Marriage Among the Elves, Volume 2 (book)
Marriage Among the Elves
Volume II: The Forest Clan
-An Investigation By Simon J. Bright
Said by the Elves to be the eldest of the clans, the Forest Elves hold what many regard as the purest version of the rituals of mating among the Elven Race. Although over the eons of time the younger clans have diverged from the rituals commonly used among the eldest elves, the mark of the rituals of the forest can be discerned among them all.
Ideally, the bride withdraws into the society of Mergan Tocaen, better known in Common as the Maidens of Grace, for a full season before the wedding. These maidens have been chosen for their dedication to Hodyrn and their own purity. No male is allowed to enter the sanctuary, although the bride's friends and female relatives are continually in evidence.
There is much singing and festivity in the bride's quarters. The maiden's friends bring her many gifts. Although these gifts can be practical in nature, usually there is more than a spark of mischief and teasing about them regarding the maiden's upcoming change of status to a married woman. The day before the wedding, all the female relatives and friends assist the Maidens of Grace in constructing a bower for the bridal couple. I've been told in ancient times, the friends would go to the house that had been constructed for the couple and furnish it with all the needs of a newly married couple, but that tradition is no longer followed, even among those of the Forest.
In the center of the bower, the gelnurte is carefully centered to align with the cardinal directions. Although a fabric can be used, most often a tanned hide of a favored beast considered sympathetic to both the bride and groom is used. After all is in readiness, the cloth is scattered with flower petals and seeds, and set with trays of dried fruit and tantalizing sweets, all symbolizing the wish of the family and clan for a rich and fruitful joining.
All the children of the clan have been waiting impatiently for this moment and rush forward as soon as they are invited into the bower to play on the gelnurte. The more children the merrier! Although this is an obvious way to symbolize the hope for fertility in the newly married couple and the hope for many children of the joining, I suspect the Elves just enjoy the spectacle of the children scrambling for all the sweets.
The Wedding Day
All has been laid in readiness for the day of mating. It is considered most auspicious for the day to dawn cloudless and golden with the soft kiss of the sun. Should dark clouds scowl across the sky or the dawn be overcast and gloomy, the omens are considered poor for the success of the mating.
The Maidens gather at the house of the bride upon first light and escort her to the sacred pool. There they bathe her in the clear chill of new-birthed water and wash out her hair with honeysuckle blossoms. They anoint her flesh with sweet oils of almond and exotic perfumes. They carefully comb out the mag- nificence of her hair and arrange it into an elaborate coif wreathed with cream and red flowers, singing songs of love and fruitfulness to her while they play amorous melodies on bird bone flutes and whistles.
Once the Maidens of Grace are satisfied with her state of mind and cleanliness of flesh, they rub into the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet a bitter powder called olum yaten, which causes the skin to flush and achieve a dusky deep blush. The making of this powder is one of the secrets the Maidens alone know, and even they use it with great care. In the hands of the Maidens it only enhances the bride's sense of well being, but dark tales hint of other results, where careless use can call daemons to the mind of the one anointed or even a hideous death.
Forest Elves wear the color red to symbolize joy on their wedding day. Typically, not only is the bride's hair gar- nished with red flowers, but she is draped in a sheer crimson veil and wears red shoes. She wears a creamy linen toga caught over one shoulder with a carved broach of oak or ironwood. Traditionally, the broach carries either the symbol of her family or three acorns to symbolize fertility.
The groom wears a set of new ceremonial hunting leathers. The decorations on his quiver and belt often incorporate the same vibrant hues of red as the bride's veil and shoes. When the sun reaches the highest point of the day, he steps forth from the house of his mother, and the tradition of The Three Ordeals commences.
The first ordeal is that of his own family. His mother and relatives wait for him with willow quirts strung with ribbon streamers held ready. His mother or closest living female relative fastens a fringed crimson sash about his hips, chiding him all the while for leaving her hearth for that of another woman. As he rises, his relatives converge on him, wildly swinging their quirts as they symbolically drive him from the house of his mother. It is considered a good omen if the groom manages to avoid every blow of the ribbons as he dodges and flees his tormenters.
The second ordeal suffered is the Challenge by The Maidens of Grace, who block his passage to his beloved with pale ivory staffs twined with ruby roses. They demand he prove his worthiness to take a bride and compensation for their services. In ancient times, each Maiden offered either a question or riddle to the groom for the purposes of allowing him to prove his mental fitness to enter the state of marriage. If the groom was unable to satisfy them with his wit and intellect, they were within their rights to strike him down where he stood, staining their ivory staffs with his lifeblood. Although the Maidens rarely execute anyone today, the responsibility to judge the worthiness of the groom and to arbitrate judgment upon him is still theirs.
Assuming the groom has lived through the questioning, he offers each of the maidens a chain strung with coins as payment for her services. After due consideration, each maiden accepts his offering and lowers her staff to offer him access to his bride.
Little good this does him, for the Third Ordeal of Flight immediately begins. The bride's female friends surround him, their hands hindering his every move as their voices rise in a clamorous riot about him with demands he allow his intended freedom to run free. As they surround and confuse him, the bride darts forth with her skirts held high, escaping into the depths of the forest. She symbolically becomes the deer of the forest and he the hunter. In order to claim his bride, he must hunt and conquer her to show his worthiness, but he may not begin his hunt until he has appeased each of her friends by offering them a crimson square of silk as a token of the day, which further delays his pursuit of her.
He leaps to the pursuit, putting all his strength and speed into the chase, for if his intended doubles back and reaches the bower before he has captured her, he will have proven his unworthiness to be her mate and the wedding festivities will abruptly cease. Both the bride and groom are handicapped. Remember, not only has the groom been harried by the previous ordeals, but he has also been delayed as she flies into the shadows of the forest. On the other hand, her long skirt hampers her flight, and the flowing veil serves as a beacon to her intended as it flits provocatively between the trees. He must pursue her, and in full tradition must actually hunt her, firing three beribboned arrows to land before her fleeing feet. She must stop and recover any such arrows that fall before her, which slows her progress to the bower.
Most grooms will earnestly hunt their bride, for the ridicule and dishonor that descends upon the head of an unsuccessful suitor is severe. Even his own family will shun him. However, there is no such restriction upon the bride. At times, her flight is more than symbolic, since this is her last chance to escape honorably from an arranged marriage she does not wish. If she is able to evade her bridegroom and remain a free woman, she also gains the freedom to choose for herself a mate more to her liking.
Since it is more common that both the bride and groom welcome the arranged marriage, the flight of the bride is often choreographed into a dance of exquisite precision. The worthiness of the groom is displayed in dazzling feats of bowmanship while the beauty of the bride brilliantly shines forth among the turns and spins as she seeks to avoid him, her long red veil wafting teasingly behind her as she urges him on. In the best displays, the bride is captured only a step or two from the bower. He spins her about in the air, caught at the waist by his strong, agile hands to the cheers and acclaim of the guests. The bride gives the three beribboned arrows to the holy one chosen to sanctify the marriage and they are placed in a special niche at the northernmost corner of the bower.
If all has worked out properly, the sun is now just beginning to set. Each guest lights a fat candle and sets it on the peri- meter of the bower, lending an ethereal quality to the proceed- ings as the Ceremony of the Four Winds begins and the couple is joined in marriage. As the ritual challenges to the four direc- tions are issued and met, one can easily believe the gods are watching over the proceedings with great care. Traditionally, the couple exchange torques banded with an acorn motif to sym- bolize their wish for fertility in their mating. Immediately following the words of joining, the witnesses are given the bride's red shoes and the groom's red sash as tokens of apprec- iation for their service.
After the ceremony, much merriment and dancing accompanies the wedding feast. Roasted meats, berry tarts, and a very sweet wine are commonly served, along with dishes of roasted sweet- meats and nuts. The bride and groom set three dishes just outside the flickering candlelight with the most delectable portions as gifts to the Fae. It is considered great fortune should these plates be empty by dawn.
The newly married couple slips away from the festivities Before dawn and lives apart from the rest of the clan for a period up to a full turning of the seasons. The couple may travel or simply choose to spend time in one another's company. At the end of that time, they rejoin the village where the bride resides and take up a normal life once again.