He calls her “Moon of my Life.” She calls him her “Sun and Stars.”
He is Khal Drogo, the testosterone heavy, alpha male leader of the Dothraki warrior tribe. Very Mars. He’s proud, fearless, and ruthless, at least in the beginning.
She is Daenerys Targaryen, his estrogen aplenty wife given to him in exchange for an army. She’s beautiful. Very Venus. She’s also innocent, compassionate, and submissive, at least in the beginning.
These characters are from Game of Thrones, a television series on HBO based on the medieval fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin. I watched Season 1 and was struck by the symbolism in the names Drogo and Daenerys had for each other… and in what I saw as a connection to the wedding ritual of “circling.”
The ritual itself is often part of Jewish weddings, and in weddings from some religions of Eastern Europe. The traditional version is for the bride to walk around the groom 7 times. My research says that the action symbolizes the bride’s acknowledgment that the groom is the new center of her universe. …which strikes me as a pretty patriarchal view of marriage!
Some say the bride circles the groom to define the home space that the couple will share. In her book “The New Jewish Wedding, Revised,” author Anita Diamant says the bride circles the groom “to protect him from evil spirits, from the glances of other women and from the temptations of the world.”
Many of today’s more egalitarian couples update the ritual. The bride circles the groom three times. He then circles her three times. And then they walk in a circle together one more time.
Now, think about how Drogo and Dannerys address each other. When she calls him her “Sun and Stars,” she acknowledges him as the center of her universe. That’s the original meaning of the circling tradition but, from my perspective, that original meaning expresses only half of the truth.
All early civilizations paid attention to the sky. Activity above the earth was believed to correlate with activity on the earth. As above, so below. The ritual of the bride circling the groom echoed the action of the moon circling the sun, as it was perceived from earth. Each of the seven visible orbs (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) was connected to a deity. The wise couple honored all seven. If a couple on Earth mimicked the movement of the two lights, the Sun and Moon, all would be well in the marriage.
The unacknowledged part of the circling tradition is that because the moon keeps circling the sun, endlessly retracing the same path, the sun cannot turn in any direction and not see the moon, or her influence in his life.
In Game of Thrones, Drogo learns he is not invincible and discovers his capacity for tenderness. Daenerys learns she can be ruthless and discovers her power. It is precisely this Mars-Venus exchange that the circling tradition is all about. It’s only in keeping half of the meaning hidden that the ritual appears patriarchal. In reality, circling acknowledges the gifts both bride and groom bring to the marriage.
Imagine you’ve been married for 25 years. You’re planning a vow renewal and want to include a circling ritual. Unlike newlyweds, the two of you have history. You have memories that made you both smile and memories that made you both strong. You have shells from vacations at the beach…and wrist bands from hospital stays. You have a mortgage stamped “Paid in Full” and a bundle of Valentine’s Day cards tied with a red ribbon.
Place the items, along with framed photos of the two of you, photos that span the journey of your marriage, on a round table — round like the sun and the moon. If your officiant is a Life-Cycle Celebrant, she will work with you to write the love story of your marriage. She can divide the story into 7 short highlights or memories, a sentence or two for each. As she shares each one, you and your spouse circle the table.
Begin by standing 180 degrees apart (example: 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock). Walk in opposite directions for 6 circles, then one of you joins the other to walk the final circle together.
Of course, you can designate 7 friends or family members to read the 7 memories. Or, have your Celebrant read the 7 memories and have 7 friends bestow 7 blessings, one for each memory. You can adjust the ritual to suit your needs. The important thing in a modern version of a circling ritual is to acknowledge that the two of you are equals and contribute equally to the happiness of the marriage.
When I close my YouTube show, Weddings with Zita, I tell the audience: Remember that happiness in a marriage is co-created. And remember to do your part. … Good advice no matter how long you’ve been married.