Until quite recently, if you wanted anything but a standard Church of England wedding in the UK, you were out of luck unless the registrar could also come along, and even then only if the building were recognised for marriages.
In many churches and other recognised locations, the “ceremonial” part of the wedding is then followed by the legally required registration. And it’s not uncommon in the UK for even Christian clergy not to be qualified to perform this part of the wedding.
If you were pagan, or wanted to join with your beloved in sacred space before the goddess, you were out of luck altogether, and most people had to be satisfied with a handfasting and a quick trip to the registry office for the legal bit.
How wonderful, then, not only to have a Goddess Temple – Britain’s first for thousands of years – recognised as a legal place for marriages and but also two trained Priestess Registrars!
Goddess Pages interviewed Dawn Kinsella, Sharlea Sparrow and Iona Jones, the women behind Goddess Temple Weddings.
Goddess Pages: Who originally had the idea of being able to have legally recognised weddings in the temple?
Dawn: I remember a conversation with Mike Jones, Kathy’s partner, during which he suddenly asked why it wasn’t possible to be married in the temple, and not just have a handfasting. I remember thinking, “Well, and why not?” so I called the local Registry Office to ask how we could celebrate marriages in the temple.
They were really helpful and explained that I would need to shadow a superintendant registrar for one year: she would have to be present at all temple weddings to oversee the registration.
“It doesn’t feel like a job”
Goddess Pages: You also trained, didn’t you, Sharlea?
Sharlea: Yes, after two or three weddings we realised that we definitely needed to have two priestesses in order to hold the space and ensure all was done correctly. The registrars at Mendip Registration Office were really helpful and supportive, many of them are women and it felt as though they were celebrating another step forward for women!
Goddess Pages: How did you get involved, Iona?
Iona: Before I moved back to Glastonbury and became more involved with the Temple I worked as an events planner, and had planned several weddings. So it was synchronicity, really!
Goddess Pages: I have to confess to never having opened a Wedding magazine in my life so I’ve no real idea of what a wedding costs these days…
Iona: The average wedding in the UK costs about £20,000…
Goddess Pages: Ouch! Suddenly the Temple pricings seem very modest…
Dawn: Weddings are a rite of passage for most people, and important not only to the couple but their families and wider communities. After all, a wedding once involved a whole village, but now that so many of us feel like isolated “consumers” the temple weddings helps to bring back an older, better way. We do offer easy terms, like monthly payments, too!
Goddess Pages: How many weddings have you actually celebrated so far?
Sharlea: About eighteen to date,and there has been a huge amount of media interest – for example from “Pagan Dawn”, “Huffington Post” and “The Spectator”.
Goddess Pages: Have you married any gay or lesbian couples yet?
Dawn: We’ve married two men and there is a lesbian couple scheduled for later this year.
Goddess Pages: I’ve been to enough handfastings to expect to see a ring and hoop featured in the ceremony. What do you do for two men, or two women?
Dawn: We enjoy coming up with creative ideas. Sharlea devised an “infinity loop” for the two men, a great idea, but of course the wishes of the couple come first and so they are extensively consulted and may, of course, have their own ideas.
Sharlea: We follow a handfasting format, but each wedding is unique.
Goddess Pages: Do you get nervous before the ceremony? Does anything ever go wrong?
Dawn: I was very nervous before the first wedding we did, which was of course that of Kathy Jones and Mike, her partner. My mouth was so dry I couldn’t even speak just before the ceremony started, had a grab a quick drink of water or I would only have been able to croak!
Sharlea: I was very nervous before the first wedding I celebrated, but not so much now. And of course things can go wrong. One time both our own stereo and a hastily borrowed one failed to work, we had to think quickly and improvise some drumming. It’s great, though, doesn’t feel like a job!
“The future? Delightfully busy”
Goddess Pages: What does a typical ceremony look like? Can you talk me through it?
Dawn: As Sharlea said, we structure the ceremony around a handfasting but of course based on the couple’s own wishes.
Sharlea: We don’t of course, impose the Wheel of the Year we use in Avalon, the couple can use whichever Wheel they feel most comfortable with.
Dawn: Usually, for the element of Air, we ask the couple to tell the story of how they met, then for Fire, which of course stands for passion in this context, they each make a confession of love. We use the Flame of Avalon* for blessing.
Sharlea: When we get to the Water element, vows and rings are usually exchanged. This is where the legally binding part of the ceremony occurs, and that is presented very clearly so everyone is aware that this is a little more than a standard handfasting. Finally, for Earth, there’s the hoop and wand, or whatever has been agreed as a substitute for that, and the actual ribbon binding of the hands.
Goddess Pages: How on earth do you manage in the temple? It really is quite a small room…
Iona: It is a problem as it only holds 30 people – we hope to find a larger temple space one day soon, but with the same energy and feeling of intimacy that the temple can provide. We’re always up for donations towards this excellent cause!**
Goddess Pages: And the future?
Iona: Delightfully busy!
I love the fact that people can marry in the temple, and that this can be legally recognised. How amazing that Sharlea and Dawn are the first priestesses EVER to celebrate marriages in England! But I wasn’t completely blown away until later that week, when I happened to bump into some newly-weds I know, and persuaded them to show me their Certificate of Marriage. When I saw the names and details at the bottom: Dawn Kinsella, Priestess… Sharlea Sparrow, Priestess…suddenly all the implications of this document were clear – the powers-that-be recognised the Glastonbury Goddess Temple as a place of worship well over a decade ago, but somehow this made it even more real: a simple signature helped me see that from now on the government has to recognise the existence of Priestesses of the Goddess in England.
** If you would like to make a donation towards a new, larger, Goddess Temple in Glastonbury, please visit this page:
A web designer and all-round computer person, Geraldine is responsible for a number of websites. In her spare time she writes articles and poems, loves researching Goddess in mythology and also produces artwork on her beloved computer. She also runs an online correspondence course called "Getting to know the Goddess".