|A ‘Handfasting’ is a beautiful marriage ritual based on ancient Celtic tradition. In days of old the Handfasting was traditionally seen as a rite of betrothal, lasting a year and a day. If all goes well, after the year and a day the two lovers would hold a second Handfasting ceremony that would bind together hearts, minds, bodies and spirits for as long as love is shared between the two.|
Today many Handfasting ceremonies skip the betrothal period especially if the couple have been together some time and go straight to the joining of the couple for the duration of their love. A Handfasting can last forever, so long as love remains, even unto the lives that may follow. The only thing that may sever a Handfasting is if the love between the couple fades.
Most often a Handfasting will be held outside, in as natural a setting as possible amongst nature and the Elements. The space chosen is decorated with flowers and foliage of the season, lit with candles and perfumed with incense. It is a space that is honoured and made sacred to the Elements of nature, and one that is made special for this most honoured and romantic tradition. Handfastings are a time of joyous revelry and magical merriment. It’s a perfectly wonderful reason to dress in fanciful, flamboyant garb and wear flowers in one’s hair, entering into the spirit of romantic times past.
The ceremony is presided over by a Priest and Priestess chosen by the couple for their knowledge of the Rite. The space is made sacred with words and gestures that acknowledge nature and the Elements and fortuitous spirits are invoked.
The couple are invited into the Sacred Circle to exchange their vows one to the other. They gaze lovingly and deeply into one another’s eyes and whisper promises to each other as the Priest and Priestess gently binds their wrists together with a red cord. This is the actual ‘fasting’ – the red cord signifying love and knots indicating the tender bondage of their mutual commitment, hence the saying – tying the knot. Rings are exchanged along with their promises of love and the whole Rite is viewed as a sacred act between the two.
When the ceremony is over the happy couple jump the broomstick, which is a symbol of the joining together of man with woman, to ensure love and happiness for their future. Food and wine are then shared with the guests to celebrate this wonderful occasion. A Handfasting is a truly beautiful ceremony to behold and guest will take away with them a sense of times past and true romance.
‘Handfasting’ at Paxton Tower, Carmarthen; the ritual concludes with the jumping of the broom, the gateway into a new life together.
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History of Handfasting.
This lovely ritual has it roots in ancient times and many believe that it developed in the Celtic cultures of Europe and the British Isles. Originally it was a betrothal or a promise of marriage between two people who would then spend a traditional term of a year and day together to see if they were compatible. After this time, and if they were in agreement the vows could be taken again and they would be considered married. The Handfasting ritual takes its name from the joining and tying of the hands of the couple to be wed, usually with cords. This is where the term “tying the knot” comes from today in reference to getting married. The Handfasting ritual would have been performed by an important member of the community – chieftain, Priest, Priestess, Shaman or Elder, who would have guided the couple through the ritual and presided over them as they exchanged vows in front of witnesses, probably the whole community. The witnessing of the ritual by friends and the community would make it law in the eyes of the community as no official records would have been kept until the introduction of a “Church based” wedding.
This custom spanned the centuries and was still legal in many parts until 1753 when one Lord Hardwick passed an Act through Parliament declaring that marriages in England could only be legal if sanctioned by the Church. This law however was exempt in both Scotland and the Channel Islands. The Act set the precedence for modern Church marriages in the UK ever since with some updates being allowed for modern times. However Handfastings continued to be legal in Scotland up until 1939, particularly in the Highlands and Islands where they may not have had a permanent Clergyman. If this was the case a Handfasting ritual could be performed and then when a traveling Clergyman visited the community the marriage could then be legalised by the Church. As a direct result of Lord Hardwick’s Act and its strict marriage laws the famous town of Gretna Green became popular with English couples running away to get married as Scotland was outside the jurisdiction of English law. Gretna Green is still a popular choice for marriage because of the romantic associations it has had of eloping lovers running away to seal their love against all odds!
Today, Handfasting is the choice of many Pagans and Magical Folk when choosing to commit to a partner. It is sometimes, although not always preceded by a civil ceremony. Whether or not the marriage has been legally performed, in the eyes of the pagan community the couple Handfasted are seen as married within Pagan tradition. For those people who follow a Pagan Path the vows taken within a Handfasting ceremony are no less binding than those taken in a Church or Registry Office.
Thanks to ‘Pagan Wedding Planners’ for all this info. For more Information visit their wonderful website on www.paganweddingplanners.co.uk
For Civil Weddings; – Song Choices should be agreed with your Registrar in Advance.