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Posted Friday, July 6, 2007
Pagan Weddings in the Peak:
`piercing shafts of pure golden light dancing upon the Pagan altar'
It was a hot summer afternoon and the dappled sunlight filtered through the canopy of leaves sixty feet above the sacred grove, sending piercing shafts of pure golden light dancing upon the pagan altar at the foot of the giant 350 year-old Beech tree.
A perfect ring of white sea-pebbles marked the perimeter of the nine-foot diameter magic circle on the hard-packed earth at the foot of the Beech tree. A three-feet wide gap left in the ring of stones made the entrance at the south, whilst the trunk of the giant Beech marked the cardinal point of north, and two slightly larger white `egg’ stones marked the cardinal points at both east and west.
Behind the altar – a six-inch thick slab of Oak - stood the white-robed figure of a bespectacled elderly gentleman with white hair and snowy beard.
`He weilded his powerful crystal-tipped wand'
In his left hand he held his Druid staff and in his right hand he weilded his powerful crystal-tipped wand, made from the branch of a Rowan tree which had previously been struck by lightning.
I joined the gathering crowd at the edge of the clearing and watched spellbound as the white-robed figure bent over the altar, the heavy gold ankh at his throat swinging forward into the shaft of sunlight and momentarily blinding the onlookers with its brilliance.
He carried a small candle-lit cauldron along with his staff.
Dipping the crystal-tipped wand into a wooden bowl of sage oil which stood on the altar, he proceeded to each cardinal point of the circle where he paused, muttered an incantation to each of the elements in turn – earth; air; fire; water - and holding the wand above the candle-flame, purified the circle with white-sage smoke.
Soft music wafted gently through the trees and the sound of merry laughter mingled with the happy gurgling of the brook; sunlight flashed silver on the water as it rippled over the rocks at the edge of the glade, and the crowd of onlookers paused, turning toward the distant sound of approaching hoof-beats as they came slowly, yet ever closer down the narrow country lane. The hoof-beats stopped, and all eyes turned toward the ancient stone foot-bridge, its handrails festooned with ivy and decorated with coloured ribbons.
Suddenly she appeared, seeming to float across the bridge in a cloud of pale-green chiffon, and a hundred throats gasped with awe at the radiant beauty of the bride.
Once across the bridge she was met by her handsome groom, resplendent in his high-collared gown of harvest gold and with sandalled feet, his long flowing tresses reaching almost to his waist.
They walked towards the circle, attended closely by a similarly attired young teenage maiden and groomsman, the former carrying a besom broom whilst the latter carried a white satin bag containing the ceremonial cords.
The crowd parted to allow them through; the music stopped as they paused before the entrance to the circle; the white-robed figure rang a tinkling brass bell at each cardinal point - `calling in the quarters’ - and an enchanted hush fell over the scene.
A kind of magic seemed to fill the air as the white-robed figure raised his staff high and proclaimed in a strident, yet melodious voice, “Let the ceremony begin”.
The wedding party stepped into the circle and stood before the altar and the maid swept the circle clean with the ceremonial broom before placing it across the entrance, and thus `closing the circle’.
The white-robed Pagan Priest then invoked the blessing of the Earth Mother, strewing rose petals at their feet, before purifying the rings and sacred cords, and twenty minutes later the happy couple had plighted their troth, exchanged rings, tied the knot – and jumped the broomstick!
No, this was not a scene from a romantic novel or a description of a movie scene set in medieval England.
It is a graphic description of an actual Pagan Wedding – or `Druid Hand-Fasting Ceremony’ which I accidentally stumbled upon whilst out walking last summer in the Peak District!
Pagan weddings, it seems are increasingly popular, with a growing number of such gatherings taking place in the Peak countryside each summer.
Are they legal? Is the marriage valid? What’s it all about?
I asked the white-robed wizard-like gentleman with the magic wand and large gold ankh, who rebutted the title of Pagan Priest or any suggestion of wizardry as he replied,
“No, in the eyes of the Civil authority, the Law of the Land, or the church, the marriage is not recognised as legal or valid. But some people are not concerned with the imposed values and laws of either church or state and recognise instead the Law of Nature”.
“What you saw today, explained ex dog-collared cleric Neil Atkin, a former minister of the Unitarian church, “was an authentic hand-fasting ceremony which pre-dates Christianity and was practiced by the ancient Druids.
“In fact, he went on, the `Old Religion’ as this branch of Paganism is often called, was practiced in rural communities like this until the Middle Ages, and such hand-fastings were considered binding. This couple, their friends and the local community, consider them wed”.
It seems the `Old Religion’ is making a come-back, for my wizard host revealed that he had conducted Pagan Weddings at various locations around the Peak District, including Riber, Stanton Moor, and Barlow.
Interest in Pagan Weddings and in paganism in general has grown rapidly in recent years, and I learned that there are “possibly over five thousand practicing pagans in Derbyshire – indeed thirty of them from our local order were amongst the hundred or so guests at the wedding.”
I was also told, “Some of them came all the way from Ireland to attend the ceremony”.
But I was warned not to misrepresent paganism, especially the kind practiced by the local Derbyshire Order of Pagan Druids, as the bearded bard told me, “There are many strands of Paganism, so please don’t misunderstand or misrepresent our local Druid order, we are entirely independent, with no affliliations. We are Natural Pagans, just ordinary people who worship the natural rather than the supernatural. Our basic ethic is a `Reverence for Life’ and a respect and worship of the Earth and the natural environment. The Sun, responsible for all life on Earth, is our father and the Earth our mother – and before you ask, no we don’t indulge in the occult, shamanism, black magic or any other mumbo-jumbo. There is abundant magic in the natural world”, he said, posing the question, “Why - is life itself not a miracle?”.
Indeed, as I looked around at the happy smiling faces and at the surrounding beauty of the natural landscape, I felt positively bewitched! There did seem to be a special magical quality to the day, and to the place - an atmosphere redolent with an ancient heritage pervaded the grove, invoking a natural reverence for life - and I had to concede that the Pagan Druid Priest had a point!
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