Handfasting Pagan Ritual

Handfasting was the old pagan ritual of marriage in the British Isles; it remained legal in Scotland all the way up to 1939, even after Lord Harwicke's Act of 1753 declared marriages in England valid only when performed by a clergyman. Previous to that act, common-law marriages had been quite acceptably validated by the couple themselves simply joining their hands in the presence of witnesses. After Lord Harwicke's Act, the Scottish border town of Gretna Green became a mecca for eloping couples who fled there to handfast themselves in legal wedlock.

The handfasting gesture seems to have been derived from one of the ancient Indo-European images of male-female conjunction, the infinity sign, whose twin circles represent sun (male) and moon (female) cycles, one right-handed and the other left-handed as when the figure 8 is drawn with one clockwise and one counterclockwise circle. The right side of either sex was always considered the solar or male side, while the left side was lunar or female. Marriage, then, consisted of uniting the two right hands like an ordinary handshake, then the two left hands, so that the partners' arms formed the graphic cycles of "infinity" or completeness.
It is interesting to note that patriarchal society retained only the right-hand handshake in token of agreement, friendliness, or greeting. The use of "female" left hands was dropped, except for one purpose: to formalize the Morganatic marriage, which was known as "marriage of the left hand," by joining left hands only. This type of marriage was invented by the German nobility to allow men of rank to live openly with their lower-class concubines, having legally secured the "marriage" against any rights or claims on the part of the wife or children to inheritance, property, or family name. Its only real purpose was to place "the shield of protection around man in illicit relations." Two-handed handfasting still constituted a fully legal marriage in Europe, however, whether the blessing of the church was sought or not. Clergymen, of course, recommended that newlyweds attend church as soon as possible after the signing of the contract and the handfasting; but marriage had been for so many centuries ignored by the church, left under the jurisdiction of common law rather than canon law, that ecclesiastical rules on marriage were difficult to enforce. In Switzerland from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, a couple could marry each other legally just by publicly drinking together. The now-popular secular gesture of drinking through one another's linked elbows was once another way of forming the infinity sign of sexual union.

Like many other relics of paganism, the handfasting gesture was retained in children's games and traditional folk dances. Continental versions of the swing-your-partner movement call for a couple to join their hands in this same manner and whirl around each other.

First of all, the very word handfasting got it's origin in the wedding custom of tying the bride and groom's hands (actually, wrists) together. In some versions, this is only done for as long as the ceremony lasts, but in others, the cord is not untied until the marriage is physically consummated.
Another custom in Pagan ceremonies is that the couple jumps over the broom that was used to clean the Circle (even outdoors - we're talking cleaning out of all negative vibrations) together. This was even a method of common law marriages in some states for a while, I believe.
Many people vowed marriage for a year and a day (the traditional length of time - 13 moon cycles). If the marriage proved to last over this period of time, then the vows would be renewed for longer. In the maiden priestess' marriage, they vowed for "as long as love shall last". Endearing...
The wedding would be best during the time of the new moon, or at the VERY least, during the waxing or full stages. The new moon symbolizes new beginnings, the waxing growth of a feeling or energy, and the full a "climax" of events.
The throwing of the garter and bouquet, and the groom not being allowed to see the bride beforehand may also be Pagan in origin.
The rice was thrown as a sort of "offering" to the bride and groom, so that they may never hunger.
A good symbol to use for a marriage would be any animal that mates for life. I'm not sure, but I think swans do this.


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