Deities of Love and Marriage

Deities of Love and Marriage

Throughout history, nearly all cultures have had gods and goddesses associated with love and marriage. Although a few are male — Eros and Cupid come to mind — most are female, because the institution of marriage has long been viewed as the domain of women. If you’re doing a working relating to love, or if you wish to honor a particular deity as part of a marriage ceremony, these are some of the gods and goddesses associated with the very human emotion of love.

Aphrodite (Greek)

Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and sexuality, a job she took very seriously. She was married to Hephaistos, but also had a multitude of lovers — one of her favorites was the warrior god Ares. A festival was held regularly to honor Aphrodite, appropriately called the Aphrodisiac. At her temple in Corinth, revelers often paid tribute to Aphrodite by having rambunctious sex with her priestesses. The temple was later destroyed by the Romans, and not rebuilt, but fertility rites appear to have continued in the area. Like many Greek gods, Aphrodite spent a lot of time meddling in the lives of humans — particularly their love lives — and was instrumental in the cause of the Trojan War.

Cupid (Roman)

In ancient Rome, Cupid was the incarnation of Eros, the god of lust and desire. Eventually, though, he evolved into the image we have today of a chubby cherub, flitting about zapping people with his arrows. In particular, he enjoyed matching people up with odd partners, and this eventually ended up being his own undoing, when he fell in love with Psyche. Cupid was the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. He typically is seen on Valentine’s Day cards and decorations, and is invoked as a god of pure love and innocence — a far cry from his original form.

Eros (Greek)

Although not specifically a god of love, Eros is often invoked as a god of lust and passion. This son of Aphrodite was a Greek god of lust and primal sexual desire. In fact, the word erotic comes from his name. He is personified in all kinds of love and lust — heterosexual and homosexual — and was worshipped at the center of a fertility cult that honored both Eros and Aphrodite together. During the classical Roman period, Eros evolved into Cupid, and became portrayed as the chubby cherub that still remains as a popular image today. He is typically shown blindfolded — because, after all, love is blind — and carrying a bow, with which he shot arrows at his intended targets.

Frigga (Norse)

Frigga was the wife of the all-powerful Odin, and was considered a goddess of fertility and marriage within the Norse pantheon. Frigga is the only one besides Odin who is allowed to sit on his throne, Hlidskjalf, and she is known in some Norse tales as the Queen of Heaven. Today, many modern Norse Pagans honor Frigga as a goddess of both marriage and prophecy.

Hathor (Egyptian)

As the wife of the Sun God, Ra, Hathor is known in Egyptian legend as the patroness of wives. In most classical depictions, she is portrayed either as a cow goddess, or with a cow nearby — it is her role as mother that is most often seen. However, in later periods, she was associated with fertility, love and passion.

Hera (Greek)

Hera was the Greek goddess of marriage, and as the wife of Zeus, Hera was the queen of all wives! Although Hera fell in love with Zeus (her brother) immediately, he isn’t often faithful to her, so Hera spends a lot of time fighting off her husband’s numerous lovers. Hera is centered around the hearth and home, and focuses on family relationships.

 

Juno (Roman)

In ancient Rome, Juno was the goddess who watched over women and marriage. Although Juno’s festival, the Matronalia, was actually celebrated in March, the month of June was named for her. It’s a month for weddings and handfastings, so she is often honored at Litha, the time of the summer solstice. During the Matronalia, women received gifts from their husbands and daughters, and gave their female slaves the day off work.

Parvati (Hindu)

Parvati was the consort of the Hindu god Shiva, and is known as a goddess of love and devotion. She is one of many forms of Shakti, the all-powerful female force in the universe. Her union with Shiva taught him to embrace pleasure, and so in addition to being a destroyer god, Shiva is also a patron of the arts and dance. Parvati is an example of a female entity who has a profound effect on the male in her life, for without her, Shiva would not have been complete.

Venus (Roman)

The Roman equivalent of Aphrodite, Venus was a goddess of love and beauty. Originally, she was associated with gardens and fruitfulness, but later took on all the aspects of Aphrodite from the Greek traditions. Similar to Aphrodite, Venus took a number of lovers, both mortal and divine. Venus is nearly always portrayed as young and lovely. The statue Aphrodite of Milos, better known as the Venus de Milo, depicts the goddess as classically beautiful, with womanly curves and a knowing smile.

Vesta (Roman)

Although Vesta was actually a goddess of virginity, she was honored by Roman women along with Juno. Vesta’s status as a virgin represented the purity and honor of Roman women at the time of their marriage, and so it was important to keep her in high regard. In addition to her role as virgin-in-chief, however, Vesta is also a guardian of the hearth and domesticity. Her eternal flame burned in many Roman villages. Her festival, the Vestalia, was celebrated each year in June.

 

Jumping the Broom: Besom Weddings

Jumping the Broom: Besom Weddings

Along with the popularity of handfasting ceremonies, there has been a resurgence in interest among Pagans and Wiccans in the idea of a “besom wedding”. This is a ceremony also referred to as “jumping the broom”. Although typically this is seen as a ceremony derived from the slave culture of the American south, there is also evidence that besom weddings took place in some parts of the British Isles.

In some areas of Wales, a couple could be married by placing a birch broom at an angle across the doorway. The groom jumped over it first, followed by his bride. If neither of them knocked it out of place, the wedding was a go. If the broom fell down, it was considered that the marriage was doomed to failure, and the whole thing was called off. If the couple decided they were unhappy within the first year of marriage, they could divorce by jumping back out the door, over the broom. More information on this can be found in T. Gwynn Jones’ 1930 publication, Welsh Folklore.

During the early days of the American south, when slavery was still a legal institution, slaves were not legally allowed to marry one another. Instead, a ceremony was held where the couple would jump over a broom in front of witnesses, either together or separately. No one is really sure where the tradition originated. Danita Rountree Green, author of Broom Jumping: A Celebration of Love, suggests the practice came from Ghana, but she also says there’s no hard proof of the custom existing there.

Once African-Americans were legally allowed to marry in the United States, the tradition of broom-jumping virtually disappeared — after all, it was no longer needed. However, there has been a resurgence in popularity, due in no small part to the miniseries Roots.

Some gay and lesbian couples have adopted the symbolic broom-jumping today, since they are not legally able to marry in many places.

The late scholar and folklorist Alan Dundes makes the argument that the tradition of jumping a broom originated among England’s Rom, or gypsy, population. Dundes also points out that the broom is highly symbolic, saying, “the symbolic significance of the ritual to be the ‘stepping over’ as a metaphor for sexual intercourse. If a woman’s jumping over a broomstick produces a child, one could reasonably assume that the broomstick has phallic properties*.”

* “Jumping the Broom”: A Further Consideration of the Origins of an African American Wedding Custom, by C. W. Sullivan III, The Journal of American Folklore

 

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Handfasting Tips: How to Have a Magical Ceremony

Handfasting Tips: How to Have a Magical Ceremony

Handfasting was a popular custom in the British Isles centuries ago. Now, however, it’s seeing a rising popularity among modern Pagan couples who are interested in tying the knot. Many Pagan and Wiccan couples choose to have a handfasting ritual instead of a traditional wedding ceremony. If you’re lucky enough to have someone you love this much, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind in order to make your handfasting ceremony a success.

  • Plan as far ahead as possible, especially if you’re going to be writing your own vows. It will be far less stressful if you — and your clergyperson — have been able to get familiar with the wording, rather than waiting till the last minute.

 

  • Consider how long the ceremony is going to be. If you want people to stand in a circle, and have elderly relatives or small children present, anything longer than about half an hour is going to require chairs for some of your audience. In total, try to keep the ritual to about an hour — if the crowd is really big, make your ceremony even shorter.

 

  • Bear in mind that if you want to have a circle, you’re going to need far more room than if you just stand at the altar with your beloved. Dancing, spinning, calling of the quarters — all that stuff takes up space. Make sure that your location will accommodate all of your guests.

 

  • Many Pagan and Wiccan couples hold their handfastings outdoors. If you choose to do this — great! But make sure you’ve done your homework — some public places like parks require you to have a reservation, or to fill out paperwork if there will be a large crowd present. When you make arrangements in advance, if you’re concerned about public perception, you don’t have to say “It’s a Wiccan handfasting ceremony.” Typically just the phrase “family gathering” or “we’re getting married” will be sufficient, and both are truthful. Regardless, make sure you have permission to be where you’re having your ceremony.
  • If you hold your handfasting in a public place, be sure to respect the rules of the area — if there are signs that say “no open flames,” then don’t have a bonfire. If food and beverages are prohibited, then go somewhere else for the potluck after the ceremony. Make sure you check into noise and entertainment ordinances as well — the last thing you want is the police showing up at your handfasting because your drum circle was too loud. Be sure to plan ahead to have a cleanup crew — designate specific individuals to be in charge of this task, rather than just saying “Hey, can someone pick up the trash?” as you and your new partner leave the site.

 

  • If you plan to invite non-Pagan relatives or friends to the ceremony, you should probably prep them in advance. Don’t ask them to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, but do let them know that the ceremony has aspects of your spiritual path in it. Depending on just how Pagan your handfasting is going to be, and how your non-Pagan family feels about it, you may want to let them know about any non-traditional activities before the ceremony — and not at the last minute. That way, if great-aunt Matilda feels icky about you calling upon a bunch of gods she’s never heard of, she can bow out altogether. It’s a good idea to provide seating outside your circle for those who would like to watch but are uncomfortable with actual participation.

 

  • Don’t use your handfasting as a way of coming out of the broom closet. You need to be able to focus all of your energy on the handfasting itself, and not spend it worrying about what your parents are going to think when they find out you and your beloved are practicing Wicca. Have that conversation well ahead of time. If you have family members or friends who are adamantly opposed to your having a Pagan ceremony, remember, it’s your marriage, not theirs. You can either have a non-Pagan ceremony later and invite them to attend, or you can tell them that if they can’t attend your handfasting, you understand and you love them anyway. 

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Sabbat Themes for Handfasting

Sabbat Themes for Handfasting

 

Although there are many traditional themes to choose from when planning your wedding, as a Pagan you might find it more meaningful to plan your wedding during one of the following Sabbats. I have included some ideas on how to incorporate the theme into your special day.

Samhain or Halloween

Theme A Gothic wedding theme could be perfect for a Pagan-only couple. The clothing style could be primarily black, somewhat medieval or punk looking, but definitely Witchy. There are many styles of gothic clothing in dresses, long skirts, short skirts, pants, long-sleeved shirts, short-sleeved shirts and more—the list is endless. It would be in keeping with the gothic style for a Wiccan to wear a cloak or cape over this type of clothing. When you walk into the room to exchange your vows, consider walking in together, to an almost completely dark room, carrying a silver candelabrum with lit black taper candles. Draw Halloween into the theme as well, decorating with cobwebs that house plastic spiders, and setting out carved pumpkin centerpieces filled with black tulips or roses. The favors could consist of small cauldrons filled with candy corn or a black votive candle. You might want plenty of bats hanging from the ceiling and decorated sugar cookies shaped like bats, cats, and witches. Also, be sure that the DJ has plenty of Halloween music on hand, including “The Monster Mash.” If you went with a live band, you could ask them to join in the fun and dress according to your theme. The tables could be decorated with white or orange tablecloths and have smaller black ones on top. There should be plenty of black candles lit everywhere. You could really have a fun time with this one, and the decorations could be saved to decorate your home on Samhain as a yearly reminder of your special day together.

 

Mabon or Fall Equinox Theme

A fall theme can be one of the most beautiful that you could use. There is nothing like the smell of the clean crisp air in the fall and the beauty of the leaves changing color. If you spent a few days before the wedding collecting the colored leaves off the trees, these would make fabulous decorations. You would want your tables covered with white tablecloths, covered with smaller brown ones. The leaves that you collected could be scattered on the tables, and the centerpieces could be cornucopias filled with gourds. It would be really spectacular to have the bride’s headpiece made out of the leaves, too, with the veil hanging from that. The food could consist of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner complete with pumpkin pie for dessert. All of the ingredients of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner are Native American, so your theme could include gratitude for the land and its lessons, including the teachings of the people of its first nations. Favors of leaf and Thanksgiving theme candles would be perfect.

 

Yule or Midwinter Theme

A Yule theme could be quite beautiful and would make any Christian guests attending comfortable, too. Decorations of pinecones, poinsettias, mistletoe, and evergreen garlands with red bows for accents all over the room would look so inviting. If you can decorate the day before the wedding, you might be able to bring in a Yule tree, strategically place red bows on its branches, and add a red tree skirt. Invite your guests to leave any gifts they have for you under the tree. The meal could be whatever your family traditionally serves at Yule or Christmas, but be sure to have hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies. The tables would have white tablecloths with smaller red ones on top, and the centerpiece could be a Nutcracker Prince and a Sugar Plum Fairy standing on a round mirror with holly around their feet, sprinkled with glitter or white snowflakes. The favors could include a Yule ornament with the bride and groom’s names and wedding date engraved on it. If a lot of children are expected, you can even have a surprise visit from Santa. A friend of mine cautions, though, that Faeries love Yule and Christmas, with all the glitter, sparkle, gifts, and treats. Be sure to include dishes of sweetened milk at each table, or no one will be able to find their car keys when it’s time to go home.

Ostara or Spring Theme

You could incorporate an Ostara or springtime theme. This wedding could take place in a floral garden, home to an abundance of fresh flowers, butterflies, and dragonflies. Pick a flower that symbolize springtime and new beginnings and place one in a small vase at each place setting. This will be your favor, too. The tables will be covered with white tablecloths with smaller tablecloths of pastel yellow, green, or purple on the tops. The centerpiece can be Ostara baskets, filled with decorated eggs or the plastic eggs that open with small candies inside each one. The centerpiece can be given away at the end of the night to the person who finds a flower, somewhere in the hall, with a tiny bumblebee attached.

If you have a lot of children in attendance, you can have an Ostara egg hunt planned for them. The little ones may keep the treasures they find.

 

Litha or Summer Solstice Theme

You could plan this wedding on the beach or in a yard that overlooks the beach. You could decorate with stylish citronella candles around the perimeter of your event, to keep the mosquitoes away, while at the same time setting the ambiance from the day into the evening with candlelight. You could do all of your decorations with seashells that you collect from the beach yourself in the weeks before the wedding. Use the seashells to make matching place settings, napkin holders, and favors that with a little imagination can be truly impressive. Maybe for your favors you would want to give each guest a beach towel imprinted with your and your partner’s names and the wedding date.

Your meal could consist of a lobster bake or some type of shellfish dish with plenty of watermelon on the dessert table. New Englanders could plan a full-scale clambake with all the trimmings.

The summer solstice is traditionally a time for festivals and bonfires, and a time abounding with Faeries. It’s also a time for first harvesting magickal herbs, so your party favors could include purchased or harvested bundles of sweet-smelling, medicinal, or romantic herbs. Even if you are not yet adept in the details of herbal magick, you can’t go wrong with basil or other favorite aromatic herbs you can safely buy at the grocery store.

Be careful that you have the correct location, skills, and permits for any bonfire you might plan. You and your guests will want to remember the wedding and its magick, not visits from the police and fire departments.

 

 

Passages Handfasting: A Pagan Guide to Commitment Rituals

Kendra Vaughan Hovey

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History & Origins of Handfasting Ceremonies

HISTORY AND ORIGIN OF HANDFASTING CEREMONIES

EXPERTS DISAGREE ON the origin of handfasting. Some Neo-Pagans insist that the handfasting tradition can be proven to date back to ancient Paganism. Others say that handfasting can be traced back to pre-biblical times, but that there is no solid evidence suggesting that it was a Pagan tradition at all. One thing is certain: modern Pagans, and especially Wiccans, use the handfasting ritual for everything from declaring mutual romantic love to expressing legally recognized marriage vows.

Understanding handfasting requires that we understand the concept of marriage in Scotland starting from pre-biblical times. It was necessary then for anyone who was to marry to have the consent of their parents. More importantly, the marriage was not considered binding until it was consummated. Often young children would declare their love for one another, or be betrothed by their parents, with an agreement to marry in the future. This was considered a legal contract between the two and would prevent either of them from marrying anyone else. This vow of future commitment can be compared to that of the modern day engagement ring, which is a conditional gift. It is not legal in the United States for a woman to keep her engagement ring today unless she makes good on the promise to marry. If the marriage ends in divorce, it is acceptable that the ex-wife keeps her ring under the grounds that she fulfilled her commitment to marry.

The Christian Church, in the late Middle Ages, taught that even if two people ran off together against their parents’ wishes, this would still constitute a legal marriage. In fact, the Christian Church didn’t even require that the couple consummate the marriage for it to be legally binding. The “consented marriage” was considered a legal union from around the 1200s until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. It was common in Scotland and England to be married on the porch of the church (being married inside the church was only for the affluent). Of course, there were many couples that did not want to be married the traditional way, for many of the same reasons that couples elope today. The most important factor that bound two people in marriage was mutual consent.

Many couples would perform marriage on their own, knowing that their vows wouldn’t be recognized by both church and state. Often, they chose this option because they could avoid uncomfortable conflict if someone did not approve of the marriage, because it was a cheaper option than a church wedding, or because it could be performed on a whim. These “secretive” marriages, performed alone on a hillside in the country, were no less marriages from a civil perspective than the ones that were performed on the porch of the church. Also, unlike today, if a couple were married in the late Middle Ages they were considered married for life in Roman Catholic Europe. The only thing that could break a binding marriage was death.

It wasn’t until the 1500s in Scotland and England that divorce and remarriage even became a possibility under canon law. Although the Catholic Church and some emerging Protestant churches preferred a “proper” church wedding during medieval times, consisting of a formal ceremony with witnesses led by clergy in order for a couple to be recognized by the church, the civil laws recognizing personal, private vows remained in effect until 1939. In the late Middle Ages in Scotland and Northern England, the term handfasting was used to describe the mutual commitment ceremonies discussed above, and also commonly referred to agreements to marry in the future. These agreements bound the two people together in the eyes of the church and the state, and prevented them from handfasting or marrying another. The interesting fact here is that the handfasting was used more as a promise between two people, often minors, to declare their love for one another and a promise to marry at some point in the future. These declarations were considered completely binding by both the church and the state. If the couple consummated the marriage, then they were no longer considered “engaged.” They were married.

By the late 1700s in Europe, handfasting ceremonies were no longer practiced as a common form of engagement. Instead, in Ireland from the 1700s through the early 1900s, there are several documented cases of handfasting being used as a trial marriage. Men would choose their wives on a trial basis by engaging in handfasting rituals. The couple would live together, engage in sex, and act as a married couple for a trial period of a year and a day. When that time was finished, if the couple had no children, they could choose to part ways, free to find new partners. Or they could call for a priest to marry them permanently.

The word handfasting derives from the wedding custom of tying the bride and groom’s hands or wrists together. The hands were bound with a cloth or specially designed cord as part of the ceremony or ritual. In some ceremonies, the cord was not untied until the marriage was physically consummated. The term itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon word handfaestung, which was a custom of shaking hands over a contract. This was often the contract entered into when a man made a down payment, or wed, to his future wife’s father in order to have her hand in marriage. This was the origin of the modern word wedding.

The Irish maintained an ancient tradition until the nineteenth century in which men and women would gather on opposite sides of a high wall, men on the North side and women on the South. The women would put their hands through holes in the wall and the men would pick one of the hands. The pairs thus formed would then live together for a year and a day. After that period of time they would decide whether or not they wanted to enter into permanent marriage.

Interestingly enough, this festival took place on Lughnassad, a Sabbat celebrated on August 2nd by Neo-Pagans. By the late 1900s, this concept of handfasting as an ancient Celtic practice became well established and accepted. Several Neo-Pagan faiths have adapted the concept of ancient handfasting, and added their own beliefs and practices to the ritual. Some examples of ancient and new traditions used in modern handfasting ceremonies are:

The renewal of handfasting vows several times without the permanency of marriage

Stating in the handfasting vows that the bond lasts only as long as the two shall love one another

The handfasting ribbon or cord ceremony where the couple hold hands, right hand to right hand and left hand to left hand, and then intertwine a cord or ribbon in the infinity sign, knotting it three times

Keeping the handfasting cord bound until the union is consummated

Keeping the handfasting cord bound until the ritual is over

Using a handfasting as a religiously recognized but state-unrecognized marriage

Performing a handfasting ritual

with an ordained cleric so it is a state-recognized marriage, incorporating a “legal” handfasting with an exchange of wedding rings

Thus, the history of handfasting is not entirely clear. One cannot prove that it was primarily a Pagan practice, nor trace its precise roots. Today handfasting is clearly a Pagan practice, and especially Wiccan. Like many Wiccan rituals, handfasting can be celebrated in a multitude of ways to fit the couple’s particular Wiccan tradition

 

 

Passages Handfasting: A Pagan Guide to Commitment Rituals

Kendra Vaughan Hovey

A Witchy Wedding Album

Unlike a non-Wiccan wedding album, which usually holds photographs of the happy couple and their immediate family, a Wiccan wedding album is a more interactive remind of the couple’s special day.  Usually, the right-hand man purchases a large hardback book and decorates the outside in some way. Inside, there is a written copy of the sermon and vows from the ceremony. After the ceremony each guest writes a “well wishing” note on the pages that follow, and some of the dried lavender is collected from the ground and pressed into the book. Later, photographs can be added, along with other mementos, such as cards from guests or a copy of the invitation. This treasure is then kept in a special area in the couple’s home so that they can maintain all their wonderful memories in one place.

The Party

This is a wedding reception with a difference. There is no first dance. Instead, live musicians play instruments such as the fiddle, the cello, and the accordion throughout the dinner. After eating and drinking, the guest, in high spirits, start to dance. After a few dances, the groom makes a speech and thanks all of his guests and his right-hand man for their help and assistance. The bride next make a thank you speech and gives small gifts to each of her handmaidens, the high priestess, and her new mother-in-law. This offering is usually in the way of something small and personal, such as a crystal, a magickal pouch, or a fresh bunch of herbs. Right after she has given her presents, she summons all the single people (male and female) for the bouquet toss. Whoever catches this bouquet must take it home and dry it to ensure that they meet their true love in this lifetime.

The Cake

It has always been customary for the bride and groom to slice a fruitcake, holding the knife together and showing their affection by kissing over the top of it. This is supposed to guarantee that together they will bring forth many children. Then, by sharing the cake with their guests, they are indirectly sharing the magickal energies of their love and passing it on to everyone present. Some are terribly lucky, because their maids of honor will bake cakes in the shape of pentagrams. While making the cake, a lovely spell will be casted over the cake to make the marriage a happy one.

The Binding

The handfasting ceremony culminates in hand binding. In the past, couples would have their hands bound together and knotted with cord. Although some witches still like to use cord, many brides and grooms today opt for satin ribbons in purple, green, and white. These are about six and a half feet in length and wound around the bride’s and groom’s clasped left hands. The expression “tying the knot” likely derives from this ritual.

The high priestess coils the ribbons, weaving them in and out of the couple’s fingers before holding their tied hands in the air for a few moments. Ethereal, angelic music plays as the pair begin to walk around the circle, displaying their joined hands and sharing their happiness with everyone. In turn, the guests shower the newlyweds with rice (contrary to popular belief, it’s a myth that raw rice will injure birds). In Pagan times rice throwing was believed to transfer the spirit of the fertile grain to the bride and groom, ensuring that they would have a prosperous harvest and a fertile union.

Once this ancient ritual has been completed, the high priestess unties the couple’s hands and pronounces them handfasted; the groom then kisses his bride. However, it doesn’t end there, because many witches love to follow tradition and jump the broom, which has been propped up against the altar. The drummers bang on their drums as the newlyweds take a running jump over this ornate broom to finalize the marriage. The British phrase “living over the brush” comes directly from this custom; it signifies a couple who have not had an official wedding ceremony but are wed in the eyes of the community. At this point everybody cheers and applauds the newlywed couple and the ceremony is over.

The Sermon and Vows

There are many different types of handfasting services. They can last from around fifteen minutes to a half hour, and the ceremonial texts can vary considerably. Sermons are read and vows are exchanged, as in traditional non-Wiccan/Witch weddings; prewritten sermons are available on the Internet to download. In Angelic Wicca, the sermon focuses on angels; archangels are called upon to bless the couple to ensure that they go on to have a happy union together.

Once the bride and groom are standing in front of the altar, the high priestess takes a handful of salt and casts it at their feet. This is said to purify the ground they stand on. She asks the bride and groom to lower their heads, then throws a handful of salt above them to cleanse the air around them. After the high priestess has given her sermon and ask the angels to send eternal blessings, she take a small silver spoon dipped in honey and gently places it on the lips of the couple to sweeten their life together. A goblet of wine is then offered to each of them, and they drink in turn from the same vessel. The bridesmaids offer baskets to the couple and to all the guests; as the bride and groom each take a bite from theirs, so do their guests, to symbolize sustenance.

The bride and groom have usually written their personal vows in private and have not shared them with each other beforehand. Many witches like to stand at a lectern and speak their promises to their partner so that all can hear. When the vows have been spoken, the bride and groom exchange rings and the high priestess prepares to bind the couple’s hands.

The Ceremony

The service commences with the groom and the high priest or priestess approaching the altar, accompanied by hand drummers. Let’s imagine that this ceremony is conducted by a high priestess. The high priestess carries an ornamental cushion with colorful ribbons or cords, draped across it. These will be used later to bind the couple’s hands in matrimony. If it’s a breezy day, the ribbons are pinned to the cushion to keep them in place.

After the groom and the priestess have taken their places at the altar, the drummers return to the bridal party and drum the bride and the handmaidens into the circle. The groom’s attire is of his choosing: he may be wearing a frock coat or a fancy, colorful vest. The bride is usually color-coordinated with the groom. She may wear something long and flowing, not necessarily white, accessorized with a headdress or a wreath of seasonal flowers on her head and possibly a wand tipped with rose quartz. The bride has her handmaidens in attendance  throughout the service, and there can be as many or as few as she wants. Their costumes are often very witchlike – long, dramatic, gothic-style dresses in rich fabrics such as velvet, with colors ranging from deep purples and reds to vibrant turquoise. Each handmaiden wears a pentagram necklace or ring.

Guests, Gifts and Potluck

As with non-Wiccan weddings, the number of guests in attendance depends on how many people the couple chooses to invite. Most handfastings are very informal, and they’re usually not catered. Guests may be asked to prepare a signature dish, cook an old-fashioned delicacy, or bring a first-rate bottle of wine or a case of imported beer. These days, it is not so fashionable to buy large, expensive gifts or home appliances, most witches feel that small, homemade items or foods are more personal and allow each and every person invited to contribute in some way.

All of these offerings are placed on trestle tables, and once the wedding ceremony is over, the guests help themselves to the many mouth-watering contributions. Witches don’t tend to be materialistic, so this potluck arrangement is ideal for us and it keeps the cost to a minimum. I’m sure you’ll agree that this make the term ” the more the merrier” is very true indeed.

 As guests arrive, gentle music is played in the background, and each person is offered a glass of wine. Chairs are placed in a large circle around the altar (which is off-center in the circle), and the guests sit, drink and await the celebration.

Once all the guests are seated, the “right-hand man” (usually a member of the groom’s family or a good friend) walks into the circle, ringing a handbell. This cleanses the area inside the circle of any negative energy. The bride’s made of honor then takes dried lavender flowers mixed with small chips of rose quartz and casts them at the feet of the guests for good luck. At the same time, one of the bride’s handmaidens or bridesmaids follows the right-hand man, waving a smudging stick or some sage incense from the altar to further purify the circle.

Ceremonial Officiants

As in the olden days, a high priest or priestess usually performs the handfasting ceremony either outdoors or in a place of worship, such as a Christian church. Rings are exchanged to symbolize unbroken union and the eternal circle of life  It is interesting to note that the wedding ring, which is traditionally worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, came to be place there because our ancestors believed that it sat over an artery that ran directly from the hand to the heart.

The high priest or priestess is traditionally clothed in a gothic-style outfit, usually in green, gold or lavender. These outfits typically include ornate headdresses, and the priestess may wear a crown graced with a variety of crystals and feathers. These high-ranking clergy are mostly mature members of covens who have a wealth of knowledge about spell casting and all things magickal.

Handfastings

The glitz and glamour of today’s white weddings actually derive from the ancient pagan betrothal ceremony called the handfasting.  The tradition of this hand-clasping ritual is believed to date back to Roman times. It is thought that a handfasted bride and groom initially took their vows only for a year and a day. After that time, if they were still madly in love, another ceremony was held to united them permanently. In the twenty-first century, Wiccans and Witches do still get handfasted but like most things, handfasting has evolved with the times. Angelic Wiccans tend to have ceremonies based on conventional handfasting, but with services attuned to the vibration of angels rather than the Pagan Gods and Goddesses.