When Witches Wed: A Hand-Fasting Ritual

When Witches Wed: A Hand-Fasting Ritual September 13, 2016

Last weekend it was my honor to officiate the marriage rites of two Witches in my tradition. It was a fun blend of things the average North Carolinian could expect to find at the other end of a wedding invitation, and then a total trip on the wyrd side, too. These witches are out ‘n’ proud and chose to unabashedly invite their family and friends of all faith traditions and walks of life to join them for their Wiccan-style Hand-Fasting rites.

Afterward, they threw a southern Pig-Pickin’ Barbecue reception with delicious home-catered food. There was music and dancing and a whole tent just for the booze. They also hired me to mehndi the Bride’s hands and feet with traditional bridal henna designs. It was a schweet gig!

Hand Fasting of Clare and Buddy Hobby, Sept. 10, 2016 Photo used with Permission
Hand-Fasting of Clare and Buddy Hobby, Sept. 10, 2016 – Photo used with Permission

Both the Bride and Groom saw these rites as not just a legal opportunity to interweave their two families, but a magickal opportunity as well. So they invited their closest family members to take speaking roles, and present a cord in the hand-fasting ceremony; they all rocked it like old pros! There were around 150 guests, and as far as I know most had never witnessed anything close to a Wiccan ritual before, yet they enthusiastically brought some loving mojo to the festivities!

I won’t deny that I was nervous about accepting this charge to be their officiant. It was my first solo gig of this magnitude. I’ve conducted at least a hundred rituals, but a marriage isn’t your average full moon esbat, where if you flub it up, oh well, better luck next month, and there aren’t any cameras to catch you. A wedding may be the most important rite in your whole life! No pressure.

I’ve only ever witnessed one other hand-fasting, and co-led one small rite of engagement (a hand-fasting set for only a year and a day.) In that case they didn’t stay together the whole year, and it was something of a nightmare break-up for both of them, and that broke my heart, too.  I learned a lot from that one ritual–mostly that the officiant must make it really, really clear what is at stake if you break the vows. Now, I won’t conduct any rite that I don’t feel absolutely confident is a good idea.

Hand-fasting: The Ties that Bind

Hand-fasting magick has great power; it BINDS those two spirits for however long a period they set, whether they change their mind or not.  While I imagine that they can be magickally un-bound, if both parties are willing to participate, but I’ve never even heard of a “hand-parting” divorce rite.  I imagine stepping into that circle must feel akin to tip-toeing across a mine-field. <shudder> I’d rather not, thanks.  Anyway, since then I’ve been hesitant to enact that particular rite without the accompanying legal commitment. As I’m stubbornly still not yet legal clergy, I could use that as my excuse to turn down requests to officiate.

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Five Hand-fasting Cords after they “Tied the Knot.”

That excuse wouldn’t fly this time. This is the first request I’ve had since I pledged my service as a priestess through ordination rites in our Tradition, and since I am currently serving as the elected High Priestess of the coven that is the “mothership” of that Tradition, I accept that this is my job. My personal shadows have no place in this witchcraft. Plus, they were already married at the courthouse a few weeks ago, when Mercury was NOT retrograde (smart choice.) [Neat Trick: They invited their legal witnesses to return and play a role in linking both the legal and spiritual aspects of their marriage during the “Jumping the Besom and Sword” exit at the end.]

The love this Bride and Groom have for each other inspires me, and I had no reservations in enacting their hand-fasting.  Officiating this wedding, and the welcome these folks gave me, went far to help heal this divorcee’s heart. It was a beautiful experience, my friends. I am so very glad that I got over myself and accepted their invitation. Plus, I was overjoyed to see so many non-pagan folks enthusiastically attend this no-holds-barred Witchy gathering. It goes to show that if witches choose to be fully open about their religion, and give their loved ones a chance to rise to the occasion, they can delight you with how cool they can be about it.

Witch-Crafting Meaningful Ceremony

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Henna Designs on the Bride’s Hands by Heron

In gratitude that they were all joining us on our sacred ground, we worked hard to create a ritual with just the right blend of traditional pagan elements everyone expects, magickal oompf without too much obscure jargon, and enough guidance and explanation from me such that all of the guests would understand, feel included, and relate it back to their own religious experience.

I will admit that I’m a critic of most of the stripped-down, faintly-protestant, not-particularly-interested-in-church-but-trying-to-appease-my-mother, modern wedding ceremonies I’ve attended in the past. These 10 minute, in-and-out, fly-bys to the altar offer no substance, no weight–just “I do, You do, kiss, now commence with the heavy drinking.” I think they are an atrocious waste of time. No wonder the divorce rate among my generation is so high! In my opinion, the point of a “wedding” is a rite of Spiritual union; it is, by definition, a religious event and the party is a secondary consideration.

Being a ritualist, I value a well-thought out and thorough ceremony that reflects the Spirit and style of the Bride and Groom, and makes it worth your time to decorate the venue.  I can tell you that this weekend, we gave them quite a show! There were heavy doses of both reverence and mirth–heavy on the mirth–with plenty of joking and crying, toasting and drinking, kissing and cheering. Then they jumped the sword and besom into their new life.

After we opened the circle with the “Merry meet, merry part and merry meet again” and the Groom turns to the crowd, and in his delightful southern gentleman drawl, says, “It may not have been the fanciest wedding you’ve ever been to, but I guarantee you’ll never forget it!” I’m sure he is correct!

Afterwards, I was approached by dozens of happy wedding-goers with praise about how the rites touched them, what they’d learned, and how glad they were to have been included. They shared with me their own faith’s wedding traditions–Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pagan–and how they each found something with which they could connect.

Their guests asked me a thousand thoughtful questions, which I answered to the best of my ability; I gave tours of the altar tools; we took selfies; we even did a little impromptu magick later on. These folks took great care of me, never letting my glass go empty. Basically, they made me feel like a rock-star. Considering we were in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina…right out in plain view of the road and all the country neighbors, and wandering dogs who came to sniff out what weird incenses were burning…the entire event was a miraculous triumph of Love and the Old Religion.

The Power of Disbelief

Amethyst, Besom, Sword, Chalice at center Altar
Amethyst, Besom, Sword, Chalice at center Altar

There was only one person I know of who spoke their disdain of our ceremony. She is described as a staunchly conservative, Christian family member who was not at all happy that she was at a Wiccan ceremony, though I give her major props for coming anyway. She was upset that we “didn’t mention ‘The Lord’ once during the entire ceremony.”

Should you choose to read the ritual I’ve included, like an Egg Hunt, count how many times you see us mention “The Lord.” Its a perfect illustration of the limiting power of “belief;” how when one’s mind is closed to possibility, they will see (or not see) exactly what they expect as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It also proves that you can’t please everyone, so just do what makes you happy.

Clare and Buddy gave me permission to publish their ritual script and photos. I’ve edited it into a template style for use in Hetero (Bride/Groom) circumstances, that others may adapt for their own use. Clare did a majority of the research on-line and cobbled together the parts they wanted. I believe one original source was from the Church of Ancient Ways. Clare edited a template ceremony for their own chosen wording, then I massaged it into a script more to Sojourner Tradition format, and heavily edited the language into my own words, as much as possible.

All new rites are inspired by rituals that came before…that is how we build upon and grow our traditions. When a priest/ess stands on sacred ground and speaks through Divine Inspiration, could those words ever truly be their human possession? I don’t think so. At this point, I have no idea what fragments of language may remain from the original sources. We freely offer our amalgam for your consideration and personal use, and hope that it continues to inspire many more iterations.

Click “Continue” for a complete script. Which takes about an hour to enact, so brace yourself, it’s thorough!

Deep gratitude and many blessings to our sweet Bride and Groom, for a long lifetime of loving marriage!
~Heron Michelle

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