The Pebble Toss: An Ancient Celtic Wedding Tradition
The pebble toss is one of the wedding traditions that remain in Celtic weddings, yet the origin and deeper meaning behind this action is not well known. In this wedding tradition, well wishes, prayers and happy hopes for the couple are placed into a stone. In some cases, this is done by having certain intentions while holding a small stone.
Behind this idea is that natural objects, such as a stone, can actually anchor a thought. This may seem very farfetched to some people, but it is not different than people who worship in front of an altar, with the recognition that the altar, which is made of many stones, helps to anchor a sacred space for prayer. This tradition, like the oathing stone, is tied into a notion of the sacredness of natural place.
Offers are made in places sacred to ancestors. In some cases, making an offering could also diverting the ire of any of the fae folk, the local nature spirits—a practice which still exists in many traditions around the world from the Balinese to the Tibetans. In the case of stones used at a wedding, they may be from a particularly important. Having a stone with prayers also bridges and groom and bride to the wisdom ancestors tied to particular place on the land.
After the ceremony, this stone is tossed into a nearby body of water such as a river, stream, lake, or a well. It is important that water is involved; water, being the element that represents emotions and also, spirit. But in the context of a wedding it is also about wishing the happy couple good fortune, prosperity and flow.
The offering of the stones to a body of water would please the ancestral spirits of the place who would then also add their blessing to the couple. Sometimes other small gifts would be offered as well, such as coins, food, drink and other items. No one knows exactly how far back this practice goes. Sometimes, gifts were offered to appease trickster spirits of the fae who might wish to bring harm to the couple or jinx their chances at having children or be prosperous.
The practice of tossing stones may go back even further into history, when giants, the Cailleach, were often thought to rule the lands. The mythical Cailleach is truly ancient character, thousands of years old. She represents primal forces of the earth so you were shore to want to appease her when she was walking around, carrying stones in her apron. For when the apron would inevitably tear, the stones would fall, often creating mountains or trails of boulders we now attribute to the action of glaciers.
In Scotland at least, moving across the British Isles and even into Galatia in Spain, such offerings are an appeasement to Cailleach. In the more modern version of this tradition, a helper may present a tray to each person in the wedding party who will then select a stone. Often the stones may be colorful tumbled stones or simple little river pebbles. The wedding participants are to make their prayer or wish and then cast their stone into the well, river or lake, adding their blessing to those of the bride and the groom. This practice resonated with the whole ‘wishing well’ phenomena practiced today in public fountains everywhere. In today’s parlance, it is all about luck. However, Cailleach was considered a rather vain being. She was certainly not someone who you would want to make angry. So when you toss your stones into the water, it is probably not a bad idea to think of her!