What ingredients go into a perfect, low-cost handfasting ceremony? Where should the biggest chunks of your budget and energy go when planning one, and which things can you do without?
If these questions sound familiar, and you’re planning a handfasting with limited time or limited money, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, questions about how to simplify traditional engagement and wedding ceremonies are on everyone’s mind right now, as the coronavirus pandemic (and all the adjustments it entails) follows us into fall.
Seumas and Doug had a traditional Pagan 'Year and a Day' betrothal ceremony.
Their wedding will follow, a year and a day after the handfasting.
To gain some insight on the truly essential components of handfastings, we spoke to a knowledgeable member of the Seattle Pagan community about his interfaith ‘year and a day’ betrothal to his soon-to-be-husband Doug.
It quickly became clear that the necessary, traditional elements of handfasting could be easily adapted by couples of every faith, region, and budget when planning their own unique ceremonies. Even better, most of these indispensable ingredients are easy to come by.
Here it is, a recipe for handfasting!
Gather Your Ingredients:
Handfastings, whether Pagan, nondenominational, or secular, have one essential component in common… compromise.
On the surface, Seumas and Doug’s Pagan interfaith ‘year and a day’ ceremony — complete with symbolic altar, grounding magic, and offerings to ancient gods — looked impossibly unique. But it’s primary ingredient, it’s real essence, was their willingness to compromise.
Seumas and Doug compromised on how to honor the spirits of their ancestors and loved ones, which hands to bind (they chose right to right, as if shaking hands in agreement), and took turns planning separate aspects of the ceremony. As an interfaith couple, they prioritized candid and frequent conversations to make sure all of their individual values were reflected in the day.
Handfastings are an agreement. An agreement to blend two individual lives, to unique sets of families and friends, and two authentic paths, into one. To reach an agreement in planning your own ceremony, make a list of the core values each partner wants the day to symbolize, and then work together to find ways for each of those values to be represented in your vows, altar or decor, location, or attire.
The handfasting cord or ribbon is another essential ingredient! These come in a rainbow of colors and materials, can be wrapped or tied in different ways around the partners’ hands, and can be tied at the beginning, middle, or end of a ceremony—this makes them one of the most adaptable wedding ingredients ever.
Seumas and Doug chose a crimson and gold handfasting cord of soft, thick rope. A Priestess recited a short blessing and asked if they agreed to be bound (a spell similar to the exchange of vows) while they wrapped their joined hands with the cord over the altar. Crimson and gold symbolize health and prosperity and represent two blessings the couple wanted to manifest in their partnership.
Other popular colors for cords are earthy greens and browns, and sky and sea tones like pinks, blues, and purples. Couples can choose rope or ribbons, garden vines, or other meaningful materials to suit their style and budget, and this symbol can replace the exchange of rings or be used in addition to them. If the ceremony is for engagement or betrothal, rings can be exchanged later, during the wedding.
Seumas and Doug's handfasting cord was crimson and gold, to represent health and prosperity in their lives together.
If you’d like to be legally married at the end of the day, you’ll need a qualified officiant! Hire an experienced officiant in your area, or invite a beloved friend or family member to oversee the big day. You can also ask a clergy or community member, like Seumas and Doug did.
To make sure a friend or family member meets the necessary requirements to officiate, review the laws in your state on the AMM website. They can browse dozens of how-to articles designed to help first-time officiants shine.
Handfasting vows can be as simple as saying I do, or they can be personalized with song lyrics, excerpts from favorite novels or poems, or speeches from friends and family. Take some time to think about your shared experiences, what you love about your partner, and what marriage or commitment mean to you. Then write it down!
Seumas and Doug kept their vows very simple, but their officiant (a Priestess) recited an invocation to the goddess Bridget that Seumas had written years earlier for a friends’ wedding. This was made even more powerful because at that time, Seumas and Doug couldn’t marry themselves — same-sex marriage hadn’t been legalized. The officiant’s invocation asked that their marriage be blessed with sorrow shifting always into joy, that their actions and minds be honest, and that their days be filled with hope.
This ingredient costs nothing, and can add infinite richness, uniqueness, and beauty to your day. So brush up on your Rumi or cue up the Sam Cooke, and decide just how you want to say, I love you.
(Want more help with your vows? Read Having the Talk: How to Tell a Compelling Story During Your Ceremony.)
Seumas and Doug used offerings of wine, milk, and honey.
These were poured on hearth stones taken from Seumas's home, which were returned later and burned.
You can have a handfasting anywhere. If you don’t have the budget for a big venue (or can’t find a venue because of safety guidelines and booking complications), handfastings help you think outside the box.
Want to hold your handfasting at a favorite campsite? Sure! In your parents’ living room? Absolutely! At the bus stop where you first made eye contact and bonded over sports or people-watching? Perfect!
Save yourselves time, energy, and money by choosing a simple, meaningful setting. Outdoor settings are especially beautiful and are a traditional Pagan choice. You don’t need to be limited by traditional venues!
The altar used in their handfasting held four powerful symbols, representing the spirit (the wand), the mind (the athame), the heart and emotions (the chalice), and the body (the hearth stones).
As we mentioned, you’ll still need to complete the required paperwork if you want your handfasting to be a legal wedding. Don’t forget your marriage license! Pay close attention to the timing requirements in your area too… don’t request your license too early or too late, and be sure to send it back, signed and sealed, promptly. Every area has different rules, so check with your county to make sure your paperwork’s complete.
Don't forget the marriage license for handfasting weddings!
If your handfasting is for an engagement or betrothal, you can save the license for later.
Guest lists are going through a lot of changes these days. To make the most of yours, consider inviting your closest friends and family to join in person, and have others join in over Zoom or Skype. Having friends or family members officiate and help with the details of the day can help keep guest lists even smaller.
Seumas and Doug invited close friends and family to join them, and even asked two of their godchildren to participate, by carrying the offerings to the gods up to the altar. A close friend made the event especially festive by belly dancing in a colorful costume after the ceremony, as guests ate and drank in celebration.
Check the guidelines in your area to see how many guests you can safely include indoors, or move things outside to accommodate more guests and social distancing. As a very budget friendly option, ask guests to join your handfasting over a livestreaming service (like another young couple did in Seattle).
- When all of your ingredients are in place, mix well, and then serve for a magical day!
Pairs well with...
Handfastings (especially the traditional sort) are joyous, exciting occasions. To make your handfasting truly magical, add in live (or livestreamed) music, feasting, dancing, laughing, and frolicking. But do it safely! If you’re planning a handfasting during the pandemic, adapt by making a pre-recorded playlist, order individually packaged and labeled meals from your favorite local restaurant, dance with friends over Zoom or Skype, and frolic from a distance with the added safety of decorative masks. Move the event outside for a traditional, seasonal, and responsible approach to your party!