A Jewish bride and a Catholic groom. As their officiant, what could I say in their wedding ceremony that would honor both spiritual paths — not only for the couple, but for their families? In episode #29 of Ritual Recipes, I talk about interfaith wedding ceremonies, the four Royal Stars of Persia, archangels, and the elements of earth, air, fire and water. I also offer The Blessing Box ritual for a new “home.”
The need for ritual is as old as time. They reflect a person’s beliefs which, in turn, helps us find our tribe. So, it’s no surprise that rituals are performed in most, if not all, religions.
Over the years, I’ve created wedding ceremonies for couples who come from two different religions or spiritual paths, or have forged their own path, or follow no path. Still, the couple might want spiritual elements to make the ceremony both meaningful and comfortable for their parents. That was the case in a wedding of a Jewish bride and a Catholic groom.
The bride’s family wanted her to be married under a chuppah. The groom had no issue with the chuppah. Neither did his family. But the bride’s mother was a thoughtful woman, sensitive to their feelings of the groom’s family. She asked if I could somehow honor both religions.
Here’s a modified version of what I wrote for their ceremony:
To honor the bride’s heritage, we stand under the chuppah, the wedding or bridal canopy associated with Jewish weddings. We often hear that the chuppah represents the new home the couple will create, with open sides to symbolize the couple’s connection to their community and the hospitality they will extend to their guests. The chuppah has been said to symbolize the temple and the ability to move it if needed. Some say the four poles of the chuppah symbolize family and friends and their support of the marriage. Some say the poles represent the four rivers around the Garden of Eden.
In addition to those earthly meanings, there is also a cosmic meaning to the canopy and four poles that is older than the religion itself.
Ancient cultures looked to the sky to find meaning on earth. They saw the night sky as a canopy with four corners held in place and guarded by the four brightest stars, the Royal Stars of Persia:
- Aldebaran in the east, in the eye of the Taurus bull. Associated with the element of earth, Aldebaran marked the spring equinox. Its mythical meaning is about renewal and growth.
- Regulus in the north, in the heart of the Leo lion. Associated with the element of fire, it marked the summer solstice. Its mythical meaning is about courage and bravery.
- Antares in the west, in the heart of the Scorpion. Associated with the element of water, it marked the autumn equinox. Its mythical meaning is about self-sacrifice and the acceptance of death.
- Fomalhaut in the south, at the Aquarian mouth of the fish. Associated with the element of air, it marked the winter solstice. Its mythical meaning is about wisdom and strength.
In time, Judaism and Christianity, among other religions, re-imagined those royal guardians and called them by a word familiar to us now: Archangels, the most common being Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and Gabriel.
The four royal stars were considered the watchers of the four compass points, and became known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Though the format varied, many cultures then and now began their celebrations by inviting or somehow symbolizing these four royal stars, spirits, angels, constellations, elements, watchers. Still today in the Catholic Mass, the priest swings the censor filled with incense in four directions to acknowledge a tradition as old as time.
Whatever the culture, religion, or ritual, by giving attention to the four guardians that held the canopy above the earth, the participants believed that for those beneath the canopy the air would blow fair not foul, fire would burn to warm not destroy, water would quench not drown, and earth would stand stable not shake or slide. All of which makes this canopy a symbol of how we all share the same sky.
Whatever our religion or spiritual path, we want this couple to feel the support, the protection, the friendship, the love of all who gather here today.
I’m happy to say that both families appreciated what I said. Please understand that my intent was never to usurp cultural tradition. My intent is always to acknowledge and celebrate the ways we’re all connected — from eons ago to right now.
Practical Magic – DIY
You don’t have to be getting married to benefit from the skylore I explored in the Jewish-Catholic interfaith ceremony above. Here are a few ideas.
In ancient Greece, the philosopher Empedicles identified four elements — earth, air, fire, and water — as the ingredients that made up all material reality. Today, we know that’s not accurate; but, in the time of Empedicles it was a pretty good assessment of how the world worked.
Keep in mind how the four elements, directions, archangels, Royal Stars of Persia, and the four poles thought to hold the canopy of the sky, are all woven together.
A Ritual with the Four Elements
Here’s a simple ritual you can do to strengthen your connection to the four elements. Why bother? Because as you understand the power of symbols, you’ll recognize those symbols in your daily life. Making that connection will add meaning to your life. And, when you realize how you are connected to the world, you will help make our world a better place.
Assemble four items, one for each element. You could have:
- A feather for air
- A candle for fire
- A shell for water
- A stone for earth
Pick up one element at a time and acknowledge its connection to your world with a simple prayer. If you resonate with angels:
- Hold the feather and say: Archangel Michael, help me to grow and fulfill my dreams.
- Hold the candle and say: Archangel Raphael, help me to act with courage and follow my convictions.
- Hold the shell and say: Archangel Uriel, help me to banish the fear of death, knowing it brings both endings and beginnings.
- Hold the stone and say: Archangel Gabriel, help me to see the wisdom in the generations that have gone before me.
You can do something similar if you resonate with the Royal Stars of Persia. Each one embodies a moral principle that, when honored, is said to confer success and honor. But beware! If that moral principle is abused, abandoned or otherwise dissed, the fall from grace and power can be devastating.
- Hold the feather and say: Aldebaran, in the eye of the bull, help me guard against righteousness. Guide me to speak honestly and with clarity, that I might influence others with truth.
- Hold the candle and say: Regulus, in the heart of the lion, help me guard against arrogance. Guide me to live a courageous and moral life, that I might lead others with integrity.
- Hold the shell and say: Antares, in the heart of the scorpion, help me guard against cruelty. Guide me to control the force that creates and kills, that I might know what it means to sacrifice for the common good.
- Hold the stone and say: Fomalhaut, in the mouth of the fish, help me guard against despair. Guide me to awaken the spirit within, that I might inspire hope for whatever dark times are to come.
If you resonate with elements themselves and the directions they represent:
- Hold the feather and say: Spirits of the East, element of air, may the dawn of every new day clear my mind that I might break free of old ideas and see my life in a new way.
- Hold the candle and say: Spirits of the South, element of fire, may the heat of the noonday sun strengthen my willpower that I might pursue what my heart desires.
- Hold the shell and say: Spirits of the West, element of water, may the shadows of twilight heal all wounds. Let forgiveness flow from me and to me, that I might give and receive compassion.
- Hold the stone and say: Spirits of the North, element of earth, may the darkness of midnight reveal the mentor, the tools, and the discipline needed to make my dreams reality.
Do you see the pattern? Can you feel the rhythm? You get a big idea (air / east). You fight for it, put in the sweat equity, beat the competition, achieve some measure of success (fire / south). You realize you hurt some people along the way, or you were hurt by others, and you can’t move forward without cleansing your spirit, giving or receiving forgiveness (water / west), and finally, with your big idea, your focused desire, your compassionate heart, you can finally create the reality you really want (earth / north). And then, of course, dawn comes, you get a new idea, and the cycle begins again.
The Blessing Box for a New “Home”
Here’s how you can use these same four items (a feather, candle, shell, and stone) in a ritual to bless a new home. I call the ritual The Blessing Box.
Imagine you’re moving into a new home.
- Stand at the east, either outside or inside. Hold the feather and say: May the ideas of all who dwell here be heard and respected.
- Stand at the south, either outside or inside. Hold the candle and say: May the actions of all who dwell here be recognized and encouraged.
- Stand at the west, either outside or inside. Hold the shell and say: May the feelings of all who dwell here be honored and accepted.
- Stand at the north, either outside or inside. Hold the stone and say: May the creations of all who dwell here be valued and preserved.
Keep the feather, candle, shell, and stone in a nice container. Repeat the ritual every year on your anniversary. That could be the day you moved into your new home, or the day you decided to confer the energy of “home” on the place you live, no matter how long you’ve already been there.
If you are growing a family, add an additional feather, candle, shell and stone to the blessing box for each new child. As soon as the children are old enough, let them participate in the annual ritual. Then, as they leave the nest to establish homes of their own, give each one a blessing box with a set of four elements you’ve been using since they became part of the family. (I can already see the scene in a Hallmark movie!)
A point of clarification: “Family” doesn’t have to be defined by blood or marriage. You may have roommates. You may share a college dorm room. You may take in foster children. You may work in an orphanage.
And “Home” can be a single room — in a group home, in a nursing home, in a refugee camp. Think about all the possibilities and take a look at those blessings one more time.
Imagine how a teacher could use The Blessing Box ritual in a classroom. Or, how the ritual could be part of an opening ceremony for a spiritual or environmental conference. In fact, you can use the ritual to begin any important meeting, or any ordinary day.
See Your World with Fresh Eyes
- See a feather and ask: Am I thinking clearly?
- See a candle and ask: Am I working toward my goal?
- See a shell and ask: Am I willing to forgive?
- See a stone and ask: Am I ready to manifest my dream?
Let the magic of ritual become part of your everyday life. Do it for you and for our world.