officiate. By the same token, you may know a Justice of the Peace or a Judge who does weddings. There is also a new genre of independent officiants and interfaith ministers who are trained to create any kind of personalized ceremony. Many of them are hip, open-minded and willing to co-create the ceremony you truly want. You can find one in any part of the country.
Some couples want to honor family traditions with a modern spin. Perhaps they want to break the glass to recall Judaic roots or light a unity candle to include Christian heritage. Any rite, ritual or reading can be updated and personalized. For example, instead of breaking the glass and evoking the traditional meaning -- the destruction of the ancient temples and to remind us of the holocaust – it can symbolize closure with the past, or a breaking of glass so that the marriage shall never break. Bride and groom can surf the web and buy books on weddings to give them ideas, and to look around for elements they’d like to include. They might want to search for readings and poetry they’d like the officiant or a loved one to read, or find poetry they’d like to read to each other.
The writing of your ceremony
The language of the sacred is subjective and every couple has the right and opportunity to choose the words they’ll utter to each other during their wedding ceremony, as well as all that is spoken and relayed. The actual writing of the ceremony falls to the officiant, who knows how to structure and craft it, but certainly a couple’s input is key. One of the most important considerations is how to call out to the divine. Some couples choose a very personalized ceremony that never utters the word God, Goddess or Spirit, or even offers a prayer. Others want prayers that mention no specific God. Some want to call out specifically to deities, angels, ancestors, spirit guides, and want to honor the four directions either by having friends call to them, or having the officiant evoke them. It is also important to make conscious choices about all the elements in the ceremony.
The procession and logistical set up
The procession marks the shift from single to married. Life as it once was ends and new life begins as the bride comes down the aisle. She is usually walked, or presented, to the groom. Some couples like to include that tradition, and consider the bride as a Goddess coming forth to join her God. In hand fasting ceremonies, bride and groom walk from different directions and merge at the altar; the ceremony is conducted in a circle, where they are surrounded by the love of friends and family. The circle has always represented unity, togetherness and eternity. It’s also believed that the circle can better contain the energy. Whether in a circle or theater style, it’s nice if the couple faces one another so all can see them, or face the guests, rather than the officiant being the one who faces the guests. Many clergy people are willing to stand to the side, or with their backs to the audience.
Creating sacred space
In Native American ceremonies the environment is smudged with sage, and bride, groom and guests are “cleared” of negative energies so the space can be sanctified. Sometimes a circle is created with salt or cornmeal. The directions are honored and called in. Wiccans cast a circle, call the directions and evoke the name of God and Goddess, sometimes inviting specific divine energies. Hindus use incense and sacred fire. In the Jewish tradition the bride is purified in a Micvah bath; modern rabbis will give both bride and groom a holy dunk. An officant can bless a couple with a splash of sacred in the name of the Sprit of Love. The couple can be anointed with oil. Whatever method is chosen is important to sanctify the space and symbolically purify the couple for sacred union. By the same token, the ceremony should be closed with a benediction or blessing.
Favorite religious rituals and rites can be included, or non-denominational adaptations can be used. Many couples select a wine ceremony of sipping from one cup that represents their newly merged lives and candle lighting rituals. Some couple opts for a form of hand fasting that is known as hand wrapping, where they hold their hands together in a way that forms a figure eight and the hands are wrapped to symbolize a loving bond. Most couples exchange rings, sometimes with vows. Some couples enact ancient rituals, such as placing the ring on the middle finger, as it was once believed to be directly connected to the heart.
A couple’s expression of love and commitment can be expressed throughout the ceremony yet the exchange of vows is the hallmark of a sacred love ceremony. It’s important to really give the vows some thought, and be willing to speak from the heart and soul. Contained within those vows are the seeds of dreams to come true, intentions for a sacred marriage and deep declarations of love. It is particularly meaningful when the couple writes and reads their vows to one another. Some couples print and read them from modern scrolls. Couples can read the same vows to one another, or each create something different.
In the End, the love you take…
In sacred love ceremonies, the emphasis is on an even greater spiritual connection between the couple. Rather than relying on “God or Goddess above” to create and strengthen their union, the couple is empowered to see their own divinity and the divine light within each other. When two people come together and truly awaken to the depth and the power of their commitment, I can literally sense the Gods and the angels, the ancestors and the spirit guides filling the room. They are there to help the couple feel the power of the moment and to bear witness to their promises so they can guide and help this couple as the years go by. That’s why it is so important to fully utilize the wedding ceremony as not just the start of the big wedding celebration, but as a true rite of passage that takes bride and groom to the next level of their love and gives their relationship a strong foundation to build on over time.
Every wedding is a sacred event that holds profound meaning and potential for the two who come before Divine Spirit and witnesses to declare their love. The sacred love ceremony gives marriage and extraordinary start.
Sue Brockway is an interfaith minister and non-denominational wedding officiant
with an active wedding ministry in New York City. She is a specialist in women’s
empowerment and spirituality and works closely with brides-to-be as
co-facilitator of The Bridal Survival Club. She is author of the new
breakthrough book for brides, Wedding Goddess: A Divine Guide To
Transforming Wedding Stress Into Wedding Bliss (Perigee Books, May 2005).
Visit Rev. Laurie Sue at www.WeddingGoddess.com
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