What I did at half-term, part one
A first for me: a pagan wedding. It wasn’t actual pagans getting married, of course. It was a couple of artist-craftsman (and woman) friends of mine, in their garden on a sunny day in the hills of west Penwith. Still, I thought you might like to know what you’re letting yourself in for if you get invited along to a pagan marriage bash.
First, there was no sacrifice, either human or animal — even though there was something of a three-legged altar made out of large granite stones. (It usually earns its keep as a garden table.) I can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed. Where is the spirit of Edward Woodward when you need it?
Second, there wasn’t actually a pagan priest running the thing from behind a hooded cowl, with a staff of correction in her hand. Rather, it was a part-timer whose day job is storyteller. It did help, though, that he looked (and dressed) like Steve Martin in The Jerk — or a more benign version of Brad Dourif’s pentacostal preacher in Flannery O’Connor/John Huston’s Wise Blood.
Three, there was an ancient (well, probably) saying something like ‘What once was, shall ever be’. (Something like that anyway.) It was engraved on a glass goblet, hand-blown by a friend.
Four, a toast was drunk by all from this goblet — which contained white wine and a bit of dry toast (rapidly getting soggy). The story-teller then got us to pass this round and all have a sip. He told us this was an ancient ritual*.
Five, there was no Whitney Houston I Shall Always Love You or anything similar. (Nor was there any Yvonne Fair It Should Have Been Me.)
Six, there was a ‘hand-fasting’ thing where their teenage son (this was a modern marriage) wrapped a strand of three coloured ribbons (white for cloud, green for earth, blue for sky — the pagan bits kept coming). Thus bound, they left the ceremony for a bit — with their best man and maid of honour so I don’t think it was a sex thing, though who knows? Then they came back, said some stuff to each other about how wonderful the other one was and how lucky they were to get married. Then the storyteller (kind of) pronounced them married. (The real legal thing was a couple of days before in a registry office.)
Seven, there was a gorse kissing sprig. (See picture.) It was a reference to a song with a line about kissing only being in fashion when the gorse is in flower. (Gorse is always in flower.)
Eight, we all had our picture taken inside a frame hung from a tree. See picture.
Nine, there was a vicar there. He was a good friend of the bride’s late mother. He began one of his bits with the phrase ‘If there is a god . . .’ Who can not love the Church of England, a religion which, where others have ritual, has jumble sales? For the record and census purposes, I’m a North London Jewish-ish (through marriage) Catholic atheist - and, to steal an old Nik Cohn line, not untypical of the sort.
Ten, it was all excellent.
* Knowingly or unknowingly, he wasn’t telling the truth. In the next posting, I’ll give his version. And the OED’s. You can take your choice.