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Handfasting & Wedding Celebrations
A Handfasting Ritual
In the Clans of old, a Celtic Priest or Priestess performed a "promise" ceremony called a Handfasting. The name comes from part of the ritual where the Shaman binds the hands of the couple together for the duration of the ritual. Some believe the phrase "giving one's hand in marriage" started during this ceremony.
Handfasting Binding RopeA Handfasting was not necessarily made for life. Celtic tradition stated that a couple would remain in the bond for a selected period of time. At the end of the selected time period, the couple may chose to renew their vows, but only if they both agree to another commitment.

Although this was the common tradition, there were variations across the many clans of the green isle. The differences in time had a lot to do with the successful fertility of the couple. The bond was designed for procreation, in addition to caring and love. Sometimes the procreation was all it was designed for. If the couple continued to be childless, one or the other partner had the right to bow out of the union and seek fertility else where.
A couple may chose to:  
  • Join for three years and renew their vows only if both agree.
  • Join for six years and renew their commitment only if both agree.
  • Join for a nine month trial. If after the trial they both agree, the couple bonds for three years. At the end of this time, the couple can decide to renew again, but this time for a life-time commitment.
  • The most common period was to Join for 1 year and a day trial. At the end of this period the couple can decide to renew for a life-time. The final day of the 1 year and a day commit will be the date of the wedding, if you wish to conduct your service with historic accuracy.
Each commitment would often depend on procreation more than the desire to be together. When someone asks for a Traditional handfasting, this is the ceremony and commitment they're referring to. Though most don't realize it. What they're generally asking for is the modern day version of a Handfasting.

Today, a Handfasting is celebrated as an announcement and celebration of a promised union, the period of engagement. This event formalizes the promise made by the intended couple through their promise to marry. It honors the commitment they have given and accepted to provide for and care for their newly formed partnership with honesty, trust, support and love. But it can also be the marriage ritual.

For the engagement ceremony the couple is joined hand in hand and provide their oath of intent and agreement to wed. Today the wedding typically takes place 1 year and a day after the Handfasting ceremony. But this is not set in stone. Some couples simply like to make a formal announcement and celebration out of their engagement and this ritual is the perfect event to share the news and joy with family and friends, while adding a bit of pomp and circumstance to the event.
The Wedding Ceremony
Traditional Wedding RitualMinisters at the Center are licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia to perform wedding services. We have performed services in Virginia and North Carolina. Provided with enough lead time, we can work with other States and Counties for licensure in other areas.
The center provides a variety of Wedding Services for spiritual and non-spiritual couples, as well as, Gay and Lesbian couples. Whither you're an atheist, agnostic, Metaphysician, Pagan or any other spiritual denomination we can work with you to customize the best ceremony for you.
Today there is no set process or outline for a wedding ceremony. Some couples prefer the traditional wedding as conducted through modern Christian or Jewish ceremonies. Others prefer no mention of spirituality, God or GreatSpirits. While others enjoy incorporating their personal spiritual perspectives into their marriage rite. Here at the Center we are open and tolerant of ideas that couples wish to include or omit from their personal marriage ceremonies. While there are some requests that we may turn down out of respect for our own beliefs, we are willing to discuss your ideas to make your service the best and most memorable event for you, your family and friends. We provide guidance, and facilitation for both the Rehearsal and Wedding ceremony itself.
If you would like to review an outline of our wedding ceremony program; click here. Any of the following ideas can be incorporated and customized into your ceremony program.
Ritual & Ceremony Ideas
Here are some ideas and processes you could incorporate into your Handfasting or Wedding service. You can incorporate one or more of these sections into your own service. Or work with us to customize your own ideas to make your service the most memorable for you.
  • Unity CandlesCandle Lighting also called Union Candles or Unity Candles.
    3 candles are used. Two small tappers and one larger pillar candle. This process is used before the exchange of rings. The couple individually states their intentions (these are not vows), this is the time to express your love, the reasons you want to join together and be in a bonded partnership. After the intention is stated, the person lights his/her candle and places it into a holder on either side of the pillar. After the exchange of rings, the couple picks up their individual taper and together they light the pillar. Showing the bond of their commitment igniting the light of the large soul. The soul/spirit of their union.

  • Rope binding.
    A rope made of natural fibers (cotton, vines, a garland of flowers for instance), measured 3 feet in length. As the couple begins the statement of their promise to each other, their wrists are bound together by the rope. They remain tied during the exchange of rings and the final kiss. They are presented to the gathering as a bonded couple, and then they can be 'freed'.
  • Sand Pouring also called Union Sand or Unity Sand.
    Unity Sand symbolizes the flow of life as a process of balance between two lives. Initially thought to be a tradition from south West Native Americans, it's practice can be found in many cultures around the world.

    Unity SandToday couples enjoy this idea of pouring colored sand into a single glass vase or container to symbolize their respect, love and commitment to balance as their two lives become one.

    Traditionally two different colors of sand are used. Couples can choose to mix the sand together fully, or take turns making a pattern in the single glass vase. Another practice includes the use of a 3rd color either held by the minister or the bride, to signify the spiritual aspect of the couples life and commitment. 
  • Exchange Of Rings.
    This is more of a modern tradition worked into an old pagan practice. Rings were not always exchanged during a marriage. The cost of such luxuries was better spent on caring for the family. Today it is a common practice and can easily be added into a binding ceremony.
  • Exchange Of Life.
    A more common pagan practice. The exchange of life is an exchange of blood. The couple is ceremoniously cut or pricked and they exchange and intertwine their blood to become one life.
    Exchange of Life Force Some couples do this in combination with the Candle lighting. After the main pillar is lit, the blood is drawn from the ring finger of the left hand of both by a prick, usually with the tip of an athame. The blood is then dripped together onto the flame of the pillar. Allowing the union of blood to seep into the wax and become permanently joined. Gods willing, the dripping of blood does not extinguish the flame - which is a sign of good fortune. If it does, it's a sign that this could be a stormy union which will need work from both sides to succeed.
    Another method is to fill two small pendant type vials with the blood of your mate. And exchange those pendants to be worn by your partner. Always having a piece of their life with you at all times. Once again the prick or small cut is made with an athame. The vials are chosen by each partner (they are rarely identical). The groom gives his vial, hung on a chain, to his bride who holds it as he fills it with his life force. When complete, the vial is sealed and then he places the chain around her neck. The same process occurs for the bride as she gives the gift of her life to him. (This is one of my favorite rituals to add to a Handfasting, but many couples are squeamish about the exchange of blood. - So it's important to note, these ideas are solely up to you as a couple. Don't feel as though you have to do any of this.)
    Then there's the exchange of blood from body to body. Making a small ritualistic cut on the tip of the middle finger (yes middle finger - which symbolizes the sexual union of the couple) on the left hand , again with a ritual athame, and joining those cuts together as an exchange of blood from one partner to the other and vice versa.
  • Broom jumping.
     A ceremonial broom is prepared, typically by the hand maidens. The broom does not have to be a certain length. It can be a traditional broom from any hardware store, a special crafted broom made of natural materials, or even a small broom intended solely as an ornament.
    Jumping The Broom When the couple steps before the Shaman, the broom is ceremoniously placed behind them, setting a symbol for a doorway or wall that separates the couple from the world outside. The bristles are placed behind the groom, the hilt behind the bride. This sets a balance of masculine/feminine energy with the couple. The bristles being feminine, the hilt being masculine.
    This is now their spiritual space and no one may cross into it without permission. After the ritual when the couple is ready to be presented to the gathering and world, they turn to the broom and 'hop' over it's wall, walking into public as bonded couple.
    Another tradition has the groom raising the broom from the hilt and standing it on the bristles, allowing his bride to walk through the doorway he will now protect. He follows her and once on the other side, gives her the broom as a gift. She accepts the broom as a gesture to care for their home (more than just a physical building, in this case, home is the family, their union and so on).
  • Staff n Broom
    Concept is the same as broom jumping. But instead of just 1 symbol, 2 are used. And once again, the size doesn't matter. The broom for her, as a sign of nurturing for the family, and the staff for him as a sign of guiding the way. Remember these gestures are based on the old days, when a woman's job was in the house and the man's job was protecting the family and providing. In this case the broom is decorated by the brides family and the staff by the grooms family. It's important that the wedding couple themselves do not participate in the selection or decoration of the symbols. These are items "passed on" to the couple so that they may stand on their own and care for their own newly created family.
  • Sword n Broom
    This is the one I actually prefer to conduct. And size does matter. But both items must be the same length (which includes the bristles of the broom and hilt of the sword). At a minimum the sword and broom should be at least 3 feet long. The broom is prepared by the grooms family, the sword by the brides. This is an exchange of ideas and energies from one family to the other as a means of blessing the union.
    Crossing the Sword & BroomBoth items are laid at an angle; a "V" shape, with the bristles and point directed toward the gathering. The brides family places the hilt behind the groom and the bristles pointing to the brides family. The grooms family places the hilt of the sword behind the bride and the blade pointing toward the grooms family. The broom is laid first, so that the point of the blade is laid ontop of the bristles of the broom.
    When the couple has been joined, the bride raises the sword and offers it to the groom as a sign of her willingness to protect their union and her new family. The groom accepts the sword as a sign of his willingness to work with her in that protection, leading the fight if needs be.
    He then raises the broom from the hilt and presents it to her as a symbol of his willingness to nurture their union and care for their family. She accepts the broom as her willingness to work with him in that care, taking the lead if needs be. A statement of promise is made to the partner as the item is presented to them. Additionally an acceptance of responsibility to that promise is made by the opposite partner when receiving the gift.
    The exchange is completed by unbinding the wrists during the exchange of rings, and seamlessly moving the rope to bind the broom and sword together to show they are willing to take on both duties and share responsibilities as needed throughout their union. In many cases, I have gone to a couples house after this type of exchange, and seen the ceremonial items hung on the wall in an X pattern, still tied by the ceremonial rope.
  • Be Creative
    There are many traditions from around the world that can be incorporated into a wedding ceremony. Don't be afraid to discuss them with your officiating minister. This is your wedding and you should make it memorable for day. Simply consider holding respect for the guests who are gathered, your families and the position of the minister officiating the wedding.

    Each service is unique and each request can be dealt with on a case by case basis. There maybe aspects you want to conduct in private, before or after the public ritual. There maybe items you want to exchange that are personal and meaningful to you or your families that aren't traditional in a wedding service. Each of these can generally be worked into your service for your special day.