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An Ancient Celtic Wedding, Part I

An Ancient, Celtic Wedding—Part I

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher tells the story of a Celtic wedding ceremony. ’Tis the Year of our Lord five hundred and two, and Brigid and Airril are about to be married. Let us now, as quietly as we can, join the event…

celticwoman-2A Celtic Wedding Between Airril mac Earnan and Brigid nic Dubh

Earnan put hands on hips and regarded his daughter and her groom from the circle’s edge. Since anyone could remember, the forest clearing had held the clan’s weddings. Water bubbled over the rocks of a nearby stream. A great yew tree, symbol of wisdom and age, anchored one side of the clearing. Bluebells and foxglove grew thick on the glade’s perimeter. The clan, dressed in their best tunics, filled the outer circle. A smile lifted Earnan’s mustache.

In the center stood the young couple, Brigid nic Earnan and Airril mac Dubh. Barefoot on the mossy ground, they waited before a priest barely older than they.

“Dubh, is na me daughter a sight to behold?” Earnan looked to the heavy-set man on his right. The groom’s father only nodded. Hard man to engage, that one. Earnan gazed at his daughter, his lungs filling with crisp morning air—or was it pride that so lifted his chest?

The Wedding Dress

Ribbons of bright yellow streamed from her blonde hair. A wreath of daisies and eyebrights crowned her head. Rings of eyebrights bound her wrists, and a rope of tiny brass bells danced around her waist. Green and gold cloth bordered her white, flowing tunic. If only her mother could have lived to see this day. . .

The Horseshoe

Dubh had insisted that they sew the horseshoe into the dress. The priest had strongly objected, saying such superstition had no place in a ceremony of Jesu. But it meant so much to Dubh that Earnan had acquiesced. Dubh claimed the iron would keep away the spirits of the dead, the demons,  and the faery folk. Earnan didn’t hold with that view. But just in case, if the little people were about, Celtic tradition said Brigid would be particularly vulnerable on her wedding day. What could it hurt?

handfasting_ceremonyThe Handfasting

Standing beside Earnan, Dubh’s glance seemed fixed only on his son, Airril. And who could blame him? Clad in a bright plaid kilt with a wide brass torc around his neck, the young man could, someday, easily replace Dubh as Rí Tuath, leader of his clan. Brass armbands, etched with red and yellow swirls, wrapped both arms above the elbow. Leather bands braided Airril’s long, black hair. “Look,” said Earnan, “the priest is handfasting their wrists now.”

The tonsured holy man from a neighboring clan stood before them, gowned in white, as the druids once were. The young couple crossed their wrists, and the priest bound them together with a strip of colored cloth.

Airril turned to his bride with bright, eager eyes. “By the power that Christ brought from Heaven,”— his voice was clear, strong, and eager—“may you love me. As the sun follows its course, may you follow me. As light to the eye, as bread to the hungry, as joy to the heart, may your presence be with me, oh one that I love, ’til death comes to part us asunder.”

When Brigid had repeated the vow, Earnan wiped at his eyes. He shot a glance to the side, but Dubh hadn’t noticed. He was a warrior and leader of the clan, was he not? How could he weep, even at his daughter’s wedding?

The Rings

Next, the priest translated some words from the scroll he’d brought, words in the Roman tongue from a follower of Jesu named John. He fished in his tunic pocket and brought out two golden rings. Earnan, himself, had ordered their making from the clan’s smith, with interlocking swirls racing around the edges. The priest placed a ring in each of their free palms. Airril slipped his on a finger of her bound wrist. Then she slipped hers on one of his fingers. The two lovers looked deeply into each other’s eyes.

The priest placed a hand over their wrists and lifted his gaze to the clan. His voice, rising with happiness, proclaimed, “By the power of Christ, I pronounce these two man and wife.”

The young couple embraced and kissed. The clan cheered and rushed toward them. Off to the side, someone began to play a lively tune on the bone whistle, while another beat time with a bodhrán.

Earnan’s heart filled nearly to bursting. He glanced quickly to Dubh. But what was this? Did he detect a wee bit of moisture there? Earnan smiled. So this flaith, this lord of Tara, was also soft of heart?

But Earnan knew something was missing. The priest had yet to perform the Caim. After that would come the wedding feast. Even from here, he could almost smell the venison roasting over the spit since early morn.

Read More of Mark’s Stories

To read more of Mark’s stories, check out The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of ancient Celtic Ireland in the time of St. Patrick.

Next time, we’ll conclude our story of a Celtic wedding with the wedding feast.

For more Celtic wedding customs, see: http://www.celticjewelry.com/content/celtic-weddings/ancient-celtic-wedding-customs-and-traditions/