I’m getting married this October. Woof.
For those that don’t know my story, I’m no stranger to weddings. The way that my career path has veered thus far has kept me entrenched in both weddings and funerals, two of our culture’s biggest ceremonial rites. Whether I am helping to plan them, acting as the building facilitator at the church, running audio, or providing the music as the wedding musician/singer, I have been involved in about 5-10 weddings a year for the last 7 years. Before that, I had been a bridesmaid, a maid of honor, a flower girl and 12 years ago, a bride. Most people will only have to plan a major event like a wedding or funeral a few times in their lifetime, but for me it is becoming routine. There’s a million details to coordinate in the process of wedding planning, family dramas to diffuse, ridiculous expectations all tied up with hopes and dreams, and there’s just so many things that could go wrong that you can’t anticipate unless you’ve done enough of these events to know what to expect. That’s exactly why there are people like me to help guide you through the process. To be the calm, non-anxious presence through a very anxious situation.
When I was first engaged to my ex-husband at the ripe age of 20, I was convinced that I wanted to be a wedding planner/coordinator. This would be the greatest job ever! I thought. I couldn’t believe you could get paid to do something that seemed so exhilarating and creative and fun. By the end of my wedding day, however, I didn’t want to have anything to do with another wedding for the rest of my life…ha! (Doesn’t the universe have a great sense of humor?)
Now, all these dozens of Pachebel’s Canons later, that sense of “wedding exasperation” seems to be a common theme I hear from brides, mothers of brides and anyone that has to be anywhere near a bride while they are planning their big day. This past Saturday, I was doing a final walk-thru of the church with an exhausted Mother of the Bride at the end of her daughter’s big day, when I told her that I was getting married in the fall. Her word of advice for me was literally one word.
I had to laugh, because that’s exactly what we had in mind. A quiet, private ceremony at a scenic overlook in a state park a short drive away, just the two of us and a minister. Our décor would be the natural autumn foliage and the breathtaking Ozark hills. The actual birds and bees would be our only attendants. No stress, no excessive planning, and right in our price range.
But I have to admit, that some small part of me was suffering from a case of FOMO. Yes, even I was susceptible to wondering if I was missing out on the whole “bridal experience” and asking myself if I would regret not having a traditional wedding. Even I, the one who has done so many weddings that they have lost most of their lustre, started a “just in case” Pinterest board. Even I, who hated weddings for months after my divorce but had to keep doing them to keep money in the bank, got a little weepy when I tried on a big poofy white ball gown at David’s Bridal “just for fun”. Even though I knew how stressful, expensive and complicated weddings could be, I was still getting that fluttering feeling of great expectations thinking about what the perfect wedding day could be like. We are pretty indoctrinated with those expectations, aren’t we?
If I had to summarize why I prefer funerals over weddings, I would say that while weddings tend to focus on the participants’ expectations, funerals focus on their intention to honor the dead and their families. Of course, that’s not always the case, but I can attest that most of the funerals that I have helped to plan or sing for, the family is not distracted by the weight of heavy expectations for the funeral to be “just right” or perfect. They just want to achieve what the funeral or memorial service is intended to do…to memorialize the loved one that has passed on and say goodbye as a community. It functions as both a shamanic ritual for sending off the dearly departed and a healing rite for the mourners left behind. Any magical practitioner is going to recognize that a clear, focused intention is the key to a successful ritual, and for funerals, there is little to distract from the intent.
Weddings, on the other hand, rarely seem to have the actual act of starting a marriage as the central focus. Far too often, the traditions surrounding weddings steal that focus away. Those traditions have rich symbolic origins, of course, but have evolved into something else entirely, or the intentions behind the rituals have been collectively forgotten. Everyone wants a ring…a big ring. But why? The cake has to be beautiful, delicious and ten stories high. But why? Many brides will spend more on the dress that they will wear for only one day than they would for all the other dresses in their wardrobe combined, but could they tell you why brides wear white, or why they are veiled or what a train is for? Not often. The superstition that the groom can’t see the bride before the wedding sometimes causes the newlyweds to keep their guests waiting at the reception for hours while they take 200 photos from every different angle after the ceremony. This is a great example where the expectations and traditions are overshadowing the intention of the event, in this case. the intention to celebrate the marriage with their family and friends who have travelled to honor them with their presence (and presents).
Weddings in the U.S. are a huge industry and much of this business is built upon these sky high expectations. Our “wedding culture” promotes spending on average $29,858 for a wedding, but studies show correlation between spending more than $20,000 and an increased risk of divorce by 1.6 times. My parents always told me that your money goes where your heart is. Its easy to become trapped in the thinking that spending more money on the wedding means the marriage vows you are making are very important to you. Clearly that’s not the case or there would not be an inverse correlation of divorce to money spent on the wedding. Could it be that the mixed intentions and expectations of our wedding rituals are what is stealing the magical power away from these rites, or at least redirecting the energy towards things that don’t really matter? Why are we spending so much as a country when divorce is so commonplace? What is the true intention behind these extravagant celebrations? To fulfill a vain fantasy? To portray an image of beauty? To display our wealth and importance? Could the intention partly be to act as a rite of passage in a culture that doesn’t give us many opportunities to celebrate as a community when someone comes of age? (that’s a whole different subject to write about, and I’m sure I will at some point.) I think that all of these things are true, to some extent. As divorce rates have risen to nearly 50% of all marriages, its worth looking at the wedding rite itself to figure out where all this time, money and energy is going. Rituals are meant to guide energy along channels of intent like gravity allows water to flow through channels of earth and stone. My question is whether all that energy we put into weddings is following the intentions that we would hope weddings symbolize or whether different intentions altogether are overshadowing the marriage covenant. Intentions created by expectations for the day itself rather than the marriage to come.
The best example of expectations threatening to get in the way of intent that I’ve witnessed recently was an incident that revolved around the wedding processional…that ‘here comes the bride’ cinematic moment that we are all familiar with, but most have no idea how it originated or what it symbolizes. How many modern feminists would still be okay with their father walking them down the aisle to meet their groom if they realized that it was meant to symbolize leaving their family behind to join the groom’s family with a price to be collected by the father as he hands her over? Its a pretty jarring remnant of patriarchal culture if you think about it, yet something we all accept with little questioning. (Wait, did you think it was just so we could ogle her dress?).
At the wedding I was facilitating this weekend, the bride said repeatedly at the rehearsal that the processional was “the most important part” and the only thing she cared about. “Everything else can go wrong and I won’t care…I only care about this part going smoothly.” She had the entrance of every member of the wedding party choreographed to her processional song to the millisecond. If anyone took too long to get down the aisle, it threatened to ruin the big moment of the Bride’s arrival to a certain lyric and crescendo in the prerecorded song. Everything went smoothly in rehearsal, but remember Murphy’s Law? Sure enough, the very last person to go down the aisle before the blushing bride’s entrance just happened to be a bashful 7-year-old ringbearer who had never worn a tux before and had definitely never been the center of attention in a room full of family and strangers in formalwear. When he froze halfway down the aisle, paralyzed with fear, his father panicked…and then raged. I’m sure that memories of the bride insisting that this was the only part of the ceremony that mattered got all mixed up with whatever anger issues and shame that had previously been boiling around in that tattooed head of his, but what exploded out of him was shocking as he stood there screaming “GOD DAMMIT WALK –WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” In a fit of rage, he ran down the aisle, grabbed his terrified son by the arm, nearly ripping the poor kids’ arm from its socket, and bellowed into the boy’s face. When he lifted his hand to hit the kid, the entire room let out a collective gasp, which must’ve momentarily brought him to his senses because he quickly put down his hand. He picked the kid up and carried the boy (who was now frantically crying) out of the church. There was stunned silence for a moment. The processional song had ended and the bride was not out yet. in our price range.
I went back and started the song a little bit before the bride’s entrance moment was supposed to have occurred. I faded in the volume and the bride stepped into the doorway to be seen by her groom for the first time. She paused there for a second to soak in the moment. As their eyes met, the groom began to cry and then the bride cried also. She was radiant and beaming and enjoying every moment before her father joined her to walk down the aisle just as she had planned. Even though the young father’s rage had triggered an adrenaline fueled PTSD-response in me as the survivor of an abusive father myself, I found myself getting swept up in her moment, just as everyone else in the room was probably feeling the same. I was proud of the bride. Even though her ‘most important moment’ did not go as she had planned, she didn’t let that disappointment ruin the intention behind her planning. As she took her place beside her groom, most people had forgotten that they almost saw a father hit his son in public, and now were energetically supporting the bride and groom in the ceremonial rite they were about to perform. With her magical entrance and intense emotional focus, she had managed to turn everyone’s attention back to the task at hand. She didn’t allow herself to get wrapped up in the disappointment of having her moment ruined when it didn’t live up to her expectations, which is something that I wish more brides were capable of doing when things go awry. I knew that this was a wedding I wouldn’t forget, though not for the reasons that any bride would hope for.
For a magical practitioner, or for anyone who performs rites, rituals, ceremonies and sacred tasks, I think there is a lesson in this that applies to more than just weddings. Traditions are powerful things that have the potential to overshadow the purpose they were intended to perform. Expectations that outweigh intentions can become monsters that set you up to fail in your craft. Traditions that lose their meaning over time can become empty rituals or worse, have you sending your energy along paths that you never intended them to go.
I’m not saying that we nix the processional because of feminism or stop having big weddings, but as anyone who practices magic knows, rituals and their origins matter. What we do physically, affects our consciousness. The flip side is that our intentions affect the physical acts that perform. If “as above, so below” holds any meaning to you, then any ritual or tradition that you participate in deserves to be examined and tested against your Higher Self’s best intentions. The symbols we embrace have potential to work their way into our minds and our energetic fields whether we intend them to or not. We should look closely at these traditions and make sure that these sacred acts are being guided by our intention, rather than overshadowing that magical force. Whether you are planning a wedding, smudging your house, throwing a Mabon festival, or participating in an initiatory rite, take a moment in your preparations to look at your expectations for the event and see if they may be at odds with what your true intention for the ritual may be. Are there multiple threads of intention that might be derailing the effectiveness of your magical working? Could you simplify an overcomplicated ritual, or maybe change up a tradition that has become so routine that its meaning gets lost? Or is it enough to simply take some extra time to meditate on tapping into that cosmic root of connectedness that gives so many of these ancient rituals power beyond what our individual imaginations that conjure up?
If you need a little help letting go, you want to look at this guided meditation from Michael Sealey called: Guided Meditation for Detachment from Wants & Desires. Sealey has a real knack for creating meditational journeys that bring you to the heart of your deeply rooted issues (and his calming voice with a gentle Aussie accent certainly doesn’t hurt.) Let’s face it, whether or not you planning a big event or sacred ritual, learning to use mindfulness become more aware of your expectations and attachments is useful (maybe even essential) for anyone experiencing this human existence. Maybe that’s why three of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths deal with this very concept, often referred to as “grasping and clinging.”
These are the things I will be considering as I move forward with planning my simple, private wedding ceremony in October. I’ll definitely be looking at the symbolism as it relates to the chemical wedding. And I’ll be digging into the wedding traditions of multiple cultures and traditions beyond the Christian tradition that 95% of the weddings I participate in follow (and trying to figure out how to work these traditions into my ceremony in an occult manner). As I go through this process, I’m sure to unearth some unhealed wounds from my previous marriage/divorce that will need to be addressed before I move past them. And I’m certain that I’ll be writing more on the subject of weddings, especially since my friend Stephanie just asked me to be the wedding coordinator for her big May 2019 wedding event of the century and has insisted we “do all the ‘bride stuff’ together.” Looks like I’ll be entrenched in wedding symbolism for a while.
Suggestions for continued reading: “The Tyranny of Expections” Phillip Moffitt