Pagan Wedding Planning (Part 1)

Photo from Fuze Ceremonies.

If you’re like the vast majority of pagans, you probably have friends, family, or other people you care about who are not pagan. It’s highly likely that you will have guests at your wedding who do not share your beliefs.

We can only hope that our non-pagan loved ones are open-minded, understanding, and supportive of our choice of spiritual path — but realistically, this isn’t always the case. You might have friends or family who don’t really understand what paganism is or why you would want a pagan wedding. You may have loved ones who have been misinformed about what it means to be pagan by movies, TV, and popular culture. You might even have loved ones who are actively opposed to your religion, or who you don’t feel safe “coming out” to.

If it’s not important to you that your non-pagan friends and family attend your wedding, great! Only inviting other pagans decreases the chances that you’ll have to explain ritual elememts or comfort an uncomfortable guest. If that’s the route you want to go, by all means, have a pagans-only wedding.

If it is important to you that your non-pagan loved ones are there for this milestone, then you really have three options: 1.) have a pagan  wedding knowing you may have to accomodate non-pagan guests, 2.) have a secular wedding, possibly with a private religious ritual before or after, or 3.) have multiple weddings or split the wedding into multiple events, like a pagan ceremony with a secular reception.

(Technically you also have a fourth option, which is to plan the type of wedding your loved ones are expecting. However, I do not recommend this option. Your wedding is about you and your partner(s), not your families, friends, and acquaintances. I’ve never met someone who compromised on their wedding and didn’t regret it.)

Let’s explore what each of these options might look like.

If you decide to go ahead with a fully pagan ceremony, the most important thing is to make sure you communicate up front that this will be a pagan religious ritual. You can include a line on invitations like “Please join us in celebrating our commitment with a Wiccan handfasting ceremony,” or “[Partner] and [partner] will be exchanging vows in a Hellenic pagan ceremony.” This makes it very clear to recipients what type of ceremony they’ve been invited to, and it gives them a chance to contact you with questions or concerns.

If someone does contact you to ask about the ceremony, answer their questions honestly. They may be genuinely curious and simply want to know more about your beliefs. You might find it helpful to choose a good book about your religion ahead of time so you can recommend it to curious guests. This gives them a chance to feel more prepared for the ceremony, and it also spares you from having to teach a Paganism 101 class while you’re trying to plan a wedding.

If one of your guests expresses concern or discomfort about attending a pagan wedding (or worse, tries to talk you out of having one), you might have to set a firm boundary with them. Let them know that you value your relationship with them and that it would mean a lot to you for them to be present for your wedding, but that you also value your spiritual practice and feel it’s important to have a ceremony that accurately reflects who you are.  Tell them that you hope they are willing to set aside any ideological differences to support you during this important milestone, but you would never want them to do something that makes them feel unsafe or violates their deeply held beliefs just because you asked them to. Tell them that if they truly feel that they cannot be part of a pagan wedding, they shouldn’t attend.

Keep in mind that some religions teach that it is wrong or a sin to participate in rituals from other religions. If you have a friend or family member who practices one of these religions, you may want to leave them out of your pagan wedding plans. If you want them to know you’re thinking of them, send them an invitation but be prepared for them to turn you down. 

If you’re choosing to have a pagan wedding, you’re probably very open about your beliefs and have loved ones who are supportive. But be aware that there is always a chance your invitations will set off a missionary resonse from one of your guests, especially if you invite people who didn’t previously know you were pagan. If you get a call or text from someone who is “concerned about your spiritual wellbeing” or “has some concerns about your lifestyle,” refer back to the previous advice about guests who are uncomfortable attending a pagan ceremony. Tell them that you’re happy with your current religious practice and aren’t looking to convert. Be polite but firm. Make it clear that you respect their spiritual beliefs and expect them to do the same for you. If they keep bringing up the issue, you may need to privately let them know that they are no longer invited to the wedding.

Uninviting someone from an event is always awkward, but it’s much less awkward than letting that person make a scene during a serious religious ritual. Be willing to have difficult conversations ahead of time to avoid having them on your wedding day. 

But sometimes it’s not as simple as not inviting someone. Maybe it’s very important to you that your grandmother be present at your wedding, but your grandmother wouldn’t be comfortable attending a pagan ceremony. In these situations, you might choose to have a secular ceremony instead.

A secular ceremony is exactly what it sounds like — a legally binding wedding ceremony with no religious elements. A lot of people associate secular weddings with “courthouse weddings,” which is when you and your partner get married at a courthouse or other government building with few or no guests. While this is a popular option, especially for couples who don’t want an expensive wedding, secular weddings can be as big and extravagant as you want to make them. The main difference is that the wedding will be officiated by a justice of the peace or an ordained nondenominational minister instead of by a member of the clergy. And, of course, there won’t be any overt religious elements.

A secular wedding can be a great option if you’re marrying someone who isn’t pagan, or if your family and friends aren’t very religious. It also allows for a lot of freedom and personalization since you don’t have to follow any specific traditions. You can even ask a friend or relative to get ordained (which, at least in the US, can be done online for free) so they can officiate the wedding. The sky is the limit when it comes to planning a secular ceremony.

If you decide on a secular wedding but still want to ritually acknowledge your union or ask the gods to bless your marriage, you can do so in a private, personal ritual either before or after the wedding itself. If your partner is also pagan or is open to participating in pagan rituals, ask them to join you. If not, enjoy this personal time alone with your gods and ancestors.

The third option is to have two or more wedding events. This is the most complicated (and usually most expensive) option, but it’s also the best way to make sure everyone gets what they want — you and your partner(s) get a religious ceremony that is meaningful to you, and your families and friends can still attend a wedding that feels familiar and traditional.

This is also sometimes the best option for interfaith couples. Some religions only recognize marriages that were performed according to their traditions, and many of these faiths don’t allow for interfaith ceremonies — if your partner belongs to one of these religions, you may need to have two ceremonies. Or maybe one or both of you has a very traditional family who want you to have a ceremony that reflects their cultural heritage. For example, a Roman Catholic who is marrying a Heathen with Indian heritage might have up to three different ceremonies: a Catholic religious ceremony, a Heathen religious ceremony, and an Indian cultural ceremony. (This would only happen if the Heathen partner wanted a religious ceremony, since Heathenry recognizes non-Heathen marriages.)

This is also a great option if you’re torn between having a pagan ceremony and having a secular one. You can have a small pagan ceremony with just you, your partner(s), your officiant, and a few pagan or pagan-friendly loved ones, then have a secular ceremony or a big reception for your less open-minded guests. You don’t have to make compromises, everyone gets to be a part of your wedding in some way, and you can all gracefully avoid any tense conversations about belief or lifestyle.

The downside to the “multiple weddings” approach is that it makes the whole process a lot more stressful for the people planning all these events, which is usually the people getting married. Each event costs money and requires time and energy to plan, plus you’ll be juggling multiple guest lists. Depending on how anti-pagan your loved ones are, you may even have to keep the pagan ceremony a secret, which is another source of stress. The last thing you want is to get angry phone calls from relatives who just found out they were only invited to part of your wedding! Ultimately, you and your partner need to decide if making everyone happy is worth that extra stress.

Full disclosure: my fiance and I decided to go the “multiple weddings” route. We had a couple of family members who we wanted to include, but who we knew wouldn’t be willing to attend a pagan ritual. At the same time, both of us are very religious in our weird, pagan way, and we knew we wanted to have a religious marriage ceremony. A secular wedding just wouldn’t be authentic for us.

We decided to compromise by having a small, intimate, and very pagan ceremony, then having a larger, 100% secular reception later on the same day. Because our ceremony was going to be so small, we would be able to afford both events while still staying under budget. (My mom actually surprised me by offering to help pay for our reception, which was incredibly sweet, but we would have been able to pay for everything ourselves even without her much-appreciated help.) It probably helps that even at our “big” event, we’re going to have fewer than fifty people.

If you and your partner(s) decide to have multiple weddings, be prepared to spend a lot of time and stress on the budget. Budgeting for multiple events means you may have to make sacrifices to save money — for example, you may have to book a smaller venue for the reception so you can afford to reserve a space for the pagan ceremony. While it’s possible to get married practically for free if you get a friend to officiate, have the ceremony and reception at a loved one’s home, wear clothes you already own, etc., that may not be the type of wedding you and your partner(s) were imagining for yourselves. Sit down with your partner(s) early in the planning process and have a very honest, realistic talk about what you want vs. what you can actually afford.

No matter what type of ceremony (or how many) you decide to have, your family may offer to help you pay for it. In Western cultures, the bride’s family traditionally pays for the wedding ceremony and the reception and the groom’s family traditionally pays for the rehearsal dinner, the marriage license fee, and the honeymoon. While a lot of families no longer follow these strict etiquette guidelines, a lot of parents still feel like they should pay for something when their child gets married. This can be really helpful, because it can drastically increase your budget. But at the same time, be aware that family members who are paying for part of your wedding may feel like they should be involved in the decision-making process.

For example, if your very Christian grandmother is paying for your wedding, she may expect you to get married at her church. If your parents are helping to pay for things, they may expect to have input on some aspects of the ceremony or reception. This can sometimes spiral into someone else planning the wedding they want you to have while you get given a backseat in the decision-making.

This might be absolutely okay with you. I was glad to let my mom help me plan the reception, because I know she and I have similar tastes and would be on the same page. It was actually a relief to let someone else take over the catering math! When my future mother-in-law offered to pay for our wedding shower, I was thankful because it meant I could let her and her daughters take over planning for that event. More hands, brains, and wallets to help plan means less work for the couple themselves.

At the same time, my fiance and I are paying for 100% of the ceremony costs so we can be sure we have 100% creative control over that aspect of our wedding. It’s important to us that we have the ritual we want, without debating over details with non-pagan family members.

This is my advice for other couples: don’t let anybody pay for anything unless you’ll be okay sharing creative control over that part of your wedding. Your family may not expect to have veto privileges just because they signed a check — but you don’t want to risk finding out after everything has been booked that your preferences have been overruled, or that a relative has backed out on their financial commitment because they don’t approve of your choices.

Thankfully, there are lots of events and expenses traditionally associated with Western weddings, so it’s easy to find things for family to pay for if they want to contribute financially. Maybe they’d like to host your engagement party or pay for part of your honeymoon. Or you can delegate very specific tasks that you’re okay letting go of, like asking your in-laws to be in charge of the flowers or asking your parents to handle the cake. You know your family, and you know how involved you want them to be.

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