Marriage Among the Elves, Volume 1 (book)

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Marriage Among the Elves

Volume I: The Roots of Elven Ritual

-An Investigation By Simon J. Bright


Nowhere else in their daily rituals does the obsession of the Elvenkind regarding children become as evident as that shown in the immense variety and legality of their wedding rites. Elves tend to be pragmatic about fleshly desires. They draw clear distinctions between the essential need of the family lines to produce children and the emotional attachment that may draw two people together to spend eternity.

Although Elves have an acute appreciation for beauty, they are unlikely to choose a mate based on a whim of physical attract- iveness. Nor do Elves (as do some races) casually put away from themselves a partner who has ceased to amuse them. To dissolve any marriage before its purpose is attained, except under unten- able circumstances, is considered barbaric and unacceptable.

Due to the nature of their long lives, several compromises have evolved in order to meet the needs of the family bloodlines. Most of the various ceremonies of marriage or mating recog- nized among the Elven clans are temporary in nature. This is not a fault, but a recognition of the primary drive of all Elves to produce offspring to carry on the family line, as well as produce strong alliances in the interwoven web of alliances and loyalties among the various clans. A well-mated couple might indeed produce the desired child and an eternity of obligation between the bloodlines but may very well also evolve in different directions and desires during the course of several centuries of adult life. Outsiders who jibe at the "casual" nature of Elves fail to understand that many of these time-limited arrangements may extend far longer than their own natural lifespan.

That said, deeply engrained in the psyche of almost every clan is the ideal of a rare love between two people in which they meld together for life, and perhaps even beyond life as we understand it. Gelinajaun Ruh or "the soul marriage" is the rarest form of wedlock. Once accepted, the bonds of this form of marriage cannot be sundered except by death. In fact, usual- ly the bond is so strong between the two that when one departs the Plane of Abiding, the other soon sickens with "jan puscen", which translates roughly as "the broken spirit", loses the will to continue and eventually withdraws and is seen no more. Most outsiders would simply say the surviving spouse died of a broken heart, but Elves speak instead the tale of the Two and how the Mother of all fades after being afflicted with jan puscen upon upon the death of the Father.

Children are a rare joy, particularly the birth of the first- born daughter, who generally carries on the traditions of the family line. It is a matter of grave importance to the family and clan that the best possible future mate is secured for the newborn infant almost from the moment of first breath. It has become a fine art among the Elves to evaluate the family blood- line's virtue and weakness, and seek a mate who will not only be compatible and improve the family's coffers and alliances, but will also compensate for any perceived failings in the blood- line. Families considered to have excellent bloodlines are highly sought after, with every female child almost immediately in the position of having a multiple of bloodlines requesting the honor of the son of their blood being promised as future husband to her.

By the time a female child has seen her first turning of the seasons and a male child his fifth, such preliminary arrange- ments are usually firmly in place. Unless the children are bound in formal handfast (an uncommon event for any but the highest social class), these arrangements are considered ten- tative and not completely binding. The elders of the families carefully monitor the development of the children and gauge if they are reaching the full potential of their blood. Children who fail to show any of the positive characteristics of their family line often suffer an unfortunate "accident" of one sort or another, particularly in the families of finer bloodlines who would consider a public rejection of the betrothal a smear against their blood. It is not uncommon for infant handfast- ings to be broken and recombined for a more advantageous mating by the time a child passes its tenth or eleventh turning.

Love between the two partners is considered desirable but not critical. Elves tend to subscribe to the notion that love has a fragmentary, elusive quality about it that may not develop until years after the initial wedding. Of greater importance is compatibility of spirit, the ability to form a bond and continue with it unabated through the years of turnings that lie ahead. Most Elven couples become extraordinarily fond of each other, and other races view the love between them jealously, little suspecting it may have taken the couple a few hundred turnings to reach this happy state of affairs.

Elves recognize many different forms of marriage, and any child born from one of these arrangements claims full birthright to the bloodlines of both parents. Since the majority of the Elven clans trace heritage and bloodlines through the maternal side, there is no concept of illegitimacy among them as all children are cherished.

Marriage between the Elvenkind and other species continues to be viewed with great skepticism. Well ingrained in Elven history is the almost fatal attraction that appears to exist between Elves and Humans, and to a lesser degree with some of the other races. Most families view this as a very undesirable state of affairs unless the Human has a great deal to offer in the manner of powerful alliances and wealth. Even with such compensations, few families would greet with joy the knowledge that their son or daughter might grow to love their mate and in effect be accepting a death sentence by pursuing such an arrangement. Even the less binding arrangements are considered to be of doubtful value, since Elves believe most of the other races would find it difficult to maintain the degree of commitment that the Elves take for granted.

The Marriage Arrangements

The Handfast Ceremony: El Agzata

Upon agreement that a match is suitable and the bride payment is acceptable, arrangements are made to promise the children to one another. There are two separate versions of this ritual. The most common simply requires that an elder of each family state the agreement and its provisions before the local Elven council.

In the case of nobles and the ruling caste, El Agzata is often used to signify a marriage by proxy. In this case, an adult is chosen to stand in for each child in the ceremony, after the bride price and all other negotiations have been found accept- able. These adults carry the title Zuzen Sesan (True Voices), bound by the obligations of guardian and protector to the child they stand for, and speak for both the children and the family. While the child is under the age of maturity, the Zuzen Ses has complete authority to watch over the child's rearing, protecting the child's interests in any manner the Zuzen Ses so chooses. The Zuzen Sesan present the children before the Elven Council, where their bloodlines are chanted and the details of the nuptial agreement again specified. The Zuzen Sesan accept the agreement for the marriage and embrace one another, which seals the ritual.

The True Voice Marriage: Zuzen Gelinajaun

By virtue of representing a child promised in marriage, the Zuzen Sesan may themselves marry unless they are formally mated to another in a way that would prohibit such a joining. Although Zuzen Gelinajaun is not required, it is highly regarded if they choose to do so. This variety of marriage is time-limited and valid only until the time when the children they represent reach the age of maturity.

The Simple Marriage: Gelinaji

This is the simplest form of marriage. The couple must merely appear before the council with linked hands and declare them- selves wed until they mutually agree to terminate the arrange- ment. If the Council accepts the marriage as valid, the couple is considered married.

This variation of marriage is often used in a second marriage by the lesser bloodlines that have lost a spouse through death, desertion or by simple completion of the goals of the original marriage. It is rarely used by any of the Elves of finer bloodlines.

Younger Elves also use this variation of marriage in an attempt to sidestep marital arrangements their families have made that are not to their liking. The Council is unlikely to validate such arrangements unless the woman is pregnant or they are unaware of the former promises.

Marriage of Shame: Lotsen Gelinaji

This marriage is used as a disciplinary measure when a child has been produced from the liaison of a couple and one of the parents refuses to acknowledge the other bloodline or to grant the child its due rights.

One of the parents of the child may petition the Council for redress of the injury done to the child, or the Council may demand both parents be brought before it. After listing the complaint and evidence, the Council has the right to declare a temporary marriage between the parents. To do so, the left palm of each parent is sliced and the bloody hands bound together with the wrappings of a silver chain. The council rules how many turnings of the seasons they must remain married by decree- ing how many days they are bound. Each day they are fastened together symbolizes one full turning of the seasons. Once their sentence has been performed, the parents must again appear before the council in order to have the binding cut from their hands. They may accept no other marriage until the length of time decreed for the Lotsen Gelinaji has passed.

The Blessing by the Four Winds: Bile Janis oc Hul Haizeani

While each clan uses a different version of Bile Janis oc Hul Haizeani, the common root elements of the ritual appear in all of them in one form or another.

In its simplest form, a representative home is set for the couple in the central area for the ceremony, harkening back to ancient times when the marriage took place in the actual house built for the newlyweds. Most clans use some version of a ceremonial cloth called "gelnutre". In many cases this is an heirloom item, handed down from one generation to the other for the firstborn daughter, or it can be made specifically for the marriage.

Guests stand in a loose arch above the northern point of this area, prepared to welcome the bridal couple into the community as a wedded pair. Before them waits the person chosen to lead the ceremony. This is usually a cleric or shaman, but can also be the clan leader or any other highly regarded person in the clan.

The cardinal points of the east and west are occupied by the witnesses for the groom and bride -- the man in the masculine position of the rising sun and the female in the receptive position of the setting sun.

From the south (the wind of the past) the bridal couple are escorted by those who stand as guardians to them. The witnesses step forward from their positions to meet them at the center of the area and request the couple be released from the bonds and responsibilities of the families who have raised them, as they are about to enter a new stage of life. The guardians assent, formally releasing the couple and seating them upon the gelnutre before stepping back to the southernmost point of the area.

Although it is permissible for the couple to chant or sing their bloodlines past seven generations, it is more proper and formal for this duty to be preformed by another. Very elaborate ceremonies are devised, often utilizing the services of bards and mages in order to emphasize the quality of the bloodlines.

Usually, the witness for the female chants her lines and attri- butes first, followed immediately by the witness for the male. Two favored variations of this part of the ritual involve the witnesses singing a duet, with the marriage lines intricately interwoven into one cohesive whole. Another variation often chosen is for each witness to sing a piece that incorporates the necessary information one after another.

After the lines are declared, the witnesses return to their respective positions, still facing the couple. A sudden silence falls, broken as the guardians, witnesses and cleric all turn sharply to guard the cardinal points around the bridal couple. Four challenges are issued to the cardinal points of the winds to offer cause why the ceremony cannot continue. The cleric issues the first challenge to the North Wind for any of the flesh to speak, followed in rapid succession by the witness of the bride calling out to the god of the bride in the west and the witness for the groom calling out to the god of the groom to the East. Finally, and most importantly, the guardians of the couple challenge the South Wind, the place of the ancestors and the past.

Assuming no word has been spoken by flesh nor any ill omen dis- plays the displeasure of the gods or ancestors, all turn back to the center and approach the couple. The cleric blesses the couple and joins their right hands together before raising them up. Each declares their vows to the other and gives a symbolic element to the other to declare their commitment before the cleric declares them wed. Almost immediately, the guests and family surround the couple in cheerful celebration and the festivities start with song, dance and abundant food.

The Mating of Need: Behar-gelinaji

A fruitful marriage that has produced children is highly regarded by the Elves. In the sad event that one of the spouses dies, if no other marital obligation lies upon the surviror, the Council has the right to demand that the surviving spouse re- marry after the period of mourning has been observed. This usu- ally happens when a bloodline has been plagued with childless mar- riages or when calamity has struck down the heirs of a bloodline, leaving an aging family facing the prospect of extinction. In these extreme circumstances, the family is likely to petition the Council for the services of the surviving spouse. These marriages are terminated upon the successful completion of a pregnancy.

The Formal Marriage: Gelinajaun

At times, it is expedient for families to insist that their line be joined to another one for reasons of consolidating wealth, power, or personal attributes. Normally this only happens in the higher ranks of the Elves. These marriages are considered binding only until such time as an heir has been successfully produced, after which time it is not uncommon for the couple to lead their own lives and take less formal arrangements to please themselves. Some of these formal arrangements eventually become Gelinajaun Ruh, with each member of the couple not only firmly twined in the other's future and power, but also celebrated in some of the most famous Elven tales.

"Sister Gift" Marriage: Shostro Emanto

This ancient tradition dates back to the need of the elves to produce children, particularly the pragmatic need of the eldest daughter to secure the bloodline by producing an heir. It most likely developed during ancient times when sisters either shared a mate when there was a shortage of available husbands or when a sister offered to share her husband with her older, childless sister. Although traditionally none of these arrangements consult the wishes of the "borrowed" husband, in most cases the arrangements are friendly and consensual, since the goal is the strictly pragmatic one of producing an heir.

Regardless of the variation, the procedure is the same. The eldest daughter stands with her husband before Council and declares one of the Sister's Right variations. The person claimed joins the couple before Council, who approve the legality of the marriage. Any child from these arrangements becomes legally that of the original couple and has the right of inheritance unless the original couple belatedly produces a child. In this unlikely event, the child born of Sister's Right assumes the position of second sibling in the bloodline.

In the first variation, the marriage of the eldest sister proves fruitless. In order to produce an heir to the line, she has the right to borrow her sister's husband from her until she bears a living child. Alternatively, if she does not have a married sister and her husband does, she may utilize that sister's husband for the duty of producing an heir.

In the second variation, the eldest daughter chooses another "wife". Commonly, this is her younger unmated sister, but it is also considered an honor to choose a close friend for this position. Typically, the second wife continues to share the household after she bears a child and takes the status of an aunt to the child. If she wishes to leave the household, she must petition the Council for release from the arrangement. However, any children produced in this manner again remain with the original family.

In the third variation, the couple has proven fruitless regard- less of the variation chosen. The couple may petition the council for a child of equal rank from a family who has several "extras". This is generally an avenue of last resort and ex- treme desperation on the part of the petitioning family, but it can prove very advantageous to a younger daughter with few prospects.

The Soul Marriage: Gelinajaun Ruh

This is the rarest form of all the marriage arrangements. Quite often, it is chosen after years of another marriage. This is the only marriage among the Elves that cannot be dissolved, since in this ritual the couple declares that they are no longer two separate souls, but a new creature intertwined with but one soul. It is an extremely private ceremony with very specific requirements.

For a couple not already married, this ceremony is integrated with the Bile Janis oc Hul Haizeani. The cleric does not join the couple's hands nor declare them wed. Instead, he raises them to their feet in silence and takes up the gelnutre.

This is a signal to the guests to withdraw to the area of the feast and begin a rather rowdy celebration of their own, full of feasting and singing while the private ceremony is in progress. The cleric leads the couple and their witnesses to the place previously prepared for the ritual. The only requirement is that it be private and have access to a body of water. Salt water is preferred but not required. The necessary items have been neatly arranged on either a small table or a rock of unusual beauty. A large candle burns brightly with two unlit tapers lying near it in readiness, a bottle of exquisite wine awaits in an ornate decanter with two empty wineglasses before it, and a loaf of unleavened bread lies on a small platter or fine cloth.

The cleric shakes the gelnutre out and spreads it on the ground before seating the couple upon it. He speaks sternly to the couple about the degree of commitment they are about to undertake and asks them if they undertake this freely. When they reply that they do, the cleric joins their left hands together. Throughout the ritual, this grasp may not be relin- quished, and the couple must rely on their witnesses for assistance as they proceed through the declarations of joining in the ancient way of sun, earth, water and air.

The cleric then asks for the token by which they will join. Depending on the clan, this token may be a torque, a ring, or ceremonial earrings. The cleric leads the couple in exchanging their vows and tokens of their love. After a blessing, the cleric returns to the assembly and announces with great cheer the impending death of the individuals all have once known.

Each member of the couple is given an unlit candle. Although the candles may be simple tapers, generally ornate ones are chosen. Most couples cherish the symbols of this ceremony and display them prominently in their home after the ceremony. With simple words from the heart, they speak directly to one another, binding themselves by fire, and light their separate candles in unison from the brightly burning central candle. The witnesses take the candles from them and set them to either side of the master candle before seating the couple.

The couple next declare themselves joined by earth and are handed the loaf of unleavened bread. Together they break the bread, each feeding a morsel of it to the other. The witnesses take up any remaining bread and destroy it by fire to symbolize the exclusiveness of the relationship.

Each witness brings forth a wine goblet of delicate workmanship and assists each member of the couple in pouring a glass of wine. The couple bind themselves by water, first sipping their own wine and then sharing it with the other. Once again, the remainder of the wine is cast away and not shared. In the strictest observance of ancient tradition, the wineglasses were also shattered along with the decanter in which the wine was served to again symbolize the exclusiveness of the relationship. However, it has become equally acceptable for the couple to retain both the decanter and the glasses as reminders of this special day for use upon their anniversaries. If this choice is made, the witnesses set the empty wineglasses alongside the brightly burning candles.

Next, the couple declare themselves joined by air, each speaking or singing their heart to the other. These pieces can be heartbreakingly simple or masterpieces of intricate work.

The witnesses assist the couple in standing and they embrace before unclasping their joined hands. Guarded by the witnesses they lose their bridal finery and enter into the privacy of the waters before them. They enter the waters as two separate individuals but emerge as a new creature sharing one soul. The witnesses turn their backs upon the water and guard the area from intruders, for whatever occurs there is between the couple only. Upon exiting, they joyfully assist them in regaining their wedding finery and run to the assembly to declare the new joining and imminent arrival of the new soul-bound creature. Shortly thereafter, the couple rejoins their guests to receive their good wishes and join in the celebration of the joining.