False Origin Claims about Three Wedding Ceremony Rituals

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © (24/01/2021)
Categories: | Wedding Ceremony | Wedding Rituals|
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Blue butterfly on a bride's hand with silver
                    wedding ringAdding 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 religious liturgy?

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). The 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 movie!

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 Legend  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 Sand Ceremony.

Indigenous customs in Australia

More and more Australian couples are including an Acknowledgement of Country 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
Jenny xxx Let's talk soon about how you
                      can have the best ceremony ever
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