Marriage is an odd composite of disparate concepts. It’s a legal contract to share property. It’s usually contracted between two people who love each other. It’s a meeting of minds and hearts. When it’s really special, it’s a sacred union of two people in an alchemical and spiritual relationship.
All societies and cultures have had some form of marriage, including ancient pagan societies and traditions. Some cultures preferred monogamous marriage and some preferred polygamous marriage. There are even cultures with polyandry (a woman with several husbands).
I was in an online chat and someone asked if marriage wasn’t “a bit Christian”. I thought that debate had been resolved in the Pagan sphere after same-sex marriage became available — which at least made marriage seem less patriarchal to most people. The vast majority of Pagans recognize, celebrate, and support same-sex marriage.
Christianity didn’t invent marriage. In fact, Christianity was distinctly hands-off about marriage for its first 14 centuries: they used to make people do their marriage vows in the church porch. It was all part of Christianity’s idea that sex is dirty and only for procreation: they didn’t want anything to do with sex, and marriage was effectively a business contract (with the bride as a chattel) in many cases in the Middle Ages.
The contemporary Pagan view of marriage varies between different practitioners, but basically there are three options for a Pagan handfasting (wedding):
- get handfasted for a year and a day;
- get handfasted for life (but with the option of splitting up if it doesn’t work out – the standard wording is “as long as love shall last”);
- Get handfasted with the intention that it is for life, and renew the vows every year;
- get handfasted for all future reincarnations (very few people go for this option as you don’t necessarily want to commit your future self in the next life).
Many people also get a legal marriage for practical reasons like tax and property inheritance.
Some Pagans are polyamorous, others are monogamous. Unfortunately there is currently no legal recognition for polyamorous relationships.
There is no stigma attached to divorce among Pagans.
Like every other subculture, we sometimes confuse romantic feelings and conjugal love.
There is a difference between loving someone through all the ups and downs of life (conjugal love) and being in love with them (romantic love).
Romantic love will not last and be transformed into conjugal love unless it’s based in reality. When you’re “in love” with someone, it’s often because you are projecting your anima/animus/animex (your internal image of your ideal partner) on them. That and the sexual chemistry that’s hopefully happening at the same time. The relationship will not last unless the projection is accurate and the person you’re in love with is sufficiently similar to your ideal for the relationship to work. Even then you have to work at it, and love the real person and not your projection.
A successful marriage is based on companionship, friendship, sexual attraction, trust, honesty, love, and shared values.
If any of these things are missing, it can go wrong. Jealousy is a natural emotion but people need to keep it in check and trust their partner, whether it’s in a polyamorous or a monogamous relationship. In polyamory, it can be hard for existing partners when someone gets a new partner because of the phenomenon known as “new relationship energy” (enthusiasm for the new partner). Communication and showing affection is key in these situations.
A really successful marriage is a joy to behold. Sometimes other people can warm themselves at the hearth of a truly harmonious marriage, because the couple create a beauty and warmth all around them.