A pregnant bride in her early thirties didn’t want to carry a bouquet and asked me if she had to. I assured her there was no requirement that she carry flowers. I also explained why she might want to reconsider her decision. I wrote about that wedding several years ago and drew on the story for part of Episode 25 of the Ritual Recipes podcast.
To carry a wedding bouquet isn’t just about the fashion or the flowers or the photo op.
In this wedding, both the bride and the groom had big jobs in the financial world and would be traveling overseas on business the following week. Any kind of travel can be hazardous to a woman who’s pregnant. International travel while pregnant can be even more of a challenge. Just in case a problem arose while they were out of the country, they wanted to be married.
They organized a small ceremony in the home of the groom’s parents. Fewer than ten people would attend. They would have a big, traditional wedding next year, after the baby was born. Rather than hold flowers for this legal formality, the bride would just hold the groom’s hands.
Because the ceremony was a formality, I didn’t meet with the couple prior to the day of the wedding. Our conversation were all by email. Until two days before the wedding. That’s when the bride and I talked on the phone. That’s when I knew she felt the same nervousness most brides do. Though she saw no reason to make a big deal of things, she realized that she would say the simple words “I do” and her life would change forever. Forever. That’s also when I heard the quiver in her voice and learned that her mother had died the year before.
Astrologer Caroline Casey talks about how traumatic events stamp our passport to life with a visa to the Underworld and how when one person has such a visa, she can recognize it in another person. That was the case with this bride. I told her that my mother, too, had died before I got married. And that while I thought I had dealt with my grief, at least in a way that it no longer paralized me, it came roaring back 33 years later when I was getting dressed for my daughter’s wedding.
Without words, I knew the energy between me and the bride had shifted. I knew her family was in England and asked if any of them would be at the ceremony. Her mother’s sister would be there. The bride had always been close to her aunt. “So she’ll be there with all her love and your mother’s love, too.”
Two days later I arrived at the home of the groom’s parents. The groom showed me the area at one end of the elegant living room where he and the bride wanted to have the ceremony. The layout of the room made it easy to imagine an aisle. I took the bride aside and asked if she would like to walk in with her father, something I knew she hadn’t planned. She caught her father’s eye and said, “Will you walk me down the aisle?” “I’d be honored,” he said with that tender, father-of-the-bride smile I love so much.
I noticed that at the far end of the room was a baby grand piano. I asked if anyone played. The groom’s father beamed and said, “I do! Would you like me to play for the ceremony? I can do …” and he offered a list of titles. I could tell by the look on the bride’s face that she liked the idea so I said, “Please do.” I explained to everyone that centuries ago the word “dream” meant “to dream” as we know it. But spelled d-r-e-m-e-n, it also meant “to make music” and that having music for the ceremony would invite everyone to dream.
Before the ceremony began, I went around to each person and held out a black velvet drawstring bag. I told them that during the ceremony they would present the couple with a special gift, inscribed on a semiprecious stone inside the bag. Sight unseen, each one reached into the bag and pulled out a stone.
The music began. The bride walked in, holding her father’s arm. He took his seat and the bride and groom joined me in what had instantly become sacred space.
If I remember correctly, I read “The Art of Marriage,” a poem by Wilferd Peterson. It’s full of good, practical advice about how to have a happy marriage. He wrote it in the 1960s, a time when commitment was scorned in favor of “free love.” Peterson said his wife inspired the poem.
Then the guests presented their gifts: Wisdom. Kindness, Courage, Happiness, Abundance, and others of that kind.
Then the bride and groom said their vows… and I had the honor of pronouncing them husband and wife.
Oh, about the bouquet. Well, first, let me say that many brides don’t realize that weddings are a time when the language of flowers speaks in a hidden code.
The pure vibration of the rose is thought to gently stimulate the heart chakra. Deeply rooted, the delicate rose can surmount many obstacles.
The iris is thought to unblock old, self-limiting patterns and create a rainbow bridge between worlds.
Even the tiny violet imparts the power to protect against fear.
And lavender is believed to cleanse the energetic field, to soothe and heal frayed nerves.
Instinct tells me there’s a deeper reason for the bride to carry a bouquet. Here’s what I see.
Imagine a big wedding. The processional reflects who the bride and groom are as individuals. (I’m speaking now of a bride and groom only to illustrate the story.) She is a woman with friends of her own—the bridesmaids. He is a man with friends of his own—the groomsmen. They enter sacred space from different directions – he from the side to stand with the officiant (that’s me); she from the back, down an aisle strewn with flowers.
While getting married requires both to take a risk, his particular task at that moment is to stand and wait. He needs to be patient.
Her task at that moment is to move forward. She needs to be bold.
The invisible message in the processional is that these two people are leaving behind the single life they know, risking everything to build a married life with each other.
As the officiant of more than 150 weddings and a ritualist for decades, I’m keenly aware of the energy between them as physical distance closes. It’s not uncommon for her eyes to water, for his lip to quiver.
She stops at the top of the aisle. I step forward with the groom. As the father-of-the-bride places her hand in the groom’s hand, I ask the guests, “In the spirit of love and trust, who supports the union of this man and this woman?” Everyone answers with a loud and hearty, “We do!”
The couple steps into the ceremony space with me. A look passes between them. Of course I can’t say for sure what they’re thinking but I can imagine the relationship flashing before their eyes: a fragment about the way they met, the first date, the first kiss, using the “L” word for the time, the uncertainty—can something this good be real?
Maybe they think about meeting each other’s families, about all those fragile dreams followed by casual noncommittal conversations about “someday.”
They remember the proposal and all the planning that led to this moment, the fear of somehow messing it all up, the determination, the unconditional, luminous love. Unless the bride is feeling light-headed, I encourage her to hold her bouquet as she stands in front of the man she’s about to marry.
Deeper into the ceremony, I ask the bride to pass her bouquet to her maid-of-honor. Whether the bride is carrying a lavish cascade or a single rose, when she hands her flowers to her attendant, everyone who has ever been married, and anyone who dreams of being married, will recognize that the process of transformation has taken a step. I doubt they realize what I see as the real significance.
Harkening back to Greek mythology, the bride is no longer Persephone picking wildflowers in the meadow with her girlfriends. Nor is she about to be abducted. In giving away the symbol of her carefree life with her girlfriends, the bride has just given up fleeting beauty for lasting love.
Deeper into the ceremony, I ask the bride and groom to face each other and hold hands. Never underestimate the power of touch. These two people have entered the invisible circle of change. The transition from single to married is taking place. It’s a powerful moment.
The ceremony continues. Only after the couple has exchanged vows and rings, only after I have pronounced them married, only after I introduce them as a couple, only then does the bride retrieve her bouquet, take her husband’s arm, and walk back down the aisle. During the reception, the bride joyfully affirms her life choice by blindly tossing her beautiful bouquet, leaving to fate which unmarried girlfriend will next face the choice: Fleeting beauty or lasting love?
While I’m thinking of flowers, here’s a little something about three flowers often seen in wedding bouquets:
Rose: The heartache often seen in the struggle to find true love is symbolized by the thorns on the stem of the rose. The fragrance is worth whatever pain a person suffers to have even a single rose in a vase, to have rose perfume on the body, rose petals on the bed. In ancient India, the rose symbolized the body of the Goddess. I think women today feel that connection on some deep level. I think that’s why we like roses. These days, in writing the love story for my couples, I’m always encouraged when the proposal included a rose petal path to the place where the question was asked.
Orchid: In the language of flowers, to give someone an orchid was an invitation to seduction. There’s a reason: Testicles. Yes. The word orchid comes from the Greek “orchis,” meaning testicle. That’s because the orchid has twin bulbs. In Ancient Rome, the famous Pliny the Elder was, among other things, a botanist. He claimed that simply holding the roots of an orchid would arouse sexual ecstasy.
Calla Lily: With its moist, white cup and an erect yellow stamen, the Calla Lily is said to awaken the female and male energy within each of us, to bridge the gender division so we can understand the power and beauty of integration. Think of the cosmic embrace depicted in some images of Tantric yoga. That intimacy suggests both the ultimate merging and an awakening, the idea that a new and exciting dimension of life has opened up.
The next time you see a bride holding a bouquet of roses, orchids, or calla lilies, you can smile, knowing that she holds passion, an essential ingredient in a happy marriage, in the palm of her hand. And if you’re looking for lasting love, go work with a florist!
Oh…the pregnant bride I spoke of at the beginning of this episode? The night before the ceremony, she ordered a bouquet.