A Future Father's Journey

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Handfasting Ceremony

Date: February 12th 2013
Author: Antonin Januska
Description: Writer of all kinds

My fiancée and I have decided to have handfasting ceremony instead of a traditional wedding ceremony. Before I get into why we decided this, I'd love to inform and teach about what it means to be "handfasted" together.

The History of Handfasting

Handfasting is an ancient pagan ceremony that resembled engagement more than wedding. Handfasting often than not involved the union of two people for a year. A sort of "trial" wedding where the two could not consummate but would live together as husband and wife. After the year, they could go their separate ways or perform a more traditional wedding where the couple promises themselves to each other "forever and ever". The traditional handfasting cord was used to symbolize how the lives of the couple would intertwine but on top of that (or instead of) gifts were given. One tradition arose where the couple would exchange rings (which is where our ring exchanging came from!).

The pagan handfasting was pretty much the same among the wicca and was used even among Christians in the 1800s albeit a bit differently.

As times evolved and Christianity took a stronger hold in society and largely replaced paganism and pagan rituals, handfasting became a ceremony that strayed from the modern engagement and was sort of a "legal promise" to show up to a wedding a month later. The practice was abandoned at one point and now we are where we are.

The Handfasting Ceremony

In today's world, handfasting is used as an alternative to a traditional wedding ceremony for the wicca, pagans, and neopagans. Rather than symbolize the "trial" union of two, it is used to symbolize a permanent bond between two people (well, depending on the words said during ceremony). A handfasting ritual today looks and feels like one performed hundreds of years ago. A priest or priestess is present, witnesses are present, and the couple say handfasting vows to each other, and their hands are united with a traditional cord.

There are two versions of handfasting today. The first performed instead of marriage where the couple legally gets married and the other "as long as love shall last", being more of a spiritual union than a legal one.

Now, let's imagine what the neopagan version of the ritual looks like:

  1. Pick a day, a meaningful day such as on equinox, or a pagan holiday. The day should be full of positive energy and hold something special on its own. Your ceremony will just add to it
  2. Pick a location. Traditionally, it should be an outdoor location to resemble the ancient times. Instead of keeping cooped up inside a church or a building, you should be feeling the wind and the sun. Should it rain, keep a backup in mind such as a covered area outdoors or a meaningful indoors area.
  3. Pick Your Clothes. The traditional dress of the bride and groom is unlike a Christian wedding and more like a pagan wedding with pagan clothes. So think more in terms of woodsy and natural colors instead of pure white (on the bride) and black and white (on the groom). The color red is often used due to its symbology. Personally, I'd go with tan, light brown, or even grey with accents
  4. Pick Your Flowers. Flowers are very important. I'm a huge fan but I'm not a huge fan of picking them so picking an area teeming with wildflowers will add to the meaning of your ceremony. Having a wildflower bouquet for the bride and a fairy-like flower wreath would be ideal. There is added symbology to the circle.
  5. Pick Your Priest/Priestess. Depending on your ceremony type (legal/non-legal), you may want to pick an officiant that can perform it. Having someone with legal documentation is crucial for a legal wedding; however, just about anyone familiar with pagan rituals is perfect for the non-legal version.
  6. Approach the area from the East. Traditionally, the couple should approach the central area from East so as to travel the way the sun travels.
  7. Gather Your Guests In A Circle. Unlike a regular wedding where the ceremony looks more like a theatre show (seating in arranged rows, watching the couple on stage), a pagan wedding involves friends and family STANDING in a semi-circle or a full circle around the couple.
  8. The Officiant Performs The Ceremony. Usually starting with an explanation on the ceremony, the officiant discusses what the ceremony is and symbolizes. The priest/priestess may call upon good spirits, gods and goddesses. They may also bless the couple with the elements of water, fire, Earth, and other elements. The entire feeling of the ceremony will be magical, trust me :)
  9. Traditional Handfasting Vows The vows are much unlike what we're used to. They involve stark reality over wishful thinking. In one ceremony I read over, the couple admits to each other that they will cause each other pain , harm, burden, anger but they will not do so intentionally. They also focus on the positives. To me, this is quite inspiring because instead of focusing on the perfect marriage, this ceremony focuses on a real marriage and shows what will happen.
  10. The Handfasting Cord The cord is laid and tied with the vows. Upon answering every set of questions ("Will you cause him/her [insert emotion]?" "Will it be your intent?" drape), the cord will be draped across the couples' hands. One version involves a single cord woven through the hands of the couples while another involves draping of several different cords.
  11. Tying The Cord Once all questions are answered, the cord (or cords) are firmly tied while the officiant speaks to the couple and the guests, telling them about the union and what the cords symbolize. The cords are then removed.
  12. The Conclusion The priest or priestess will then conclude the ceremony, and says the closing statements. Some may part with the spirits around them, others may "banish the circle", and otherwise.
  13. The Feast Next comes food!
  14. Optionals There are many optional parts to the ceremony. In one version, the couple may read out loud statements to each other once the cords are tied and before they are removed. The couples may also kiss each other, and exchange rings.

What is great about this ceremony is that it can be freely altered and used however. A priest/priestess may custom make invocations, you may even include crystals and other magical items.

Our Ceremony

For those interested, I'd like to share with you what my fiancée and I will be doing :)

  1. We will be doing the ceremony on the 22nd of March, a day after the first day of Spring. We wanted to do the 21st but conflicting schedules of just about everyone forced us to reschedule
  2. The ceremony will take place at a horse ranch by a lake by a forest :)
  3. I will be wearing a tan wedding suit, most likely without the vest to make it less formal while my fiancée will be wearing a white dress.
  4. My fiancée made a bouquet and some flower arrangements for me and picked a wreath from etsy. We're still looking for a good cord but there's plenty of those on Etsy as well.
  5. Finding an official to perform the whole ordeal is getting to be very difficult; however, I have made some progress. The ceremony involve sage sticks and detailed to be discussed later :)

Outside of that, many things are still up in the air. We almost have our guest lists ready (all the important people have been invited), and now we just have to finalize some purchases and we're done! :)