Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Wedding Book: Alternative Ways to Celebrate Marriage by Howard Kirschenbaum and Rockwell Stensrud.
In 21st-century America, same-sex marriages are a matter of social contention. In the 20th century, public concerns about marriage tended to dwell on differences of race and religion. In The Wedding Book (1974), though, there’s no sense of conflict or controversy. A wave of experiment starting in the 1960s had progressed to the point where “traditional” wedding features were less taken for granted, and the authors here advocate for the “personal wedding,” in which all details of the event are tailored to the character and ambitions of the wedding couple themselves.
Unsurprisingly, some aspects of this 40-year-old book are quaintly dated, if not obsolete. There is an assortment of advice about how to announce an engagement, for example, that is happily ignorant of Facebook and Twitter. (It even mentions newspapers!) Still, the “Handbook for Personal Weddings” is an approachable and highly practical examination of the scope of possibility involved in wedding procedures and practices. The book as a whole is replete with examples of 20th-century “personal wedding” custom and liturgy, ranging from the hypertraditional to the innovative. The authors assume a desire for sanctity on the part of wedding participants, but they admit a range of exclusivism, ecumenicism, and secularism to accommodate the varying religious dispositions of marriage couples.
There are two historical chapters: “The Origins of Marriage” and “The Roots of Wedding Ritual.” These are accessible accounts, but not awfully sophisticated ones. The authors occasionally present anachronisms, as when, for instance, they retroject into earlier eras a modern notion of the division of church and state. They also offer some explanations rooted in anthropological studies that were a little shopworn and past crediting even in the 1970s. Even without the accompanying etiological theories, though, these chapters do offer a usefully broad inventory of marriage concepts and customs.
Today’s appetite and even need for “personal weddings” far exceeds the one framed in this 1970s account. Not only the precedent violations of interreligious, interracial, and same-sex marriages, but the increased frequency of second and third (and higher-ordinal!) marriages incline couples towards modifications of wedding practices. As the authors point out, the personalization of any wedding is an opportunity for the couple to articulate their shared will and to communicate it to the society in which they live. I will keep this book in my collection for reference in my ministerial work, and I view it as a highly useful resource for clergy of my sort. [via]
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