A Celtic wedding ceremony may incorporate ancient traditions of betrothal and marriage practiced by the Celts all over Europe. These traditions may have been initially dictated by local customs and usage, but with time Celtic wedding traditions have come to represent a deeper connection with nature and ancestral wisdom. Include as many or as few traditions as you wish.
A Celtic Wedding Ceremony
The Celts were once spread far and wide throughout most of Europe, from the British Isles to Spain, and from Portugal to Turkey, therefore you will find it is almost impossible to pinpoint one specific type of Celtic wedding ceremony. However, studious of ancient Druid tradition and talented authors, such as Emma Restall Orr, have devoted themselves to preserving ancestral Celtic traditions and have incorporated them into marriage rites that honor Celtic heritage both in spirit and action.
A Celtic wedding ceremony might be composed of any or all of the following elements:
Celtic Wedding Circle Ceremony
Before temples and houses of worship existed, the Celts designated spaces of nature as sacred places to hold their marriage ceremonies. To do this, a circle is drawn with flowers and greenery. A candle is placed in each of the four cardinal points. The north, which is the head of the circle may include a more elaborate setting to include a candle for the sun, a candle for the moon, a candle for the couple, a bowl of water and a bowl of salt. The circle is consecrated by the officiating bard by saluting the four elements, lighting the cardinal candles, and blessing the circle. Elements such a water, salt, and incense may be used to consecrate the circle.
Presentation of the Couple
As modern weddings include some sort of processional to the altar, couples in Celtic wedding ceremonies approach the circle. Henceforth, the couple is presented before the circle, either in the company of their parents, their beloved friends and family, or even by walking to the circle by themselves. This can be done as individuals that meet before the circle or by simply walking together towards the circle.
The officiating bard welcomes the couple into the circle and states the purpose of the ceremony. Along with a welcoming statement, blessings, prayers may be offered, ancestors may be honored, and readings or songs may be included.
Declarations of Intent and Vows
The officiant proceeds to ask the couple their intention with regard to entering into the union and also guides the couple in the declaration of their vows. This may be done through questions, or inviting the couple to profess their vows to each other.
Binding (or 'Fasting') of Hands
In yonder days, couples would publicly bind their hands as means of betrothal. By doing so, they would be officially engaged and would marry after a certain period of time. Today, couples link hands, forming a circle of infinity and lasting love. Their hands are typically wrapped with a cloth or rope, tying them together in the tradition of Celtic wedding handfasting.
Blessing of Rings
Taking a cue from contemporary weddings the officiant may ask for the rings. The rings are then blessed by the officiant and they may also be blessed by the attendants by following the Irish ring warming tradition.
Lighting the Candle
If the couple wishes so, they may light a candle representing their union. This tradition can be done by simply lighting a candle and vowing to cherish one another as that which they hold most sacred. Or it can be done in the spirit with which a Unity Candle is celebrated, two lives becoming one.
Exchanging of Rings
Exchanging gifts has always been a way of professing love and giving standing value to promises and commitments. A Celtic wedding ceremony may include an exchange of rings as most modern wedding ceremonies do. If the couple chose to include handfasting in their ceremony, they may untie their hands after they exchanged the rings.
Oath Over the Wedding Stone
Ancient Celtic wedding traditions included making an oath over a holy stone, representing the permanence of their vows, and even the foundation upon which the marriage would be built just like a house would start with one rock. Modern couples can have their officiant bless a stone or rock of their choice and they can make an oath to honor their vows by holding unto the stone. The stone will be a physical reminder of the emotional and spiritual vows made on their wedding day.
Before concluding the ceremony, Celts would offer mead and bread to their ancestors and share some with each other. It is not only a way of saying thank you to the earth for its fruit and nourishment, but also to the ancestors without whom there would be no couple. This can be done with sweet wine and the cake. The couple pours wine on the earth and crumbles a little cake on the side. It can be done once for the ancestors, a second time for those loved ones who couldn't attend the wedding, and a third time for the couple to enjoy their first drink and meal together as part of the ceremony.
Blessing and Opening of the Circle
The couple's union is blessed by the officiant, the matrimony is declared, and the circle is opened by loosening up or scattering the flowers and greens as a symbol of expanding the holiness of that space to all the other areas of the couple's life.
Celtic Wedding Ceremony Traditions
There are many traditions that can be used in a Celtic wedding.
- Wedding attire followed a tradition of its own in Celtic weddings of the past, and it continues to do so today. In the British Isles colored bridal dresses were popular, and many men wore kilts.
- Carrying a horseshoe for good luck has also been associated with Celtic weddings. Since a heavy horseshoe can be a bit awkward, you might want to consider stitching a horseshoe to the handfasting wrap or the inside of your dress.
- The last stitch in the bridal dress should be done (added) on the very day of the wedding for extra good luck.
- Being barefoot during the ceremony is symbolic of the couple's connection to the earth.
- Drinking from the Quaich (a two handle cup) was traditional for both bride and groom during the Thanksgiving feast or in the reception. Having guests drink from this cup also symbolized the strengthening of family and friendship bonds.
- Exchanging Claddagh Rings is customary in Ireland and they symbolize the offering of each other's hearts in a promise to cherish, honor, and protect them.
- Including the Celtic knot (triquetra or trinity knot) in the hand fasting cloth, embroidery, or wedding jewelry was meant to symbolize infinity, the union of the couple before the divine, and a host of other auspicious meanings.
- Jumping of the broom is symbolic of leaving the past behind and starting anew. It can be done between the oath over the wedding stone or at the end of the ceremony as the couple exits the circle.
- Music played a huge role in Celtic weddings. One of the most often used instruments was a bagpipe. A piper often led the wedding procession, played during the communion, and also accompanied the recessional. A ceilidh band was commonly used at wedding receptions and is still popular today.
- The Grushie custom of tossing a handful of coins at the guests by the groom during the reception represents the sharing of blessings and the hope that all attending the wedding feel as blessed as the couple.
Celtic Tradition Is Rich and Varied
Ancient Celtic people were spread all over Europe, their rich traditions, culture, and deep connection with nature persist to this date. Call upon this magnificent culture to personalize your wedding ceremony with as many elements as you consider appropriate and bring some Celtic magic to your big day.