The Sacred Marriage

What is your definition of the word “ritual”? What are your rituals- mundane and spiritual? How do they inform each other? Is ritual a necessary component to spiritual practice?

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Of all the Pagan Experience writing prompts so far, I found this one the hardest to answer. Ritual seems such a big word to me. I practice alone, by praying, meditating and lighting a candle. I give thanks for a beautiful day, for my family’s health and good fortune. I decorate our home and garden according to the seasons and the holidays to honour the Wheel of the Year, and Life itself. Are these rituals? I shy away from naming them so. It is something other people do, I feel. But the prompt caused me to reconsider one of the few rituals I have taken part in, an ongoing ritual called marriage.

I married young, and it was a marriage of convenience, although I loved and love my husband deeply. I was pregnant at the time and it seemed the proper thing to do. Although Dutch law provides partnership contracts and the like, it is plain easier and cheaper to get married when you buy a house and have children: everything is automatically sorted with two autographs and a kiss in the local town hall. I still considered myself a Christian back then, but as my husband is an agnostic, only a secular wedding was possible. So we had a modest wedding, but with all the mandatory trimmings. I wore a simple whitish dress and even a veil. My husband wore a proper suit. It is more than 12 years ago and when I look at these photos now, I’m always surprised at how unfeasibly young we look. We had no idea what we were in for. I remember being relieved when it was all over. I do not really like being in the centre of attention. The whole day, even though it was fun, felt like a bit of a charade to me. Instinctively I sensed getting married had to be more than just this one day of cake and drinks. That instinct has turned out to be right. During the time we have been married, we have seen a lot of people break up, married and not married. This promise we offer each other, in nice clothes and with family and friends around, seems to mean little to nothing.

These years have thought me that marriage demands ongoing sacrifices and offerings of both partners. And sometimes we both slack off in our devotion and then the whole ritual seems to lose its meaning altogether. It has taught me that devotion is not meant to be fun all the time. Indeed, the marriage vow and ritual has little to no value in itself. Without daily practice, it quickly becomes void. It is an ongoing ritual and only we can keep it sacred. In that sense, I find this one ritual a necessary component to my spiritual practice. Marriage forces me to become a  more selfless, more discerning person. Yet every time I think I am getting the hang of it, I invariably fail. Yes, this ritual has the power to lift you up, but it humbles us too, and strips us down to the bone as well. It is transformative for all participants, and if it isn’t, something must be wrong.

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