The Joining of Hands,
The Joining of Lives
A pagan handfasting is an increasingly popular way of infusing a couple's personality and values into their wedding ceremony.
In the fairy tale "Rapunzel," when the prince climbs Rapunzel's golden braid and sees her for the first time, his heart fills with love. Apparently, she feels the same thing. "And they were married right away" is the next sentence in many versions of the story. How did they do that? I used to wonder. Probably, they handfasted. The old Celtic practice of handfasting arose in remote areas where people had limited access to weddings officiated by clergy and had to assume a do-it-yourself approach to matrimony. Certainly in the room at the top of Rapunzel's forest tower, there was no other choice.
Handfasting was practiced for centuries throughout northern Europe and Scandinavia and was legal (in Scotland at least) until the mid-19th century. The phrases "asking for her hand in marriage" and "the bonds of matrimony" refer to the handfasting, in which the hands of the bride and groom are literally bound together.
The practice of handfasting has come back in style, reflecting not only neo-paganism and the popularity of all things Celtic but also the desire of many couples to shape wedding ceremonies that reflect their personalities and values. Because handfasting originated as a self-created and self-officiated form, the bride and groom had no choice but to take charge of every aspect of the ceremony. That theme carries over to the way handfasting is practiced today.
Handfasting is a romantic yet extremely practical approach to the wedding ceremony. Those who choose handfasting are usually people who desire a participatory ritual for themselves and their guests, rather than one in which the officiating clergy does most of the talking and the guests sit, audience-style, witnessing the event.
Of the handfastings I've been involved in, no two were alike, though they all had one thing in common: They were lots of fun. If you decide this is the form you'd like to use, all that's required is imagination, creativity, and a little research. As you plan, try not to think of how the ritual should be, but how you want it to be.
To give you an idea of what it could look like, here is a simple outline of one possible handfasting.
Handfastings almost always take place in outdoor locations, the preferred ritual setting of most pagans I know. However, if this isn't appealing to you, by all means, have the ritual inside. I recently attended a handfasting that was held in a gay/lesbian bookstore. Another was held in a soup kitchen where the bride and groom worked.