Pagan weddings have the unusual condition that lovers can choose to renew their vows each year or decide to terminate the relationship if they are not happy.
Before the 1753 Marriage Act declared that only marriages performed by the clergy were legal, handfasting ceremonies were a popular way to get engaged of married in England. The handfasting ceremony is the old Pagan ritual of marriage, and, because Pagan beliefs include nature worship, the rituals are often held outside at sacred sites such as Stonehenge or at times of natural change such as the Full Moon.
Handfasting ceremonies either celebrate the beginning life-long union of two individuals or their coming together for so long as love shall last'. If the latter proves to be the case then the couple will choose whether or not to renew their vows each year. This prevents lovers from becoming too complacent with each other and gives the couple an opportunity to ratify their commitment to the union.
What the betrothed couple and guests wear at a handfasting ceremony isn't dictated by any hard and fast rules. Some people choose to have a theme for their handfasting and these could be medieval or Renaissance in nature. Those invited to the wedding will be expected to dress appropriately and festivities on the day may involve participating in some traditional games, such as jousting.
According to Celtic tradition the bride will wear a veil or some kind of netting and, traditionally, something in scarlet, a color strongly associated with the Celtic wedding ritual. Whatever the couple choose to wear, the most important factor is that it reflects the personalities and attitudes of the couple themselves and allow, others to share in their happiness.
During the Pagan marriage ceremony a couple will have their hands bound as a sign of their commitment and devotion to each other.
The ceremony will be conducted by a priest or priestess and will begin with the marking out of a sacred space to perform the ceremony, often in the shape of a circle.
The priest will then honor the elements and call on the gods and goddesses to bless the couple and their future life together. In a symbolic coming together, which gave the ceremony its name, the groom's right hand will be tied to the bride's left hand with a ribbon or cord. They will say their oaths, which they will have written together with the officiating priest before the ceremony, and their hands will be untied. The couple will exchange rings to symbolize their union and the ceremony will often conclude with jumping the broomstick'.
The couple may also choose to bring along small symbolic gifts to give to one another. These gifts will emphasize their love and commitment to one another and will have been chosen to have a special significance to the other partner.
You could help your friend decorate her wedding ceremony with some gifts that represent the various elements. For example, place some lit candles in a circle around the wedding venue (fire), decorate the trees with wind chimes (air), and place some earth in clay jars to create an altar (earth) or anoint your friend with rosewater (water).
When the couple's hands are tied together and then untied once their vows have been spoken, it is a clear representation that they are entering into the union of their own volition. The vows in the ceremony will often invoke the power of the goddess and imagery from the natural world. Here is an example By seed and root, by bud and stem, by leaf and flower and fruit, and by life and love, in the name of the great goddess I take thee'.
After the ceremony, the couple will jump over a broomstick together. By doing this they are symbolically leaving their old lives behind and leaping willingly, and together, into their new life.
Most Pagan rituals will be followed by a time of feasting and celebration and the handfasting ritual is no exception. Often this celebration will take place at the wedding site. The cakes and wine will have been placed on an altar in the sacred space and once the ceremony is concluded all those present will be invited to join in the celebration.
Some newlyweds may also take their friends and loved ones on a walk through the natural surroundings. This offers the couple a chance to receive recognition of their commitment from nature.
Some Pagan ceremonies will be followed by a civil wedding ceremony, and then on to a wedding reception somewhere. If you want to see the happy couple on their way with some confetti, feel free. The throwing of confetti is said to originate from the throwing of grains, which are potent symbols of fertility.