Should I tell my Christian grandmother about my Pagan wedding?

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Your grandma might be more bad-ass than you're expecting. More photos from this wedding here.

I have a very close relationship with my Grandmother, however, in all my years of being so close with her, I, uh, “forgot” to mention that I am not Christian, but in fact Pagan. She is very religious and while it isn't overbearing — if anything it's wonderful that she has so much faith — this is very troubling to me because telling her than I'm Pagan would absolutely break her heart, and I really really really do not want to do that to her. Lying, yes, but with every good intention possible.

I've been dreaming of a hippie, backyard wedding, but now I am freaking out because even though I know no matter what that my Grandmother will always love me, but I know that she will feel directly responsible for me “straying from God.”

I've contemplated having two ceremonies, but do you had any advice on how I should approach this, and do you think there's any way I can really get away with this grand and terrible scheme I am trying to hatch? -Kei

Certainly having two weddings is a work-around to avoid confronting the situation, but alternately, this could be an amazing opportunity to deepen your already close relationship with your Grandmother. Do you really want to build your wedding around an elaborate scheme concocted to protect your grandmother from your true self? Or do you want to use your wedding as a chance to live your life with integrity and allow your grandmother to finally know the full and authentic you?

Of course only you can know the specifics of your particular relationship and your particular grandmother, but if you're close to her, it seems like you have been presented with a chance to really deepen your relationship with her. Potentially, you have the opportunity to act as an ambassador, giving your Grandma the chance to learn that Pagans aren't Devil-worshiping Hell-bound freaks… they're quite lovely, actually. She's loved and admired a Pagan for years, and not even known it.

You have the opportunity to act as an ambassador, giving your Grandma the chance to learn that Pagans aren't Devil-worshiping Hell-bound freaks… they're quite lovely, actually.

In keeping this secret from your Grandmother, you're also denying her the opportunity to surprise you with her acceptance. I have a friend in Seattle who, after months of agonizing over it, decided to come out to his Southern mother about his open marriage. “What a coincidence,” she responded. “Your step-father and I have an open marriage too!” I'm not saying your Grandmother is going to be all, “OMG, YES! I was JUST making plans for my Beltane celebration! Would you like to come?” But if you're as “very close” with her as you've described, she may be more accepting of her heathen granddaughter than you expect.

You've been given an invitation to stop protecting your grandmother from who you are — you're both people of faith, and I want to believe that people of faith can work to find the common ground. My mother was raised Catholic, and went Pagan in her 20s… and I know she's found a lot of similarities in the focus on ceremony, ritual, altars, and idolatry. I'd love to hear from Pagan readers about any specific first-hand experience they've got with finding common ground with Christian family members.

Alternately, it might not be worth it. You could have two ceremonies with an empty day in-between them, starting with the more traditional Grandma-friendly one. It'll be twice as hard to plan and more than a little sneaky, which begs the question of what's worse? Outing yourself to your grandmother and bracing for her to be upset who you truly are, or potentially fracturing the relationship by lying to her?

Update

Kei, the original gal who asked us this the question wrote in via comments about how the situation turned out. It was such a powerful comment that we thought we'd post it here:

Hello, everyone. I know it's been a year or so since I asked this question, and I still appreciate all of the advice that was passed onto me. But in the event this thread is read all the way through, I just wanted to update everyone.Two months after this question was asked, it was discovered that my grandmother had stage 4 esophageal cancer, which is, as it turns out, one of the worst kinds of cancer to have if you want to attend your granddaughter's wedding the following year. The issue with my religion was a non-issue at that point – because bringing it up to her and risking bringing an additional weight on her already stressful situation was, in my opinion, not worth it.

She passed away that December, a week before Christmas.

In that time I learned that I should have really just told her before all of this happened. I do regret not saying anything, but I don't regret trying to make her last days as comfortable and loving as I could make them for her. Nothing was more important to us than to make sure we were there for her when she was ready to leave.

So, as the featured questioner of this article, to whoever has this problem and you are searching for an answer here: Life is so short, I hate the cliche, but you really have no idea how much time you'll have left to do something that you want to do. To be honest with my grandma about my beliefs was something I wanted to eventually come to terms with, but just that quick, she was taken from us. I had no time to decide if it was really the best idea, but regardless, I find myself wishing that I could have told her, because our relationship was strong and I know that she would have loved me regardless.

All the best,
Kei

Comments on Should I tell my Christian grandmother about my Pagan wedding?

  1. Y’know what, though? My absolutely awful advice is just to do it. Just have your wedding your way. Pagan rituals are lovely, and honestly, Pagan-lite ceremony is not too different from stuff Christians do. Lighting candles? Having a prayer? Saying lovely words about the couple and offering warm wishes for a happy future?
    One way to help grandma feel like you haven’t turned your back on the baby Jesus may be to open your wedding ceremony up to the crowd. Have a moment of silence for everyone “to reflect or offer a silent prayer or well-wish for the couple.” That allows everyone the opportunity to send their love and energy your way while celebrating your union via their own faith, in their own way.

    • Hell, you could even invoke Jesus and Mary as aspects of Divinity along with whatever other deities you choose to acknowledge (if any) on the day of. I definitely know Pagans who embrace Mary as an aspect of the Virgin Goddess, and Jesus as the Reborn Sun.

      IMHO, it’s all aspects of the same thing anyway. 🙂

      • You might not want to do this… as a Christian, I can honestly say that even though your Gramma will probably love you despite your different religious beliefs, most Christians would find referring to Jesus in this way as very offensive.

        • This. As a Christian, I believe this is wrong. While you may believe it, if it’s intended to bridge the gap between you and the grandmother, it won’t.

          To the original topic though, I recommend being honest about it. When my bestie rejected Christianity it took a few deep and meaningfuls for me to understand her, but I love and respect her despite our differences. I’m really glad our friendship is still strong and we can be open yet tactful about those things.

        • Yes, most Christians do not believe that Jesus is an aspect of the Reborn Sun. Meanwhile, most Muslims regard Jesus as an important prophet, but do not believe that he is the son of God. Most Jews believe that Jesus was one of a number of false messiahs, though some believe he was a prophet to the gentiles. These are disagreements very much like the ones that led to Jesus being crucified in the first place.

          Should Christians find the beliefs of Jews and Muslims to be very offensive? Should Muslims find the beliefs of Christians and Jews to be very offensive? How can we be peacemakers if we spend all our time being very offended by each other?

          Still, if offensiveness is a concern, it’s simple enough to have someone ask for the blessing of Jesus on the marriage, and nobody need make or hear any statement on his precise theological status, nor that of his mother.

      • I totally agree that it is all the same thing on a certain spiritual level, and I think it’s appropriate for private practice, although not my practice.

        However, as a Wiccan who often does public rituals, I avoid crossing religious lines like this for large, public, or diverse events. Some pagans find paganism after experiencing oppression or abuse from a Christian or Catholic church, and this kind of evocation risks startling and offending them as well, just as it could be taken as much more offensive to Christian witnesses than simply stepping into another world of religious practice.

      • To many people, Christians, Pagans, and folks of any other religion, it’s not all the same thing. If you aren’t going to do a Christian ceremony, leave the Christian gods out of it. You wouldn’t expect a minister in a Christian ceremony to call upon Cernunnos and Cerridwen in a Pagan/Christian wedding, would you? Do your own religion the same honor. It’s disrespectful to your own path as well as to the path of others.

  2. My parents were actually really accepting of it when I came out to them. They sort of subscribed to a “God loves everybody and is in everything, so as long as your faith doesn’t encourage you to mistreat yourself or others, it’s all good!” mentality, which I was really pleased by. But then, they’re both very liberal Californians. 🙂

    My fiance’s mom actually surprised me quite a bit as well–she’s Catholic, and raised my fiance and his siblings Catholic (although none of them really practice anymore and my fiance and one of his sisters are actually practicing other faiths). When she asked (REALLY DIRECTLY, OMG) about what my religious beliefs were and I said “Well, I’m just kind of a well-intentioned Pagan,” she said “Oh! Okay! I’ve done some of that myself!”

    Turns out during a period of domestic upheaval (fighting, physical abuse, and eventual divorce) with my fiance’s biological father, she embraced some of ye old Goddess-worship as a means of empowering herself and learning to appreciate herself as an independent woman, rather than as someone’s spouse or as someone’s mother. Although she eventually returned to her Catholic practices, she maintained a good opinion of Pagans in general because she understood some of the value of the practices.

    Maybe you could approach your grandmother with some prepared discussion points about the similarities between the nice aspects of Paganism and the nice aspects of Christianity–if you could draw connections betweens the faith you used to practice and that she still does, you could make it easier for her to understand that your faith isn’t a betrayal or rejection of hers, but rather a better-fitting version of the same path she’s on.

  3. We didn’t tell anyone about our Pagan ceremony, and to be honest, no one noticed. well a few of our pagan friends picked up on it. My dad’s side is Catholic and they loved the ceremony and remarked on how different it was.

    • This is our plan as well, because these things have come up with our various christian grandparents and the acceptance generally isn’t there.

      My good friend is doing the ceremony and is wording it so the pagans there will say “ah, yes, so pagan with that circle talk and all” while for the non-pagans, it will be subtle to avoid anyone feeling uncomfortable. I am doing more overtly pagan things beforehand with my close witch friends, my (awesome) catholic mom, and hopefully my fiance’s energy-working mom.

    • How did you pull that off? just curious because my love and I wanted to do something similar (both have religious families) but have no idea how to execute it.

  4. Husband and I are both pagan, our families are Christian (Catholic in his case, Protestant in mine). Both sets of my grandparents are pretty religious, we didn’t say anything to them before the ceremony. We wrote our own ceremony that was “Pagan Lite” – we got married outside, on the husband’s parents’ land, and had Pagan elements in our ceremony (including a handfasting), but no one said “hey you’re having a Pagan wedding!” We put in wording and readings that mattered to US (including an excerpt from the TV show Numb3rs connecting the concept of love to the cosmos) and we got TONS of awesome comments about how meaningful and lovely our ceremony was.

    Maybe this could be another option to the trying to do two ceremonies? My one grandmother gave us a little bit of gruff about not getting married in a church, but other than that, both of our families loved the ceremony and most of them still don’t know that we’re Pagan (our parents and siblings know, but that’s about it).

    Best of luck!

    • Hi, just curious as to which specific reading from Numb3rs you chose. I’m a physics grad student (as well as a Lutheran witch) and have been searching for romantic science-y readings.

  5. good question, I didn’t get married until both my grandmothers passed away. I remember a conversation with my mother before then that basically ended with her saying “I had to have a church wedding for your grandmother, YOU will have a church wedding for your grandmother” perhaps that is why I waited so long.. 🙂 Although my grandmother’s would have been sad, they both loved me and would have come to the wedding regardless of who officiated and where it was. I would done a lot of research into the aspects that are similar (most christian rituals have roots in pagan rituals) I probably would have included a blessing or something that my grandmothers could recognize or ask them to lead grace before food as a way of including them and the religion I was brought up in.

    • This reminds me of a story about my great grandmother (an observant Orthodox Jew) regarding my Dad (a Methodist).

      After my parents had been dating a few years my great grandmother apparently confronted my grandmother and bluntly asked “Is Lynda waiting for me to die to marry Bob? Because I wish she wouldn’t.” I’ve never heard from my mother whether or not that was a factor in the long courtship, but they were married shortly thereafter.

      A similar situation is what caused me to come out to my mom as poly. My boyfriend and I are planning a commitment ceremony and I realized my mother would kill me if she ever found out that I had had such a thing and not invited her. I told her that was why I felt the need to tell her and she pretty much told me that I was right.

      Ultimately, your grandmother wants to be at your real wedding, whatever that might be. She’ll probably be really hurt if she were to find out that she wasn’t – regardless of why.

  6. I have to go with the just do it your way suggestion. I struggled with this myself with my father and the end i did it my way without any pause from my Christian family, right down to the handfasting which I explained was merely a joining system. I had a earth based blessing, a ring warming and had the guests form an unbroken circle around us and the people I thought would oppose told me how excited they were to go to a creative wedding. One thing I did do was prep my dad, we never had the “I’m pagan and never told you talk” but I explained all off the “different” things I was doing to personalize my wedding so nothing was shocking to him that day and I was so much more comfortable and less stressed about it.

  7. My fiance is Daoist-if-anything and I’m fully Pagan. Luckily our families are pretty cool with it, being fairly nonreligious themselves. We’re planning a handfasting in the ceremony, and will give a brief explanation of what that is in the programs.

  8. The question of how to tailor our ceremony to be “authentially us” yet not alienate some of the very Christian guests / family was definitely a point of discussion when we were planning our ceremony. We ended up using a rather long quote from “The Fifth Sacred Thing” by Starhawk to both cast our circle and open the ceremony — it acknowleges religion and belief, with a bent towards the elements, without hitting anyone over the head with it. My Catholic sister tied our handfasting cord, and I think a general acknowlegemet of belief, rather than religion, really helped grease the wheels.

    That being said, there was some drama. Apparently our ceremony was “stealth pagan” enough that one major participant didn’t realize it was a pagan ceremony, and stepped out literally moments before it started because of religious conflicts.

    Excerpt from Starhawk’s “Fifth Sacred Thing”:
    The earth is a living, conscious being. In company with cultures of many different times and places, we name these things as sacred: air, fire, water, and earth.

    Whether we see them as the breath, energy, blood, and body of the Mother, or as the blessed gifts of a Creator, or as symbols of the interconnected systems that sustain life, we know that nothing can live without them.

    To call these things sacred is to say that they have a value beyond their usefulness for human ends, that they themselves become the standards by which our acts, our economics, our laws and our purposes must be judged. No one has the right to appropriate them or profit from them at the expense of others. Any government that fails to protect them forfeits its legitimacy.

    All people, all living things, are part of the earth life, and so are sacred. No one of us stands higher or lower than any other. Only justice can assure balance: only ecological balance can sustain freedom. Only in freedom can that fifth sacred thing we call spirti flourish in its full diversity.

    To honor the sacred is to create conditions in which nourishment, sustenance, habitat, knowledge, freedom, and beauty can thrive. To honor the sacred is to make love possible.

    To this we dedicate our curiosity, our will, our courage, our silences, and our voices. To this we dedicate our lives

  9. I’m a Christian. I think you might be surprised by your grandmother’s response. Being a Christian isn’t about practicing religion a certain way, it’s about a relationship with Christ. If you haven’t expressed an ongoing interest in Christ, or talked about activities at church, or concern about what God wants you to do about a certain situation, etc. your grandmother probably knows already that you’re not a Christian. The pagan thing might throw her a bit, but she’ll be ok.

    • I agree. Your grandmother may not be aware that you are Pagan, but if you two are close she most likely knows that you are not a Christian. I say give her the benefit of the doubt. My grandparents are very religious and are constantly surprising me with their acceptance of my different life choices. Unconditional love is a powerful thing 🙂

      • I absolutely agree with these sentiments.

        My partner & I are planning a full handfasting and no one’s batting an eye at any of the religious stuff. We opened with my partner’s parents by saying, “you should know we aren’t having a Christian ceremony” because many people conceive of weddings as either church or non-church.

        Actually, the things that’s been most surprising to some so far are traditions they assumed to be secular and in all weddings – like walking the bride down the aisle – and me gently explaining that there will be no aisle. The removal of the bits often practiced in secular weddings around here have been the big deal, not the introduction of other religious elements like the Call to the Goddess.

  10. The biggest problem I can see in terms of a wedding is, if your grandmother is Catholic, and expects you to be married in a Catholic church, or in any other way expects your marriage to be “sanctified” by a Christian authority. Otherwise, a Pagan-lite ceremony would be just the ticket.

    As far as talking with her, I honestly would say let sleeping dogs lie. My grandmother is a deeply religious Baptist, and I’m an atheist (black female atheist? almost unheard of in the South). I have absolutely NO intentions of telling her. I love her, she loves me, she would never reject me if she knew, but I know it would hurt her and make her feel that she failed in some way. We just dont discuss religion.

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