In every season and in a variety of settings – in fields and woods, by oceans and rivers, in backyards and chapels, at resorts and wineries – Katherine Chantal has been officiating weddings for more than two decades, including those of two of her five sons.
With a background in sociology, psychology, philosophy and world religions, Chantal has been interested in meaningful rites of passage since the “Baby Blessings” she created for the birth of each of her sons. She led a Woman’s Circle, guiding women in dialogue and meditation, for many years, and is known for leading Blessingways, which feature the sharing of stories, poems, songs and wishes for expectant parents, along with herbal/flower foot baths and foot rubs for mothers-to-be.
“I had a few people ask if I would marry them,” Chantal says, recalling what prompted her to take a course that gave her the legal status as an interfaith priestess and a registered wedding officiate.
Chantal, who also facilitates funeral memorial services, is an herbalist and co-manager of the Harvest Moon health food store in Floyd. She has performed several hundred weddings over the years, “everything from five minute, private ones (some held in the Harvest Moon garden, during a break from work) to full-fledged formal events, planned a year in advance.”
Inclusive of all faiths and cultures, Chantal’s ceremonies draw from a variety of traditions, including Celtic, Christian, Judaic, Sufism, Buddhism and Native American. She individualizes each ceremony and designs them with as much input from the wedding couple as they choose. “I always ask them, ‘what would you look back on years from now and think was important to have been included.’” Couples fill out a questionnaire to help Chantal further personalize the ceremony, which includes a welcoming ceremonial address. She meets with most couples ahead of time, or works with them via phone, email or skype.
“The wedding vows are the most important part of the ceremony, what they say and promise to each other. Everything is a build-up to that,” says Chantal. She encourages people to write their own vows but also has many pre-written vows that they can choose from. “I tell couples, no matter what vows you say or rituals you choose, no matter how many times they’ve been done by other couples, this time is yours and it’s just for you.’”
Although Chantal works primarily in Central and Southwest Virginia, weddings have taken her out of state, to North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and even Utah. She smiles as she remembers several ring bearing dogs, a best man that was a horned ram, dubbed “the best ram,” and a bride that rode in on horseback across a field strewn with flower petals.
Bagpipes and harps have been some of the accompanying instruments played at past wedding ceremonies. One couple married on a blue moon in June with the rising full moon and the setting sun opposite each other in the sky. The bride was led down a wooded path by a kultrung (a South American Maphuche Machi drum) drummer, as the groom walked down a pathway from the opposite direction, led by a flutist playing a Native American flute.
Victorian lace, velvet or silk, seasonal or wedding-themed colors are all possible choices for Chantal’s wedding officiant attire. At one wedding, performed at a Blue Ridge Parkway overlook, Chantal wore a kimono. Grooms have wed in formal and informal dress, including kilts. Bridal gowns have varied from designer elegance to vintage and Renaissance inspired.
Whether elaborate or simple, the weddings that Chantal has officiated have all been heartfelt and unique. She believes that life passages are opportunities to honor and acknowledge important life events and express our deepest selves. “A wedding ceremony not only provides a deep sharing between couples, their community and family, it can also provide a foundation for a loving marriage,” Chantal says. “It brings me joy to help people create the wedding or life passage ceremony of their dreams.” Colleen Redman
Post Notes: The above first appeared in the winter issue of It’s All About HER, a regional newspaper insert. For more information Visit Chantal’s website lifecermoniesbykatherine.com, or find her on Facebook at Life Ceremonies by Katherine. HERE is a story I wrote about Katherine as a ceremonialist in 2007, and one from 2010 about her book of tea poems is HERE. That’s Joe and I in photo #3.