Pagan marriage rites are perhaps among the most ancient traditions still honored in modern society on a mass scale. Funny enough, most mainstream religious ceremonies and non-denominational ceremonies also include rituals and traditions from Pagan practice. But before we dive too deep into these rituals, let's start with a simpler, often completely misunderstood concept: paganism.
Easily defined, paganism refers to any religion that does not adhere to the beliefs and practices of one of the six major world religions. (Don't ask me who determined these six or how they decided there are only six, but someone did for some reason.)
The six major world religions are: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. So, if your belief system does not fall under one of these big baddies, if you describe yourself as "spiritual" or "well I believe there's something, I just don't know what to call it"...guess what...you're a pagan!
Now, from the all encompassing term "Pagan" there are at least 400 different variations of non-normalcy. Pagans can be Wiccan, Druid, Celtic, Astratu, Neo-Pagan, Ecclectic, Hellenic... the list goes on. And all of these traditions have beneath them another hundred or so branches of specialization. For example, a Dianic Wiccan is a Wiccan who believes in a Goddess rather than a God, and lives by a matriarchal model of life and the Universe. Versus a Corellian witch whose practice surrounds plants, herbs and gardening spells. Versus a Chaos Wiccan who takes beliefs and rituals from many different Wiccan traditions and combines them all into their own kind of practice.
So you see, all Wiccans are pagans but not all pagans are Wiccans.
Neo-paganism has introduced a hundred more variations of paganism in the past 200
years. And that is the beauty of Paganism really. You see, it's such an ancient religion that it has been molded and altered to fit thousands of viewpoints and continues to be challenged and expanded upon today. It's less rigidly defined (on the whole, although some traditions can be quite adamant about regulations and adherences) than most world religions. And it varies, almost literally, from one practicer to another.
Many pagan variations have their own holy book, or list of sacred duties, their own calendar or pantheon of deities. And while for the past 2000 years or so, paganism has faded into the back row (ehm, after a few thousand years of witch burnings and whatnot) Pagan practice is actually the bases of all major world religions today. In fact, shadows of paganism can be found in nearly every religion. Mother Mary, for example, in Catholicism, was the Ancient Romans attempting to normalize Christianity among their more traditional pantheon believing citizens. Many of the Catholic saints represent the same things that the Roman gods and goddesses did, they simply changed their names.
Before I get too deep into the history in just this one post, when I say I am a pagan officiant, what I am saying is this: I do not adhere to one of the major world religions...and I do not build wedding ceremony scripts that do. It's not prejudice, simply my way of recognizing my limits. And while my study in school and out of school did encompass all religions and myths...my heart is truly dedicated to pagan ceremonies and their gorgeous rituals and traditions.