Pledged for Many Summers: Wedding Traditions of the Sylvan People
Pledged for Many Summers: Wedding Traditions of the Sylvan People is an Official GemStone IV Document, and it is protected from editing.
Pledged for Many Summers: Wedding Traditions of the Sylvan People
By Nilandia Liserna
Marriage is widely viewed as one of the strongest and most highly honored bonds in the sylvan culture, joining families together and providing stability to society as a whole. Therefore, marriage is not undertaken lightly, ending in divorce only when all other avenues are exhausted. Such is the value we place upon it that, over the centuries, ritual has collected around the wedding ceremony, each part steeped in meaning and symbolism to foreshadow the marriage to come. While we are not normally a religious people, the special circumstances of the wedding have also led to traditions of calling upon the Arkati for their blessing.
We are, unfortunately, a fractured people. While we may remember the customs from the sealed city of Yuriqen, they often cannot be practiced among the wandering tribes and communities. Others descend from lines that never joined the people of Yuriqen at all. Thus, it is difficult to describe a single ceremony as the example of a sylvan wedding. Instead, I will describe a generalized wedding as it was practiced in Yuriqen and mention some of the ways in which it may differ outside the city.
Choosing the Match
The wedding ritual begins with choosing the match, which is arranged by the bride's and groom's respective families. A sylvan attains marriageable age upon entering a D'ahranal, though it is often several decades after that when a match is made. As a sylvan matures, the family's matriarch and her consort typically observe the children of other families, in search of a suitable match. Most desirable is one that will produce strong and healthy children, and a couple with more than two children often have little trouble finding spouses for them. If a candidate does not come from a fertile line, excellence in service or another endeavor is also respected and may encourage offers of marriage.
The matriarch and consort also look to the personality of any potential match, for while children are the final goal of a marriage, they also understand the importance of the couple being happy or content. It is not unusual for the prospective bride and groom to be consulted on the type of mate they wish. As they have spent a considerable time with the people involved, the patrons of the future spouses may also be sought out for their counsel.
Once a suitable mate has been found by the matriarch and her consort, they will send an intermediary to their counterparts in the other family with the offer for marriage. A small gift is also given as a sign of respect and a signifier of the meeting's intention. Response is sent through an intermediary from the other family, whether to accept the offer, reject it, or to engage in negotiation before a decision is made.
All negotiations take place through the intermediaries, who are typically trusted family members. This generally involves compensation for the son leaving the family, as he would join the bride's family upon being wed. Should both matriarchs and consorts eventually view the match favorably, scrying and astrology will be employed to see if the couple suits one another. The hierophants and the spirits are also consulted for their permission before the wedding can take place.
Finally, when both families agree to the match and all signs are favorable, the matriarchs of each family meet to exchange gifts, sealing the engagement. Sponsors are also chosen from the bride's family, one each for both the bride and groom, who will guide the couple through their wedding and the marriage afterward. It is also at this point that the bride and groom might begin a series of meetings to get to know one another, similar to courtship, though it is just as common that they do not meet until their wedding.
Selecting the Day
The next step involves selecting the day for the wedding to take place. Scrying and astrology are employed once again for favorable signs, and nature is observed to ensure that the weather will be pleasant. The particular season and time of year is also important and may reflect the purpose of the match, hopes for the couple, symbolism, or personal preference. Weddings in the spring and summer typically mean a match primarily for the purpose of producing children. A spring wedding may also hint at a romantic love, as it is the Lady Oleani's season. Our Mother Imaera claims the autumn, and the choice of a wedding in that season signifies a match consecrated to Her or the spirits. Alternately, it may suggest that one of the couple is intended to contribute to the family, like one who may bring game in for food for the family before the winter. The rare wedding in the winter, the season of the Gatekeeper Lorminstra, typically takes place when a widow or widower is marrying for the second time, so that the dead may be honored.
When the day is chosen, invitations are given to those who are asked to attend the wedding. All members of both families are invited, as well as selected friends, elders, hierophants, and priests. Such invitations are usually given verbally and may be accompanied by a small gift. The family member who acted as intermediary while the match was made often delivers the invitations. Those who accept the invitations often give a gift in return as a sign of their good wishes for the pair. Attending the wedding is likewise seen as a mark of respect and honor for the families involved.
Rituals of the Day Before
On the day before the wedding, the bride and groom are ritually cleansed in a nearby river or other body of water. They are then blessed by priests of our Mother Imaera and the Lady Oleani. Our Mother Imaera's blessing is sought to protect and guide the couple, while the Lady Oleani's is invoked to bring harmony between the two people and bless them with children. Throughout the rest of the day, both families spend time in private prayer to the spirits and the Arkati, asking for blessings over the ceremony and the marriage to come. It is traditionally considered an ill omen for the bride and groom to meet one another in the time between their cleansing and the wedding. For this reason, both will typically not leave their family's homes until they leave for the ceremony. Instead, the bride and groom spend time with their families, singing songs and celebrating the joyful occasion.
Preparing for the Ceremony
Before sunrise on the day of the wedding, the bride and groom are ritually dressed in clothes made especially for the wedding. Typically, the bride's family will make the clothing for the groom in the days before the wedding to welcome him to his new family. The groom's family likewise makes the bride's garments as a gift to the woman who marries their relative. Bliauts are traditionally chosen, though a priest or priestess may wear robes to signify his or her position. The clothes are as finely made as the families can produce and are among the most elaborate that a sylvan will wear in his or her lifetime.
The color, material, and embellishment of the bride's and groom's garments may vary widely, but all design elements carry heavy symbolic meaning. Harmony between the bride's and groom's clothing is thought to bring harmony in the marriage, since matching the outfits requires the families to work together like the bride and groom must do in married life. Decorative motifs and materials that are used often symbolize hopes for the couple. Duck, goose, and swan feathers are among the most common, for example, as the birds mate for life and are seen as helping preserve fidelity. Seeds are also used in representation of fertility, or amber to signify our Mother Imaera.
The actual wedding ceremony takes place in the morning, symbolizing the beginning of the couple's new life together. The ritual is divided into three parts, each representing the past, the present, and the future. Guests arrive before dawn at a designated glade in the forest, dressed in green to symbolize good wishes for the couple's life together. Each family maintains a glade of trees planted during their weddings, and we often visit throughout the year to pay our respects to our ancestors. It is in the glade of the bride's family that the bride and groom arrive, accompanied by their sponsors, and the ceremony begins as the sun rises upon the couple.
A priest may be chosen to accompany the pair throughout the ceremony and bless them. The identity and affiliation of the priest often reflects the reason for the match or a personal decision. The couple, however, is expected to create their own vows. These vows may be purely spoken or may include ritualized actions or offerings of objects. The specific form the rituals take beyond these guidelines varies widely depending on many factors and on personal taste.
The first ritual, representing the past, takes place at a pair of trees planted by the bride's parents at their own wedding. The couple takes vows to respect the families that raised them and to honor the bride's family that the groom now joins. Vows are also taken to honor our Mother Imaera, who guides our people and offers us Her special protection.
The couple moves to a nearby part of the glade for the second part of the ceremony, which represents the present. There, they plant their own pair of trees, grown from seeds or cuttings taken from their respective family's glades. These trees are often trained to grow together as a symbol of two people, and two families, joining together. Once done, the bride and groom take their vows to bind themselves to one another and to honor the Lady Oleani in hopes of the Arkati's blessing of love and children.
The last part of the ritual takes place at a carefully chosen location, usually a place to emphasize permanence. Locations include a particular stone or the pair of trees of an honored ancestor, chosen in hopes of imparting a solid foundation to the marriage. In this part of the ceremony, meant to represent the future, the couple takes vows to remain faithful to each other until the end of their lives and to serve the community that supports them. Appeals are made to the Winged Gosaena to look favorably on the bride and groom at the end of their lives, as She holds a position of respect among our people.
Celebrations of the Marriage
Following the marriage ritual, the couple and guests sit down to a feast of celebration prepared and hosted by the families of both the bride and groom. There is often a large abundance of food to be had at the feast, as tradition holds that this foretells an abundance of food and other blessings in the couple's married life. Gifts are given by the guests to the couple at this time. These often include items to help them furnish their own dwelling, as well as symbolic gifts to represent their wishes for the couple.
Lighting the Torch
At dusk, the groom returns to his family's home and lights a torch from the hearth's fire. Several of his relatives accompany him on his way as he takes the torch to his new home with the bride's family. He is met by the matriarch of his new family, and together they use the torch to light the hearth of his new home. This act stands as a symbol of binding the bride's and groom's families, the groom's role of contributing to his new family, and the matriarch's acceptance of him into her family. To close the wedding, the bride's family holds a small, private celebration to welcome their new family member.
Marriage Outside of Yuriqen
We sylvans greatly value our traditions, and though we live outside Yuriqen and can never enter our ancestors' city, we try to follow the customs as much as possible. This is not always possible, however, as we live in varied circumstances that often force us to adapt our practices to the current situation. For this reason, weddings outside Yuriqen tend to be greatly simplified, making use of the places and materials on hand without significantly altering the environment. For example, the Lassaran tend to move their settlements on a regular basis, making it unlikely that a couple would be able to visit the trees their parents had planted at their own marriage. Instead, they might use some other signifier for their parents to hold the same function.
Communities outside Yuriqen are much smaller and often nomadic, much like what was seen in the past when we had no city to call home. As such, the trend has appeared once more for the bride and groom to choose one another rather than the decision resting solely on the families. Romantic love has become far more important and common, but the couple still looks to their families for approval of their choice before pledging themselves to one another. This trend is not universal, however, and some communities still hold to the traditional customs.
From time to time, a sylvan may desire someone who, for whatever reason, is not considered a desirable match by one or both families. Issues of race, gender, age, or social standing may cause some in the couple's families or community to question the suitability of the match. The response to such situations varies widely depending upon the specific circumstances of the match and the people involved. However, as our culture highly values a marriage that produces children or brings honor to the people as a whole, and if the couple desires to follow the wishes of the community, conditions upon the match may be demanded that would effect both the pair and possibly the children that may result from the match.
A common condition placed upon a non-traditional match, especially involving a spouse that does not come from the other's community, is for the traditional sylvan wedding rites to be observed by the prospective spouse as much as is feasible. Faendryl in particular often find a commonality with planting pairs of trees, as it carries echoes of their own tradition of planting a pair of lor trees, sometimes known as lover's trees. Indeed, some have speculated that the Faendryl, having divorced themselves from our people when they founded House Faendryl, retained our custom and adapted it to their own culture.
At other times, a family may deny the match altogether. Such decisions are given great weight by the community, and individuals who still wish to pursue a match with the person they desire will find their options severely limited. Depending upon the circumstances, families may attempt to sway the couple away from their inclinations, and though rare, it is not unheard of for the pair to be cast out from the community in the most extreme of cases.
I hope and trust that my explanation of the marriage customs of the sylvan people not only helps to clarify our traditions but also illuminate our culture and values. I must stress, of course, that what I have written relies upon generalities. We are a scattered people, and though the underlying ideals are shared by all sylvan communities I have encountered, our customs vary like the lands we travel.