We know that planning any wedding can be stressful and time consuming – and handfastings are no different! In some cases planning a Handfasting can be more difficult than planning a traditional wedding because there is little information available, and family and friends may misunderstand its alternative nature. However, help is at hand! Here are our top tips for a hassle-free handfasting!
1 Why have a Handfasting?
It’s important to know why you want to have this type of ceremony. Are you Pagan? In which case you’ll want a wedding that reflects your personal beliefs and spirituality. But do you need to be a pagan to have a handfasting? Not at all! If you have have a love of nature, a need to express yourselves freely, a respect for the beliefs expressed in the ceremony and a respect for the Divine, than this could be the wedding for you. It’s important, however, to remember that a Handfasting has its roots in Pagan beliefs and, as such, it uses Pagan imagery and symbolism.
2 Know what you want
Once you’ve decided that a Handfasting is indeed for you, you should sit down with your partner and decide exactly what you want and how you want to achieve it. A good way to go about this is to first let your imagination run wild, forget any constraints and write a ‘fantasy wish list’ containing everything you want for your perfect day. Then go through this list and see what’s achievable. This is where you keep your budget in mind!
3 Getting family and friends on board
Because of the alternative nature of Handfastings, family and friends may not know what to expect and may even sometimes be resistant. Make sure you have plenty of information to give them and explain why this ceremony is important to you. Invitation inserts are an ideal way of making sure everybody has an idea of what to expect on the day. Be open to questions, be patient, and, above all, stick to your guns. This is your day after all! In our experience, with patience and good planning, we have never encountered any opposition from our couples’ families or friends. In fact many non-pagan family members have commented on the ceremony being one of the most moving and meaningful that they have ever seen.
Currently Handfastings are not a legally binding contract in the UK. UK law states that a marriage is only legally recognised when performed by a Civil Registrar or through the banns of a Christian Church. If you want your union, as a marriage or civil partnership, to be recognised by the law, you will have to have a civil ceremony. This will have to be separate from your Handfasting. Many of our couples choose to have the civil part of their union either in the morning before their Handfasting or a few days or weeks before. For most of our couples, this is just the “red tape” part of the proceedings. The Handfasting is the spiritual union, celebrated with friends and family and holds all the meaning of the day.
5 Choose the right venue
Finding the right venue is important. Handfastings are traditionally held outside in the beauty of nature, surrounded by the elements, which are fundamental to Pagan beliefs. You can choose a place that has meaning to you and your partner, or simply a place of natural beauty such as woodlands, parklands, stone circles, moorlands or even your own back garden. Remember your choice should be accessible to guests of all ages and lend itself to the ceremony and all practicalities. Permission from landowners must be sought in all instances and some venues may charge a fee or donation.
6 Finding your celebrant
You may know someone who can officiate for you, especially if you’re Pagan, but finding a celebrant can be tricky. It’s extremely important you feel relaxed and comfortable with your celebrant and they have the relevant knowledge and experience. You should be able to rely on them to listen to your needs and wishes and guide you where necessary. While the internet is a great resource, never be afraid to ask someone to provide information on past ceremonies and testimonials and make sure you hire the right person for you.
7 Getting the ceremony right
A handfasting gives you the freedom to plan a more personal ceremony allowing you to write your own from start to finish, or to just pen your vows. Its really up to you. The ceremony should not last much more than 30 – 40 minutes. Many will share common elements such as the tying of hands with cords, exchange of rings and vows and the jumping of the besom broom. All of these customs have symbolic meanings important to pagan spirituality. Books and websites can provide some useful templates for scripts and ceremonies but be guided by your celebrant if they are more experienced than yourselves.
8 It’s all in the detail!
The details really do matter and help to make the day memorable. For instance, think about your theme – what colours will you use? These can be woven through the day with your flowers, handfasting cords, besom broom, clothing and even reception decorations. Colours are important in magical practice so be aware of the significance of your chosen colours. Plan the day from start to finish, know your timings and make sure all those helping know what they need to do and when. All these little things will help your day go smoothly.
9 What to wear
The one thing to remember is that anything goes! We have had ‘traditional’ bridal parties in beautiful white layered dresses and morning suits; we have had couples dressed in gothic, medieval and even fairy costumes. We have handfasted couples at dawn in the rain wearing waterproofs and wellies! One couple turned up beautifully attired, the groom in a tailored suit and and the bride in designer dress and high heels, for their ceremony at a remote stone circle on Dartmoor – they brought trainers for the hike.
10 Planning is everything!
Planning your Handfasting down to the smallest of details will always ensure your day is both memorable and beautiful. We hope that all of the above will help you have some idea of where to start and what is entailed. However, our top tip is to hire a good wedding planner to do the job for you!