Marriage Among the Elves, Volume 9 (book)
Marriage Among The Elves
Volume IX: The Celestial Clan
-An Investigation by Simon J. Bright
In many ways the most cosmopolitan and least ethnocentric of the traditional Elves of Elanthia, the Celestial Elves idealize the pursuit of knowledge, the exercise of restraint and diplomacy, and the harnessing of passion to the control of reason. In pur- suit of this ideal, the major rituals surrounding events such as birth, death and marriage tend to be calmly solemn and rational in nature, highly choreographed and strangely theatrical.
Many of the elaborate legalities and marriage arrangements of the other Elven clans have been simplified by those of the Celestial Elves. This is not remarkable, given the wider exposure over the eons these Elves have had to other cultures and races. While Celestial Elves do recognize and utilize the ceremonies of El Agzata, Bile Janis oc Hol Haizeani, and Gel- inajaun in their lives, they tend to regard most of the other legal marital arrangements as quaint reminders of a past when the various Elven clans were more isolated and insular. The Celestial Elves do not recognize the Gelinajaun Ruh as a separate ritual, feeling any couple is capable of becoming so close it may seem as though they are one, but to declare their souls have melded together is nothing more than a wistfulfantasy.
Those Elves regarding themselves as Celestial truly feel they have matured past the need for such arrangements and no longer recognize any of these forms of marriage in their own courts. However, they do full honor to their cousins by granting full recognition to these forms of marriage in any instance where one of the bridal couple is born of the Celestial Clan and the other belongs to a more traditional clan. Should the Celestial Elf agree to one of these marital arrangements, they are held with- out recourse according to the law of the Celestial courts as a logical consequence of a decision made with full knowledge of what was entailed.
Given this rational approach, the Celestial Elves are greatly inclined to favor childhood betrothals and undertake the search for a suitable mate for the children of a household with the same diligence shown by several of the other clans. However, these arrangements are not necessarily rigidly binding. If a child close to the age of where the marriage can take place voices rational objections to a marriage with their betrothed, the community makes provision for re-assessment without undue affront to honor or loss of face for either family.
Once the betrothed couple have accepted and acceded to each other as mates, an exchange of betrothal bracelets is made before family and witnesses to seal the accord. In the ancient past, these bracelets were crafted with love and care by the couple for one another and could be woven from anything from grasses and reeds to the most precious metal wire. Appropriate ornamentation, usually reflecting one of the patterns that would later be seen in the marriage cloaks, was added to the bracelets to make each set unique.
The modern Celestial Elf no longer spends hours with their betrothed creating such items, preferring to go to a goldsmith and simply order the bracelets desired. The bracelets them- selves are wide cuffs of flexible woven mesh created from a variety of precious jewelry-quality metal, although gold is most popular. Woven into the mesh are tiny gemstone beads, most commonly golden and red stones representing fire, and pale blue and clear gems for water, in stylized patterns representing both falling rain and the rising sun.
Upon facing one another in a circle formed of kin and witnesses, the couple clasps hands above a lighted candle, brazier or hearth. The other hand clasps the betrothal bracelet obtained for the purpose. Once this had been done, the agreement is sealed and the wedding date agreed upon. It is imperative for the wedding to occur within a year of this ceremony.
While the Celestial Elves follow the general forms of the tra- ditional ritual of Bile Janis oc Hol Haizeani, some notable dif- ferences have crept in over the years. Particularly evident is the name for the ceremonial cloth, which designates the home. The Celestial Elves use the more modern word of "oinurte" to designate the richly woven bed cloth or small carpet of excep- tional design used in the ceremony. The oinurte is set in the precise center of the circle, with the addition of a brazier of burning coals and amber incense and a silver basin of rainwater.
Celestial Elves always begin the ceremony once night has fallen, and usually time events so dawn arrives at the most theatrical and auspicious moment ending the ceremony. The guests attending the ceremony file into the area silently, each holding a lit taper as they take their places around the northernmost point of the oinurte. The bridal procession enters, accompanied by the additional candlelight shed by the tapers borne by the guardians and the witnesses for the ceremony.
All begins in the accustomed manner. Ritual greetings are exchanged between the bridal couple, the speakers for the couple, their guardians and the elder who officiates at the wedding, followed by the chanting of the bloodlines of the bride and groom. As the first of the four challenges rings out, all the tapers are snuffed, leaving the area in darkness save for the light from the brazier in the center of the circle.
The Celestial Elves take a more active role when the time comes to challenge for objection to the union. The bridal couple stands ready with bared blades in hand, prepared to meet any mortal challenger. Celestial Elves spice up the challenges by hiring professional "ill-wishers" to intercede at this part of the ceremony, supposedly to appease any who might actually have an objection to the ceremony, but more likely to add a highly dramatic element to the wedding. Among the many insults they call out, they proclaim the groom is not worthy to touch the discarded bath waters of the pure bride and the bride does not possess the intellectual capacity of a grass snake, although she may indeed resemble its maternal capacity.
The bridal couple banishes these objections by raising their crossed blades against the naysayer and theatrically dismissing their objections as meaningless. Assuming no other challenger appears to dispute the validity of the marriage, the couple face one another and exchange their knives. The cleric or wise one chosen to officiate at the wedding first binds the blades to each wrist and then binds the couple's hands together so the palms meet over the burning coals. Some of the more traditional among the Clan will first cut a shallow slash in each other's palm before the exchange and the binding, but this is now generally considered archaic and is not a common or required step in the ceremony.
Once the hands have been bound together, the elder officiating the wedding leads the couple to the silver bowl, where they again face one another. The elder ladles rainwater over their bound hands as he or she declares them bound by fire and water. The couple exchange pale gold wedding bands with lavish decorations, but do not yet wear them.
When these words have been said, the witnesses begin to file past the brazier. Each relights their taper and again takes up position to the north. The elder who validated the union leads the couple, with the wedding party following behind, to a "high place" open to the air, which may be anything from a balcony to a mountaintop, there to announce aloud and in formal language the binding of the two.
At the moment these words are spoken, it is to be hoped the sun breaks the sky with the warm glow of dawn to light the upturned faces of the bridal couple with its first kiss. Red dawns are considered the most auspicious for the beginnings of a new marriage, although any visible dawn is acceptable. At the moment the dawn breaks, the couple slides their wedding bands on their fingers and quietly announce to the gods and the land that they accept their binding as wedded pair before embracing.
Clothing tends to be simple in design and cut for Celestial Elf weddings, although rich in execution. The bride generally chooses a long, straight gown of a heavy silk or linen, laced up the back or sides. The neckline is generally modestly scooped or square, and the sleeves long, narrowly fitted and flaring only slightly at the wrist to end in a point over the back of the hand. Slippers or sandals may be worn, depending on season.
The groom normally wears loose trousers tucked into his pale leather boots. Over this, he wears a high-necked tunic with wide gathered sleeves. Both bride and groom normally wear white, but what the costumes lack in color they more than make up for in the elaborate tone-on-tone embroidery, appliqu, bead and crystal work and soutache ornamentation along collars, cuffs, hems, bodice and skirts.
Finally, over the shoulders of both the bride and groom are laid the marriage cloaks. These long cloaks of silk tissue are fashioned in layers of gold and scarlet. They are clasped at the collar with a chain of gold, which trails behind the wearer like a wash of flame. The hem and collar of the cloaks are fused with gold leaf, overlaid with ornately stylized patterns of flames, rising sun and soaring phoenix.