On Oct 12, 2013 my beloved Albert and I were married in a beautiful ceremony in Northern California, surrounded by oak trees, apple trees, friends, family, and nature. It was truly a perfect day, and this magical day came at the end of a unique series of preparations. I thought I might share how we approached our wedding, which illustrates how we are approaching our marriage, and detail a few choice items from our planning process that you might enjoy.
In Oct 2012, while on a visit to my family & friends in upstate NY, Albert asked me to marry him. We were slow dancing in the kitchen at a party and he bent down and whispered in my ear, "Would you like to do this forever?"
I looked up at him in surprise and delight and said...
"Wait! Stop! Not without my family! Please, please, can you ask me tomorrow at dinner?"
He laughed and agreed. The next night, as we all sat around the table after dinner, Albert turned to me and said, "Well, I feel awkward and nervous, but I am ready. Jessica, will you..."
My dad said, "Wait! Get down on one knee!" My mom said, "Wait! Let me get the camera!"
(You can see where I get it.)
So finally, after all of that, not driven away by Matthews quirkiness, still in love with me, and still in good humor, Albert got down on one knee, asked me to marry him, heard my decisive agreement, and slipped a ring on my finger that my mother had given him, an heirloom ring that once belonged to my grandmother. There were many happy tears of joy, and we set a year-long engagement. Then, the planning began.
I knew that this would have to be a very different kind of wedding than most of what I saw in glossy magazines and horrible wedding books. For starters, I am just not a "normal" consumer. I am not "the demographic" that most conventional wedding media are playing to. A great book given to me by Laura M was How to Have a Big Wedding on a Small Budget. I also have some very specific political positions about marriage and I wanted to make sure these were addressed in order for me to go forward with this kind of commitment.
One major consideration was that I had already made a vow to myself that I would not legally marry anyone until same-sex marriage was a legal reality. At the time of the proposal, that was still a contentious subject in California. I was prepared to go forward with a spiritual ceremony alone if gay marriage did not pass into legal acceptance, but I was also actively involved with the NOH8 movement here in California. In addition to that, Albert and I decided to use our engagement as a spell to bring about positive results for gay marriage, and so whenever we talked about our upcoming wedding, made plans, or otherwise interacted with the topic of marriage, we affirmed that our same-sex sisters and brothers would have the same legal rights and freedoms that we were given, and soon. And, as many of you also were doing activism and magic for this, we were together successful in our endeavors. On June 28, 2013, just a few months before our wedding, gay marriage was given the ultimate green light in California. Many other states and countries are now following suit.
Another political decision Albert and I made was to deliberately avoid the "Wedding Industrial Complex." We wanted nothing to do with boxy rental halls, costly one-time gowns, plastic tableware, or jordan almonds. We are outdoorsy, homespun, artsy folks. We wanted our wedding to be homemade, authentic, and suited to our quiet-yet-joyful way of being with one another. So this complicated our planning a bit, because so many places just want you to buy into their pre-fab wedding package. That just isn't really our scene. Instead, we were driven to find creative alternatives, and we had a lot of fun doing that.
So, for example, rather than sending paper invitations, we sent a link to a web site for RSVPs, made for us by our kind friend Raven. Instead of renting a costly hall, we asked some friends with a farm for their help. We choose to support local businesses in every facet of the wedding, from rentals of tables and chairs to a local florist in the town where we were married, to non-chain family caterers. The choice to proceed in a politically-and environmentally-conscious way, with minimal subplots and planning, resulted in some extraordinary outcomes that we could not have planned better if we had agonized.
Planning a wedding can bring out the worst in people, they say, and I was really conscious that I did not want to become a "bridezilla." So I took a very "wu wei" approach to the wedding. I asked a few folks I knew I could trust for help, including my Mom, Iris, Branwen, Rowan, and a few others. They each took on a key part of the organization process, and otherwise I just made the choice to welcome and be content with whatever other circumstances arose, as they arose. There was very, very little hard-core planning on our part. Rather, Albert or I would just allow a thought or question to occur to us in the moment, look up possibilities for it, then go with whatever seemed easiest and most sustainable from among the options we found.
Location, Location, Location
Our friends Teri and Karen of The Herbal Apothecary and Northern California Women's Herbal Symposium have a beautiful 100-year-old apple orchard in Sebastopol, CA, which is a positively enchanted community in many other ways as well. We approached them after looking at several sites that were uninspiring, cost-prohibitive, or just too commercial for our tastes. We were not sure if they would be game for a wedding, but they embraced the idea with gusto. We truly could not have asked for better hostesses. They leveled the ground, filled gopher holes, cleaned up rocks and weeds for days, hung lights in the trees, made everything twinkle, and treated my and Albert's moms like queens. They were loving and calm and ready for a great party! They made everything so easy, and I am forever in their debt.
Eats, Drinks, and Leaves
Next on the list, once we found the location, was finding a good local rental place for tables, chairs, linens, dishes, silverware, and glassware. We wanted to use all washable and re-usable items to save plastic and paper, so we rented everything. It ended up being much more environmentally friendly this way, and there was something really wonderful about seeing folks sitting down with fancy table settings in the midst of otherwise rustic farmland. It honestly looked like something you would see in a magazine- the weather was gorgeous, children wore Halloween costumes and made mud pies, and there was a whole village of jack 'o lanterns grinning at us come evening, courtesy of our friends CJ, Chase, and Joyce. At the end of the day, a bunch of loving volunteers gave everything a quick rinse, packed it all back in crates, and The Rental Place came and picked it all back up for washing the next day. Very little paper waste was made, hardly any plastic at all, and anything disposable that was used was recycle-able or compostable, including all of the decorations!
We had a complex set of menu needs for this event: omnivorous options, vegan options, gluten-free options, severe nut allergy, several seafood allergies, wanting alcoholic options but needing plenty of choices for our clean and sober friends as well. We struggled with how to do the food: a potluck? Brown bag it so you can meet your own dietary complexities? Take on a new breatharian lifestyle?
We ended up calling Zaki's Kebob House in Albany, CA to see if they could help us. We hoped they might be able to offer us the kinds of choices that would satisfy a wide range of needs, and they were so accommodating! Although they were not accustomed to traveling as far as Sebastopol for a catering gig, they took on the challenge. In the end, each table received a vegan platter, a vegan rice dish, a platter with chicken & beef, there were falafels, pita, and corn chips. No seafood, check. No nuts, check. They even brought and served their famous mint lemonade, which provided a nice non-alcoholic option that everyone seemed to like. Zaki's is a Palestinian-owned East Bay business run by a smart, radical family that is active in the local Occupy movement and international social justice issues. They have done considerable work in their local area to dispel negative myths about people of Middle Eastern descent, and they worked with us for every dietary need we threw their way with a lot of care. We were so happy to work with them.
Additionally, our friends Barry King and Juniper, two bon vivantes who really know how to party, agreed to serve as bar tenders for the event. They concocted their own versions of unique drinks especially for the event, my favorite being the honey whiskey-and-St-Germain-combo. It was so much nicer than having just the standard bar fare, and they had people laughing and partying late into the night over in their bar tent.
Finally, the cake...oh, the cake. This was really very exciting. We had the most amazing vegan, gluten-free cupcakes, and everyone got one, rather than having one big cake. We chose two flavors that represented our unique tastes. Albert's combination was chocolate cake with Mexican cocoa frosting, and our fabulous cupcake-baker Angie of Fairy Cakes decorated his with rice paper bird feathers. Mine were vanilla cupcakes with rose frosting, decorated with rice paper flowers and bees. This lady did her homework on us! Angie also surprised us by bringing along a little cake in the shape of a beehive (in homage to our intentional living community) and a bunch of rainbow cupcakes she called "unicorn poop" that appeared to be a huge hit with the under-12 set :)
Last, but not least, our thoughtful friend Jaina Bee brought along a magical cordial that she made, and passed out intoxicating little yummy sips to all the fools for love all night long.
I have always dreamed of wearing red to my wedding. I'm not really a white-wedding-virgin-bride kind of lady. I am a tantrika and a witch and a tribal khotun. That's just got its whole own vibe, you know? I had a vision of finding some kind of simple cranberry dress and just wearing that with lots of big jewelry, and Albert thought of maybe wearing a grey suit at first. However, when we were in Glastonbury, UK in August before the wedding, we found a store that was selling unisex garments that looked a bit like monk's robes. We looked at each other with wide eyes and the deal was sealed. It was perfect for us to wear matching garments for our ceremony. It symbolized coming together in equality, regardless of gender roles, and dark red is a color that reflects our common palate of preference. Plus, we looked super cute, if I do say so myself.
So, one might say we both wore the dress at this wedding, and that it was liberating for both of us for that to happen. Albert wore his Vibram toe shoes and I wore my hiking boots. I did concede a tiny bit to traditional wedding aesthetics by wearing white flowers in my hair instead of a veil. I also wore the traditional white skirt of the tantric practitioner under my red dress. Albert and I both wore long malas, or Buddhist prayer beads. Mine were of crystal and his of bone.
My Bride's Day
I had a wish that the night before the wedding, once all of our set-up and rehearsal was over, my friends would offer me a blessing ceremony to prepare me. I was not sure how or where we would do this, but Iris was all over it. She and Branwen coordinated for several of my close friends to come up and give me a ceremony. They called it my "Bride's Day." BUT, where would we go for this? The house I was staying at was really not set up for me to host guests, and it was too late to drive back to the Bay Area that night, then back up to Sebastopol in time for the wedding.
As it turned out, I had given a tarot reading a month before to a woman named Deena who lives in Sebastopol and has a private household Temple. In her reading, we had discussed how much of a joy it was for her to keep the Temple, and how she wished to share it more often, to have it be a place where women could come for ceremony and she could be of service in this way. ON THE MORNING OF THIS BLESSED DAY I suddenly remembered her, called around to a few friends, found her number, called her, reminded her who I was, and that very night we had a beautiful ceremony in her home Temple, and she got the joy of being able to host a group of spiritual women exactly as she had told me she wanted to do! I also booked the Air BNB where we spent the weekend on the very day of the event. Wu-wei, all the way. I just did most things on an as-needed, as-arising basis, and did whatever was necessary to stay cool as a cucumber cuz I want a nice, stress-free life with my man. And it all worked out better than I could have planned it if I had spent three months biting my nails.
The Big Day: Prep
Albert and I did choose to do the "not seeing each other before the ceremony" thing because we thought that would be fun. I asked him to go sleep with his family the night beforehand so we could play with the energy of being apart before the event, which was really sweet. My dear friend Ava drove Albert to the wedding in the morning, and we managed to stay on opposite sides of the property before the ritual.
Teri and Karen let me set up my red tent away from the ceremony site so I would have a place to get ready beforehand, and it was really ideal. I was able to wait to put on my dress till the last possible minute, which gave me less chance to haphazardly stain or wrinkle it (I'm no ballerina, mmmkay?) I was able to get some alone time, meditate, chant, entertain visitors, get my make-up done by Ladybug who does a smoky eye like a pro, and have all the space I needed to prepare as folks arrived.
The Wedding Ceremony
I am a professional ritualist. I write handfastings and weddings all the time. But for my own ceremony, I felt it was important that I not write the text, personally. I wanted instead to find words from another that inspired me and also reflected Albert's beliefs, which are not specifically deity-centric. Albert and I read through a book called The Couple's Tao Te Ching, and we selected sections of text from that book and cut-and-pasted them into new configurations to create a ceremony that was meaningful and relevant to both of us. Our friend, fairy godsister, and officiant Molly Blue Dawn then added touches and flourishes, and our moms and our friends Iris, Rowan, Branwen, and Heaven added blessings to the ceremony. If you'd like to have a look at the ceremony itself, here it is.
One thing that was important to me was that I not be "given away" under a veil as though I were a piece of property, but rather that we both walk into this marriage with heads held high and eyes wide open. To that end, we both carried bouquets and we both carried antlers, walking in at the same time, accompanied by our entire families. It felt like a real coming together of tribes that way. We played the Abbot's Bromley as our entrance music, which has personal significance to us, and we clicked our antlers as we approached the altar.
My long-time acquaintance Mona Reed graciously contacted me out of the blue from seeing a Facebook post about wedding planning, and volunteered to be our wedding photographer. She is in the process of building her portfolio, and also just wanted the opportunity to shoot our wedding because she said she knew it would be a really fun event. We also asked all of our guests to download an app called Wedpics and load their own photos into it so we could have them all in one place. You can find the whole lot of them here.
This is one of the things that made me happiest. A few weeks before the ceremony, my sweetie Claire and I drove up to the farm and we picked apples from the 100-year-old trees. Two big bushels. We brought them home, and then Albert and Rowan (of Ars Fabrica Comestibles) processed them to create 144 jars of "How bout them apples?" preserves, which we then gave away as favors to our guests. I must say, farm-to-table apple jam, made by a Priestess of Eris, from golden apples off an ancient tree where I then installed a shrine to Aphrodite, on the land where I had my wedding on Crowleymas, is some of the most epic magic I have ever pulled off. And I honestly could not have planned for all of that to go that way. It all just kinda happened that way, with very little arranging. utterly.enchanted.
I installed a shrine to Aphrodite to bless the land with eternal love, beauty, and pleasure. It sits at the bottom of a big tree and we fed the shrine offerings all weekend to ensure a beautiful, auspicious day and a strong, loving marriage. I will now include this shrine on my annual tour of sites where I pay homage to various deities, which means Teri and Karen can expect me to drop by and leaving random trinkets from time and time.
Albert's band, Bones Quigley, played a fabulous set of some of our favorite dance-able, funky tunes. They lovingly sent out "The Women Are Smarter" by the Grateful Dead to me, and I enjoyed it fully. Albert also got to sit in and play some songs with them during their set, which was so great- I love watching him play and witnessing his talent.
We also had two playlists we made: one for dinner and one for dancing. We included everything from bhangra to whale song to Buena Vista Social Club to blues to 80s club hits on those playlists, then just set them to Shuffle and listened for what happened next so we could be surprised by it all. We were psyched that the whale song came up!
One of the things that was most important to me about having an outdoor farm wedding was to end the night with a bonfire. I am a country girl from way back and this just seemed proper. The guys brought the drums and guitars down and did a little unplugged set while the flames danced and crackled, and sparks flew like little fairies up to the starry sky. And there was a little bit of an "I love you, man!" vibe all around, which was nice. I just sat back and relaxed, hung out with Claire and we chatted a bit, and observed everyone having fun, laughing, joyful. I watched my husband banging on the drum and smiling. And I felt really content. Our wedding was a big spell: a spell that we wove around ourselves and our relationship with love and care, a spell that we wove between our families and our traditions, a spell we wove for our love to be a stable foundation for our endeavors in our community, a spell that our love be an inspiration for all the love that is possible, that others might have this blessing, too. We made a lot of deep, real magic with this ritual and celebration. And then, when the photos came back and I saw this phoenix rising from the fire, I thought about that song we sing in ritual sometimes:
"We are rising up, like a phoenix from the fire,
Sisters and brothers, spread your wings and fly higher!
We are rising up, like a phoenix from the fire,
Sisters and brothers, spread your wings and fly higher!
We are riiiiiiising!
We are riiiiiiising!
We are riiiiiiising!
We are riiiiiiising!"
So many people chipped in and helped, so many people showed up and brought their beauty, so many people wished us well from afar. So much magic. So much energy. Our families were so supportive, and Iris and Branwen and Rowan and Molly and Claire all made sure I had peace and beauty, and the Aspirants jumping in to serve food and everyone pitching in to clear tables after dinner. Leslie and Liza and all the CAYA folks who helped and Rha who ran himself ragged entertaining the kids and the pig skull that mysteriously appeared amidst the proceedings as if a sign from Vajrayogini, to whom I was initiated the next day, and all the people who came from all over. And so many people! I didn't even get to speak to everyone, much as I tried. I was floored, and I remain deeply grateful, for all that we received in manner of support and benevolence for our union.
And of course, my reason for the day: Albert...This man! He is a precious wish-fulfilling jewel of a man. He is a divine wish-granting tree. He is the powerful wing of the red tail hawk and the fire of pleasure, the mountain of patience, the ocean of love, the song of forever. He tells me, "I have loved you since The Beginning." And I know it to be true. And I am so grateful that we found one another in this life, to have this time and this journey together.
Wouldn't it be nice if every day was a celebration of love and beauty? Wouldn't it be amazing if everything we did came from mindfulness of the planet and one another? Wouldn't it be awesome if we could all have the really beautiful, caring, precious, divine, tender moments that make life worth living, just a little bit more often? Wouldn't it be great if we danced more? Wouldn't it be sublime if everyone received the kind of perfect love that transcends all hurt, fear, or trauma, like a sun coming out from behind the clouds or the moon gliding across the clear night sky?
I have now experienced what it is like to have that, completely, in the most divinely serendipitous of ways, on a singularly perfect day, and it was beautiful. It was so beautiful that it imprinted itself like a golden light on my heart, and now every day feels like that magic to me. The last lines of the ceremony ring in my mind:
"The love you give each other
can be your greatest service.
Like ripples in a pond
your love spreads out in circles
and changes all it touches.
The way you treat each other
becomes the way you treat everything.
Before the universe was born
the solitary, infinite, changeless, formless, eternal power of Love
This Love gave birth to the universe
and also to your relationship.
This flowing love binds you to each other,
and all things in creation.
It returns to you again and again,
I wish this for all beings: a real revolution of love that begins with a completely perfect day, it just takes one, to anchor the feelings deep within us that the world we want to live in is possible. In fact, we are here already, it's just a matter of what we choose to do next.