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The Pagan Custom of Handfasting

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Handfasting is a very old, Pagan custom in which two people are willingly joined together in front of their god. The implications of the ceremony are similar to the custom of marriage in more mainstream faiths such as Christianity.

Till Death do us Part?

Whereas in most faiths the marriage ceremony or equivalent is a life-long commitment; in handfasting the duration of the bond is discussed beforehand by the couple and a time period is decided upon. Many Pagans believe in reincarnation and in us all having a soulmate. These beliefs are taken into account when coming to such a decision.

It was at one point very popular for the bond to be for a year and a day, with the couple arranging to meet for a renewal after that if desired. Some choose to be joined for this life only, others for all future lives.

The Ceremony

The ceremony itself is very personal to the individuals and may also vary between belief systems. What is written here is a basic outline.

The ceremony will most likely be held outside so weather is an important consideration. Somewhere close to nature - such as in a field, or near a lake - is a good place to consider, as is anywhere of personal relevance to the couple. Proceedings may be conducted by a family member or friend, a high priestess if one or both of the couple are Wiccan coven members, or anyone else the couple choose. They may also wish to legalise the partnership by visiting a registry office at a later date if the bond is to be of indefinite length. In some places it may be possible for the registrar to carry out the handfasting ceremony themselves. This will depend on local legislation.

Proceedings start with the couple standing before their invited guests and thanking everyone for coming. The person conducting the ceremony may then say a few words of welcome and about the ceremony before beginning by calling upon the elements and the couple's chosen deities to bear witness to the proceedings.

The couple will then each offer a hand to the conductor who will fasten them together with a piece of rope or ribbon1. Turning to face each other, the couple make their vows and promises to one another, also stating the duration of the bond and asking the blessing of their god(s) upon the union. They may then wish to pass their fastened hands through incense smoke (symbolic of air), fire, earth and water in turn to cement things with the elements before the hands are untied to signify that the couple stay together through love and free will alone.

If they choose, the couple may now jump over a broomstick2 held in place by their guests together to symbolise their leap from old life to new and bring them children. This tradition may be derived from old Welsh folklore.

Other optional customs include the presider giving the couple a single cup to drink from in turn, then holding it up for the other to drink from as a symbol of unity, or cutting off a small piece of each other's hair and burying it in a small box.

Thanks and farewell are given to the gods and elements in turn and celebrations begin.

1This may be the origin of the expression 'tying the knot'.2The broomstick is traditionally a symbol of fertility as well as new beginnings as in to 'sweep out the old and in the new'.

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