Once, until the end of the Celtic era, the sacred and the everyday fused. People had faith in nature and a complete love for Her.
The rituals were sacred. It was normal to gather around the fire and collectively experience the passage through the wheel of the year, and the seasons, and celebrate the festivities. Even the important milestones of people’s lives were sacred and were celebrated and honored.
Let us reclaim these ancient traditions. Let us bring nature back into our lives, into our celebrations, to rediscover a connection with the sacred and with ourselves.
Who were the Celts
The Celts were an Indo-European population that inhabited Switzerland, France, Northern Italy, Ireland, Great Britain, and parts of Europe from around 700 BCE until the gradual conquests of Rome and later Christianity. The Celts invaded what was known as European natives, which had a matriarchal structure dating back to approximately 5000 BCE. They merged with this population, forming what we now know as the Celtic population.
The Celts, and the natives before them, lived in harmony with nature, and their society was based on the concept of the “extended family,” what we now refer to as clans. These clans included not only immediate family members but also ancestors and descendants, encompassing a large number of people. Multiple clans formed a tribe, which was led by a king. The society was divided into three functions: the sacred and juridical function, the warrior function, and the productive function. The druids (both men and women, as the Celts made no distinction) fulfilled the first function, the priestly one, but they were more than just priests. They were the guardians of the “sacred natural order” and also served as philosophers, scientists, astronomers, teachers, judges, and advisors to the king.
In this complex social system, the relationship between men and women was equal. Celtic women had the right to choose their husbands and could not be married without their consent. Once married, they did not become part of the husband’s family but remained the owners of their property and had the authority to manage it.
With the Roman, Germanic, and later Christian conquests, the Celts nearly disappeared from the world. Their customs and part of their culture adapted to the invaders and survived in different forms, but we lost a great deal of what they could have taught us. They did not transmit their teachings through writing and did not have a writing system of their own, except for ritual purposes. Their culture remained oral and continued as such until the end.
Celtic Marriage, Past, and Present
Contrary to popular belief today, marriage for the Celts was a mere contractual formality and did not involve religious celebrations, or at least no evidence of them has come down to us. The Celts did not practice handfasting, and their marriage was not a spiritual union. Surely there were rituals for young couples regarding sexual initiation, growth, and the beginning of a new phase of their lives. However, these rituals were probably not directly linked to marriage itself but more to the realms of sexuality and personal and spiritual growth. In essence, we do not know when the concept of marriage in Celtic society started to encompass a spiritual and/or religious dimension.
Nevertheless, marriage was still an important occasion, especially for high-ranking marriages, as they allowed the gathering of clans and the forging of alliances and friendships. Enormous banquets were organized, where a great amount of food, beer, and mead was consumed.
Today, we refer to a Celtic wedding as a marriage that incorporates spirituality inspired by Celtic tradition and utilizes ancient symbols. Since we have no knowledge of religious marriage rites in Celtic times, a modern Celtic wedding consists of reconstructed rituals that draw inspiration from known Celtic rituals that took place during festivities, or from rituals found in various books on Celtic culture written during the Middle Ages and from various myths.
For the Celts, the sacred and the mundane intertwined; they were not separate realms of life as they are today, but rather one permeated the other. The sacred was linked to nature and the relationship between humans and the natural world. This is why even in modern Celtic weddings, there is a connection to natural locations, such as the nemeton, and the sacred wood.
How the Celtic wedding ceremony takes place
In a Celtic wedding, the great natural forces are invoked: the feminine energy of the Great Mother, the masculine energy, and the energies of the elements (air, water, and earth being the three natural elements, while fire represents transformation).
We call upon these powerful living energies, unseen yet real, to converge at a point and bless two individuals who have chosen to unite.
The wedding ring will be formed by a circle of people gathered around the couple, as they all actively participate in the ritual. It will be a collective group ceremony, a celebration of love and connection to the whole.
The Celtic wedding takes place in natural locations of ancient, wild, ancestral beauty. In clearings in the woods, in the mountains, on the banks of a river or a lake, in places with untouched, pure, and light energy, where it is easier to connect with the forces of Nature and the elements.
Within the ceremony, ancient symbols can be incorporated that hold particular significance for the couple.
Here is a list of Celtic rituals that you can use in your wedding
There are numerous rituals of union in Celtic culture, usually from the medieval era, not specifically related to marriage, but which can be incorporated into the union due to their significant meaning.
Handfasting, the ceremony of binding hands with a ribbon as a symbol of the couple’s union, originates from ancient times in Ireland and Scotland.
During the medieval period in Ireland and Scotland, handfasting was used as an engagement ceremony, especially for wealthier couples. In reality, there was no legal requirement for a formal ceremony; it was sufficient for the couple to claim to be married or to engage in a sexual relationship to be considered married. Handfasting, therefore, emerged under Celtic Christianity, although it was often performed in churches, it had little to do with the Christian religion and more to do with the ancient one. It symbolizes the union of the bodies of the spouses but, above all, the union of their souls with each other and with the earth.
The tradition of trial marriage, which handfasting has assumed, dates back to a later period in Christian-era marriages, but this tradition truly originates from the Celtic era. This custom was already practiced by the Celts, who would engage in temporary marriages for a year and a day (until the next festival) during Beltain or Lughnasadh, although they did not utilize handfasting. With this tradition, once the union was sealed by binding the hands of the lovers, they were considered married for one year and one day, after which they had to decide whether to proceed with a permanent ceremony or go their separate ways.
The Oath’s Stone
A Scottish tradition, the rite with the Stone of Oath is connected to the ancestors and the natural location where it takes place. The stone represents the bones of the earth, the past, and the foundation upon which the future will rest. The couple represents the present and asks the elements and the earth to bless them.
The Protection’s Prayer
This rite is very ancient and derives from the tradition of drawing a protective circle around the couple to create a sacred space. The circle is an important symbol of community and is traced as a form of protection (using stones, flowers, or simply a stick in the sand or earth).
The Unity Candle
An ancient Irish tradition where the couple lights three candles together. This rite is more closely associated with fire than with the earth, unlike the previous ones. The two outer candles represent the families of the spouses, and the third candle that is lit represents the new family being formed.
A Celtic wedding is officiated by a person who has a special awareness, sensitivity, and connection with themselves and nature. This person is also known as a druid in Celtic culture.
Druids (both men and women, as the Celts made no distinction) fulfilled the role of priests, but they were more than that. They were the guardians of the “sacred natural order,” as well as philosophers, scientists, astronomers, teachers, judges, and advisors to the king.
Celtic Symbols for Your Wedding
Symbols held enormous power for the Celts and influenced their lives. Through symbols, they sought protection, wisdom, and knowledge, and also conveyed stories and myths that explained nature, human behavior, and religion. The choice of symbols depends heavily on the time of year in which you wish to marry. Flowers, colors, and scents are all connected to nature. Let me briefly introduce some of the symbols you can use.
Ancient weddings were celebrated from Spring Equinox onwards when the climate became milder and the earth was reborn. The two most commonly used festivals for unions were Beltain and Lughnasadh, which also involved temporary marriages. However, it is not discouraged to celebrate your wedding at a different time; nowadays, we have the means to do so.
Here, I will briefly list both Celtic festivals (the four fire festivals: Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine, and Lughnasadh) and solar festivals (solstices and equinoxes). Each of them holds a significant meaning, which I will touch upon briefly.
SAMHAIN, November 1st. It marks the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year for the Celts. It signified the start of the dark part of the year. Samhain is the most important festival of the Celtic wheel of the year and represents many aspects of the once nature-bound life: the end of the harvest, the end of the hunting period, animals going into hibernation, and the last hunt to gather supplies before winter. It also signifies the transition into the dark season and the commemoration of the dead and ancestors.
WINTER SOLSTICE, December 21st or 22nd. The period of Yule, called Yuletide, extends from December 21st to January 1st. It was not one of the main festivals for the Celts, and it does not mark the beginning of the new year as it does for us. It represents the rebirth of the sun.
IMBOLC, February 1st. It marks the beginning of spring for the Celts. Representing purification and the renewal of light, Imbolc reminds us of the importance of personal renewal.
SPRING EQUINOX, March 20th or 21st. It was not one of the main festivals for the Celts. It is the festival of rebirth, warmth, the earth, and ideas finally coming to light.
BELTAIN, May 1st. It marks the beginning of summer for the Celts. Beltain, also known as May Day, is the day when the summer phase of agricultural activities begins. Beltain celebrates love, courtship, and the union between the feminine and masculine aspects of the world, through which life is.
SUMMER SOLSTICE, June 20/21. It was not one of the main Celtic festivals. It is a time for fun, celebration, music, and dance to commemorate the longest day of the year.
LUGHNASADH, August 1st, but the celebrations would last for the entire lunar month in which the festival fell. It marks the beginning of autumn for the Celts. Lughnasadh is the harvest festival.
AUTUMN EQUINOX, September 22/23. It was not one of the main Celtic festivals. This moment signifies the end of the harvest, in contrast to Lughnasadh, which marks the beginning. On this day, light and darkness are in balance, but the descent into darkness begins the following day.
Trees and Ogham
The Celts transmitted their culture orally. The Celts also had a form of sacred writing called Ogham.
Ogham is a tree alphabet because each letter is associated with a tree from which it takes its name. I find the connection of each letter to various aspects to be an interesting feature that can be used within the symbolism of your wedding. Therefore, if you wish to learn more about Celtic ritual writing and want to know the meanings of each tree, I refer you to my blog article that explains each tree and its significance.
Knots represent the continuity of life, which has no beginning and no end. The Celts did not believe in death as the end of life but as a transition to another. Everything is a circle.
Knots create bonds, which is why they are also used in weddings. The handfasting ritual is based on the knot that unites the arms of the loved ones and therefore their souls, not only between them. The knot also creates a union with all beings, with the earth. Joining with a knot also means collaborating, uniting one’s vital energies to create something together. In a wedding, the knots can be used in handfasting but also the bride’s hair. Tradition has it that the bride’s hair is braided and often in particular ways to create Celtic symbols.
Celtic Wedding Attire: Blending Tradition with Modern Elegance
A Celtic wedding is a celebration that embodies the rich cultural heritage of the Celts. While some couples may choose to embrace the nostalgia of historical reenactments, others prefer to incorporate elements of ancient Celtic culture into their modern wedding.
It’s important to note that there is no single Celtic attire that applies to all the clans within this ancient population. The tartan pattern, often associated with Celtic culture, is specific to the regions of Ireland and Scotland. This type of fabric originated in Ireland, as stated by Robert Graves in his book “The White Goddess,” debunking the misconception that it originated in Scotland.
The Irish invented a fabric consisting of horizontal and vertical stripes in different colors, each with a distinct meaning that allowed immediate recognition of the wearer’s family affiliation through a combination of colors and stripes, resembling a fabric-based Ogham language. This fabric eventually made its way to Scotland, where it was used to create the féileadh mor, a large piece of fabric measuring between 5 to 8 yards long. The féileadh mor was laid on the ground, the typical kilt pleats were recreated, and the man would lie down on it. By folding and securing it with a belt and sporran (the Scottish pouch), it would stay in place, offering pockets and the ability to cover the head or serve as a blanket when sleeping in cold conditions.
While honoring tradition is important, many couples today seek to blend the ancient and the contemporary, and it is perfectly acceptable. You can choose to incorporate elements of Celtic culture into your wedding attire while embracing modern fashion trends. For instance, the bride may opt for a flowing white gown with Celtic-inspired embroidery or accessories, combining timeless elegance with a touch of Celtic symbolism. The groom might choose a modern suit complemented by a tartan tie or pocket square, seamlessly blending Celtic heritage with contemporary style.
By blending ancient traditions with contemporary styles, you can create a unique and personalized Celtic wedding experience that reflects your love for each other and your appreciation for Celtic culture. Whether it’s through symbolic jewelry, vibrant tartan accents, or a fusion of traditional and modern garments, the beauty of a Celtic wedding lies in its ability to capture the essence of a rich and storied past while celebrating the joy and promise of a future together.
I hope you found this article useful and remember that: “One enters the forest with bare feet and an open heart and comes out reborn“
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