Handfasting is a ritual involved in many Pagan and Wiccan marriage ceremonies. Originally, in the time of the ancient Celts (from whom the tradition originated), the handfasting ceremony began a trial period for a couple; its purpose was to let couples see what it was like to be married to one another, and be given the opportunity to decide if it was something they wanted to do. Traditionally, at the end of a year and a day, the couple could either choose to part ways, or to become permanently married. Now, things are done a little differently. Handfasting today can either be part of a legally-legitimized wedding ceremony (complete with catering service), or can simply be a statement of commitment “as long as love shall last” (as opposed to the Christian “til death do us part”). Some Wiccans believe that this trial period be begun on the Sabbat of Lughnasadh, because this time of year was the time for trials.
So, what, physically, is “handfasting”? It’s actually pretty self-explanatory, actually. During the handfasting ceremony, the couple will stand, facing each other, holding hands. Before, during, or after the the time vows are said, a cord (or cords) is (or are) wound around their clasped hands, forming an infinity symbol. The colour and length and type of the cord used to bind the hands depends on the tradition to which the couple belong, as well as the couple themselves, and the High Priestess or Priest who is leading the ceremony. Similarly, it’s not always the left and right hand that are bound together, but sometimes both left hands or both right hands. Depends, once again, on the tradition and the people involved.
And it’s not just Wiccans and Pagans who include handfasting in their wedding ceremonies. People of all backgrounds and faiths have been known to incorporate the lovely tradition in the celebration of their union. In fact, it was during the early rise of Christianity that handfasting became particularly popular, and it’s the symbolism that modern Wiccans and Pagans have embraced, and it has thus become especially popular in ceremonies of those religions. I attended a wedding of a friend, whose religion is not Pagan, who included a handfasting in her wedding ceremony, and it was beautiful.
Wiccaning, though not necessarily to do with marriage or handfasting, is still an important Wiccan ceremony. During this ceremony, the child of a Wiccan couple are presented to the Horned God and Triple goddess for protection. It’s kind of like a Christian baptism, in that sense, I suppose. That said, there is absolutely no expectation or requirement that this child then grows up to follow Wicca, or any type of Paganism at all. Wicca is all about finding your own path and making your own choices, so there is no expectation for this child, regardless of whether a Wiccaning has been held for him or for her. There are also no across-the-board rules about Wiccaning being a requirement. Really, it’s just a ceremony to introduce your child to one’s gods and one’s spiritual community.