Selecting the members of the wedding party can be so stressful, some couples don’t choose anyone. No maid of honor. No best man. After serving more than 150 couples as their wedding officiant, I’ve seen what this kind of stress can do. Friendships dissolve. Family tensions grow. A bridesmaid who thought she should be the maid-of-honor finds a way to draw attention to herself during the ceremony.
According to The Knot, the average size of a wedding party is ten. That usually means five on each side. That number might be higher if couples had no restrictions; but, most couples do have restrictions.
If you’re the one getting married, you know how agonizing it can be to choose the members of your wedding party. If you have extended an invitation and been turned down, you know how disappointing that can be. For either scenario, contributing issues can be money, distance, health, time, trying to meet family expectations, trying to avoid family drama.
To honor those special guests who are not in the wedding party, couples are often advised to make them ushers or have then pass out programs. Please! Don’t honor a guest with a boring task! Give him or her a meaningful role in the ceremony. How? Through a ritual.
A ritual is a visible act performed with invisible intent. If you’ve made a wish and blown out the candles on a birthday cake, you’ve performed a ritual. Simple.
Adding a wedding ritual can personalize your ceremony. It can show your guests something about what you believe, something you feel is important. A wedding ritual can make your ceremony unique.
Let me give you three examples. Each of these rituals was inspired by a conversation I had with my couple early in the process of planning their ceremony. Each ritual is a version of a “gifting” ritual, an idea I came up with years ago.
GIFTS FROM THE GIANT PANDA
The first ritual is called Gifts from the Giant Panda. I created it in 2017 for Tom and Amanda. They wanted six particular guests to have a special role in the ceremony.
As I do with all rituals involving certain guests, the couple makes sure the guests know to find me when they arrive for the wedding. I meet with each one and explain their role in the ritual.
For the Panda ritual, I gave each of the special guests a stalk of bamboo.
Let me rewind. About two months before the ceremony, I purchased a dozen stalks of bamboo and kept the plants in my kitchen. I wanted to be sure that when the day of the wedding arrived, I had at least six strong, vibrant stalks of bamboo that had been acclimated to the atmosphere of an average kitchen.
With wedding photos in mind, I wanted each stalk to be at least a foot long. They needed time to grow.
Before coming to the venue, I wrapped the bottom of each stalk in a piece of wet paper towel, and then encased the towel in aluminum foil. That ensured that the bamboo wouldn’t dry out and that the guest wouldn’t get wet.
I also brought a clear glass vase, about 8 inches tall, and put a layer of glass pebbles at the bottom to stabilize the bamboo once it was added.
And just in cast one of the bamboo stalks broke on the way to the ceremony, I brought extras with me.
When it came time for the ritual, here’s what I said:
For as long as couples have gotten married, friends and family have shown their support by giving gifts. Couples today might receive anything from a linens to airline miles. In earlier times, wedding gifts symbolized qualities desired in a marriage. Harkening back to those days, and in honor of the affection our couple has for Giant Pandas, I now invite the presentation of six special gifts.
As each gift is called, the guest comes forward carrying a stalk of bamboo. While I’m reading the message, the guest holds the bamboo so that all the other guests can see it. When I’m finished, the guest places the bamboo into the vase, then returns to his or her seat.
I call for GENTLE STRENGTH, gift of the Giant Panda,
Though the panda may look like sweet and cuddly, the panda is still a bear, a powerful animal whose strength comes from keeping all four paws firmly on the ground. Please accept this bamboo and call on the panda whenever you require gentle strength.
I call for EMOTIONAL BALANCE, gift of the Giant Panda.
Highly sensitive to its surroundings, panda energy helps people adjust to emotional ups and downs and thereby connect with a calm center. Please accept this bamboo and call on the panda whenever you need emotional balance.
I call for PEACE, gift of the Giant Panda.
In Eastern cultures, the black and white markings of the panda echo the energetic harmony of yin and yang, making the panda a symbol of peace. Long ago, should a fighter raise an image of a panda, it was a sign of truce, at least temporarily. Please accept this bamboo and call on the panda when you need a harmonious resolution to conflict.
I call for GOOD FORTUNE, gift of the Giant Panda.
Eastern cultures also regard the panda as a symbol of good fortune. As a spirit animal, the panda opens the heart chakra, allowing love to flow easily. There is no greater gift than to love and be loved in return. Please accept this bamboo and the panda’s gift of an open heart filled with good fortune.
I call for a SAFE HAVEN, gift of the Giant Panda.
In their earthly realms, pandas are known for living solitary lives. As a spirit animal, the panda reminds us that we all need a safe haven, a place where personal boundaries are respected and we can feel truly comfortable with ourselves and with others. Please accept this bamboo and the panda’s gift of a safe haven.
Finally, I call for CONTEMPLATION, gift of the Giant Panda.
In a hustle-bustle world, it’s not easy to find the time, space, and focus that supports the contemplation needed when faced with a challenge or an opportunity. And yet without the ability to think deeply, we make decisions in haste and risk the outcomes we want. Please accept this bamboo and the panda’s gift of contemplation.
I closed the ritual by suggesting that my couple keep their bamboo in a place where they would see it every day, reminding them of their special wedding gifts: Gentle Strength, Emotional Balance, Peace, Good Fortune, Safe Haven, and Contemplation.
GIFTS FROM THE MOTHS
The second “gift” ritual is similar in that certain guests present special gifts. In this case, the gifts were from moths. I created the ritual this year, 2019, for Hillary and Allison.
When I met with them for the first time, I couldn’t help but notice that Hillary had several large tattoos of moths. I asked about the significance. She said she’d always been fascinated by moths. I told her that my daughter shares that fascination. She appreciates the colors and camouflage of their markings, the valuable work they do to pollinate night-blooming flowers, and the fact that they’re beauty is often overlooked. The more I talked with Hillary and Allison, the more I knew I wanted to create a wedding ritual around moths.
In preparation for this ritual, I filled a grapevine nest with assorted artificial greenery. I added thin twigs and little curly branches, providing places where the moths could be tucked during the ceremony.
A search on Etsy provided full color, heavy stock, laser cut moths that looked real. Some were printed on both sides. Some were intended for use in scrapbooks so they were printed on one side.
In the original version of this ritual, the plan was for certain guests to bring up the moths when I called for them. A change in the weather made it prudent to shorten the ritual. So I tucked all the moths to the greenery before the ceremony and Hillary’s brother presented the arrangement during the ritual. During the actual ritual, I didn’t mention the specific type of moth, either. The message of the moth was the important information. That said, what follows is the original version of the ritual.
My introduction to all the gifting rituals, begins the same, slightly revised for each couple. Here’s what I said.
For as long as couples have gotten married, friends and family have shown their support by giving gifts. Couples today might receive anything from a porcelain place settings to camping gear. In earlier times, wedding gifts symbolized qualities desired in a marriage. Harkening back to those days, and knowing Hillary’s appreciation for moths, I invite the presentation of seven special gifts. Each reflects some aspect of the moth, the “cousin” of the butterfly, the one that flies at night, the one drawn to the flame, from bonfire or porch light. Keep in mind that all over the world, fire is known as a sacred element, the flame of inspiration, of desire, of will power. To be magnetically drawn to the flame is to express belief in personal power, collective power, and the quest for enlightenment.
I call for DETERMINATION, gift of the EMPEROR MOTH.
The Emperor Moth teaches us that struggle brings freedom and that the best way to lead is by example. For your marriage, please accept this gift of determination, the rewards of struggle, and the power to lead with inspiration.
I call for TRANSFORMATION and WISDOM, gifts of the LUNA MOTH.
The Luna Moth represents feminine energy and enables us to shed what is unnecessary – things as well as outworn beliefs. Please accept these gifts of Transformation and Wisdom for your marriage.
I call for BEAUTY and ENDURANCE, gifts of the SILK MOTH.
The Silk Moth is delicate. Yet it spins a thread that is known for both its beauty and its strength, enough to last for centuries. Please accept the gifts of Beauty and Endurance for your marriage.
I call for STORY AND SONG, gifts of the POLYPHEMUS MOTH.
In Greek mythology, we meet a one-eyed giant, Polyphemus, whose name means “abounding in songs and legends.” The moth that bears the big eye teaches us about the power of stories we tell, the lyrics that linger long after we’ve heard the song. Please accept this gift of Story and Song for your marriage.
I call for HEALING DANCE, gifts of the CALLETA MOTH.
In some Native American cultures, the cocoon of the Calleta is used as a rattle to summon healing spirits. Worn around the ankles, the cocoon's power is released by dancing. Please accept this gift of Healing Dance for your marriage.
I call for APPRECIATION, the gift from ALL MOTHS.
This depiction of moths in general reminds us to see what seems insignificant, to treasure the moments that pass all too quickly. Please accept this gift of APPRECIATION for your marriage.
Finally, I call for COURAGE, gift of the DEATHHEAD MOTH.
With the depiction of a small skull on its body, the Deathhead Moth reminds us that the night is alive, that there is no need to fear the dark. Like 3rd shift workers, the Deathhead Moths pollinate the night-blooming flowers, ensuring there will always be a gift in the shadow. Please accept the gift of Courage for your marriage.
I closed the ritual by asking Allison and Hillary to place the moths in a place where they’d be a daily reminder of the gifts presented here today: Determination, Transformation and Wisdom, Beauty and Endurance, Story and Song, Healing Dance, Appreciation, and Courage.
GIFTS FROM THE FLOURS
This ritual is not about roses or daisies. It’s about flour. I was inspired to create the ritual after meeting with the couple and learning that the groom was a professional pastry chef.
Full disclosure. The couple did not include the ritual in their ceremony. I’ll be the first to say that some of my ideas are a little…out there. I’m including the ritual here because it can be easily adapted for a birthday party, a pot luck of desserts, or to celebrate the opening of a bakery.
For the wedding, I envisioned each person presenting the couple with a small bag of flour. Bob’s Red Mill has a huge variety, most of them available in small bags. Here are the gifts:
I call for the MEMORY OF HOME, the gift of ALMONDS.
In Portugal, there is a legend about a Moorish prince who married Scandinavian princess. Being so far from home, the princess got depressed, fearing she would never see snow again. To heal her broken heart, the prince planted thick groves of almond trees all along the coast so that when they bloomed, it would look like snow.
Because we all know there’s no place like home, please accept this almond flour and its gift of happy memories.
I call for PROSPERITY, the gift of COCONUTS
In India, the coconut symbolizes prosperity and generosity, gifts of the ancestors. In Samoa, there is a legend that coconut trees grow at the entrance to the spirit world.
Because you both value family and the strength of family bonds, please accept this coconut flour and its gift of prosperity.
I call for WISDOM, the gift of HAZELNUTS
In the ancient world of the Celts, the hazelnut tree was honored as one of the nine sacred trees for it was believed that the nuts from the trees contained wisdom. Today, we know that hazelnuts are high in calcium, magnesium, and vitamins B and E.
Because you’ve gained knowledge from from both education and life experience, please accept this hazelnut flour and its gift of wisdom.
Finally, I call for the SPIRIT OF RENEWAL, the gift of POTATOES
For many years, what we think of as the humble potato was an essential crop in Ireland, and in several other countries. Cut a potato into pieces and each one is capable of generating new life.
The challenges in life are inevitable. Please accept this potato flour and its gift of renewal.
I closed the ritual with these words to the couple: In the days ahead, you might enjoy potatoes prepared any number of ways, or gourmet cookies or artisan bread, or coconut ice cream, or a glass of Frangelico. When you do, remember that those who gathered with you today want you to enjoy happy memories, prosperity, wisdom, and the spirit of renewal.
Gifts from the Garden, from Trees, and from Butterflies
If you like the idea of a gifting ritual, listen to Episode 5 where I talk about Garden Gifts. It was the first wedding ritual I ever created and it inspired all the others. In that episode, I also talk about a cooking ritual called Spirit Spoons.
Check out Episode 6 for the ritual Gifts from the Trees, and Episode 10 for Butterfly Blessings.
If you’re wondering who pays for the items needed for the ritual — the bamboo, the moths, the flours — I do. I want to be sure that the ritual unfolds the way I’ve planned it. Plus, the last thing I want to do is burden my couples. I have, however, made an exception. Because the final arrangement of bamboo, or moths, or butterflies is meant to be displayed in the couple’s home, I have them provide the container.
Fellow officiants often ask where my ideas come from, especially the messages for the various gifts. That’s easy, I have an extensive library and a pretty good imagination. And, of course, there’s the Internet. The key is recognizing how some aspect of a plant or animal’s nature, habitat, or mythology can be interpreted as an admirable quality.
When it comes to herbs and spices, it’s not unusual at all to find an admirable quality attributed to several plants. When that’s the case, I cherry pick to achieve the overall effect I think my couples will appreciate.
YOUR HONORED GUESTS
All of this goes to show that if you have those special friends or family members you want to honor and, for whatever reason, they aren’t in the wedding party, don’t give them a job. Gift them a meaningful role in your ceremony.
If you’re planning your wedding and you want to include one of these rituals, simply share episode 20 of the Ritual Recipes podcast with your officiant.
If you’re the officiant and you have any questions about the rituals, email me! Write to firstname.lastname@example.org I’m happy to help.