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An Ancient Celtic Wedding–Part II

An Ancient Celtic Wedding, Part II

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher concludes his tale of a Celtic wedding. (Click here for Part I.) Last time, through the father’s eyes, we looked in on a forest clearing and saw Airril mac Earnan wed to Brigid nic Dubh. Earnan is Airril’s father and the Rí Tuath, or leader, of Airril’s clan. Brigid’s father, Dubh, is also flaith, or nobility, a ruler of his clan and a lord from distant Tara.

The Caim

Though the ceremony was over, Earnan knew something was missing. The young priest raised both hands. The men playing the bone whistle and bodhrán ceased. Still thronged about the couple, the crowd quieted and gave them space. The priest began the Caim:

“May the power and protection of God’s right hand
Be upon your form and frame;
May the encircling power of the Great High King,
And the grace of the Trinity
Be upon you and abide forever.
May the Spirit of the One God shield you this day.
May the compassing of the Three shield you this night
From all hate, from all harm, from all evil acts, and from all ill.

The clan again mobbed the young lovers. Earnan made his way into the group’s midst. “Let me through, lads. Canna a father congratulate his own son on his wedding day?”

Everyone parted as he found his son and new daughter-in-law in the center. He grabbed Airril by the shoulders, held his gaze, and hugged him so hard he heard the air gush from his lungs. Next, he hugged Brigid, her face radiant under the wreath of eyebrights and daisies atop her head. He planted a kiss on her cheeks. “Welcome to the clan, lass. May you have many sons.”

“Thank you, father-in-law.” She blushed.

Dubh made his way up beside them, embraced Airril as if he were his own and kissed his daughter. “A fine couple they make, hey, Earnan?”

“That they do.”

“Do you ken if we’ll have a surprise visitor today?”

“I donna ken. ’Tis late, so perhaps not.” The rumors must have been nothing but idle talk.

foreststreamThe Pebbles

Then Dubh opened his palm, revealing two pebbles. Earnan had nearly forgotten that Dubh had insisted on doing this, even over the priest’s objections. The couple each took a stone and made separate prayers over them. Then Dubh led the entire group down the path to where it bordered the stream. Water crashed over the rocks, hurrying away rafts of yellow and brown leaves. Samhain, and Winter’s Begin, would soon be here. When the young lovers tossed their stones into the water, Dubh smiled and announced, “Sure, and now prosperity they’ll have. And on their great day, when they’re most vulnerable, the faery folk willna bother them.”

The crowd laughed and clapped Dubh and the young couple on their backs.

Earnan caught a glimpse of the priest, standing behind the group, frowning. Turning his gaze to the lovers and the throng, Earnan roared as loud as he could, “Now to the venison, the mead, and the feast!”

A Celtic Feastcelticfeast

As he led everyone down the trail to his village, the crowd engaged in boisterous, happy conversation. Awaiting them in the center of the roundhouses were three long planks thrown over wooden supports low to the ground. A fourth plank anchored the head, with spots for the visitors. Earnan now feared they would miss the festivities entirely. The women were just pulling leeks, turnips, and fermented cabbage from their underground earth ovens. They’d been cooking all morning wrapped in leaves with butter, beef fat, and salt. His mouth watered at the smell.

Taking a seat cross-legged on the ground in the center of the fourth plank, he motioned for all to sit. After the priest said a prayer of thanksgiving, the women fetched brass pitchers of honey mead and filled the clay cups at each place. When all were served, Earnan raised his cup and shouted, “Let us drink to the young couple—to long life, many sons, and full larders.” Choruses of sláinte followed all around.

Soon, the women set at every table trays of fresh wheat bread with honey and butter, platters heaped with venison, and juicy beef sliced off the spit. He took his two knives, sliced some meat off a platter, and scooped it onto the bread trencher before him.

Now someone played a sprightly tune on the harp, accompanied by another on the bone whistle, while a third joined in with the beat of a bodhrán.

Just then, four men in leather armor, and one in expensive chain mail, rode into the village. Alarmed, Earnan stood, took two steps toward the men, his hand grasping for a sword that wasn’t there. Then he relaxed. “My lord Túathal, welcome! Grand, indeed, that the Ard Rí of Tara would pay a visit to my humble tuath.”

The King of Tara dismounted, followed by his entourage. He glanced around the men and women, the clans of Dubh and Earnan, put hands on his hips, and smiled. “Forgive my tardiness, Earnan mac Barra. We were delayed in the matter of some cattle thievery. ’Twas na my wish to miss the wedding of two of my most loyal Rí Tuath. And what a handsome couple your lad and lass do make!”

“Thank you, my lord.” Earnan bowed low. “Now if it please you, fain join the feast. There’s plenty for all.”

Túathal  mac Cormaic, King of Tara, nodded as his party took seats beside Earnan and Dubh at the head of the group.

Later, when the meal was done and the music and dancing begun, Dubh said to his host, “’Tis a grand affair, this wedding. I congratulate you.”

“Thank you.” Earnan smiled. “And now I do believe I’ll dance.”

Read More of Mark’s Stories

To read more of Mark’s storytelling, check out The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of ancient Celtic Ireland in the time of St. Patrick. Next time we’ll look at Celtic artisans and craftsmen.

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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/