Handfasting is an ancient tradition that is gaining interest/momentum these days. It is Pagan in origin and differs in numerous ways from the "traditional wedding".
The first and foremost difference is that the couple involved decides on the level of the ritual they want to commit themselves to and they marry themselves...they are not married by some officiant. We'll consider the levels of commitment first and then discuss some of the practical considerations involved.
Simple Handfasting Ceremony
This is a very simple, inexpensive ceremony in which the couple commit to sharing their lives for a year and a day (or some other agreed upon period) at which time they re-evaluate the relationship and decide whether it should continue.
High Rite of Handfasting
This is a much more elaborate ceremony and takes considerable time and money to accomplish. This ceremony involves a priest and priestess, friends, family and so forth. It involves a legal ceremony as well as a magical one.
In this case, the couple promise to stay together as long as the love does last (understanding of course that the couple will try to enhance the love and use all means to do so). This ceremony can take place between a pagan and a non-pagan but usually does not. The simple handfasting ceremony can also occur between a Pagan and non-Pagan.
The Rite of Becoming One
This ceremony can vary in the time and money involved but must take place between those initiated Witches in a formal ceremony. The important difference in this ritual and the others is that it is an intense ritual in which couples join their physical, emotional, and magical selves.
For the Simple Handfasting Ceremony allow at least 6 weeks to plan the event, for the High Rite of Handfasting allow at least 6 months, and for the Rite of Becoming One allow at least a year. the reasons for these minimal time frames to plan a handfasting event will become clearer when we consider the ceremonies in more detail in a later section.
Handfasting ceremonies differ from traditional ceremonies in terms of who is responsible for the costs. Because it is your commitment, you and your partner should split the costs (naturally if one person has a considerable amount of $ and the other does not, costs can be unequal but the important thing is that each makes a significant contribution to the event).
Handfasting is not an inexpensive way to get married. The cost of handfasting will vary just as the cost of traditional weddings. If you want an elaborate ceremony/reception and very little time to invest, it will cost you a bundle to hire others to doing the work. On the other hand if you have a lot of time and want a simple ceremony/reception, the event may be quite inexpensive.
For any ceremony, the clearer you are about what you want the less hassle it will be and it will generally cost less. You and your partner should talk everything through before you get others involved. If you need help anticipating what needs to be considered, get a third party to help you anticipate these things.
Selecting the Site
The best way to do this is to decide on the nature of the ceremony, how many guests, and so forth then select the site. If you select the site first, you will find yourself tailoring your ceremony to suit the site. Naturally, sites vary in what they offer and what they cost. A site devoted exclusively to events of this nature can provide most of the things you may want (unfortunately, they also have a tendency to "sell" you things you may not want) but they tend to be pretty costly. On the other end of the spectrum, there are sites that simply give you a key and walk away. You do everything (decorating, cleaning, cooking, etc.). Naturally, these sites are not very expensive but do require a lot of effort on your part.
The following things should be done early in the process. Initially put all your ideas down (you and your partner should do this together...it is best if you do it as a couple without third parties so you can get clear about your expectations writing this all out will then give you something to go over point by point at a later time). If you as a couple can get clear about your desired ceremony, it will be easier to resist attempts by others to make it the handfasting of their dreams rather than the handfasting of your dreams.
Anyway here is a list of considerations (similar in any wedding ceremony, really):
What kind of a ceremony do you desire?
Where (alternatives if it is outside & weather is bad)?
Type of Reception?
Where will the reception be held (indoor options if the choice is outside)?
Theme (if desired)?
Type of Wedding Attire (bride/groom)?
Dress for Women in the Wedding Party? Men?
Lodging for out of town guests?
Food for Ceremony? For Reception?
Food provided by?
Flowers? For Alter? For Bride/Attendants? For Groom/Attendants? For Parents/other special guests? For Reception? For Celebration?
Candles for Ceremony?
Music? Provider? Backup?
Transportation (to Ceremony, Celebration, for anyone who needs it in the wedding party)? Backup?
Dates for meditations?
Dates for Enhancing Rituals?
Wording on Invitations?
Miscellaneous (any special issues you need to confront? how will you confront those issues?)?
Dealing with Religious Differences
Presumably, you and your partner have worked through your differences and what to do about them (if you are of different faiths, you might decide to conduct two ceremonies, for instance). Be absolutely certain of what you want/expect before you deal with different religious views of important others. Pagans are generally view with suspicion and/or intolerance by others. You need be clear about what you are going to do before you tackle others views. Some couples decide that it is their ceremony and that the others will simply go along. That is a very dangerous assumption, those attending the ceremony with no idea of what to expect may feel duped, may get angry, may disrupt the ceremony, and so forth. For the sanctity of the Handfasting Ceremony, I strongly urge you to let all those you intend to invite know what you are planning. You may find that the attitude of some is so extreme that you better not invite them to the ceremony. For the major participants (parents in particular), be sure to let them know well in advance about your plans. You may find your parents so opposed that you will wind up with them being unwilling to participate. I would hope you know your parents well enough to have expected extreme reactions and are prepared to go forward without their participation. I know that may be a very difficult decision to make, but, unless you want your parents to dictate your wedding plans, you may have to exclude them (or others from the ceremony). Good luck dealing with these thorny issues.....please, please don't stick your head in the sand and just spring a Handfasting on non-Pagans that is a formula for disaster. I know others should be more tolerant but.....
Basics of a Simple Handfasting
A simple handfasting (for gay or heterosexual couples) is a way of committing to another for a year and a day. It is a way to explore the relationship's potential without an everlasting commitment. As with all Handfasting Ceremonies the couple should be clear about their needs/desires otherwise...
One needs an alter, an o
fficiant, a circle, objects of consequence to the couple.
The officiant casts the circle (say with sea salt and rose petals) then states something like:
We have gathered together to witness the Handfasting for a year and a day of ___________ and ___________. We gather to add our energies and intention to their energy and intention. If there are those among us who can not enter into this spirit, who do not agree wholeheartedly with these intentions and energies, please leave now. (pause briefly to allow any who wish to leave to leave).
Now that we all are as one vis a vis the intention of this Handfasting, we can begin this ceremony of commitment. We call now on the power of the Great Mother. The Mother who holds all and who breaks all. We call on the power of the Horned One. He who protects us. He who solves challenges and who knows the ways of passage. (long pause)
----------- and ---------- come forward and state your intentions (couple steps forward into the circle).
------------ states her intention as clearly as she is able. These are vows to be written by the participants.
------------ states his intention as clearly as possible.
We have heard and understood your intentions. We add our energy to your energy. However, all such commitments require an act of binding. Tell us now of your act of binding.
Couple now does the act of binding. This can be very simple with the exchange of rings (or another object) or very elaborate (lot's of ritual objects that are explained in turn and placed in a bag). I think a Handfasting Braid is essential but not all Handfastings include this braid (rope). Somewhere in here, usually at the end, the couple states their intention to remain together for a year and a day.
We have heard you and bear witness to what you intend.
Couple lights a candle, feeds one another cake, shares cake with those present.
Great Mother and Horned Hunter, we thank you for your presence. Let what has been said and done here be remembered.
So shall it be.
It is off to the reception to celebrate this Handfasting.
MORE DETAILED HANDFASTING RITUAL
After lighting the candles and incense, the priest and priestess face the gathering, backs toward the altar.
May the place of this rite
be consecrated for the Gods.
For we gather here in a ritual of love
With two who would be wedded.
_______ and _______ please come forward
and stand here before us, and before the gods of nature.
They couple comes forward and stands before the Priest and Priestess, groom in front of Priestess, bride in front of Priest.
Be with us here, O beings of the Air
With your clever fingers
Tie closely the bonds between these two.
Be with us here, O beings of Fire
Give their love and passion
your own all-consuming ardor
Be with us here, O beings of Water
Give them the deepest of love
and the richness of the body, of the soul and of the spirit.
Be with us here, O beings of Earth
Let your strength and constancy
Be theirs for so long as they desire
to remain together
Blessed Goddess and Laughing God
Give to these before you, we do ask
your love and protection
Priestess and Priest hold up the wand between them with the rings upon it.
Place your right hands
over this wand and your rings
his hand over hers
Above you are the stars
below you are the stones
as time does pass
Like a star should our love be constant
Like a stone should your love be firm
Be close, but not too close
Posses one another, but be understanding
Have patience each with the other
For storms will come, but they will go quickly
Be free in the giving of affection and warmth
Make love often, and be sensuous with one another
Have no fear and let not the ways or words
of the unenlightened give you unease
For the Goddess and the God are with you,
Now and Always.
(Pause for five heartbeats)
s it your wish, _bride's name_ to become one with this man?
(bride gives her answer)
Is it your wish, _groom's name_ to become one with this woman?
(groom gives his answer)
Do any say nay?
Then, as the Goddess and the God and the Old Ones
Are witness to this rite
I now proclaim you husband and wife.
A kiss is appropriate at this time, and the tokens may be exchanged. The ceremony is then over and the cakes and wine on the altar should be served at the revel that follows.
This ritual was detailed in:
HIGH RITE OF HANDFASTING AND THE RITUAL OF BECOMING ONE
These rites are much more complicated and go well beyond the scope of this book. Those interested in detailed information on these rites are referred to:
Rhea, L. M. (2001), Handfasted and Heartjoined, Kensington Publishing Corp: NY, NY.
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