Handfasting: As Forever As You Want To Be
By Michele Neisler
In this age of quickie marriage and instantaneous divorce, the ancient tradition of handfasting makes more sense than ever. Handfasting is a binding commitment between two loving persons that requires no bureaucratic licensing to begin and no lawyers to undo.
To those that choose to handfast, the commitment is as deep and binding as anything cooked up by City Hall. Indeed, a handfast can last forever, so long as love remains. Even death cannot end a handfasted union; there is no 'til death do us part' in the ceremony.
Originally a Celtic tradition, handfasting has been adopted into many New Age philosophies and is practiced quietly worldwide. There are two basic types of handfast: the first to signify a betrothal, traditionally for 'a year and a day'. If all goes well, and after the year-and-a-day the two intended lovers are still up for it, a second handfast binds the two forever --heart, mind, body and spirit-- for as long as love remains. The only thing that can undo a handfast is a lack of love.
Most often, the handfast ceremony takes place outdoors, in as natural a setting as can be found. One of the loveliest ceremonies this writer ever attended was on a rooftop in San Francisco, above the city and under the stars. There were pots and barrels overflowing with plants and flowers and thousands of tiny, colorful lights entwined throughout. The loving couple just happened to be two men, radiantly in love and rainbow-hued, flowing silk robes. One wonderful thing about handfasting is that the participants are not bound by restrictive, excluding laws. The only requirement to join another by handfast is true and abiding, requited Love.
Usually, the handfasting ceremony is presided over by an elder of whatever spiritual group the betrothed belong. Sometimes the couple chooses to do their own, private ceremony. So long as their intent is correct and love is true, there really is no 'wrong' way to handfast. Some basic elements are typical-- words and gestures are offered, acknowledging reverence for nature and the elements. Ancient ancestors are invited and kindly spirits invoked. The betrothed gaze lovingly and deeply into one another's eyes and whisper promises to each other as the elder gently binds their wrists together with a red cord. This is the actual 'fasting' -- the red cord signifying love and knots indicating the tender bondage of their mutual commitment. Thus the saying, to 'tie the knot'.
Indeed, a handfast is one of the most delightful Pagan celebrations. It is a time of joyous revelry and magical merriment. It's a perfectly wonderful reason to dress in fanciful, flamboyant garb and wear flowers in one's hair.
Sometimes, after the ceremony, the newly-wedded couple jump over a broom, leaping together into their new life as one. Traditional 'cakes and ale' or other delicious treats are shared afterward and guests are encouraged to dance and cavort well into the night.
Love is always worth celebrating; handfasting is a time-honored way of making a truly heartfelt commitment to never-ending love.