Origin Claims about Three Wedding Ceremony Rituals
Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant
| Wedding Ceremony | Wedding
Adding a ritual to your wedding ceremony
can enrich it immensely. But are they always
ancient traditions rediscovered, or pure inventions to
distinguish a civil ceremony from more traditional
The 1970s sparked a huge change in wedding ceremonies.
Couples, freed from the restrictions imposed by church
ceremonies wanted to include more interesting and more
personal elements. And celebrants rose to the occasion
and invented rituals.
Unfortunately, to give these invented traditions an
aura of authority, they were credited with an equally
invented origin, usually of the "long ago and far
away" ilk, and therefore commonly indigenous. After
all, a feature of most indigenous societies is oral
tradition, so no documentary evidence to contradict!
Invented traditions serve a purpose. They can be
beautiful and visual inclusions in a ceremony. They
don't need an invented provenance.
That said, there are two fairly common wedding
inclusions, all fairly recently invented "traditions"
that are wrongly claimed to have First Nation origins
- The Apache Wedding Prayer
- The "legend" attached to Butterfly Releases
In addition, a similar claim, citing either
Native Hawaiian or Navajo origin, is
occasionally made about the Sand Ceremony.
The Apache Prayer
The Apache Wedding Prayer,
as it is usually
used as a blessing or reading in weddings, has no
connection with the traditions of the Apache or any
other First Nation group. It was written for the 1950
movie Broken Arrow
starring James Stewart (as
Tom Jeffords, superintendent of pony mail express
route) and Jeff Chandler (as Cochise). The movie
script was adapted by the scriptwriter, Albert Maltz,
from a novel by Brooklyn-born author Elliott
Arnold Blood Brother
(written in 1947).
first line of the original in the novel is
"Now for you there is no rain" and the last
line reads "Now,
forever, there is no loneliness" In the
film Maltz changed these to "Now you will
feel no rain" and a last line that's
almost never quoted "Go now. Ride the
white horses to your secret place."
There are a lot of interesting aspects to this
historic movie - not the least of which that there is
no such thing as an Apache wedding as depicted in the
It was the first movie made after World War II that
sided with the Native Americans. The story revolves
around historical characters with an added fictional
character, Sonseeahray, played by Debra Paget,
who was added as a love interest for Jeffords.
The script was written by Albert Maltz, one of the
writers blacklisted by Hollywood during the McCarthy
era, so for a long time the writer was listed as
Michael Blankfort, another scriptwriter who put his
name on the script as the only way to get it accepted.
In 1997 that was put right when the Writers Guild of
America voted to restore screen credit to those who
had been blacklisted.
There are quite a few other wedding readings with
questionable accreditation to indigenous origins.
The Butterfly Legend
Commonly recited as part of a butterfly release at
weddings, namings, and funerals, The Butterfly
is a fabrication of a butterfly
breeder. While association of butterflies with
the soul or spirit is found in Greek mythology the
"legend" was entirely invented by a butterfly farmer
looking to replace income lost when museums, zoos, and
schools cut back on ordering butterflies. While
butterflies and moths are frequently found in Native
American myths, this is because of their beauty power
of flight and complete metamorphosis with nothing to
do with sending secret wishes to any deity.
Butterflies feature as a symbol of rebirth and
regeneration in many Native American stories. The
Blackfeet believe that dreams are brought to us in
sleep by butterflies. The Mothway myth of the Navajo
explains prohibition against incest and features
bisexual behaviour. Further south the Aztecs believed
that the happy dead in the form of beautiful
butterflies would visit their relatives to assure them
that all was well.
Disclaimer: I am not advocating the release of
butterflies. There are many reasons, both ethical and
ecological to avoid doing so.
The Sand Ceremony
The Sand Ceremony
or Sand Blending Ritual, is sometimes claimed to
have been an ancient Hawaiian tradition and
sometimes, possibly through misunderstanding of
the spiritual nature of sand paintings, Native
American. It is neither. It was invented in 1993
by a San Diego Wedding Planner, Geneene Thornton
of Waterfront Weddings/Celebrations, as a
more practical alternative for the Unity Candle
lighting (invented in the 1970s) for couples
marrying on the beach.
I explore the historical origins of both of these
rituals in detail in my book Unity Candle and
Indigenous customs in
More and more Australian couples are including an
in their weddings, which is
heart-warming. Thankfully, there is universal
understanding of the protocols attached to Welcome
to Country and Smoking ceremonies and we have
avoided any inclination to attribute invented
wedding rituals to indigenous origins.
Thanks for reading