Originally published in Guðe, Winnemonth 1995
Redes for Weddings
The theme of this issue is the redes to give to couples before wedding. These redes take many forms, and call for knowledge, wisdom, and experience.
The goal of these redes is twofold: first, to make sure that the couple really should be marrying now, and second, to get them ready to deal with a life-choice which, even at the best of times, may not be easy for either of them. As their counsellor, you are not going to be able to make the first decision for them: you are not their judge. The most you can do, if you truly believe that there are good reasons for them not to marry now, is suggest that it is your opinion that they wait until the current problems have been resolved, or, if there are visibly serious problems with the relationship (for instance, if obvious abuse is taking place), recommend professional counselling and, as a last-ditch resort, refuse on grounds of conscience to perform the wedding. Regarding the second, your power to advise will be limited by your own experience (and that of the others that you may want to call in to help) and the willingness of the engaged pair to listen to you. Keeping these things in mind, it is your duty to give what advice you can, as well as you can, and/or put them in touch with others who may be more helpful than you can be in preparing them for a wedding.
Traditional Beliefs about Weddings
The oldest written source we have on the Germanic view of what a wedding means comes from the Roman historian Tacitus. Although it is not known how much of what he wrote was true and how much was a rebuke to his Roman contemporaries, couched in terms of praising the “noble savages” of Germania, his description of Germanic wedding customs seems plausible enough, and the rede it gives is good.
As for dower, it is not the wife who brings it to the husband, but the husband to the wife. The parents and relations are present to approve these gifts—gifts not devised for ministering to female fads, nor for the adornment of the person of the bride, but oxen, a horse and bridle, a shield and spear or sword; it is to share these things that the wife is taken by the husband, and she herself, in turn, brings some piece of armour to her husband. Here is the gist of the bond between them, here in their eyes its mysterious sacrament, the divinity which hedges it. That the wife may not imagine herself exempt from thoughts of heroism, released from the chances of war, she is thus warned by the very rites with which her marriage begins that she comes to share hard work and peril; that her fate will be the same as his in peace and in panic, her risks the same. This is the moral of the yoked oxen, of the bridled horse, of the gift of arms; so must she live, and so must be a mother. The things she takes she is to hand over inviolate, and worthy to be valued, to her children, what are to be taken by her daughters-in-law and passed on again to her grandchildren.
(Cornelius Tacitus, Germania, tr. M. Hutton, rev. E. H. Warrington, Tacitus I, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, rev. edn. 1970), p. 159).
Tacitus clearly had something to say to upper-class Roman womanhood here, but the basic belief—that a couple shall live together, sharing its work and rewards and all its wyrd—is echoed clearly in words spoken (if the saga is true) a thousand years later and written down some two or three hundred years after that: Njáll has refused an offer of safe passage when his sons are about to be burned in their house, “because I am an old man and little able to avenge my sons, and I will not live with shame.”
Then his wife Bergþóra is offered the same chance:
Flosi said to Bergþóra: “Go thou out, house-Freyja, because I wish least of all to burn you within.”
Bergþóra said, “I was given young to Njáll, and I promised him then, that one fate should ever befall us both.”
(Brennu-Njáls saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit XII (Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 1954), ch. 129, p. 330. Tr. K. H. Gundarsson).
Marriage, to our forebears, was not a matter of wild romantic love: love of that sort, as we see with Siegfried (Sigurðr) and Brünnhilde (Brynhildr), or the more prosaic Guðrún and Kjartan of Laxdæla saga, seldom came to marriage, and almost always ended in tragedy. It was based more on practical considerations: could the new family support itself, did each kin-group make a roughly equal contribution, how (in the case of important families), did the wedding work to the benefit of the community? It is made fairly clear in the sagas that simple physical attraction, or even superficial judgements based on background, were bad reasons to make decisions on marriage. In Brennu-Njáls saga, Gunnarr of Hlíðarendi chooses Hallgerðr because he is struck by her beauty: it proves to be the worst choice of his life, leading to much trouble with his friends and neighbors and ultimately bringing about his death. Contrariwise, when Egill Skalla-Grímsson suggests to his daughter Þórgerðr that she marry Óláfr Hskuldsson, she is angry with him, and answers, “I have heard that you love me most of all your children, but now I think that must be untrue, if you want to marry me to the son of a bondswoman—although he is handsome and a great man for fine clothes.” (Laxdla saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit V (1934), ch. 23, p. 63. Tr. K.H. Gundarsson)
Although, ideally, a marriage will last a lifetime, the Germanic tradition is more similar to modern America than to, say, the Catholic church in that, at least in the better-documented Icelandic period, divorce was relatively easy for either partner to get. This does not lessen the holiness of the ritual, since, as in the Icelandic period, divorce does not negate the pair’s responsibility towards their property and children—the commitments of troth they have made for the future beyond those implied simply by living together.
Questions in Performing Marriages
A Troth clergyperson can, and should, refuse to perform a marriage if it is clear that the relation is abusive or exploitative. S/he should do his/her best to advise delay and consideration in a marriage in cases where it is clear that the couple have made the decision to marry for reasons that make the wedding unlikely to last and a generally bad ground to plan for a future on: for instance, in an effort to escape from a bad family situation. Other circumstances under which it is appropriate to refuse to perform a wedding may incude, for instance: one or both of the couple being legally underage; a situation in which the laws of the state would class even an unregistered handfasting as contributory to bigamy; if one or both of the partners is psychologically, emotionally, or intellectually handicapped or immature to the point of not fully understanding the commitment made by the ceremony; and so forth.
It must, at all times, be remembered that by refusing to perform a marriage, you are stating as a Troth clergyperson that you believe that one or both of the couple is unable to honourably make and uphold their wedding oaths, or that the relationship is deeply unfit to be blessed by the god/esses. This is a very serious statement, which, no matter how needful it is, must always be deeply thought out. If you have doubts, it is good to talk about the situation with other clergyfolk or people whose judgement you trust, insofar as you can do so without breaching the couple’s confidentiality. Remember that the Ring of Troth does not allow discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, or sexual preference: a Troth clergyperson cannot, for instance, refuse to perform an inter-racial or gay marriage on the grounds that s/he disapproves of inter-racial or gay marriages, as denying members the right to an ordinary ritual of life-passage because of their race or sexual preference is, pretty self-evidently, discrimination. The Troth refuses to give anyone special privileges on the grounds of their skin colour or sexuality: all our members are equals in our eyes, and that includes an equal right to clergy services.
A Troth clergyperson who is unsure of how to deal with a couple’s particular situation may, however, refer them to another clergyperson, depending on circumstances and availability. For instance: a straight clergyperson with no experience in gay counselling may, if there is another Troth clergyperson in the area who has such experience, refer a gay couple to the other with a clear conscience. If there is no such clergyperson within a reasonable driving distance, and the couple wants an ordinary Troth wedding, the clergyperson on the spot should be able to give them basic couples counselling, refer them to the local community centre for gay-specific advice, and perform the wedding ceremony in Our Troth, with the minor changes of wording recommended in that document for a non-gender specific ritual, for them. If, however, the couple wants a gay-specific ceremony written just for them, led by, for instance, a cross-dressed priest performing Wanic ecstatic dancing, then Godwoman Straight will act in everyone’s best interests, and is perfectly within reasonable bounds, to refer them to a clergyperson in another area who is a specialist in this particular matter. The same holds true for a gay clergyperson approached by a straight couple: s/he is responsible for doing basic counselling and/or calling in others who can help with it if necessary, and performing the basic ritual, but may refer them elsewhere if their desire is for an individual and highly specialized ceremony which falls outside his/her basic clergy capabilities (for instance, if they wish to have a Wanic ritual strongly based on male-female polarities and sexual energy created and performed for the occasion).
In general, you may take it that you are responsible for performing the basic rituals as they stand in Our Troth, or self-written equivalents thereof. You cannot be held responsible for creating or performing rites that involve specialized spiritual abilities or focuses: for instance, if you are not a trained spae-person, you cannot be asked to spontaneously prophecy in the middle of a ritual, nor can many Godfolk be normally expected to organize and oversee the details of a Wodanic ritual stag night for a male berserk-band before a wedding. If your magical skills are limited to the theurgic abilities of hallowing and warding a stead, banishing ill-willing wights, and loading a horn of drink with might and prayers, and the recognition of runic names, sounds, and attributes required by the clergy training course, but the couple who has come to you desires an elaborate magickal ceremony, you are also fully within bounds to refer them to the nearest Troth clergyperson you know who is a magician as well as a Godperson. You cannot be required to perform a ritual calling for trained practical or artistic skills outside the normal requirements of clergy training: for instance, a couple that wants to incorporate a live performance of part of the wedding section in Götterdämmerung is responsible for finding its own musicians, a couple that wants ritual dancing cannot make you choreograph or lead it, and a Godperson who has never butchered an animal in his/her life cannot be held responsible for sacrificing a ram to Frija as part of a wedding ceremony, no matter how badly the couple in question wants it done. The best you can do in such cases is assist the couple in finding someone who is able to do whatever they wish, and work with that person in incorporating the activity into the ceremony.
Questions in Advising
The first thing we can say to our Godfolk, especially those who have not been married or in long-term relationships is: when a couple comes to you, wanting to be married, and you do not feel wholly able to help them by yourself—call someone else! If you are not married yourself, you may want to ask the help of someone, or a couple, who are; if you are, you may want to ask your spouse to help as well, whether s/he worships the god/esses of the North or not. If you are a straight Godwo/man being asked to do a gay wedding, or vice versa, and you really don’t feel yourself qualified to advise, then, again, you may want to either refer the couple to a Godwo/man who is more capable if there is one within a reasonable distance, or call in outside help: the local gay/lesbian community center, in the former case (or even the minister of the Metropolitan Community Church in communities where there is one: although they are nominally christians, they are very open, willing, and able to deal with general issues without dragging dogma in); in the latter, perhaps the minister of the Unitarian Church may be willing and able to help. In the old days, weddings were very much an affair for the whole community, and there is nothing saying that you have to bear the whole weight of dealing with the matter by yourself now.
In all cases, it is good, useful, and within folk tradition to ask an older couple who have been married for many years to be teachers and guides for the younger couple. In the old days, it might have been parents or grandparents; now, it may well be more helpful to look within our religious community for such folk. No matter how good the basic relationship is, young spouses need older, more experienced women and men to go to with their newly discovered difficulties—or simply to talk to so that they can lay out what is happening in their own thoughts and find out how much of it is something that happens to everyone (and, if there should be a serious problem developing, have an outside viewer who can alert them).
One of the most important things in regards to giving wedding-redes is the age of the couple and whether or not they have ever lived with other people before. The latter does not only mean a serious monogamous relationship: it can also be answered by, for instance, sharing student housing, living in a communal household, or sharing an apartment with a friend. The chief issues in question are those that one has to deal with in any situation where adults not related by blood are inhabiting the same household: who cooks what, does which dishes when, who takes out the trash, who left the tube off the toothpaste, and whose hair is clogging up the sink. By and large, an older couple where both partners have had some experience living with other people is going to have a much easier time adjusting to being married than a younger couple in which one or both partners have never had to deal with an equal householder (not an authority figure, not a child) complaining that s/he broke the special china cup that was resting peacefully on the edge of the kitchen sink and was, really, going to get washed tonight.
While marriages may sometimes break up over dramatic issues like the Other Woman or Man, the sudden realization that Gunnhildr is still legally married to Eiríkr back in Oklahoma, and so forth, they break up a lot more often over the pile-up of small domestic difficulties combined with a lack of good communications, which immediately blows small problems up into huge ones.
In all cases, it is a good thing for the couples to have negotiable household labour divisions figured out before they move in together (negotiations will, certainly, take place, based on who hates what worse than whom, or who can reach the lightbulb on the ceiling). However, older couples’ divisions will probably be more realistic than younger couples’. Here is where longer-term (or even shorter-term) personal knowledge of the couple will also help. If you have known twenty year-old Björn since he was seventeen, and have never seen his room when it was anything less than a fire hazard, and just last week were treated to the operatic strains of Helga telling her roommate Sigrún why she would NEVER, EVER even think about washing dishes by hand, no matter if two of the plates in the sink belong to Sigrún and twelve to Helga…then, if Björn and Helga can’t afford a maid and a dishwasher, but draw up an idealistic list of How They Will Keep The House Spotless And Hygenic Together—it is time for you to gently start guiding them towards realizing what they really are willing to do so that the cockroaches don’t grow big enough to hand them on their hind legs and serve an eviction notice, or either of them decides that it is completely the other one’s fault that the dishes are three feet high in the sink and the garbage can is walking about on its own and seeking out prey. The agreement on, and maintenance of, realistic expectations to a reasonable degree, really is the only way to keep a marriage going: and there are very few, if any, couples nowadays who are happy to accept the “separation of spheres” by which all things that happen inside the walls of the house are the wife’s responsibility and all things that happen outside are the husbands. That worked when the wife was helped by a pair of grandmothers, child labour, and maybe a few thralls; it does not work for the nuclear family, especially in an economy where often both partners have to work full-time in order to keep the household functioning.
The chief problem that splits up most weddings, however, is difficulty with communication. Some of the mainstream churches do “wedding retreats” which are specifically designed to make sure a couple really knows each other and is furnished with basic communications skills before they launch into their marriage. Although it will probably be a little while yet before the Troth is able to sponsor such events, there are a few exercises that you can do with a couple to at least see that a basic foundation is laid.
- Have each of them, independently, write up a numbered list of their goals and priorities in marriage. This can be expanded into several topics: for instance, each partner can write up a list of his/her own duties and what s/he thinks those of her/his partner should be; their opinons on major decisions such as how many children, where to live, who would ideally be working how much and what sort of work arrangements they think they will actually need in order to keep a stable household going, and so forth. The comparison and contrast of the lists will provide quite a bit of material for discussion of their similarities and differences, and recognition of potential difficulties (for instance, if Helga thinks Björn’s number two duty is helping with the housework, and it doesn’t appear on his list at all, this is something the two of them need to negotiate early).
- In many relationships, there is one person who talks and one person who listens. Your job, as a clergyperson, is to do your best to ensure that the couple gets accustomed to both talking, and both listening, at least to some degree. You may set up timed exercises of twenty minutes to an hour where one person talks for five minutes, then the other person does, then the first talks again, and so forth. Although this is primarily to get the two of them used to the process of each giving the other a fair say, you should pay attention to whether they appear to be processing what they hear and responding to it, or are simply ranting along on their own.
- Encourage them to do some sort of volunteer community work together—preferably something tedious, hot or cold, and dirty. Do it with them, if you can, both so that you can observe their interactions towards the end of the day and so that they don’t start thinking you’re an unfair slave-driver.
- Also encourage them to be actively involved together in the physical preparation for the wedding: the construction of wedding clothes, ritual tools, wedding gifts, and so forth. The more of these things are actually made by the couple’s own hands, the better; and persistence in a medium-term crafts project (a piece of embroidery or wood-carving taking a month or two of steady work, say), also offers a good paradigm for how well the individuals hold up over the long term. The capability to set reasonable goals and work towards them is a vital capability in keeping a marriage going!
Legality and Plans for the Future
The Ring of Troth can ordain clergy to legally perform clergy functions under some circumstances, but full recognition of this depends on the laws of the state and/or country. For instance, in Utah, clergypersons of any religion must be residents of the state in order to legally perform marriages, while in Texas, all that is required to do so is the agreement of three witnesses that you are qualified to do so—and, as the late Anne Harrington observed, “The three witnesses can be the couple getting married and the organist”.
When in doubt, ask your state Steward. If s/he doesn’t know, call the county courthouse and find out for yourself.
A marriage that is not recognised by the state is not illegal to perform; it simply does not legally exist. In such
cases, the couple may choose to:
- take themselves, and you, to another state, or
- file separately for a civil service and/or domestic partnership in addition to a religious service.
You should, however, be careful to make sure that if the laws of the state will recognise your ceremony alone, with no additional filing thereafter, that you are not, for instance, unwittingly setting the stage for a bigamy suit.
If the couple plans to have children, it is well to talk to them in advance about legal arrangements should difficulties befall one or both of them. Such difficulties can include fatal accidents or even lawsuits brought on grounds of being “unfit parents”, quite possibly based on the parents’ religion. It is important to establish, from the beginning, a clear line of legal custody which will improve the child’s chances of receiving a Heathen upbringing if something happens to the couple themselves.
If the couple is in a domestic arrangement not recognised by their home state—for instance, a same-gender partnership, a multiple marriage, or a marriage which has not been legally certified by the state in places where common-law marriage is not automatically assumed upon a period of sharing property and living quarters—it is triply important to make sure that arrangements are made not only for the children, but for both/all members of the partnership should something happen to one of them. For this purpose, the couple needs to approach a reliable lawyer; as a Godperson, you are responsible for at least making an attempt to find a Heathen-sympathetic one, lest they end up wasting vast amounts of time and money on discourse with someone who will hinder, rather than help, their process. If the Heathen community in your area is small, you may be well-served by going through the neo-Pagan community or local Unitarian church; for a gay/lesbian couple, the local community centre is, again, likely to be your best resource.
One of the chief difficulties we run into in performing Heathen weddings is that, very often, either one member of the couple is not a Germanic Heathen, or the families are not sympathetic, or both. In all these cases, serious consideration needs to be given to the circumstances so that the wedding can be properly performed with a minimum of trauma on all sides. The best words to keep in mind here are those spoken by Queen Sigríðr to Óláfr Tryggvason when he asked her to convert as part of his marriage proposal:
“I shall not go from that Troth which I have always held, and my kinsmen before me. But I will also not object to it if you trust in that god whom you prefer.”
(Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar, Heimskringla I, ed. by Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit XXVI, p. 310, tr. K.H. Gundarsson)
The first thing that you may have to deal with, whatever the religion of the non-Heathen partner is, is that s/he may be somewhat nervous about, or even frightened of, some or all of the Germanic god/esses. This is not an unreasonable reaction, as most of them have frightening aspects that are not always easy for all Heathens to deal with, let alone generic neo-Pagans or metaphysical folk, agnostics, or christians. In such cases, you should go as gently as you can without misrepresenting our religion or the god/esses. The grossest misconceptions, that Germanic religion is filled with Nazis, racists, homophobes, and so forth, are relatively easy to correct: as a clergyperson, you offer yourself as an example, and should be able to introduce a nervous newcomer to other folks who will also make a good impression; many of the materials produced by the Troth can also be shown. Other difficulties, however, are more subtle. For instance, it is very easy for outsiders to get the false impression that Germanic religion is chiefly centred around the warrior-path; that our culture is strongly dominated by masculine elements; and that the religion as a whole is of a dark and bloody character. This is especially a problem when dealing with eclectic neo-Pagans, as that religious grouping occasionally suffers from pseudo-myths based on the work of folk like Barbara Walker, who actively distort Germanic myth to blacken the gods and put the goddesses forth as the sole sources of all good: thus, an innocent person may have been told by her High Priestess, for instance, that Wodan is a rapist or something similar. These notions should be disabused gently and courteously.
When such fears have a legitimate basis, they are largely related to the strong emphasis placed on Wodan in both the generally available materials and well-known myths and in the practice of the religion itself. Wodan is indeed a dark, bloody, and frightening god, who loves warriors and the battle-slain, and to whom human sacrifice was often given; and someone coming in from another tradition is probably not prepared to get a full explanation of the true meaning of these elements in understanding the character of the god as a whole, though you should be ready with such an explanation just in case it is necessary.
By and large, however, it is more worthwhile to work on giving a nervous non-Heathen a good sense of the diversity in the Northern religion, the strong role played by women and goddesses, and the family- and home-oriented character of the religion. The diversity of the gods should also be played up: for instance, making it clear that Thonar is not just a big macho skull-cracker, but also a good husband, father, and bringer of fruitfulness. Placing emphasis on folk traditions, especially if you can get both partners involved in traditional crafts projects to furnish their wedding or future household, is also very calming.
If one of the couple is Heathen and one is Wiccan or generic neo-Pagan, then you need to talk with both of them firstly about what their plans for their household religion are, and secondly, about what elements are needed for both to feel properly married. It is important, before you perform the wedding, to make as sure as you can that religion will not be a chief cause of conflict within the marriage! Exercises that may help in this are:
- Having the couple design a household harrow (or set of harrows) together.
- Discussing their plans for holding the blessings of the year as a household; if possible, encouraging them to do the next seasonal blessing together as if they were already married.
- Getting them specifically to talk about theological issues, especially those that have been known to cause friction between neo-Pagans and Heathens (such as the historical background of Wicca and/or the Great Goddess myth, and the question of the Northern god/esses as independent beings as opposed to, “All gods are one God—all goddesses are one Goddess”).
If the theologies of an otherwise wonderful couple seem to be rapidly revealing themselves as incompatible, then you need to look for basic religious elements other than their views of the god/esses on which some household consensus can be shared. For instance: nearly all traditional religions, and most forms of neo-Paganism, share a strong thread of worship of the forebears and making blessings to the wights of the land. If Branwen decides that she can’t deal with a Wodan-hallowed spear hanging over her bed, and Wilhelm refuses to have pentacles up over the doors, the two of them may well be able to compromise on a living-room shrine to their ancestors and a holy rock in the garden. Household worship of the alfs, idises, and land-wights is very much a part of our tradition, and something in which every traditional religionist or neo-Pagan can take part without feeling compromised or slighted.
The same general rules go for adjusting or constructing a wedding ceremony. Some neo-Pagans will be perfectly content with calling on Germanic god/esses, or simply request that the ceremony be chiefly held under the blessing of Fro and Frowe (though they may understand “Lord” and “Lady” differently than we do). A strict Wiccan, or a Pagan given to a specific branch of pre-christian religion, may strongly desire that his/her own patron deity or deities be called on together with the Germanic. If you, personally, have no knowledge of these deities or desire to contact them, then you may wish either to construct a space in which the Pagan bride or groom may perform this invocation, team up with that person’s High Priest/ess for the ceremony, or refer the couple to a nearby Troth clergyperson who is better able to deal with mixed marriages than you are, if one is readily available in your area. Alternatively, if anyone in the immediate wedding party (you, or the couple) has serious difficulty with an invocation which includes deities of different pantheons, then the ceremony may be adjusted so that you are chiefly calling on the mighty forebears of the couple to bless them, perhaps neutral requests to, “the gods and goddesses who are friends of these two” subsituted for specific deity invocations. Certain elements of neo-Pagan practices may be incorporated into the wedding ceremony without warping it (since many of them came from Teutonic originals to begin with), so long as they are acceptable to both parties. Please remember that we are not a proselytizing religion, and it is not your job to convert the non-Heathen member of the couple. That person has, quite possibly, already made a significant compromise in the decision to request that you perform the ceremony. While you are not responsible for doing the wedding as a generic neo-Pagan rite—quite the contrary—you are responsible for respecting his/her beliefs and laying a foundation on which the couple can build a relationship which keeps them in relative harmony with the god/esses, the wights, and each other.
Dealing with an agnostic or atheistic partner offers another set of problems, both in the ceremony itself and in the counselling. The most common, and easily dealt with, perspective on the part of a non-religious person marrying a Heathen, is the willingness simply to allow the partner to practice their own religion without interference. If, however, such a person appears to have a philosophical problem with participating in anything that involves the calling of deities by anyone—as, for instance, a Troth wedding rite—this is a matter which must be worked out between the two before the wedding can take place, lest a later attempt be made to expunge “superstition” from the home, which would seriously strain marital relationships. The marriage of a highly religious person to a staunch atheist is a sure rocky road, especially in a religion as home-centred as ours.
In all cases, it is important that your pre-marital discussions include some talk about home- and family-oriented blessings which the Heathen partner will certainly want to carry out: offerings to house-ghosts and forebears, and blessings of pregnancy and children, for instance. The practice of seasonal customs—Yule greenery, Ostara eggs, and so forth—should also be talked about, and clear ground-rules set for the degree and types of religious input in the raising of children, if children are planned for. If the non-Heathen does not object to the presence of Heathen religion, and is willing to take part in those folk practices which have become part of common Western culture, there should be no difficulty. In less happy circumstances, the couple may be recommended to plan for, say, a room or corner which belongs to the Heathen partner alone, and the scheduling of rites at a time when the other partner is able and willing to be out of the house. Here, clear guidelines and boundaries must be set and both partners must agree to respect the other’s needs and wishes by adhering to them.
Marriages of Heathens and christians do happen, and require tact and grace in carrying out, always guided by the wise words of Queen Sigríðr. As a Heathen clergyperson yourself, you may feel strongly inclined to side with the Heathen partner in any conflicts. If you actually want to counsel the couple, rather than make an ass of yourself and/or break them up, you must restrain any desire to take sides, no matter how provoking it is. If you just cannot deal with the situation yourself, it is recommended that you either refer the couple, if there is someone better at it within your area, or seek outside help, as, for instance, from your local Unitarian church.
If you feel that you can do the counseling and the wedding, the first thing to establish is how, precisely, the christian partner views the Heathen god/esses, and how tolerant s/he is of his/her partner’s worship. Christian views can range from a simple, “These deities exist (or may exist), but this is not my chosen path”, to, “These deities do not exist at all”, to “These are EVIL DEMONS.” It is pretty unlikely that you will ever be asked to do pre-marital counseling for a Heathen and someone who holds the last view, but if you do, chances are that your chief role will be to convince the christian that Heathenry is a wholesome traditional religion with good ethical practices, based around home, family, honour, and personal responsibility, and should be respected as a faith embodying a cultural heritage.
The degree of education about Heathenry possessed by the christian partner, and the Heathen partner’s knowledge of what christianity means to the christian partner, is also vital to establish. If neither seems particularly informed about the other, making them so will be an important part of pre-marital counselling. Remember that Heathenry is not all that well-known, and christianity comes in many forms, some of which are hardly identifiable as belonging to the same religion. Ground-rules for communication, and an idea of the role religion will play in the daily lives of both, must be made clear before the wedding takes place.
Otherwise, the question of degrees of tolerance and participation must be carefully broached on both sides, and a balance of compromise delicately maintained. For instance: will the christian partner object to having the blessing of Heathen god/esses called at the wedding? If not, does s/he also wish to either have a christian prayer said or a christian ceremony also carried out; and if either is the case, is the Heathen partner willing to accept the blessing of that deity as well as our own? If a wedding is to grow strongly, tolerance cannot be one-sided, and a partner who feels that the other is forcing his/her religion on him/her is less likely to maintain a good tolerance of it. If strong reluctance is present on either side, as it may well be, it is best to adapt the rite (as our forebears probably did on occasion) into a simple secular ceremony involving chiefly the couple by their kinfolk and/or friends and oath-swearing, together with attendant customs such as drinking the bridal ale together, leading the couple to the chamber for the removal of the crown, tossing the bride’s bouquet and garter, and so forth.
It is possible, with hard work and care, to maintain a traditional Germanic household in which one partner is Heathen and the other christian. One might compare this to the symbel-round in which one of the drinkers toasts Wodan, and the other toasts the White Christ: that is to say, much of the cultural meaning remains intact, despite the intrusion of a foreign element. For this to take place, though, it is necessary that the christian partner also be strongly interested in his/her Germanic heritage, and willing to partake of all or most of the traditional folk-customs which had their roots in Heathenry, but continued in use through the christian period: the above-mentioned Yule greenery and Ostara eggs, the weekly leaving out of beer for the nisse or tomte, the carrying about of green branches and flowers at dawn on May Day, the lighting of candles and making offerings (such as flowers and food) on the graves of dead kin, and so forth. If the christian partner views these things, not as important artifacts of a cultural heritage, but as nonsense, superstition, or creeping Heathenry, the religious home life of the Heathen partner is likely to be very bleak, and will lead either to half-hearted Heathenry or a feeling of being oppressed and marginalized in his/her own home on the part of whichever partner finally gives in on the matter.
If children are planned for, their religious education must be discussed with care. Even the most tolerant and Germanic-centered family of mixed religions will not find it easy to explain the situation to a child: christianity is fundamentally a proselytizing religion, and modern Heathenry is based on the express conviction that the troth of our forebears is a better one than that which was forced upon our folk. Exercises which should be carried out may include various role-playing exercises in which the clergyperson acts the part of a child of various ages asking his/her parents about religion. Questions may include, “Mommy, why don’t you worship the same gods Daddy does?”, “Daddy, is your religion better than Mommy’s?”, “Isn’t Christ one of the gods?”, “What happens to me when I die?”, “How come the Vikings converted to Christianity?”, “Is Mommy (or Daddy) going to Hell?”, “You told me Hel was a goddess, but everyone at school says Hell is a fiery pit where bad people burn.” Such questions will not only help prepare the couple against the day when they have to answer them for real, but will also help bring out any gut-level reaction that either partner may have been hiding from the other.
It is unlikely that bringing the children up in one religion or the other will be entirely successful if both parents are genuinely devout: at the very least, the couple will have to explain the hidden religion one day, and this, by the nature of children, may prove to be more interesting to the child than the troth that the household regularly practices. Also, it is unrealistic to think that Heathen children can be sheltered from christianity—even at quite early ages—and therefore, even if the household chooses to practice Heathenry, it is better to prepare for giving them a fair, honest, and tolerant perspective on christianity than to let them find out about it when the neighborhood fink screams, “You’re going to Hell, you’re going to burn forever, my parents/big brother/ Sunday School teacher said so!”
A Jewish partner, once the initial and perfectly reasonable fears of Nazi associations have been dealt with, may in some ways be easier to deal with than a christian partner, as both religions have a strong emphasis on tradition, heritage, and lore. There should be little difficulty in each partner allowing the other to practice his/her religion in the same general space—the menorah here, the Yule-tree here. If the Jewish partner keeps kosher, the kitchen may be more of a problem, as pork has always been high on the Germanic dietary list, especially at holy feasts, and a great many traditional Germanic dishes are decidedly non-kosher (on the other hand, quite a few of those that are kosher are also traditional Jewish recipes). This is an issue which the couple will have to work out beforehand: it may, perhaps, be arranged by permitting a non-kosher barbecue in the back yard or by a major compromise on the part of the Jewish partner in another sphere.
If raising children in a mixed Jewish-Heathen setting, it is not only appropriate, but consonant with our religion, to make sure that the children in question are well aware of both sides of their heritage.
Christian families, or even families that think Heathenry is just too strange, can also present a serious problem. Old-line Catholics are especially bad about this: if a wedding is not within the Church, the couple risks continuous harassment and emotional and financial pressure, to the point of Grandma having a heart attack and Daddy threatening to disown the erring child. Your first duty is to help the couple determine the severity of the problem and the amount of compromise that may be possible. For instance, moderate christian or agnostic families who simply cannot deal with a Heathen ceremony may well be content to throw their own wedding reception, possibly, if you are not yet ordained or are in a state or country where your ordination is not recognised, following upon the civil service.
With rabid Fundamentalist families, if the couple plans to keep talking with them in a friendly way, and does not desire to make an issue out of their religion, the best thing to do is hold the ceremony at a time and place when the families can’t get to it, and encourage the couple not to give them too many details beyond the obvious (“Joe-Bob put this ring on my finger—isn’t it purty?—and Reverend Olsen pronounced us man and wife, and then we kissed, and then we had the reception, and Betty-Sue caught my bouquet.”). The couple can always plead poverty or the desire for simplicity. If either member wants to make an issue, it is important to be sure that both members are genuinely prepared for ceaseless phone calls, rantings, visits from preachers, and other harassment. You, too, may risk being drawn into this, as the Evil Heathen Who Led Joe-Bob Into Devil-Worship. While physical violence is unlikely in most areas, harassment of the sort mentioned above is extremely likely, and you will need to be prepared for it.
Traditional Catholic families are more of a problem: they are likely to insist explicitly on a Church marriage, and if this takes place, even if the partner who was not baptized Catholic does not convert, the couple will be required to swear a solemn oath to raise the children Catholic. This must, at all costs, be avoided: oath-breaking of this sort will set a terrible ørlg upon children thus foresworn before their birth. If there is no way of arranging for the marriage to be elsewhere and out of sight, you need to go with the couple to the priest to explain the difficulties involved. If the priest is a liberal fellow whose seminary years are not too far behind him, you may be able to work out something acceptable together. If, on the other hand, he is an old fogey, the couple will be faced with the decision of eloping, having their lives made miserable, or bartering away their childrens’ souls. You will need to talk over the options very carefully with them, making sure that they have a clear understanding of the practical, emotional, and spiritual factors involved in each possibility. If they decide that they cannot break away from the Catholic family, and go through with a church wedding, you should help them through it by talking about the many instances of forced conversion and of the survival of Heathenry after such conversions, possibly even performing rituals of warding before the “official” wedding and a ritual of cleansing.
With Jewish families, you will almost certainly have to talk to both the family and the family rabbi, and the main theme of the talk will be, “We are not Nazis, we don’t like Nazis, we have nothing in common with Nazis except that they perverted some of our symbolism, and it upsets us tremendously that signs of our religion should have been misused by this foul evil so that good folk like yourselves now think there might be a connection between one and the other.” Also discuss the similarities between traditional Germanic and traditional Jewish religion: both are memory religions, both are based around home and family, both emphasize living in a practical and decent fashion in this world, and both also place a tremendously high value on lore and the ability to evaluate religious problems according to primary and secondary sources, with research and argument playing a far stronger role than blind faith. If the family is Conservative or Orthodox, they are unlikely to ever be happy with their son or daughter marrying outside of the religion (and if their child is a daughter, remember: according to Jewish law, if the mother is Jewish, so are the children). This, however, is a risk of which at least the Jewish partner was already well aware when s/he proposed to/accepted the proposition of the Heathen partner. It is a matter for concern and discussion, but less likely, at least in this day and age, to become a major crisis than is a similar situation in regards to the more intense forms of christianity.
Finally: be aware that performing a marriage is like launching a ship. You can do your best beforehand to make sure it is as well-caulked and seaworthy as possible, you can call the god/esses and smash the bottle on the bow—but once that ship is in the water, it has its own wyrd: the best you can do thereafter is radio advice from the shore and, if it hits the rocks, go out to rescue the survivors.
Guðe [was] the official Ring of Troth clergy newsletter. The name is the Proto-Germanic form of the religious title appearing in various Germanic languages as goði/gyðja, guðija, or Godwo/man. The purpose of Guðe [was] to discuss issues of interest and use to the practice, teaching, and leadership of our religion. Articles in this issue by KveldúlfR Gundarsson unless otherwise noted.
[Source:] “The inscriptions [Helnæs and Snøldelev] mention a gode and a thul (goði and þulr in Old Norse), both of whom must have been pagan ‘officials.’ The former (from the root in goð, god) means one concerned with religion, a man corresponding in some way to a Christian priest…Both terms, gode and thul, disappeared when Christianity triumphed”(Erik Moltke, Runes and their Origins: Denmark and Elsewhere, pp. 165-66.)
[Webmaster’s Note: There were never many issues.]