I have a lovely two-page list of things to consider for the ceremony, everything from mechanics of the ritual (who stands where, how we're going to cast the circle, the order in which to have the exchange of rings and binding of hands) right down to the color of the altar cloth, what goes on the altar (and where) and if we're wearing shoes or not. John also sent us three sample ceremonies, which is exactly what I needed, a bunch of random specifics to ponder, and a few examples of how other people have done it.
The nice thing was that none of his questions completely threw me, I knew what he was referring to and why it was important, and we already had answers for quite a few of them. Oddly enough we both know exactly what we're wearing, and have had many ideas for the material aspects of the ceremony, but not so many ideas on the substance of the wording. John made a very good point: we have complete control of what the ceremony says, which means we control the symbolism, and the form of bond it describes. We can skip the parts indicating that two people become joined into one big squishy entity in favor of emphasis on partnership and retained individuality. We will make the point that neither of us is being "given away" by anyone, but that we enter the circle already joined, as equals, and leave the circle having strengthened the bond.
One of the ceremonies I read over also gave me ideas for the wedding ceremony, which will be toned down on the pagan aspects, but still be very personalized. I'll get to that bit in a moment.
So far we have some basic points established. The handfasting cord will be white ribbon, embroidered by yours truly in a design we have yet to figure out. John will be the only one inside the circle with us, the audience will either be inside a larger, loose-cast circle, or none at all. There will be a broom-jumping at the end (too fun not to include it, and it's a Scottish tradition besides). We've got to decide on candles and colors for the altar, and find a chalice. There' is a lot to think about and do, but now we know what we're supposed to be deciding on, rather than "we've got lots to think about...but we don't know where to start".
The most important thing is that I bought a pair of silk slippers to wear, they greatly resemble shoes I've seen from the 16th and 17th century, only more foot-shaped. Gold silk with green and pink floral embroidery. I never thought I'd squee over something that fits that description.
As mentioned above, in one of the handfasting ceremonies I read I found something I definitely want to include in the ceremony involving the families (and less Pagan Claptrap [TM]).
It's an alternative to the traditional "giving away". Rather than walking me up the aisle and consenting to hand me over to Matt as one would a sack of potatoes (albeit a sack of potatoes in a dazzling white gown), this involves my father, and Matt's mother, representing the respective families. Giving blessing to our marriage and welcoming their child's partner into their own family. So my Dad gets to walk down the aisle with me, Marilyn gets to walk down the aisle with Matt, and instead of a handover of bride-as-property, we have a mutual welcome-to-the-family.
It sounds like my Dad's side of the family are up for the trek from Europe to California to be present, I love the idea of having a big party with my US and European family all present, I'd like to see a conversation between Aunt Pat and Aunt Julia, my two most outspoken aunties, the idea amuses me. Two women who have both influenced my development, and yet have never met. I hope Matt's family also surprises him by making more effort than he suspects they're willing to and all showing up.
Clearly, things are falling into place rather well, both ceremonies are beginning to take a more solid form. I'm getting a nice picture of both, and the differences between the two. I'm more sure that, for us, this is the right way around to do it, the slight separation of an "us" ceremony and a "them" ceremony.