Sexuality and Paganism - Part 2: Marriage & Divorce
As with any aspect of Paganism you're going to come across any number of beliefs and traditions surrounding Marriage and Divorce. Some see Marriage as a simply legal contract while others consider it just as spiritual and emotional as most Christian Religions would teach it is... Marriage tends to be influenced not only by religious beliefs but also cultural and societal beliefs and traditions as well.
Pagans get married & divorced just like non-Pagans do. While there are no real Pagan vs Non-Pagan statistics about marriage and divorce rates, it's safe to say they are about average and just about equal to any other group.
And just as most other groups today's Pagans, and those of old, have developed their own ceremonies, traditions and customs to celebrate their unions... However, in addition they have also created ceremonies and traditions to recognize separations as well.
Marriage & the Pagan
When Pagans decide to form a permanent union they do so with just as much or as little celebration as anyone else. Some will choose to simply have a quickie marriage with a JP, jump a flight to Vegas, or have a "civil union" documented at their local courthouse (depending on local laws & allowances of course). Others will choose to have an all out Marriage celebration with all the flair, decoration and months of planning as you will see in any Bridal catalog... And of course, there are plenty who choose a middle road. The difference between Pagan and Non-Pagan Marriage celebrations isn't generally HOW it is done, but what is SAID at the ceremony.
Unlike most other major religions Paganism has no "standard" wedding ceremony. If you choose to purchase or borrow a "guide" book for a Pagan ceremony there are plenty available both on and off line, each of which is full of framework, great tips and lots of ideas. In addition you will find a great many books or sites devoted solely to the celebration of marriage within a specific Pagan tradition.
However, I believe you'll find that the majority of Pagans prefer something more personal to the couple than something which comes from the pages of a book or website. Many will write out their own vows, readings and any additional pieces themselves. And a great many will have friends or group/coven leaders officiate for them.
There ARE Pagan ministers licensed to preform ceremonies, but it's a legal designation and doesn't necessarily connote religious ordination. State laws govern over who can and can't officiate an official marriage, and these laws can vary greatly, so check with your local laws before making any final decisions on who will officiate. IF you can not find a Pagan minister or your area does not have laws which allow for them to preform a legal marriage ceremony, there is always the option of having a friend or other person officiate AT your ceremony and simply signing the legal paperwork before or after the ceremony itself.
Non-Legal Unions & Handfastings
Another difference you'll see when it comes to Pagans and marriage is the length of commitment... IF you and your partner decide that you don't wish to be legally married, or you can not legally be married due to laws forbidding same sex or other marriages, you have the option of having an informal marriage which could be set to last a year or more. On a religious level, these marriages are seen as just as legitimate a union as a legal Marriage would be. This option is purely spiritual or religious and is NOT a legal option, because of that should you wish to have your marriage recognized legally later you can always have that end of it done at the courthouse. Obviously, for those who have personal beliefs against marriage, those who choose to wait until everyone has the fair option to wed, or those who are in relationships outside the laws of marital fairness this is their only option. However, in no way does the legality or non-legality of the ceremony diminish the love or commitment of the couple, nor should it be treated as less worthy of respect from those outside the relationship, friends, family or guests...
For Wiccans and Druids, these "spiritual unions" are generally called Handfastings and the act of being married as being "Handfasted" because the hands of the couple are bound during the ceremony. This is believed to be an old Irish custom restored to modern day. You may also see a version of the "handfasting" at Irish Catholic weddings.
Divorcing in the Pagan World
As with marriages between Non-Pagans, some of these marriages simply don't work out for one reason or another. And Pagans have the same separation options as non-Pagans do... They also recognize that ending a marriage is as serious and undertaking as getting married. However, one aspect you will generally ONLY find within the Pagan belief systems is that some will choose to hold a "separation ceremony" in addition to a legal divorce.
Separation Ceremonies are generally written by the couple, however, unlike marriage ceremonies they do not need to be officiated even if they are also going through a legal divorce as well. These ceremonies are often done in front of the couple's coven, kindred or grove, or before families and friends, but they can be done in private if the couple chooses.
These ceremonies are designed to aid the couples amicably end their relationship and ease the emotional pain which accompanies the breakup. For couples who belong to a coven, grove, kindred or other group, or for those who simply share the same friends, the end of a union does not mean the end to the relationship. Many will continue to see each other through out religious or day to day life, others may have children or businesses in common... These separation ceremonies help to enable the couple to come to terms with their separation without having any added stress on the day to day relationships or at the very least aid them to be civil when they happen to meet in the future.
For those who choose not to have a legal marriage, or who are handfasted, a "Handparting" or separation ceremony not only aids with this end, but also acts as the "ending point" to the relationship officially. These ceremonies are also a wonderful way to celebrate the good that this relationship has brought forth as well, to help children or other family members to deal with the change and to simply "restart" a basic friendship between the couple, if both parties are willing and able to do so.
Pagan/Non-Pagan marriages and relationships are becoming more and more common. It's unfortunate but there are still many more female Pagans than male. This simple fact means that the hunt for a partner within the Pagan community, especially if you have a small pagan community, may simply end badly. Because of this there is no reason to limit your search to those who share your beliefs. If you can't find someone who shares your beliefs, look for someone who will accept them. While you may not be able to completely share your spirituality, there is no reason you can not respect each others beliefs... You can attend each others religious ceremonies, and even have a mixed religious wedding.
If you are already married when your spiritual path leads you to find Paganism there can be some added complications. Obviously if you are converting as a couple, there is little to no reason to see added issues in your marriage. However, if you are converting alone, and your partner does not share your new found path this could pose some challenges... Your first obstacle is yourself, before allowing your new spirituality to disrupt your marriage you should first decide if it is your path. Do some "soul searching" and ask yourself "Is this what I believe," "Is this my path," and "Is this what is in my heart?" There is no point to causing issues in your relationship if you aren't 100% positive this is your path. Second, you will need to discuss with your partner what your new beliefs are and how you see them changing you and your life together. You will also need to make it very clear that your new beliefs will in no way change the love you share with your partner. Give your partner time to get used to the idea and offer to help them explore your new beliefs with you - be that going to a ritual or ceremony or simply reading a basic book about your beliefs. Just as each Pagan has different needs and wants when it comes to religious education, so will each partner of a Pagan. Thirdly, you will need to understand that this is not just a change for you, but a change for them. And for those who have grown up listening to the propaganda or myths surrounding Paganism there may be a good amount of fear associated with your new beliefs. It's up to you to both help them to understand the truth and to understand their feelings and fears at the same time.
Sometimes, however, non-Pagans simply can't accept that their partner or loved one has chosen to join a new religion that they don't understand. IF you have given your partner the time to warm up to this idea and they continue to refuse to respect your choice then you have to decide what is more important to you - your relationship or your faith. Again, time is key to making this choice, and no one but you can make it. Give yourself time to choose with your head and think through each option to avoid making an emotional and regrettable choice or giving an ultimatum... There is NO right or wrong choice here, only what is best for you, your relationship, your family and your faith.
Whether we are discussing marriage, non-legal unions, divorce or separation, these are NOT things which should be entered in to lightly. As within any other community you'll find that drunken trips to Vegas which end in a quickie marriage and just as quickie divorce are not seen in a generally good light. Take the time you need to make sure that this relationship is one based on love, trust, and mutual respect rather than on lust and sexual desire.