At my last handfasting wedding, I was delighted by the guests’ reaction to the ritual. Of course, I had explained what it was all about, but the warmth and spirituality of the occasion obviously was a great success.
However, most people don’t know what a handfasting is. I therefore hope it will be helpful if I say a few words about it. It forms a central part in pagan ceremonies, but is often chosen as an “add-on” in a traditional wedding.
It may be something you yourself would like to consider.
Handfastings began as a marriage rite in the Middle Ages. When peasants married, they might have been unable to afford a clergyman’s fee to hear their vows or, indeed, a ring to signify their love. The ritual of handfasting became a popular alternative.
A cord was wrapped round the wrists of the couple and left on them until their union was consummated. It would usually be kept as a tangible reminder and proof of their commitment and love.
It has given us the expression “tying the knot”.
Nowadays, the cord symbolises the pair’s commitment and mutual love. Here’s a suggested order of service that may include a handfasting, although it will, of course, be different for a full pagan ceremony.
- Walking down the aisle, to be given away by the father
- Officiant welcome
- Meaning of love (possibly from a religious slant, if that’s wanted)
- Here, or after the Handfasting, or at both times, a song or a reading/poem
- Possibly, a Unity Candle or Sand Ceremony or Chalice ritual
- Exchange of Rings/Vows
- Jumping the Broom (not actually pagan, but deriving from wedding ceremonies conducted by slaves in the American South), now used to symbolise sweeping in the new as a new home is created
- Concluding words
Details would be up for discussion, but that might be a starting draft.
Possibly my favourite handfasting was part-pagan, part-Jewish with rituals from both sides. For this ceremony too, I explained the symbolism for those unfamiliar with the other’s practices, so everyone could understand and feel included.
It was a totally unique occasion – absolutely perfect for the couple and – clearly – for the guests too.
If you want to add extra sparkle and personality to your big day, you could do worse than try a handfasting. Your civil celebrant will be only too pleased to tell you more.