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Ahhh June – a special month of very special days – graduations, summer vacations, Father’s Day (for Ankhie’s opinion on greeting-card holidays see the Mother’s Day post), and of course… weddings. Now, Ankhie got married in Vegas… in costume… with no one else in attendance but a casino secretary and a not-so-sober witness pulled from a near-by slot machine – but that’s not for everyone. Some people want the big show – lots of guests, lots of flowers, lots of presents – and Ankhie begrudges them not. There are a whole lot of people for whom marriage is a hard-won right, or a right that is still being fought for. And no matter who folks are or how they get hitched, it is a promise worth keeping and a union worth celebrating, and – not surprisingly – one that is full of magical tradition and age-old superstition.
The more I read the more I realize that almost any magical question I have can be answered by browsing through Judika Illes’s Pure Magic. I kid you not. My desk copy has the dog ears and coffee stains to prove it.
Here is what Goody Illes has to say about the enchantments of matrimony:
Preparing for a magical wedding involves more than selecting a caterer and deciding where to seat Aunt Suzy. In some cultures, the bride, and even occasionally the groom, must be primed for the wedding. These often include what today would be considered spa treatments, to enhance beauty and personal power and also to protect against the Evil Eye, to which brides are considered particularly vulnerable. Henna parties are given. In India, brides may be marinated in turmeric paste; the resulting golden color evokes the goddess Lakshmi, whom each bride at least momentarily embodies. In Java, cleansing and beautifying treatments can last for days (the wealthier the bride, the more extravagant and expensive the treatment). The bride’s hair and body is bathed in rose water. She is placed in baths that contain almost as many flowers as water: frangipani, jasmine, and roses. She is cleansed with sandalwood steam, eggs and ginger. She is exfoliated with rice, turmeric and exotic, fragrant flowers and massaged with frangipani and jasmine infused oils.
Henna is most famous as a prime component of marriage rituals. Just prior to the wedding, so that there is enough time for the henna to set and be at its best, a henna party is thrown in the bride’s honor. She is the center of attention. Although all the women may have their opportunity to be decorated, the most beautiful, intricate designs are reserved for the bride. This renders her immobile for many hours and gives her female friends and relatives plenty of time to fill her in on the facts of life and assorted husband pleasing tips they think she should know.
On the subcontinent, a marriage’s future balance of power is believed to lie in the henna. The groom’s initials are hidden somewhere in the designs on his bride’s body. It’s up to him to find them on the wedding night; otherwise, the bride will always hold the upper hand!
To ensure that the bride will always know sweetness, joy and prosperity, Yemenite Jews stick a gold coin into the center of her hennaed hand and seal it with honey.
Although many cultures have evolved ornate bridal adornment rituals, some Tuareg tribes maintain another perspective. Women form a bridal bed from desert sand while men erect a tent around it. On her wedding day, the bride enters the tent, where she sits on her sand bed surrounded by female companions who chant blessings and spells. Although on any other day, she might be elaborately adorned, on this day she wears a plain, everyday dress with no makeup or jewelry, to indicate that her husband chose her and accepts her exactly as the Earth formed her.
The bridal bouquet was originally another magical charm. Chose your flowers wisely.
Basil: grants happiness, prosperity, fertility and romance. Invokes Lakshmi, goddess of marriage and all good fortune.
Jasmine: brings romance, fertility and prosperity.
Orange Blossoms: evoke happy romance and fertility. Their fragrance calms stressed nerves too. (These must be thrown away before they wilt or before the month is over, whichever comes first, or they’ll foster sterility within the marriage bed. Every spell has two sides, however: if you’re looking to reinforce contraception, hold on to those blossoms!)
Queen of the Meadow: also known as bridewort, this flower ensures romantic love and relieves stress.
Rose: Juno’s favorite flowers encourage romance and fidelity.
Rosemary: traditionally carried by English brides or word as a crown to represent their love and loyalty. Rosemary, lest we forget, also provides protection. Anne of Cleves wore a rosemary crown when she wed Henry VIII and she was the only one of the four wives of whom he wearied to live happily ever after.
Saffron Blossom: ancient Greek and Roman brides wore these blossoms, which were also used to decorate the marriage bed. (Grow your own, they’re impossible to find. Only saffron threads are typically available.)
Stephanotis: its Hawaiian name means “marriage flower”, the fragrant white blossoms are a favorite for marriage bouquets and leis.
Vervain: even just a sprig of vervain in the bridal bouquet is said to ensure the new groom’s fidelity!
Yarrow: ensures seven years of happiness.
Bouquets can also be created to invoke th power of beneficent spirits of love and marriage. These bouquets will not only draw blessings to the bride and groom, when the bride throws her bouquet it will serve as a true marriage amulet for the woman who catches it.
An Aphrodite Bouquet
Carry a selection of the following flowers, all beloved by the goddess of love:
Juno’s Bouquet of Eternal Love
Peacock feathers (cut to size)
Ariadne and Dionysus Loving Couple Bouquet
The divine couple epitomizes the ideal of marriage as a joyful, respectful and equal partnership. Carry their bouquet as a good luck charm!
Holly leaves (preferably with some berries)
Pine boughs and cones
Happy Marriage Charm
take nine dried yarrow flower heads on stalks. Bind them together with green ribbon. This charm is most powerful when made on a Friday with a waxing moon. Hang over the bed to insure joy and romance.
Many rituals tap the Earth’s powers to ensure happiness and stability to the bride and groom. Friends of a Czech bride may secretly plant and decorate a new tree for her, decorating it with ribbons and painted eggshells. Tiered wedding cakes in Bermuda are topped not with miniature brides and grooms but with tiny saplings: a gift to be planted in the newlyweds’ home to ensure future love and peace. Not that tiny martital dolls are to be mocked: their roots lie in ancient fertility spells. Real dolls resembling the couple were originally used and later entrusted to the bride, to be cared for as called for. Wedding rituals are replete with fertility rituals, hearkening back to times when progeny, rather than love, were considered the sole purpose of marriage.
Cowrie shells attached to bridal garments, necklaces and headpieces link us to our earliest ancestors: they are among the most ancient and widely spread amulets of all. Cowries are believed to provide not only personal fertility but prosperity and protection too. Because their shape echoes the vulva, they are also believed to evoke primal, protective female power, the strongest power of all.
Horseshoes are lucky, not only because of their association with horses, but because they, too, are believed to resemble female generative organs. English brides sew small silver horseshoes to the hems of their gowns for luck.
Other cultures use the code of color to evoke this power: brides are dressed in red or a red ribbon may be hidden under her white dress.
A Czech custom also evokes the female generative force, albeit symbolically: right before the ceremony, the groom is wrapped in his new bride’s cloak, indicating her primal link to this power.
One clove of garlic is traditionally carried in the bride’s pocket or sewn into a little red bag and attached to her underskirt: it brings good fortune and wards off the Evil Eye.