Handfasting - Pagan Wedding Ceremony
Article by Mani Navasothy
Handfasting is the pagan equivalent of a marriage ceremony between loving couples! It is a very old tradition in the western worlds. With the renewed interests in old and neo pagan traditions and spiritualities (such as Wicca, Druidry, Shamanism, Northern traditions, Heathenry and more), many pagan and even non-pagan couple are opting to have a Pagan Handfasting Ceremony, in many parts of England, Scotland, Wales and indeed all over Europe, America and more!
At the heart is the most sacred and simple act.. of the couple declaring their love and commitment to one another, and exchanging wedding rings. The ceremony begins with all gathering in a selected spot, it being swept by a broom to get rid of any negativity, and creation of sacred space with consecrations. The 4 elements- air, fire, water and earth are called to bear witness, as are invocations to the God and Goddess. Then the main ceremony begins. The Couple are brought together, they are led through their declaration of love and vows for one another, and their hands are clasped together, and bound loosely by a pre-bought special set of Cords (usually Gold & Silver colour, or other depending on what the couple liked). The Couple then `jump the broom’ which is a symbol of hearth, home and fertility, as well as protection. This act symbolises that the past is on one side, and they have lept over the broom to a future together. During festivities, other couple in the guests also get to jump the broom, which is held at knee height by specially designated people. It is also traditional for the couple to bless the Cake & Wine (wedding cake, meads, wine, Champagne etc). All the family, friends & guests are invited to come forward and offer their own blessings. How the ceremony evolves really depends on the individual event, and is up to the couple’s preferences.
A Handfasting Ceremony can be intimate and small scale, with the couple and a few select family & friends, or a big festive event...just like any other wedding ceremony – with lots of people, entertainment, feasting, dancing – after the actual ceremony itself.
The venue varies, depending on the Couple’s preference (and affordability) – and can be either a local park, woodland, forest, a hired hall, a home garden, by a stream, a campsite, near a waterfall, on the beach. Only imagination, travel accessibility (for the couple & guests) and affordability define where a Handfasting can take place. As pagans consider nature to be sacred, honour and worship all natural places.. usually these handfastings take place in woodlands or some natural place. Immediately following the ceremony, festivities ensue, either in the same venue (picnic in the woods) or in a nearby hired venue / hall.
As is tradition in many religions, it is the honour of a Pagan Priest or Pagan Priestess to facilitate the actual ceremony of the Handfasting. In pagan handfasting, it is usual for a magical Couple to conduct the Ceremony. This is usually a priest & priestess who work together and perhaps run their own magical group. In Wiccan path, it is usually an initiated and experienced High Priest & his partner, or a High Priestess & her partner. Their magical group/ coven/ grove may also attend and help with ceremonial roles. However, it is also equally feasible to get some of the family & friends of the couple to help with some of the roles!
It has been known that in modern times, sympathetic pagan friends have facilitated the ceremony for their friends (the Couple).
We believe that a handfasting is magically sound when a `real magical couple’ facilitate the Ceremony – ie a real romantic couple in a relationship/ or marriage, and also leaders of a magical group. In such a situation, what they are bringing is their real relationship energy to the Ceremony (People who work magically together but are not an actual romantic couple will be the second ideal choice as facilitators).
Organisation of the Event
Not every pagan couple may know or have access to an experienced Handfasting Facilitators. In these circumstances, they look on public pagan forums for anyone who may be able to conduct their ceremony. What is important is how smoothly and magically the ceremony can be conducted – ritual, ceremonial, and some level of theatrics (to please the family, friends and guests!) are all important. Equally important are some of the essential tools for the Ceremony, especially the rings, cords and the broom. An altar is always created for the event. The couple may have a wedding theme / dress code for them and all their guests, or make it traditional wedding cloths (Suit & dress), or colourful dress for Bride and Chivalrous attire for the groom (enacting the fairy tale romantic settings!)
The venue, if accessible before hand, can be decorated according to the wishes of the couple – with ribbons, art, and other features. Entertainment can be in the form of traditional musicians, drummers, violin & harp players, or even Morris Dancers etc. There are no rules. As said before, imagination, practicality and affordability are the only factors.