Sunday, September 1, 2013

Handfasting: The Pagan Marriage

What is Handfasting?

This is the first article in a series of Pagan Words and PhrasesHandfasting was at the top of the list in a poll I ran about which pagan words people would like to see defined.
A traditional European ceremony, hundreds of years old, handfasting can be permanent or temporary as betrothal or wedding. Normally the ceremony will involve the lightly tying of the right hands of the man and woman, or mate and mate using a ribbon or cord. Hence the name, handfasting. "Tying the knot" in the modern times comes from the word handfasting.
Handfasting is a traditional way of marriage among Pagans of various paths. It signifies the bond equal to marriage usually, between a bride and groom.
There are many variations of handfasting that are used today. The marriage vows may be for "a year and a day", for "a lifetime", as well as "for all eternity". Sometimes it will be "for as long as love shall last."
The ceremony can be legal or a private spiritual commitment depending on the choice of the couple. As for the legality, it would depend on the country or location where the handfasting takes place, and to the officiant being a legally recognized minister. Some couples will use the civil ceremony to make it legal as well.
Today, the handfastings are performed for both opposite-gender couples and same-gender couples. Sometimes multiple partners that are involved in polyamorous relationships will have a handfasting for all in the relationship.
Some rituals are performed along very strict Traditional guidelines and other very loosely using the overall basic idea of handfasting and altering it to suit their own personal and spiritual needs, creating a new ceremony.
Some couples choose to conduct the ceremony privately between themselves and others will include a member of the clergy to do the actual ceremony for them.
Depending on the tradition or method, the ceremony may have the couple jumping over a broom at the end of the ceremony or jumping over a fire.
Like traditional marriages, many couples will exchange rings as well.
Dress is up to the couple. Many like the idea of dressing in Medieval costumes and others like to wear modern formal wear. Again, this all varies depending on the couple's choices.
The handfasting techniques that I am familiar with are combined from various spiritual paths including WiccanNative AmericanUnitarianDruidicCeltic and Christian traditions.
Most of the handfasting for Wiccans and Pagans takes place in May at Beltane. Those from the Gothic communities choose the Pagan New Year, which is Samhain (Halloween).
Most couples will write their own handfasting vows that they will voice in the ceremony.

A Summer Handfasting, used with permission by Pagan artist Esta Weiss.