The Complete Guide To Handfasting
The glitz and glamour of today’s white weddings actually derive from the ancient pagan betrothal ceremony called the handfasting. The tradition of this hand-clasping ritual is believed to date back to Roman times. It is thought that a handfasted bride and groom initially took their vows only for a year and a day. After that time, if they were still madly in love, another ceremony was held to unite them permanently. In the twenty-first century, Wiccans do still get handfasted, but like most things, handfasting has evolved with the times. Angelic Wiccans tend to have ceremonies based on conventional handfasting, but with services attuned to the vibrations of angels rather than the pagan gods and goddesses.
As in the olden days, a high priest or priestess usually performs the handfasting ceremony, either outdoors or in a place of worship, such as a Christian church. Rings are exchanged to symbolize unbroken union and the eternal circle of life. It is interesting to note that the wedding ring, which is traditionally worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, came to be placed there because our ancestors believed that it sat over an artery that ran directly from the hand to the heart.
The high priest or priestess is traditionally clothed in a gothic-style outfit, usually in green, gold, or lavender. These outfits typically include ornate headdresses, and the priestess may wear a crown graced with a variety of crystals and feathers. These high-ranking clergies are mostly mature members of covens who have a wealth of knowledge about spell casting and all things magickal.
The Witch’s Wedding Altar
For the ceremony, a lavish full-size altar adorned with a purple cloth is set up outdoors, often near water or a stream. Upon it are placed two large white candles, representing the male and the female, and an elaborately decorated broomstick is propped up at the front. The cake, typically fruitcake, is placed in the center of the altar, along with a chalice of red wine, a plate of biscuits, and a tiny pot of honey. The wine represents a creative union, the biscuits are a symbol to ensure that the couple will never starve, and the honey is to keep the union sweet. Crystals, such as amethyst and rose quartz, are scattered around the table, along with lots of seasonal flowers and petals. The altar can accommodate almost anything the couple chooses, such as photos, trinkets, and personal items, but salt, water, and incense are almost always included. These symbolize the elements and purify the space.
Guests, Gifts, and Potluck
As with non-Wiccan weddings, the number of guests in attendance depends on how many people the couple chooses to invite. Most handfastings are very informal, and they’re usually not catered. Guests may be asked to prepare a signature dish, cook an old-fashioned delicacy, or bring a first-rate bottle of wine or a case of imported beer. These days, it is not so fashionable to buy large, expensive gifts or home appliances; most witches feel that small, homemade items or foods are more personal and allow each and every person invited to contribute in some way.
All of these offerings are placed on trestle tables, and once the wedding ceremony is over, the guests help themselves to the many mouth-watering contributions. Witches don’t tend to be materialistic, so this potluck arrangement is ideal for us, and it keeps the costs to a minimum. I’m sure you’ll agree that this makes the term “the more the merrier” very true indeed.
Sometimes guests are encouraged to dress up in medieval costumes and even allowed to bring along “well-behaved” pets. At my handfasting, six of my chickens escaped from their coop and mingled with the people, which just added to the festive atmosphere.
As guests arrive, gentle music is played in the background. and each person is offered a glass of wine. Chairs are placed in a large circle around the altar (which is off-center in the circle), and the guests sit, drink, and await the celebration.
Once all the guests are seated, the “right-hand man” (usually a member of the groom’s family or a good friend) walks into the circle, ringing a handbell. This cleanses the area inside the circle of any negative energy. The bride’s maid of honor then takes dried lavender flowers mixed with small chips of rose quartz and casts them at the feet of the guests for good luck. At the same time, one of the bride’s handmaidens or bridesmaids follows the right-hand man, waving a smudging stick or some sage incense from the altar to further purify the circle.
The service commences with the groom and the high priest or priestess approaching the altar, accompanied by hand drummers. Let’s imagine that this ceremony is conducted by a high priestess. The high priestess carries an ornamental cushion with colorful ribbons or cords draped across it. These will be used later to bind the couple’s hands in matrimony. If it’s a breezy day, the ribbons are pinned to the cushion to keep them in place.
After the groom and the priestess have taken their places at the altar, the drummers return to the bridal party and drum the bride and the handmaidens into the circle. The groom’s attire is of his choosing; he may be wearing a frock coat or a fancy, colorful vest. The bride is usually color-coordinated with the groom. She may wear something long and flowing, not necessarily white, accessorized with a headdress or a wreath of seasonal flowers on her head and possibly a wand tipped with rose quartz. The bride has her handmaidens in attendance throughout the service, and there can be as many or as few as she wants. Their costumes are often very witchlike— long, dramatic, gothic-style dresses in rich fabrics such as velvet, with colors ranging from deep purples and reds to vibrant turquoise. Each handmaiden wears a pentagram necklace or ring.
The Sermon and Vows
There are many different types of handfasting services. They can last from around fifteen minutes to a half hour, and the ceremonial texts can vary considerably. Sermons are read and vows are exchanged, as in traditional non-Wiccan weddings; prewritten sermons are available on the Internet to download. In Angelic Wicca, the sermon focuses on angels; archangels are called upon to bless the couple to ensure that they go on to have a happy union together.
Once the bride and groom are standing in front of the altar, the high priestess takes a handful of salt and casts it at their feet. This is said to purify the ground they stand on. She asks the bride and groom to lower their heads, then throws a handful of salt above them to cleanse the air around them. After the high priestess has given her sermon and asked the angels to send eternal blessings, she takes a small silver spoon dipped in honey and gently places it on the lips of the couple to sweeten their life together. A goblet of wine is then offered to each of them, and they drink in turn from the same vessel. The bridesmaids offer baskets to the couple and to all the guests; as
the bride and groom each take a bite from theirs, so do their guests, to symbolize sustenance.
The bride and groom have usually written their personal vows in private and have not shared them with each other beforehand. Many witches like to stand at a lectern and speak their promises to their partner so that all can hear. When the vows have been spoken, the bride and groom exchange rings and the high priestess prepares to bind the couple’s hands.
The handfasting ceremony culminates in hand binding. In the past, couples would have their hands bound together and knotted with cord. Although some witches still like to use cord, many brides and grooms today opt for satin ribbons in purple, green, and white. These are about six and a half feet in length and wound around the bride’s and groom’s clasped left hands. The expression “tying the knot” likely derives from this ritual.
The high priestess coils the ribbons, weaving them in and out of the couple’s fingers before holding their tied hands in the air for a few moments. Ethereal, angelic music plays as the pair begin to walk around the circle, displaying their joined hands and sharing their happiness with everyone. In turn, the guests shower the newlyweds with rice (contrary to popular belief, it’s a myth that raw rice will injure birds). In pagan times, rice throwing was believed to transfer the spirit of the fertile grain to the bride and groom, ensuring that they would have a prosperous harvest and a fertile union.
Once this ancient ritual has been completed, the high priestess unties the couple’s hands and pronounces them handfasted; the groom then kisses his bride. However, it doesn’t end there, because many witches love to follow tradition and jump the broom, which has been propped up against the altar. The drummers bang on their drums as the newlyweds take a running jump over this ornate broom to finalize the marriage. The British phrase “living over the brush” comes directly from this custom; it signifies a couple who have not had an official wedding ceremony but are wed in the eyes of the community. At this point, everybody cheers and applauds the newlywed couple and the ceremony is over.
It has always been customary for the bride and groom to slice a fruitcake, holding the knife together and showing their affection by kissing over the top of it. This is supposed to guarantee that together they will bring forth many children. Then, by sharing the cake with their guests, they are indirectly sharing the magickal energies of their love and passing it on to everyone present. I was terribly lucky, because my maid of honor was a wonderful baker and she made me a beautiful cake in the shape of a pentagram. Afterward, she told me that she had cast a lovely spell over it to make our marriage a happy one.
This is a wedding reception with a difference. There is no first dance. Instead, live musicians play instruments such as the fiddle, the cello, and the accordion throughout the dinner. After eating and drinking, the guests, in high spirits, start to dance. After a few dances, the groom makes a speech and thanks all of his guests and his right-hand man for their help and assistance. The bride next makes a thank-you speech and gives small gifts to each of her handmaidens, the high priestess, and her new mother-in-law. This offering is usually in the way of something small and personal, such as a crystal, a magickal pouch, or a fresh bunch of herbs. Right after she has given her presents, she summons all the single people (male and female) for the bouquet toss. Whoever catches this bouquet must take it home and dry it to ensure that they meet their true love in this lifetime.
A Witchy Wedding Album
Unlike a non-Wiccan wedding album, which usually holds photographs of the happy couple and their immediate family, a Wiccan wedding album is a more interactive reminder of the couple’s special day. Usually, the right-hand man purchases a large hardback book and decorates the outside in some way. Inside, there is a written copy of the sermon and vows from the ceremony. After the ceremony, each guest writes a “well-wishing” note on the pages that follow, and some of the dried lavender is collected from the ground and pressed into the book. Later, photographs can be added, along with other mementos, such as cards from guests or a copy of the invitation. This treasure is then kept in a special area in the couple’s home so that they can maintain all their wonderful memories in one place.
Sadly, a handfasting is not considered legally binding, but witches across the world feel that the ceremonies represent much more than a legal piece of paper. Although handfastings are informal, they are touching and beautiful ceremonies. You may want to have a civil ceremony first and then arrange your handfasting—or “real” wedding, as I have often heard the angelic handfasting called—at a later date. To ensure a magickal marriage, hold your event on or during a New Moon phase, and don’t forget the tent, as you cannot guarantee the weather!