Chapter Three -- Applications

In this chapter, we will get more specific about life passages and the rituals by which we navigate them. We'll present our ideas about the objectives, considerations, and resources relevant to some of the life passages you may be asked to help mark and celebrate. We'll also share templates and sample rituals for some of these passages, and thoughts about other passages for which, in our opinion, rituals still need to be developed.

 Child blessing

Most Pagan rituals of passage are done with the assent, if not active participation, of the focal people. Child blessings may seem to be an exception to this rule, since the child is ordinarily an infant and incapable of informed consent or knowledgeable participation in ritual. What really happens in child blessing rites is that parents and God/dess parents (and the community as a whole) promise to nurture and guide the new baby. When the child grows up, she or he will make a free and independent choice of which spiritual Path, if any, to follow. We may hope this will be our Path, but we know that forcing such a choice makes it meaningless. So, a child blessing ritual can be understood as an initiation into parenthood or God/dess parenthood.

Pagan child blessings serve three purposes:

  • to present the child to family and close friends as a new junior member of the community
  • to charge, empower and bless the parents and sponsors for the child, and
  • to seek the aid and protection of the Gods for the child, and Their guidance for the caregivers.

 Child blessings are usually done shortly after birth, when the mother and child are comfortably settled-in together. Besides the parent(s) and child, other participants in child blessings usually include extended family members, friends of the family, and one or more sponsors, who have offered to serve as guardians in the event of parental incapacity or death, and who may assist the parents in the religious education of the child.

Advice to a potential sponsor

The decision to become a sponsor or God/dess parent for a child should not be made lightly. It may entail serving as the child’s temporary or permanent guardian should the need arise; it certainly should entail the acceptance of an ongoing duty of care to support the child’s parent(s) by offering a listening ear and a helping hand. Years later, that same listening ear may be offered to the child, during her or his adolescent conflicts with the parents. God/dess parents often take on the role of providing such 'extras' as books or musical instruments or opportunities to be in nature, things that will nurture the child’s spiritual growth in general and expose her or him to Earth religion.

Template for a Child Blessing

Resources for welcoming a new child

Carson, A.

1989: Blessing of the new baby; in Spiritual parenting in the New Age, pages 92 to 96; edited by Anne Carson; Crossing Press, Freedom (California); ISBN 0-89594-356-5, 290 pages. Library of Congress call number BL625.5 S675 1989.

Fitch, E. and Renee, J.

1984: Magical rites from the Crystal Well; Llewellyn, St. Paul; ISBN 0-87542-230-6, 147 pages. Library of Congress call number BF1611 F53.

Meltzer, D. (ed.)

1981: Birth: an anthology of ancient texts, songs, prayers and stories; North Point Press, San Francisco; ISBN 0-86547-005-7, 247 pages; Library of Congress call number GT2460 B57.

Pfost, K.S., Stevens, M.J., and Matejcak, A.J., Jr.

1990: A counselor’s primer on postpartum depression; Journal of Counseling and Development, volume 69, number 2, pages 148 to 151.

Telesco, T.

1993: "Having a magickal child: childbirth and wiccaning"; in Modern Rites of Passage, pages 17 to 41; edited by Chas S. Clifton; Llewellyn, St. Paul ; ISBN 0-87542-378-7, 270 pages. Library of Congress call number BF1571 M65.



Initiations mark intentional personal passages from one state of being to another. Candidacy for initiation is usually earned by the candidate’s own actions, which indicate their readiness for the initiation. In some groups, the exact requirements for initiation are widely made known to potential candidates in order to guide their work towards being ready. Elsewhere, the requirements are kept secret, and the candidate’s readiness is signified by their unprompted report of a particular dream, or their spontaneous discovery of some item of wisdom.

Initiatory challenges

In tribal times, initiation into adult status often involved some sort of ordeal or test. Many of these were actually life threatening. We are no longer willing — or legally able — to risk the lives of our young. Perhaps that's why adolescent rites of passage have become vestigial, or disappeared entirely in recent years. There's a gap in our culture, which the young instinctively feel. At the threshold of adulthood, they have a need to prove themselves. Some invent their own risky passage rites — dangerous sports, reckless driving, gangs, drugs. Others simply move into their adult years feeling adrift and incomplete.

            In the Western world, we've given up too much. Instead of completely dropping the practice of initiatory ordeals, we can fine-tune them to the way we really live now. We couldn't keep them as they were, but we can make them much better.

            Real challenges don't have to be either physically risky or illegal. One good recent example was a coming of age rite in which the young man was asked to keep up a steady heartbeat drumbeat throughout a nightlong ritual. In Proteus Coven, two candidates for Initiation were challenged to maintain 24 hours of silence, while attending a Pagan gathering. Challenges like these, which require determination and self‑control rather than physical daring, come far closer to what modern adult life will demand of the youngster.

            Initiatory ordeals that closely anticipate difficulties the young person might actually encounter, rather than anachronistic fantasies, bestow a great gift. When similar problems actually arise in real life, the new adult has the confidence of knowing for sure that they can cope, because they already did. A successfully met challenge installs an empowering memory.

In the secular realm, those who wish to enter certain professions must prove the worth of their training through internship experiences and licensing examinations. Jobs often begin with probationary periods. From these models, we draw the important lesson that the only meaningful test is one that is actually failable.

            As mentors and initiators, however, we need to make sure that failure does no permanent harm to the candidate. Working back from failure to ultimate success, in fact, can be the most empowering experience of all. So we need to have some idea of how to continue developmental work with candidates who fail on their first try (or even their first several tries). Until we know what to do when someone fails, we are unlikely to have the guts to set the bars high enough for success to really mean something to the one who has met the challenge.

Your own challenge

Here is a challenge for you, the reader, whatever age you are: identify what might be a meaningful challenge for you. Whether or not you choose to do whatever it is, just the exercise of figuring it out will help you think better about the next adolescent or candidate for initiation. Of course, the better the challenger knows the candidate, the more the challenge can be designed to push on dysfunctional habits or self‑imposed limits. Hint: watch for any area where the person habitually says "I can't," and this does not seem literally true.

            Challenges were never part of Judy’s Craft training or practice, but they always have been part of Gwyneth's. So when we married and learned to work together, some challenges came Judy’s way and she’s had the opportunity to observe some others close up. She’s now a big believer in them. Regardless of any community acknowledgment, there is an immediate and inherent payoff to the individual who has successfully met a challenge ‑ a new self-confidence, a greater internal freedom of action.


Marking entry into adolescence

Many cultures offer an initiatory passage from childhood into adolescence. This passage often occurs at or soon after the candidate’s puberty. Entry into adolescence ordinarily entails ritual severance of the candidate’s ties to childhood by surrender of some of their familiar possessions followed by a gift of objects more suited to their new status as adolescents. For example, at a Hispanic girl’s coming-of-age, called her quincenera, her father kneels before her, removes her flat slippers and replaces them with high-heeled dancing shoes.

Template for Entry into Adolescence

Resources for entry into adolescence

Arthen, S.

“Puberty” published in Fireheart issue number 3 and available via the Web at <>

Blackburn, A.C. and Erickson, D.B.

1986: Predictable crises of the gifted student; Journal of Counseling and Development, volume 64, number 9, pages 552 to 555.

Buckley, Thomas and Alma Gottlieb, eds.

1988: Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation; University of California Press, Berkeley; ISBN 0-520-06350-3, 326 pages. Library of Congress call number GN484.38 B56 1988.

Budapest, Z.E.

1989b: Rite of self-dedication for young men; in Spiritual parenting in the New Age, pages 252 to 253; edited by Anne Carson; Crossing Press, Freedom (California); ISBN 0-89594-356-5, 290 pages. Library of Congress call number BL625.5 S675 1989.

Carson, A.

1989a: The time of letting go: adolescence; in Spiritual parenting in the New Age, pages 217 to 229; edited by Anne Carson; Crossing Press, Freedom (California); ISBN 0-89594-356-5, 290 pages. Library of Congress call number BL625.5 S675 1989.

Carson, A.

1989b: Menarche; in Spiritual parenting in the New Age, pages 254 to 259; edited by Anne Carson; Crossing Press, Freedom (California); ISBN 0-89594-356-5, 290 pages. Library of Congress call number BL625.5 S675 1989.

Erikson, E. H.

1968: Identity, youth and crisis; W.W.Norton, New York; 336 pages. Library of Congress call number BF697 E7.

Mariechild, D.

1989: Sharing a spiritual path with adolescents; in Spiritual parenting in the New Age, pages 230 to 235; edited by Anne Carson; Crossing Press, Freedom (California); ISBN 0-89594-356-5, 290 pages. Library of Congress call number BL625.5 S675 1989.


Coming-of-Age, marking entry into adulthood

For most of human history, puberty marked a person’s entry into adult privilege and responsibility, as most young people were established in trades and married by their early to mid teens. Back then, one ritual – Confirmation or Bar Mitzvah in European cultures – marked these concurrent changes in both bodily development and social role. Adolescence emerged as a separate life stage only in the
First World, and only after technological advances both allowed society to do without teenagers' labor and changed work so that jobs now require more years of formal education and training.

    Today, Bar Mitzvahs and Confirmations, still celebrated at the traditional time of puberty, mark the passage from childhood to adolescence for the children of our neighbors. Statements made within those rites that the person is now an adult ring hollow. And nothing much marks the passage from adolescence to adulthood. The average High School or College graduation exercise is a pretty pallid rite.

            In North America, entry into adulthood is marked by a variety of nearly-universal secular events: we take our first legal drink in a tavern, we register to vote (and sometimes register for the draft), we obtain our driver’s license, we rent our first apartment and move away from our childhood home. Most of us graduate from school. For some of us, this passage is marked by our first scary encounter with unplanned pregnancy.

            All of these events have this in common: they mark acceptance of adult-level responsibilities and privileges, with adult-level consequences for failure or default. Clearly, this passage can be eased by parents who offer their advice and counsel to their grown-up offspring — and who make good on that offer when so asked.

            Although we have plenty of these secular markers of the passage from adolescence to adulthood, we don’t yet have many religious rituals to mark this very important life passage. We need an adulthood rite. Click here for our first attempt at writing such a ritual.

Resources for Coming-of-Age

Carnes, M. C.

1989: Secret ritual and manhood in Victorian America; Yale University Press, New Haven; ISBN 0-300-05146-8, 226 pages. Library of Congress call number HS204 C37.

Carson, A.

1989c: Celebrating the driver’s license; in Spiritual parenting in the New Age, pages 240 to 241; edited by Anne Carson; Crossing Press, Freedom (California); ISBN 0-89594-356-5, 290 pages. Library of Congress call number BL625.5 S675 1989.

Erikson, E. H.

1978: Adulthood; W.W.Norton, New York; ISBN 0-393-09086-8, 276 pages. Library of Congress call number BF724.5 A35

Foster, S.

1989b: Passage into manhood; in Spiritual parenting in the New Age, pages 242 to 251; edited by Anne Carson; Crossing Press, Freedom (California); ISBN 0-89594-356-5, 290 pages. Library of Congress call number BL625.5 S675 1989.

Liptak, K.

1994: Coming-of-age: traditions and rituals around the world; Millbrook Press, Brookfield (Connecticut), 126 pages. Library of Congress call number GN483.3 L57 1994.

Judith, A.

1993: Between the Worlds: Late adolescence and early adulthood in modern Paganism; in Modern Rites of Passage, pages 75 to 91; edited by Chas S. Clifton; Llewellyn, St. Paul; ISBN 0-87542-378-7, 270 pages. Library of Congress call number BF1571 M65.

Mahdi, L.C., Foster, S. and Little, M. (eds.)

1987: Betwixt & between: patterns of masculine and feminine initiation; Open Court, La Salle (Illinois); ISBN 0-8126-9048-6, 513 pages. Library of Congress call number GN473 B47.

Meade, M.

1993: Men and the water of life: initiation and the tempering of men; HarperSanFrancisco, ISBN 0-06-250726-5, 442 pages. Library of Congress call number HQ1090 M4.

Raphael, R.

1988: The men from the boys: rites of passage in male America; ISBN 0-8032-8937-5, 228 pages. Library of Congress call number HQ799.6 R36.

Roberts, W.O. Jr.

1982: Initiation into adulthood: an ancient rite in contemporary form; Pilgrim Press, New York; ISBN 0-8298-0629-6, 182 pages. Library of Congress call number BV783 I54 R63.

Wallace, R.

1989: Initiation into womanhood; in Spiritual parenting in the New Age, pages 260 to 269; edited by Anne Carson; Crossing Press, Freedom (California); ISBN 0-89594-356-5, 290 pages. Library of Congress call number BL625.5 S675 1989.

Ordination: Initiation into Priesthood

Of the four initiatory passages — child blessing, entry into adolescence, coming-of-age, and ordination — only ordination is independent of bodily changes. Readiness for ordination is ordinarily a matter of having completed a certain level of religious or secular education, supported by appropriate life experience.

            Certainly, in everyday speech we associate ordination with a religious context, but it has its secular equivalents in the formal initiations into professional ‘priesthood’: passing the Bar Exam and being recognized as an barrister or attorney, completing internship and passing the State Boards for certification as a psychologist; being accepted into the ancient office of the Calling of the Engineer and accepting the iron ring in token of the engineer’s duty of care. These vocations are as sacred as any religious office. And, just as with religious initiations, the secrets of these secular/professional passages are zealously guarded.

            Religious initiation, ordination into priesthood, is familiar to many Pagans. Each of the Pagan religious orders has its own Traditional notion of how such an initiation should be done, and of standards for candidacy. Most of those details are held secret by the initiates: we would no more tell a Druid about the details of our passage through the Gardnerian Wiccan rites than we would expect the Druid to tell us about her initiatory experiences.

            All initiations involve a separation from ordinary ways of being: whether it be blindfolded entry into a maze, or silent enclosure in an academic examination room. While in that different state, the candidate must pass certain tests, and learns certain secrets (whether the be the names of the sacred plants of the Tradition, or the number and content of the questions on an examination paper.) Finally, the candidate returns, transformed, to the ordinary world. Click here for a  template for a generic ordination based upon our understanding of common themes within Pagan Traditions. Please remember, though, that ordinations are Tradition-specific; this is not a ‘one size fits all’ situation.

Resources for Ordination into Pagan Priesthood

Bado-Fralick, N.

2005: Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual; Oxford University Press, New York; ISBN 0-19-516645-0, 181 pages. Library of Congress call number B:615 B33 2005

 Eliade, M.

1958: Rites and symbols of initiation: the mysteries of birth and rebirth; Harper Torchbooks, New York; ISBN 0-06-131236-3, 175 pages. Library of Congress call number BL615 E4 1958.

Slater, H. (ed.)

1978: A book of pagan rituals; re-issued as one volume by Samuel Weiser, New York; ISBN 0-87728-348-6, 142 pages. Library of Congress call number BF1566 B64.


1999: The spiral dance: a rebirth of the ancient religion of the Great Goddess; HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco; ISBN 0-06-250815-6, 326 pages. Library of Congress call number BF1566 S77 1999.


Marriage rites

A handfasting, or a wedding, is not a marriage. A marriage is what follows the ritual: years and decades of living the commitments that were made, the realization of their hopes and desires to spend their lives in each other’s company. The gender and number of the people making and living the commitment is fundamentally irrelevant to the existence of a marriage; such considerations only come into play when we try to register a marriage with the State.

            As clergy, we are not in the business of marrying people. People marry each other. The living heart of marriage is the self-created bond, which can survive, as one of Judy’s did, lifelong without either religious or legal validation. Nevertheless, both legal and religious support systems are available to those marriages which both desire this support and satisfy the definition held by the government and by their members’ particular faith tradition.

            Our role as clergy is to assist the people in discerning their true will concerning marriage, to assist them in enacting and celebrating that commitment before their families and community so that it will be known, recognized and supported, and to remain accessible to the people if they subsequently seek our aid and counsel. Marriage rituals can take the form of ‘traditional’ North American weddings, or handfastings, or many other forms. We will discuss handfastings and weddings in detail because those are the forms of marriage rites we are most commonly called to perform.

            Marriage can also sometimes be a legally-recognized civil contract. There are some advantages to this, which is why gay and lesbian people are struggling to secure the option of legal recognition and protection for their marriages. Nevertheless, it is love, not law, that makes a marriage and a family.

Basic requirements for a legally-registered marriage:

  • The celebrants must be of legal minimum age for marriage.
  • In most jurisdictions, one of the celebrants must be male, and one must be female.
  • The celebrants must be legally free to marry (i.e., they must not presently be married to someone else; they must not be close kin by blood.)
  • The celebrants must be competent: they must be capable of understanding what they are about to do, and they must not be intoxicated.
  • The handfasting or wedding ceremony, whether formal or informal, must occur before witnesses. The witnesses must be of legal age.
  • The celebrants must obtain, and properly execute and return, a marriage license.
  • Legal requirements for clergy registration vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Be sure you know them and have satisfied them where the marriage is to be performed. Never tell people that you can perform a legally recognized wedding unless you have first secured your own legal clergy status!  (You can find a state-by-state guide to legal requirements here, but please check that the information for your state is current, and please let us know any new information you find.)

Your responsibilities to those who wish to marry

by Elsa Die Löwin

1.         Meet with the people to see if you can work with them. This isn't usually a problem. Most of the people we have handfasted were friends of ours for years before. Occasionally, pushy people will try to pressure you when you don't feel right about them. Don't be afraid to be picky. If you don't feel right, say "no". Until you accept the job, you have no obligation.

2.         Ask the people questions to establish compatibility. You probably don't want to do a handfasting that won’t or shouldn't stick. You have the option of offering a set term, such as a year and a day.

3.         Working with the people, pull together the ritual. They may wish to write most of it themselves, or they may wish to cut and paste from others’ sources, or they may want you to tell them what to do. Remember that this has to be a ritual that you are willing to do without reservation and that they will have to live with and by.

4.         Stay in touch as the handfasting date approaches. Otherwise intelligent people turn into absentminded fools in the face of transitions such as this.

5.         Help work out the staging aspect of the ritual, where people will stand, where the perimeter of the circle will be, etc.

6.         Be on time, or even a little bit early for rehearsals and the ceremony. You will probably have to help some of the folks get grounded. This is not the time to run on "Pagan Standard Time".

7.         Wear something in keeping with the situation. The bride may volunteer an opinion. If she doesn't, ask. I have a white linen suit to look "normal" and dignified, as well as a variety of robes and period costumes.

8.         Marriage Licenses can be signed before, during, or after the ceremony. It is up to the people to get the license, but there are spaces for you to fill in. In California, you must perform the ceremony and/or sign the licensee in the same county that issues the license, and it must be used and sent in within a certain time period. You must stay within the spaces provided (no writing into the margins) and may not use abbreviations. It is a kindness to your newlyweds if you take responsibility for mailing it off.

9.         Be honest and discreet depending on the level of out-of-the-broomcloset-ness of the people with respect to the guests.

10.       Your responsibilities do not include deciding the date, time, location, colors, theme, flowers, seating, reception menu, clothing, etc. Those decisions properly belong to the couple, the maid-of- honor, mother of the bride, or wedding consultant; they are not your problem.

11.       You are also not obliged to keep Aunt Busybody or anyone else happy. You and the people may wish to assign others to keeping the situation grounded. Just be polite. You are answerable only to the couple you have agreed to handfast.

Suggestions for pre-marriage counseling questions

by Spellweaver

1.         What does marriage mean to you?

2.         Why do you wish to marry this person?

3.         How, or in what ways, do you believe marriage may change your relationship?

4,         How long have you known each other? How long have you been in this relationship?

5.         How did you meet, and what first attracted you to this person?

6.         What do you like about this person? Dislike?

7.         If you could change one thing about this person, what would it be?

            (To the other partner) Knowing this, how do you feel about this? Are you willing to work on this issue?

8.         How is your sex life? Who is the primary initiator?
  If more one than the other, how do you feel about that?

9.         Do you plan on having children?

            If yes:

                        A)        How many children?

                        B)        Who will be the primary care-giver?

                        C)        How do you see yourself as a parent....strict? lenient? . ...what do you
                                    believe will be your primary method of parenting? Have you discussed

            If no:

                  What will you do if one of you becomes accidentally pregnant?

10.       Does either of you have children from a previous relationship?

            If yes:

                        A)        Will the children be living with you? If not, who is the primary
                                    caretaker and what are your visitation rights? your child-support obligations?

                        B)        How do the children effect your current relationship?

                        C).       How is the relationship between the children and your fiancée?

                                    If not good: What steps are you making to try to make it better?

                        D)        If you are the primary caretaker, what will happen to the children in the                                                              event of your death or incapacity? Is your fiancée willing to take on the                                     responsibility of raising the children? If not, who will be responsible?

11.       How are your "lines of communication"? Do you feel comfortable discussing difficult issues or emotions - such as anger or disappointment caused by your partner?

12.       Every couple can expect that there will be times when you will fight. How do you fight and/or express anger with each other?

13.       What are you willing to do to help work through those difficult times and keep your lines of communication open? (e.g.: enter into counseling, give each other space/time, etc.)

14.       What is the one thing that your partner could do or say that would cause you to end this relationship?

15.       What are you prepared to vow or commit to each other?

Template for a Handfasting Ritual

Resources for Handfasting Rituals

Ardinger, B.

1992: A woman’s book of rituals and celebrations; New World Library, San Rafael (California); ISBN 0-93143-290-1, 212 pages. Library of Congress call number BL725.7 A55.

Arthen, S.

“Handfasting” published in Fireheart #1 and available via the Web at <>

Budapest, Z.E.

1989: The holy book of women's mysteries; Wingbow Press, Berkeley (California), 308 pages. Library of Congress call number BF1566 B78 1989.

Butler, B. (ed.)

1990: Ceremonies of the heart: celebrating lesbian unions; Seal Press, Seattle; 308 pages. Library of Congress call number HQ75.6 U5 C47.

Charboneau-Harrison, J.

1993: Handfasting: marriage and the modern Pagan in Modern Rites of Passage, pages 165 to 187; edited by Chas S. Clifton; Llewellyn, St. Paul; ISBN 0-87542-378-7, 270 pages. Library of Congress call number BF1571 M65.

Dunwich, G.

1992: The secrets of love magick; Citadel Press, New York; ISBN 0-8065-1365-9; 206 pages. Library of Congress call number BF1623 L6 D86.

Farrar, J. and Farrar, S.

1981: Eight sabbats for Witches; Robert Hale, London; 192 pages. Library of Congress call number BF1571 F34.

Fitch, E. and Renee, J.

1984: Magical rites from the Crystal Well; Llewellyn, St. Paul; ISBN 0-87542-230-6, 147 pages. Library of Congress call number BF1611 F53.

Kaldera, R. and Schwartzstein, T.

2003: Handfasting and wedding rituals: welcoming Hera's blessing; Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul (Minnesota); ISBN 0-7387-0470-9, 320 pages. Library of Congress call number GT2690 K35.

Lewin, E.

1998: Recognizing ourselves: ceremonies of lesbian and gay commitment; Columbia University Press, New York, 288 pages. Library of Congress call number HQ76.3 U5 L49.

Thorsson, E.

1989: A book of Troth; Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul (Minnesota); ISBN 0-87542-777-4, 226 pages. Library of Congress call number BL860 T52


¤          ¤          ¤

Secular Weddings

When a wedding is depicted on television show or in a movie, it is most likely to be a formal North American secular wedding. For artistic and dramatic purposes, the portrayal of the wedding may be abridged, but it will almost certainly contain a few elements which will establish, for the benefit of its viewers, that it is indeed intended to depict a wedding. These elements include: a woman dressed in a fancy white gown, a man dressed in a formal black suit, a ceremonial procession to the altar accompanied by Felix Mendelssohn’s classic Wedding March (more commonly known as Here Comes the Bride), the exchange of wedding vows (inevitably including the words, “I do!” from both celebrants) in the presence of an elderly clergyman, an exchange of rings, and a ceremonial recession from the altar to the tune of Wagner’s Tannhauser march.

    You may be asked to officiate at the wedding of friends who are not religiously affiliated, but who know you are “into something spiritual” and would rather be married by a friend than by a stranger. It’s better to use a generic or secular ritual rather than to impose our religious rites on them. You might also choose to do a “plain vanilla” ceremony for Pagans who are not “out” to their families.

 Template for a secular wedding

A sample of a simple secular wedding ceremony, along with much more information on secular weddings, can be found on retired Judge Carolyn Hayek's web site.

    However, none of those elements, except for the exchange of vows, and the legal paperwork, are really needed for a generic wedding. It works perfectly well for the celebrants and witnesses to meet with the clergy-person and the witnesses over a cup of tea, and simply have the celebrants exchange statements of their intent to be married and then exchange their vows. Provided that the marriage license is properly executed and returned to the registering agency, that’s all it takes to perform a legal wedding.


Some resources for secular wedding rituals

Arisian, K.

1973: The new wedding: creating your own marriage ceremony; Knopf, New York; ISBN 0-394-48334-0, 175 pages. Library of Congress call number BV199 M3 A74.

Biddle, P.H.

1974: Abingdon marriage manual; Abingdon Press, Nashville (Tennessee); ISBN 0-687-00484-5, 254 pages. Library of Congress call number BV199 M3 B47.

Brill, M.L., Halpin, M. and Gennâe, W.H. (eds.)

1979: Write your own wedding: a personal guide for couples of all faiths; Association Press, Chicago; ISBN 0-69581-146-0; 115 pages. Library of Congress call number BL619 M37 B75.

Broderick, C.B.

1995: Marriage; entry in World Book Encyclopedia, 66th edition, volume 13, pages 219 to 222.

Christensen, J.L.

1974: The minister’s marriage handbook; Revell, Old Tappan (New Jersey); 159 pages. Library of Congress call number BV199 M3 C5.

Dallen, J.

1971: Liturgical celebration: possible patterns; North American Liturgy Resources, Cincinnati (Ohio); 89 pages. Library of Congress call number BX2169 D34.

Glusker, D. and Misner, P.

1986: Words for your wedding: the wedding service book; Harper & Row, San Francisco; 155 pages. Library of Congress call number BV199 M3 W67 1986.

Hudson, H.

1995: Civil rites and ceremonies; Heritage Press, Otaki (New Zealand).

2001: Vows; Priory Press, Te Horo Beach, Otaki (New Zealand); ISBN 0-958-2289-0-6.

Kingma, D.R.

1991: Weddings from the heart; Conari Press, Berkeley ; ISBN 0-94323-394-1, 191 pages.

Kischenbaum, J. and Stensrud, R.

1974: The wedding book: alternative ways to celebrate marriage; Seabury Press, New York; ISBN 0-8164-2090-4, 277 pages.

Klausner, A.J.

1986: Weddings: a complete guide to all religious and interfaith marriage services; Signet, New York; ISBN 0-451-15389-8, 221 pages. Library of Congress call number BL619 M37 K55.

Lalli, C.G.

1992: Modern Bride wedding celebrations: the complete wedding planner for today’s bride; John Wiley & Sons, New York; ISBN 0-47156882-1; 217 pages. Library of Congress call number BJ2051 L35.

Levin, L. and Bellotti, L.G.

1994: Creative weddings: an up-to-date guide for making your wedding as unique as you are; Penguin Books, New York; ISBN 0-452-27203-3, 246 pages. Library of Congress call number HQ745 L46.

Mason, P.

2004: Weddings; Heinemann Library, Chicago; ISBN 1-4034-2515-9, 32 pages. Library of Congress call number GT2665 M37 2004.

Metrick, S.B.

1992: I do: a guide to creating your own unique wedding ceremony; Celestial Arts, Berkeley (California); ISBN 0-89087-679-7, 134 pages. Library of Congress call number HQ745 M64.

Nichols, W.C.

1996: Marriage; entry in Encyclopedia Americana, 68th edition, volume 18, pages 345 to 353.

Styles, F.A.

1970: A secular marriage service; Styles, Willowdale (Ontario); 12 pages. Library of Congress call number HQ745 S8.

Wall, W.S.

1973: The creative wedding handbook; Newman Press, New York; ISBN 0-80910-177-7, 163 pages. Library of Congress call number BV199 M3 W34.


Marriage begins with love and hope. When it ends, it ends, always, in disappointment and sorrow. Too often, there is also considerable anger and bitterness. How else could it be, with humans?

Divorce is much more prevalent these days than in prior generations. In some areas, an actual majority of marriages end in divorce. This is as much a life-changing event as getting married, and people navigating this sad passage also need and deserve rituals to assist them in finding a new way of being.

            There is real work, both practical and emotional, involved in severing bonded lives, work that cannot be done in one evening. The purpose of a handparting is to release the divorced people to get on with their lives, perhaps to love and marry again. It marks the end of a long, difficult, and usually painful process. Done prematurely, it will fail and the experience of such failure will make it harder for rituals to work for these people in the future. It’s better if these things happen first:

·        legal divorce is completed.

·        property arrangements are made and on their way to being implemented.

·        mutually satisfactory arrangements are in place for the care of any children.

·        the former spouses have worked through the process of grieving their marriage and come to acceptance.

Under those circumstances, it is possible that people who were once bonded lovers may some day become friends.

            Handparting rites should include the partners’ mutual release of each other from their marital vows and deconsecration and return of the marital tokens (such as rings or bracelets) that had been exchanged at their handfasting. The tokens may be retained by their original donor, or (perhaps a better choice) cast into a stream or other moving body of water, or buried.

When one partner is ready to leave and the other isn’t

You may find a situation where one partner is ready to move on while another is stuck. Be mindful of the power of anger in this situation! It is better to make a clean parting for the one, even if the other partner is unwilling to end the marriage.

            When only one of the partners wishes to leave the relationship, a different kind of handparting can be done, directed only toward the person who actively seeks release. This would be more like a resolution ritual (more on these below), As in the case of a mutual handparting, the departing person should ritually deconsecrate their tokens of marriage, and then return the tokens to her or his former partner if possible, or release then to Nature. When possible, the other partner should be notified that such a ritual has taken place, as that knowledge may help clear the blocks he or she is facing. If the former partner was abusive, however, it might be safer to avoid all communication.

Template for a Handparting

Some resources for handparting:   

     Fisher, Bruce

2005: Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends; Impact Books (and associated workbook)

    Ford, Debbie

        2006: Spiritual Divorce: Divorce as a Catalyst for an Extraordinary Life; HarperOne              

Eldering rites

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, much of European and North American life was sustained by human muscle power. Young and middle-aged people worked the land, erected buildings, or did other labor-intensive activities. Older people, who had worn out their bodily strength, were charged with passing their skills and knowledge on to the younger generation of workers. The passage into elderhood was thus marked by a significant change in daily activities, from bodily work to knowledge work.

            Nowadays, we live longer, and most of us live more easily. We apply our skills and knowledge throughout our working lives, and the transition from energetic adulthood to elderhood is more gradual. These days, Western culture devalues elderhood: mainstream economists and marketers view elders as non-productive dead weight, consuming resources that should be released and redirected to use by younger generations. Many of us have been brought up to view old age as a time of weakness and abandonment, of isolation from the ebb and flow of our culture and society.

            It doesn’t need to be that way. As the Pagan community continues to age and grow, we are beginning to understand the need for rites of passage into elderhood.

            Our elder women are asserting their value as healers, mediators, teachers, holders of the collective memories of our community. They have reclaimed the title of Crone as a celebration of maturity, and they have written croning rituals which have been widely published in journals such as Crone Chronicles.

            Menopause serves many as a convenient marker for croning; some women choose instead to have their cronings when the last of their children leave home to make their own lives, or they do their cronings at their 50th birthday or some similarly-auspicious date. Judy’s took place when she retired from paid employment.

            Women are in the forefront of this movement, but there’s no reason why we cannot honor our wise men as well as our wise women. Perhaps a suitable honorific title for our wise men would be Sage, although to call their rite of eldering a “sageing” sounds rather more culinary than ceremonial! It might be better to just adopt “eldering” as a gender-inclusive term for this rite.

Sample Croning Ritual

Some Resources for Croning/Eldering:


Arthen, S.

“Crones and Wise Men” published in Fireheart issue number 4 and available via the Web at < >

Crone Chronicles: A journal of conscious aging

(serial): from Anne Kreilkamp, Kelly (Wyoming); quarterly; available via the Web at

Erikson, E. H., Erikson, J.M, and Kivnick, H.Q.

1986: Vital involvement in old age; W.W.Norton, New York; ISBN 0-393-31216-X, 352 pages. Library of Congress call number HQ1061 E75.

Harris, M.

1995: Jubilee time: celebrating women, spirit and the advent of age; Bantam, New York; ISBN 0-553-09986-8, 224 pages. Library of Congress call number BV5479.5 H38.

Lincoln, B.

1991: Emerging from the chrysalis: rituals of women’s initiation; Oxford University Press, New York; 163 pages. Library of Congress call number GN483.3 L56 1991.

Raup, J.L. and Myers, J.E.

1989: The empty nest syndrome: myth or reality; Journal of Counseling and Development, volume 68, number 2, pages 180 to 183.

Rountree, C.

1993: On women turning 50: celebrating mid-life discoveries; HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco; ISBN 0-06-250668-4, 214 pages. Library of Congress call number HQ1059.5 U5 R684.

Thone, R.R.

1992: Women and aging: celebrating ourselves; Harrington Park Press, New York; ISBN 1-56023-005-3, 152 pages. Library of Congress call number HQ1064 U5 T46.

Washbourn, P.

1977: Becoming woman: the quest for wholeness in female experience; Harper & Row, San Francisco, ISBN 0-06-069261-8, 174 pages. Library of Congress call number HQ1206 W27.

1979: Seasons of woman: song, poetry, ritual, prayer, myth, story; Harper&Row, San Francisco, ISBN 0-06-069258-8, 176 pages. Library of Congress call number PN6071 W7 S4.

Ward, E.

1992: Celebrating ourselves: a crone ritual book; Astarte Shell Press, Portland (Maine); ISBN 0-96246-263-2, 43 pages. Library of Congress call number BL625.7 C45.

Death rites

When someone dies, the law requires that some sort of cremation or burial be done within a reasonable length of time (generally within two weeks of death). In practice, these arrangements are usually made by the deceased person’s next of kin or their chosen agent within a day after death, and the cremation or burial is seldom delayed beyond three working days.

            Mainstream North American practice calls for a fairly elaborate set of funeral rites, which may or may not take place in the presence of the body of the deceased person. An increasingly-popular alternative dispenses altogether with the ceremonial aspects of a funeral, and simply proceeding directly to disposition (by expeditious burial or cremation) of the body, followed by a memorial ritual at some later time. This practice is more likely to be done when the choice has been made to cremate rather than bury the body of the deceased.



Most funerals in  mainstream practice include two ceremonies: a brief religious service -- usually held at a funeral chapel or a house of worship -- and a subsequent simple graveside ceremony, done as the deceased’s body or ashes are lowered into the Earth. Many variations exist on this basic theme: the books listed as references to this section (most notably Draznin’s classic, The Business of Dying) can provide greater detail on the mechanics and ceremonies of funerals.

Dealing with the practicalities of a funeral

The North American funeral industry is controlled by about a dozen corporations and franchise networks; the result of this concentration of control is an increasing secularization of death rituals, at least within ‘mainstream’ North American culture.

            When someone arranges a funeral through a funeral director, they may specify that they would like a certain clergy-person to conduct the service, in which case the funeral director will make the arrangements for that person (or someone else, if s/he is unavailable) to attend and officiate, and will add a charge for his/her services to the funeral bill. The funeral director mails a check to the clergy-person, who is essentially acting as a sub-contractor, once all of the burial and funeral charges have been paid in full.

            Officiating clergy are paid an honorarium based on ‘the going rate’ is in their community. You cannot refuse to accept this honorarium without disrupting their entire bookkeeping system (and probably also confusing them far beyond their comfort level.) If you are philosophically opposed to accept payment for priestly services, as we are, simply donate the honorarium to an appropriate charity, in honor of the deceased. If the family has requested charitable donations instead of flowers, the charity they suggest would be the obvious choice.

            Most commercial funeral directors (who prefer to advertise as ‘morticians’, ‘mortuary services’ or funeral ‘parlors’ or ‘homes’ rather than the older and less-euphemistic title, ‘undertakers’) maintain rosters of clergy-people, sorted out by religion and denomination, unless they are closely associated with one specific parish or synagogue (which is more likely in a large city than a small town, where the only funeral director must take all customers). Each funeral director keeps a separate roster, in much the same way that hospitals keep separate lists of chaplains.

            As a Pagan clergy-person, you need to know how to work the system, in order to serve your community effectively. To get on a funeral roster, write a letter of introduction for yourself to the funeral director -- all it needs to state is that you are a Pagan clergy-person of whatever order you happen to belong to; that you are available to officiate at funerals for people of your faith, and that you may be reached at such-and-such a telephone number and mailing address. You may find your task eased by being able to state that you are an ordinand of a particular Pagan church: such as the Covenant of the Goddess, the New Wiccan Church, or the Communitarian Church.

            Provided that you haven’t made a shambles of things at the funeral parlor or the graveside, you can expect to continue to receive calls to do funerals -- one hopes that they will be few and far between, owing to the lasting good health of your Pagan neighbors!

            You may want to take along a small kit of ritual tools. A sword or staff may get some surprised responses from the staff at the funeral parlor or cemetery. An incense burner, on the other hand, is a virtually universal tool for all officiating clergy of whatever faith; add to this a small knife, wand or feather as you see fit, and perhaps containers of water, salt, oil or herbs, and you have a basic ritual kit for a funeral.

            After the funeral is done, there is usually a reception or luncheon of some sort. If you have celebrated the funeral in a church sanctuary, then the reception will probably be in a meeting area elsewhere in the building. If the funeral was conducted at a funeral parlor or cemetery, the reception will probably be at the home of the next of kin or their close friends. In either case, as an officiating clergy-person it is customary for you to attend the reception for a half-hour or so, partake lightly of the refreshments and make yourself discreetly available for conversations with whoever approaches you to talk.  Of course, if the deceased or bereaved were members of your own home group, you will stay longer and interact more.

            Bear in mind the reason for your attendance, and don’t fall into the trap of sermonizing at the reception -- the time for such things is at the funeral, not the reception. When it’s time to depart, check-in discreetly with the next-of-kin, and leave your calling card for later reference.

Sample Secular/Generic Funeral Ceremony



Memorial rites are much less bound by mainstream custom and tradition than funerals, so we can more easily tailor the needs of the bereaved people. If you are working with a small religious group such as a Wiccan coven or Druid grove, consider asking for the aid of your group in conducting the rite; your colleagues can help you with the logistics and with the important work of being there as listeners and comforters.

Template for a Pagan Memorial Ritual

Some resources for funerals and memorials

Alexander, J.A.C. and Harman, R.L.

1988: One counselor’s intervention in the aftermath of a middle school student’s suicide: a case study; Journal of Counseling and Development, volume 66, number 6, pages 283 to 285.

Arthen, S.

“Circle around Death” published in Fireheart, issue number 2, available via Web at:


Bailey, R.W.

1976: The minister and grief; Hawthorn Books, New York; ISBN 0-80155-074-2, 114 pages. Library of Congress call number BT825 B26.

Bendann, E.

1990: Death customs: an analytic study of burial rites; Omnigraphics, Detroit; 304 pages. Library of Congress call number GT3150 B35.

Biddle, P.H.

1976: Abingdon funeral manual; Abingdon Press, Nashville (Tennessee); ISBN 0-687-00469-1, 252 pages. Library of Congress call number BV199 F8 B47.

Blackwood, A.W.

1942: The funeral, a source book for ministers; Westminster Press, Philadelphia (Pennsylvania); 253 pages. Library of Congress call number BV199 F8 B55.

Christensen, J.L.

1967: The complete funeral manual; Fleming H. Revell, Westwood (New Jersey); 159 pages. Library of Congress call BV199 F8 C48.

Deits, B.

1988: Life after loss: a personal guide dealing with death, divorce, job change and relocation; Fisher Books, Tucson (Arizona);  ISBN 1-55561-008-0, 226 pages; Library of Congress call number BF575 D35 D45.

Draznin, Y.

1976: How to prepare for death: a practical guide; Hawthorn Books, New York; ISBN 0-8015-3736-3, 228 pages. Library of Congress call number GT3203 D7.

Feinstein, D. and Mayo, P.E.

1993: Mortal acts: eighteen empowering rituals for confronting death; HarperSanFrancisco; ISBN 0-06-250330-8, 124 pages. Library of Congress call number BF789 D4 F455.

Fitch, E. and Renee, J.

1984: Magical rites from the Crystal Well; Llewellyn, St. Paul; ISBN 0-87542-230-6, 147 pages. Library of Congress call number BF1611 F53.

Freeman, S.J.

1991: Group facilitation of the grieving process with those bereaved by suicide; Journal of Counseling and Development, volume 69, number 4, pages 328 to 331.

Fulton, R.

1995: Funeral customs; entry in World Book Encyclopedia, 66th edition, volume 7, pages 557 to 558.

Halberg, L.

1986: Death of a college student: response by student services professionals on one campus; Journal of Counseling and Development, volume 64, number 6, pages 411 to 412.

Hudson, H.

1995: Civil rites and ceremonies; Heritage Press, Otaki (New Zealand).

2004: Earthly farewells: a funeral planning guide; Priory Press, Te Horo Beach, Otaki (New Zealand); ISBN 0-582-289-1-4, 123 pages.

Metcalf, P. and Huntington, R.

1991: Celebrations of death: the anthropology of mortuary ritual; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (Cambridgeshire); 236 pages. Library of Congress call number GN486 M48.

Hutton, S.W.

1968: Minister’s funeral manual; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids (Wisconsin); 89 pages. Library of Congress call number BV199 F8 H8.

Irion, P.E.

1977: The funeral: vestige or value?; Arno Press, New York; ISBN 0-405-09575-9, 240 pages. Library of Congress call number BV199 F8 I7.

Lockyer, H.

1967: The funeral sourcebook; Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids (Wisconsin); 187 pages. Library of Congress call number BV199 F8 L6.

Moorey, J.

1995: Living with grief and mourning; Manchester University Press, Manchester (New York); 168 pages. Library of Congress call number BF575 G7 M654.

Norbeck, E.

1996: Funeral; entry in Encyclopedia Americana, 68th edition, volume 12, page 168.


1993: Pagan Rites of Dying; in Modern Rites of Passage, pages 249 to 270; edited by Chas S. Clifton; Llewellyn, St. Paul (Minnesota); ISBN 0-87542-378-7, 270 pages. Library of Congress call number BF1571 M65.

Rickgarn, R.L.V.

1987: The death response team: responding to the forgotten grievers; Journal of Counseling and Development, volume 66, number 4, pages 197 to 199.

Rosenblatt, P.C., Walsh, R.P. and Jackson, D.A.

1976: Grief and mourning in cross-cultural perspective; HRAF Press, New Haven (Connecticut); 231 pages. Library of Congress call number GN486 R67.

Simos, B.G.

1979: A time to grieve: loss as a universal human experience; Family Service Association of America, New York; ISBN 0-87504-153-4, 261 pages. Library of Congress call number BJ1487 S57.

Starhawk and M. Macha NightMare

1997: The Pagan book of living and dying; HarperCollins, San Francisco; ISBN 0-06-251516-0, 353 pages; Library of Congress call number BF1572 D43 S73. [note: this is the essential Pagan book on death, dying, and bereavement.]

Waya, A. G.

1995: Dealing with the death and dying experience; Shamanic Applications Review, issue number 2, pages 39 to 45.

Welch, I. D., Zawistoski, R. F. and Smart, D.W.

1991: Encountering death: structured activities for death awareness; Accelerated Development, Bristol (Pennsylvania); ISBN 1-55959-021-1, 274 pages. Library of Congress call number HQ1073.5 U6 W45.

¤          ¤          ¤

Some new types of passage rituals that we need

Passages are life events that permanently and profoundly change us. When we do a rite of passage for or with a friend, we are acknowledging and supporting them in their time of change. Unacknowledged changes, just as permanent and just as profound, but without community recognition and support, can leave a person feeling isolated and vulnerable, as though they were the only person this ever happened to, as though they no longer fit in.

Our society is changing fast, confronting many of us with situations our grandparents never dreamed of. Our religion encourages creativity in ritual, so we can adapt our rites to meet our current needs and create whatever new rites we feel are necessary. The responsibility that comes with that freedom is to become aware of, and responsive to, the needs of our people for rituals that can help them get through their many changes, both happy and sad.

Some of the unacknowledged passages are simply new, the results of changes in the way people live, like adulthood, which we discussed above. Others are acknowledged in a secular way, for example the house-warming party. But a religious rite, such as a house blessing, would help newly-moved people feel more deeply rooted in their new home.

Rites for letting go

On the average, we live longer now. And yet mainstream culture tends to celebrate passages connected with gaining and growing, but ignore those that seem to be about losing or dwindling, such as divorce, empty nest, and the entry into old age. So the passages for which we are most likely to need support are the ones least supported. We need rites to help a person gracefully let go of something they may have cherished. Handpartings and elderings we discussed above, but should the ritual that celebrates a person's reaching adulthood also acknowledge their parents' transition to empty nesters? Or would it be better to conduct two different rites for this change of relationship?

Resolution rituals

Sometimes chaotic and traumatic events can also leave their mark on us. A person who has survived an earthquake, or a rape, or a life-threatening illness will inevitably be changed by the experience. Ritual can help such people integrate those changes, too, grieve and rage as they need to, but also find in them new depth and strength, just as they would in the more predictable or welcome passages.

Remember that traditional tribal initiations into adulthood often involved some kind of test or ordeal? Based on that. there is a great deal of information in the psychological and anthropological literature about using ritual to transform trauma into initiation. We might call these "resolution rituals." Just as the therapeutic community has been experimenting with rituals to resolve traumatic stress, Pagans have been experimenting with rituals to heal rape or to return soldiers to peaceful status in the community.

The most important thing to remember when creating or conducting a resolution ritual is that no ritual can or should return the person to the status quo ante. The returning warrior is now a seasoned elder. They have been permanently, and painfully, changed by their experience. Catharsis and healing are necessary, but they are not sufficient. A resolution ritual goes beyond healing, allowing the survivor to own hard-won strength and wisdom and to offer those to the service of the community. In a resolution ritual, the survivor of trauma becomes a wounded healer. We need rituals of resolution.

Some resources for resolution rituals

Chassay, S.
1995: "Trauma as initiation"; Shamanic Applications Review, issue number 2, pages 3 to 12.
Figley, C & McCubbunm H.
1983; Stress and the Family Volume II: Coping with Catastrophe, Brunner-Maxel, NY .
Harrow, J.S.
1993: "Initiation by ordeal: military service as a passage into adulthood"; in Modern Rites of Passage, pages 129 to 164; edited by Chas S. Clifton; Llewellyn, St. Paul (Minnesota); ISBN 0-87542-378-7, 270 pages.
Matsakis, A
2007: Back from the Front: Combat Trauma, Love, and the Family, Baltimore, Sidran

Tick, E.
2005: War and the Soul  Wheaton, IL: Quest

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