All About Handfastings

Looking for information on how to hold a Pagan handfasting ceremony? Here's where we've got it all covered, from the origins of handfastings to jumping the broom to selecting your cake! Also, be sure to learn about magical handfasting favors to give your guests, and find out what you need to ask the person who's performing your ceremony.

Handfasting History: An Old Tradition Made New


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Handfasting was common centuries ago in the British Isles, and then vanished for a while. Now, however, it's seeing a rising popularity among Wiccan and Pagan couples who are interested in tying the knot. Many Pagan and Wiccan couples choose to have a handfasting ritual instead of a traditional wedding ceremony. In some cases, it may be simply ceremonial -- a couple declaring their love for one another without the benefit of a state license. For other couples, it can be tied in with a state marriage certification issued by a legally authorized party such as a clergyperson or justice of the peace. Either way, it's becoming more and more popular, as Pagan and Wiccan couples are seeing that there is indeed an alternative for non-Christians who want more than just a courthouse wedding.

Many Pagan couples choose to have a handfasting ritual instead of a traditional wedding ceremony. In some cases, it may be simply ceremonial—a couple declaring their love for one another without the benefit of a state license. For other couples, it can be tied in with a state marriage certification issued by a legally authorized party such as a clergyperson or justice of the peace. Either way, it's becoming more and more popular, as Pagan and Wiccan couples are seeing that there is indeed an alternative for non-Christians who want more than just a courthouse wedding.

Marriages, Irregular and Regular

In centuries gone by, handfasting was a popular custom in the British Isles. In rural areas, it could be weeks or even months before a clergyman happened to stop by your village, so couples learned to make allowances. A handfasting was the equivalent of today's common-law marriage -- a man and woman simply clasped hands and declared themselves married. Generally this was done in the presence of a witness or witnesses. In Scotland, marriages were considered the office of the church until 1560, when marriage became a civil matter rather than a church sacrament. After that time, marriages were divided into "regular" and "irregular" marriages.

A regular marriage took place when banns were read, followed by a clergyman performing the duties of the ceremony. An irregular marriage could take place in one of three ways: a public declaration by the couple that they were husband and wife, followed by consummation of the relationship; by mutual agreement; or simply by living together and being recognized as husband and wife.

As long as everyone was above the age of consent (12 for brides, 14 for grooms) and not too closely related, irregular marriages were generally considered as valid as a regular marriage.

Typically the gentry and landowners were married in the "regular" way, so there could be no question later on if the marriage was legally recognized or not -- in cases of inheritance, this could be a big issue.

Handfastings or irregular marriages were considered the domain of the lower class and peasants. Around the middle of the 1700s, irregular marriages were made illegal in England -- but since Scotland kept the tradition, it wasn't uncommon for an amorous British couple to elope over the border. Gretna Green became famous because it was the first town in Scotland that eloping lovers would encounter once they left England -- and the Old Blacksmith's shop there became the site of many 'anvil weddings', performed by the village smith.

An Old Concept, New Ideas

The word "handfasting" fell by the wayside for many years. In the 1950s, when the witchcraft laws were repealed in England, various occultists and witches— including Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente—searched for a non-Christian term for their wedding ceremonies. They settled on "handfasting", and the concept was resurrected within the Neopagan movement. Typically, a Pagan handfasting was meant to be a secret ceremony, held only in front of your coven or study group. As Wicca and Paganism become more mainstream, however, more and more couples are finding ways to work their Pagan and Wiccan spirituality into their marriage ceremony.

The actual term "handfasting" comes from the tradition of the bride and groom crossing arms and joining hands—basically, creating the infinity symbol (a figure-eight) with the hands. In Neopagan ceremonies, the clergyperson performing the ceremony will join the couple's hands with a cord or ribbon during the ritual. In some traditions, the cord remains in place until the couple consummates the marriage. While some people may choose to have their handfasting be a permanent bond, others might declare it to be valid for "a year and a day", at which point they will re-evaluate the relationship and determine whether to continue or not.

Who Can Be Handfast? Anyone!

One benefit of having a handfasting ceremony is that it because it's not the same as a legal wedding, there are more options available to people in non-traditional relationships.

Anyone can have a handfasting —same-sex couples, polyamorus families, transgender couples, etc. 

Dormant for so long, the idea of the handfasting ceremony has enjoyed a huge rise in popularity. If you're fortunate enough to find someone you love enough to spend your life with, you may wish to consider having a handfasting rather than a traditional wedding ceremony.

Handfasting Tips: How to Have a Magical Ceremony  

     
Make your day a magical one!. Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images


Spring is here, and love is in the air! For many people of Pagan faiths, this is the time of year for a handfasting ceremony. If you're lucky enough to have someone you love this much, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind while planning your handfasting ceremony.

Handfasting was a popular custom in the British Isles centuries ago. In the past few years, however, it's been seeing a rising popularity among modern Pagan couples who are interested in tying the knot. Many Pagan and Wiccan couples choose to have a handfasting ritual instead of a traditional wedding ceremony. If you're lucky enough to have someone you love this much, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind in order to make your handfasting ceremony a success.

  • Plan as far ahead as possible, especially if you're going to be writing your own vows. It will be far less stressful if you -- and your clergyperson -- have been able to get familiar with the wording, rather than waiting till the last minute.
  • Consider how long the ceremony is going to be. If you want people to stand in a circle, and have elderly relatives or small children present, anything longer than about half an hour is going to require chairs for some of your audience. In total, try to keep the ritual to about an hour -- if the crowd is really big, make your ceremony even shorter.
  • Bear in mind that if you want to have a circle, you're going to need far more room than if you just stand at the altar with your beloved. Dancing, spinning, calling of the quarters -- all that stuff takes up space. Make sure that your location will accommodate all of your guests.
  • Many Pagan and Wiccan couples hold their handfastings outdoors. If you choose to do this -- great! But make sure you've done your homework -- some public places like parks require you to have a reservation, or to fill out paperwork if there will be a large crowd present. When you make arrangements in advance, if you're concerned about public perception, you don't have to say "It's a Wiccan handfasting ceremony." Typically just the phrase "family gathering" or "we're getting married" will be sufficient, and both are truthful. Regardless, make sure you have permission to be where you're having your ceremony.
  • If you hold your handfasting in a public place, be sure to respect the rules of the area -- if there are signs that say "no open flames," then don't have a bonfire. If food and beverages are prohibited, then go somewhere else for the potluck after the ceremony. Make sure you check into noise and entertainment ordinances as well -- the last thing you want is the police showing up at your handfasting because your drum circle was too loud. Be sure to plan ahead to have a cleanup crew -- designate specific individuals to be in charge of this task, rather than just saying "Hey, can someone pick up the trash?" as you and your new partner leave the site.
  • If you plan to invite non-Pagan relatives or friends to the ceremony, you should probably prep them in advance. Don't ask them to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, but do let them know that the ceremony has aspects of your spiritual path in it. Depending on just how Pagan your handfasting is going to be, and how your non-Pagan family feels about it, you may want to let them know about any non-traditional activities before the ceremony -- and not at the last minute. That way, if great-aunt Matilda feels icky about you calling upon a bunch of gods she's never heard of, she can bow out altogether. It's a good idea to provide seating outside your circle for those who would like to watch but are uncomfortable with actual participation.
  • Don't use your handfasting as a way of coming out of the broom closet. You need to be able to focus all of your energy on the handfasting itself, and not spend it worrying about what your parents are going to think when they find out you and your beloved are practicing Wicca. Have that conversation well ahead of time. If you have family members or friends who are adamantly opposed to your having a Pagan ceremony, remember, it's your marriage, not theirs. You can either have a non-Pagan ceremony later and invite them to attend, or you can tell them that if they can't attend your handfasting, you understand and you love them anyway.

Handfasting Favors: Magical Gifts for Your Guests


Give your guests magical favors at your handfasting. Maria Toutoudaki/Photodisc/Getty Images

It's become traditional to give each of your guests a small wedding favor. Typically, these are small trinkets with either the date of the event or the couples' names on them. However, if you're having a Pagan or Wiccan handfasting, rather than a traditional wedding ceremony, why not come up with an idea that celebrates your spiritual path, as well as announcing your commitment to the community?

  • Gift certificates for a tarot reading.  Most tarot readers will be happy to creative gift certificates for bridesmaids or handmaidens even if they don’t normally offer them.
  • A sachet of herbs blended for friendship and sisterhood.
  • Rose quartz earrings or necklaces (symbolizes love in friendship).
  • A bottle of herbs steeped in high-quality olive oil.  Choose herbs for friendship, loyalty or bonding.
  • Personalized spell kits (baby blessing for the pregnant handmaiden, home blessing for the new home owner, passion spell for the newlywed in your circle, ect)
  • Mini floral smudge wands make thoughtful handfasting favors.

How to Choose Your Handfasting Cake


Your handfasting cake can be as unique as you want!. stockstudioX/E+/Getty Images  

If you're holding a handfasting instead of a traditional wedding, you may want to do something special instead of just having a traditional cake. Sharing a cake with your new spouse is a time-honored tradition that goes back many centuries, so if you're looking for something a bit different, you might want to try something that reflects that history.

If you're holding a handfasting instead of a traditional wedding, you may want to do something special instead of just having a traditional cake. Sharing a cake with your new spouse is a time-honored tradition that goes back many centuries, so if you're looking for something a bit different, you might want to try something that reflects that history. The idea of the big ostentatious white wedding cake is a relatively new one; in fact, in days gone by, the wedding or handfasting cake was actually quite simple and plain.

Sometimes it was brushed with sugar or honey if the bride and groom were well-off, but often it was just a cake with little to no ornamentation.

Originally, wedding cakes were provided by the guests. Each person attending the ceremony brought a small cake, and they put them all in a big pile. Eventually, as enough people arrived, you ended up with a giant heap of cakes. Around the Victorian era, however, that changed, and it became the responsibility of the bride and groom to provide a cake for guests. Now, it seems that the bigger and more elaborate the cake is, the more impressive people see the wedding.

Look at any wedding magazine, and there are three things you see in more photos than anything else. The bride, the groom, and a big honkin' cake. Some of these cakes you see in magazines cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars. If you're willing and able to pay someone an entire paycheck just to bake you a cake, then go for it.

However, most people can't do that. If money is in fact a consideration -- as it is for nearly everyone who's NOT in a magazine -- then that's going to have some bearing on what kind of cake you get.

Ideally, you have a really good friend who bakes. Offer to pay your friend for the cost of supplies, and ask her if she would bake you a cake as her wedding gift to you.

If she's a professional baker, even better! If that's not an option, find a baker -- a local one, not the one in your chain grocery store -- and explain what you want. Tell them what the theme of your handfasting is, and see if they're willing to work with you. If they aren't willing to work with you to make the cake you want, no worries -- go somewhere else. There are plenty of bakeries out there. If they offer you samples, try them!

One big cake or many small ones? Well, depends. If you have a few flavors you really like, you can certainly make several smaller cakes. Likewise, if you have guests you know have allergy issues, you can work around those. I recently read about a handfasting that had one chocolate cake, one spice one because the best man was allergic to chocolate, a dairy-free cake, and a gluten-free cake. There was literally something for everyone.

When it comes to flavors, try to pick something that everyone will enjoy, without being bland. A spice cake recipe would fit in well with a Medieval, Renaissance or other "themed" handfasting. They're easy to make, they're delicious, and it won't send your guests into a coma from sugar shock. Pound-cake styles are usually a safe bet as well, although they do tend to be heavier on the eggs and butter than other types of cake.

For decorating your cake, if you'd like to avoid gobs upon gobs of pink or white icing, try something a bit more natural. Candied mint leaves or fruits, even edible flowers or sugar-coated petals are perfect. If the bride and groom have a symbol they're using for their union, you can incorporate that as well.

Jumping the Broom: A Besom Wedding  

Have you thought about jumping a broom?. Image by Patti Wigington 2014; Licensed to About.com

               
Along with the popularity of handfasting ceremonies, there has been a resurgence in interest among Pagans and Wiccans in the idea of a "besom wedding". This is a ceremony also referred to as "jumping the broom". Although typically this is seen as a ceremony derived from the slave culture of the American south, there is also evidence that besom weddings took place in some parts of the British Isles.

Along with the popularity of handfasting ceremonies, there has been a resurgence in interest among Pagans in the idea of a "besom wedding." This is a ceremony also referred to as "jumping the broom." Although typically this is assumed to be a ceremony derived from the slave culture of the American south, there is also evidence that besom weddings took place in some parts of the British Isles.

The Slave Era of the American South

During the early days of the American south, when slavery was still a legal institution, slaves were not legally allowed to marry one another.

Instead, a ceremony was held where the couple would jump over a broom in front of witnesses, either together or separately. No one is really sure where the tradition originated. Danita Rountree Green, author of Broom Jumping: A Celebration of Love, suggests the practice came from Ghana, but she also says there's no hard proof of the custom existing there. Once African-Americans were legally allowed to marry in the United States, the tradition of broom-jumping virtually disappeared -- after all, it was no longer needed. However, there has been a resurgence in popularity, due in no small part to the miniseries Roots.

Mechon is a Pagan from North Carolina, and is of African descent. She says, "My family is die-hard Southern Baptist, so I had to get married in a church or my grandmother would have had a heart attack. So we did the Baptist wedding ceremony with the pastor, and then we went outside and had a broom jumping celebration on top of it, which was more earthy and free-spirited.

My ancestors came from Ghana as part of the Atlantic slave trade, and while we did the broom jumping, we had Ghanian art on display and drum music playing and people clapping and chanting. It was a beautiful way of connecting my family today with honoring the spirits of the people who came before us."

According to African American Registry, "Jumping over the broom symbolized the wife's commitment or willingness to clean the courtyard of the new home she had joined. Furthermore, it expressed her overall commitment to the house. It also represented the determination of who ran the household. Whoever jumped highest over the broom was the decision maker of the household (usually the man). The jumping of the broom does not add up to taking a "leap of faith." The irony is that practice of jumping the broom was largely discarded after Emancipation in America, which was consistent with the eventual fall of the Ashanti Confederacy in Ghana in 1897 and the coming of British customs. Jumping the Broom did survive in the Americas, especially in the United States, among slaves brought from the Asante area. This particular Akan practice of jumping the broom was picked up by other African ethnic groups in the Americas and used to strengthen marriages during slavery among their communities."

The United Kingdom

In some areas of Wales, a couple could be married by placing a birch broom at an angle across the doorway. The groom jumped over it first, followed by his bride. If neither of them knocked it out of place, the wedding was a go.

If the broom fell down, it was considered that the marriage was doomed to failure, and the whole thing was called off. If the couple decided they were unhappy within the first year of marriage, they could divorce by jumping back out the door, over the broom. More information on this can be found in T. Gwynn Jones' 1930 publication, Welsh Folklore.

The late scholar and folklorist Alan Dundes makes the argument that the tradition of jumping a broom originated among England's Rom population. Dundes also points out that the broom is highly symbolic, saying, "the symbolic significance of the ritual to be the 'stepping over' as a metaphor for sexual intercourse. If a woman's jumping over a broomstick produces a child, one could reasonably assume that the broomstick has phallic properties*."

Modern Broom Jumping

Until marriage equality for all couples became the law of the United States, in June 2015, some gay and lesbian couples adopted the symbolic broom-jumping, since they were not legally able to marry in many places.

Reverend Heron, who runs a Pagan & Wiccan Wedding and Handfastings blog, writes "I normally recommend that a new broom be purchased just for the ceremony in order to avoid bringing prior energies into the ceremony, however, a broom can be part of the preparations for a wedding as well. The broom can be decorated with ribbons, flowers, crystals, charms or other items which the couple would like to help symbolize their "fresh start." After the ceremony, the broom is hung above the main entrance door of the home, as a daily reminder of the ceremony and the new life it brings."

* Jumping the Broom: A Further Consideration of the Origins of an African American Wedding Custom, by C. W. Sullivan III, The Journal of American Folklore 110 (438). University of Illinois Press: 466–69.

Handfasting Bonfires: What You Need to Know

  
If your celebration includes a bonfire, stay safe!. Jupiterimages/Photolibrary/Getty Images      

It's become popular in many Pagan and Wiccan traditions to have a bonfire as part of the handfasting ceremony. If this is something you'd like to do, here are some tips on how to make things go smoothly.

Deities of Marriage and Love

           
Eros, or Cupid, is a well known god of love. Image by Chris Schmidt/E+/Getty Images

Throughout history, nearly all cultures have had gods and goddesses associated with love and marriage. Although a few are male -- Eros and Cupid come to mind -- most are female, because the institution of marriage has long been viewed as the domain of women. If you're doing a working relating to love, or if you wish to honor a particular deity as part of a marriage ceremony, these are some of the gods and goddesses associated with the very human emotion of love.

Aphrodite (Greek)

Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and sexuality, a job she took very seriously. She was married to Hephaistos, but also had a multitude of lovers–one of her favorites was the warrior god Ares. A festival was held regularly to honor Aphrodite, appropriately called the Aphrodisiac. At her temple in Corinth, revelers often paid tribute to Aphrodite by having rambunctious sex with her priestesses. The temple was later destroyed by the Romans, and not rebuilt, but fertility rites appear to have continued in the area. Like many Greek gods, Aphrodite spent a lot of time meddling in the lives of humans–particularly their love lives–and was instrumental in the cause of the Trojan War.

Cupid (Roman)

In ancient Rome, Cupid was the incarnation of Eros, the god of lust and desire. Eventually, though, he evolved into the image we have today of a chubby cherub, flitting about zapping people with his arrows. In particular, he enjoyed matching people up with odd partners, and this eventually ended up being his own undoing, when he fell in love with Psyche. Cupid was the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. He typically is seen on Valentine's Day cards and decorations, and is invoked as a god of pure love and innocence–a far cry from his original form.

Eros (Greek)

Although not specifically a god of love, Eros is often invoked as a god of lust and passion. This son of Aphrodite was a Greek god of lust and primal sexual desire. In fact, the word erotic comes from his name. He is personified in all kinds of love and lust–heterosexual and homosexual–and was worshipped at the center of a fertility cult that honored both Eros and Aphrodite together. During the classical Roman period, Eros evolved into Cupid, and became portrayed as the chubby cherub that still remains as a popular image today. He is typically shown blindfolded–because, after all, love is blind–and carrying a bow, with which he shot arrows at his intended targets.

Frigga (Norse)

Frigga was the wife of the all-powerful Odin, and was considered a goddess of fertility and marriage within the Norse pantheon. Frigga is the only one besides Odin who is allowed to sit on his throne, Hlidskjalf, and she is known in some Norse tales as the Queen of Heaven. Today, many modern Norse Pagans honor Frigga as a goddess of both marriage and prophecy.

Hathor (Egyptian)

As the wife of the Sun God, Ra, Hathor is known in Egyptian legend as the patroness of wives. In most classical depictions, she is portrayed either as a cow goddess, or with a cow nearby–it is her role as mother that is most often seen. However, in later periods, she was associated with fertility, love and passion.

Hera (Greek)

Hera was the Greek goddess of marriage, and as the wife of Zeus, Hera was the queen of all wives! Although Hera fell in love with Zeus (her brother) immediately, he isn't often faithful to her, so Hera spends a lot of time fighting off her husband's numerous lovers. Hera is centered around the hearth and home, and focuses on family relationships.

Juno (Roman)

In ancient Rome, Juno was the goddess who watched over women and marriage. Although Juno's festival, the Matronalia, was actually celebrated in March, the month of June was named for her. It's a month for weddings and handfastings, so she is often honored at Litha, the time of the summer solstice. During the Matronalia, women received gifts from their husbands and daughters, and gave their female slaves the day off work.

Parvati (Hindu)

Parvati was the consort of the Hindu god Shiva, and is known as a goddess of love and devotion. She is one of many forms of Shakti, the all-powerful female force in the universe. Her union with Shiva taught him to embrace pleasure, and so in addition to being a destroyer god, Shiva is also a patron of the arts and dance. Parvati is an example of a female entity who has a profound effect on the male in her life, for without her, Shiva would not have been complete.

Venus (Roman)

The Roman equivalent of Aphrodite, Venus was a goddess of love and beauty. Originally, she was associated with gardens and fruitfulness, but later took on all the aspects of Aphrodite from the Greek traditions. Similar to Aphrodite, Venus took a number of lovers, both mortal and divine. Venus is nearly always portrayed as young and lovely. The statue Aphrodite of Milos, better known as the Venus de Milo, depicts the goddess as classically beautiful, with womanly curves and a knowing smile.

Vesta (Roman)

Although Vesta was actually a goddess of virginity, she was honored by Roman women along with Juno. Vesta's status as a virgin represented the purity and honor of Roman women at the time of their marriage, and so it was important to keep her in high regard. In addition to her role as virgin-in-chief, however, Vesta is also a guardian of the hearth and domesticity. Her eternal flame burned in many Roman villages. Her festival, the Vestalia, was celebrated each year in June.

Sample Handfasting Ceremony Template

 
Are you ready for a handfasting?. Nerida McMurray Photography/Taxi/Getty Images  

If you're planning on having a handfasting ceremony rather than a traditional wedding, you may want to work with your Pagan clergyperson on the writing of the vows. This is a sample ceremony that you can make adjustments to based upon your needs and your spiritual tradition.

If you're planning on having a handfasting ceremony rather than a traditional wedding, you may want to work with your Pagan clergyperson on the writing of the vows. This is a sample ceremony that you can make adjustments to based upon your needs and your spiritual tradition. To avoid leaving a bunch of blank spaces, or the ever popular Bride's Name and Groom's Name, we're going to pretend this is a ceremony for a woman named Ivy and a man named Mark, being handfast by a High Priestess (HPs)

Sample Handfasting Ritual

HPs: Friends, family, loved ones. We are all here today to see two people, Ivy and Mark, join hands and be bound together by their love, now and forever. Before we begin the ceremony, we will turn this place into sacred ground. As I cast the circle, please take a moment to visualize loving, positive energy for Ivy and Mark.

HPs casts the circle, either out loud or in silence.

HPs: The circle has been cast, and this is now a sacred space. We will now take a moment to consecrate the rings.

HPs consecrates the rings with the four elements, or by other method called for by the couple's tradition.

HPs: The circle itself is an infinite thing. It is magical and never-ending, never changing and yet always adaptable, a ring with no beginning and no conclusion. Like the circle, true love itself is infinite. It goes on, knowing no boundaries or restrictions. It flourishes and blooms in the light and in the dark, laying down no ultimatums, making no demands at all. Love, in its infinite form, is something that cannot be forced. It cannot be taken away. It is a gift we give to ourselves, and an honor we give to others from the bottom of our hearts and souls.

When two people come together and give one another this gift, this most sacred gift of all, it is certain the universe is sitting back and smiling upon us, laughing and showering us with every possible blessing.

Today is a day to celebrate the love of Mark and Ivy. They are two people who are the halves of a whole. Two souls, coming together to form one single being; two hearts, beating in a single rhythm. They are together as one, and so they will now light a candle of unity, to show the universe that they indeed are one light burning brightly in the darkness.

If the couple is lighting a unity candle, do this now.

HPs: Today, we ask that the infinite light of the divine shine upon this union. In that spirit, I offer a blessing to this ceremony.

Blessed be this marriage with the gifts from the east -- new beginnings that come each day with the rising sun, communication of the heart, mind, body and soul.

Blessed be this marriage with the gifts of the south -- the light of the heart, the heat of passion, and the warmth of a loving home.

Blessed be this marriage with the gifts of the west -- the rushing excitement of a raging river, the soft and pure cleansing of a rainstorm, and a commitment as deep as the ocean itself.

Blessed be this marriage with the gifts of the north -- a solid foundation on which to build your lives, abundance and growth of your home, and the stability to be found by holding one another at the end of the day.

Ivy, Mark, these four simple blessings will help you on your journey that begins today. However, they are only tools. They are tools which you must use together to create the light, the strength, the infinite energy now and forever of a love you both so richly deserve.

Now, I bid you look into one another's eyes and hearts. Mark, please place the ring on Ivy's finger. Do you promise to show Ivy your honor and fidelity, to share her laughter and joy, to support and stand by her in times of difficulty, to dream and hope together with her, and to spend each day loving her more than the day before?

Groom responds, hopefully in the affirmative!

HPs: Ivy, please give Mark the ring. Do you, Ivy, promise to show Mark your honor and fidelity, to share his hopes and dreams, to laugh with him and share endless days of joy, to stand side by side with him in times of trouble, and to spend each day loving him more than the day before?

Bride responds. If the couple has written vows they wish to speak to one another, now is the time to do this.

HPs: The vows of love have been spoken. I ask you now to cross your hands over each other, and take one another's hands.

HPS wraps the cord around the bride and grooms wrists, binding them together loosely and tying a knot.

HPs: Mark, Ivy, this cord ribbons symbolizes so much. It is your life, your love, and the eternal connection that the two of you have found with one another. The ties of this handfasting are not formed by these ribbons, or even by the knots connecting them. They are formed instead by your vows, by your pledge, your souls, and your two hearts, now bound together as one.

As one last bond, Mark, will you please kiss Ivy?

Couple kisses, HPs unwraps cord without untying knot.

HPs: Please turn to face your friends and family who love you. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Mark Jones!

And now, we will dismiss this sacred space. As I close the circle, please send all of your loving energy towards our newly handfast couple, so that they may begin their life together with all of your blessings and warm wishes.

HPS goes around the circle, dismissing the quarters.

HPs: The circle has been dismissed. Friends, please take a moment to congratulate Mark and Ivy!

Tip: If you wish, ask friends and family members to call the quarters, with someone standing at each cardinal point to represent the four directions.

Who Can Perform a Handfasting?

   
Do you know who can perform your handfasting?. Image by Matt Cardy/Getty Images News


Handfastings are becoming more and more popular, as Pagan and Wiccan couples are seeing that there is indeed an alternative for non-Christians who want more than just a courthouse wedding. A common question among Pagans is that of who can actually perform the handfasting ceremony itself?

In many Pagan traditions, participants opt to have a handfasting ceremony rather than a formal wedding. Handfasting was common centuries ago in the British Isles, and then vanished for a while. Now, however, it's seeing a rising popularity among Wiccan and Pagan couples who are interested in tying the knot. In some cases, it may be simply ceremonial -- a couple declaring their love for one another without the benefit of a state license.

For other couples, it can be tied in with a state marriage certification issued by a legally authorized party. Either way, it's becoming more and more popular, as Pagan and Wiccan couples are seeing that there is indeed an alternative for non-Christians who want more than just a courthouse wedding. A common question among Pagans is that of who can actually perform the handfasting ceremony itself?

In general, either women or men may become priests/priestesses/clergy in modern Pagan religions. Anyone who wishes to learn and study, and commit to a life of service can advance into a ministerial position. In some groups, these individuals are referred to as High Priest or High Priestess, Arch Priest or Priestess, or even Lord and Lady. Some traditions opt to use the term Reverend. The title will vary depending on the tenets of your tradition. However, just because someone is licensed or ordained as clergy within their particular tradition does not necessarily mean they are able to perform a legally binding ceremony.

The requirements as to who can perform a handfasting will be determined by two things:

  • 1. What do you mean, specifically, when you say you wish to have a handfasting? And
  • 2. What are your state’s requirements when it comes to your answer to Question 1?

The reason this is so complicated is as follows.

If your answer to Question 1 is that you simply wish to have a ceremony celebrating your love for your partner, and you don’t want to bother with all the red tape and hassle that comes with a legal marriage, then it’s fairly straightforward.

You’re just having a non-legal ceremony, and it can be performed by anyone you like. A high priest or priestess, or even a friend who’s a respected member of the Pagan community can do it for you, with little to no fuss.

However, if your answer to Question 1 above is that you’d like to have a meaningful ceremony celebrating your love that is ALSO sanctioned and legally recognized by the state in which you reside, things get a little more complicated. In this case, whether you call it a handfasting or not, you’ve got to have a marriage license, and that means that the person who performs your ceremony needs to be someone who is legally allowed to sign off on your marriage certificate.

In most states, the official rules state that any ordained clergyperson may solemnize a marriage. However, the problem that the Pagan community runs into is that many times, these rules apply to Judeo-Christian faiths that have a specific course of study for ordination, or a hierarchy within the faith. A Catholic priest, for instance, is ordained and on record with his diocese, and is recognized as clergy by all. On the other hand, a Pagan high priestess, who has been studying on her own for ten years and with a small local coven for another five, may have difficulty getting the state to recognize her as clergy.

Some states allow anyone to apply for a minister’s license, as long as they can provide documentation from someone within their religious group stating that they have studied and been recognized as a member of the clergy. Often, once a minister’s license has been obtained, the individual may begin solemnizing legal marriages. Be sure to check with whatever governing body oversees such things in your state, before you begin looking for someone to perform your ceremony - and anyone who's willing to perform it should be able to provide you with their official credentials.

It is important to note that there are some states that do not recognize minister’s licenses obtained via online churches.

The bottom line? Once you’ve decided on the nature of your handfasting - whether it’s going to be simply ceremonial or totally legally recognized as a marriage - check with your state to find out what the requirements are as to who may solemnize the marriage.

Then, once you’ve found out these requirements, check with any potential clergy carefully to make sure they are legally able to officiate your ceremony. Don’t be afraid to ask for licensing or references.

Source: 

Recommended reading:

Handfasting and Wedding Rituals: Welcoming Hera's Blessing by Raven Kaldera

 


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