This is a column I wrote for the Pagan Household back in March, right before all hell broke loose. A little out of season, but oh well…
Tomorrow I’m Priestessing a handfasting for two dear friends.
Handfastings are a type of wedding ceremony that come to us from the British Isles when the clergy were few and far between. Couples would get hand fasted while they waited for a clergy member to come and perform the official ceremony. Many modern Pagans have adopted the practice, not wanting to have a more traditional (Christian) type of ceremony.
During many traditional handfastings, the couple’s arms are bound (fastened) and they are asked to jump over a broom, a cauldron and a fire. Being tied together makes them work together, symbolizing the relationship they will have as a married couple. The broom, cauldron and fire represent fertility, health and well being. Depending on the tradition, the couple will remain bound until night falls or until the marriage is consummated. (You can find these traditions all over the world, Ireland to Africa to Asia…)
The broom itself is a powerful symbol of male and female fertility bound together, which is why it’s such an important part of the handfasting ceremony. It is also an important tool to take together into your new marriage.
The broom is hung over the bed if the couple wants to have children. If the couple doesn’t want children, the broom is placed underneath the bed!
I’ve also heard it said that you should always treat your broom as a member of your family, and when you’re having marriage difficulties, talking to your broom can help sort them out. Another tradition is that when you and your spouse are fighting, sweeping your house out with your broom can help clear the air.
Treating your broom well and taking care of it is symbolic of taking care of your marriage, and ensures that you and your spouse are healthy and happy as a couple. Mistreating your broom can have ill effects on your marriage!
(There are also superstitions that if you step over a fallen broom before your wedding, you’ll never get married! So watch out!)
The ritual itself is of course the important part of the handfasting, but guests who come to the wedding can contribute more than their energy during the ritual.
The handfasting basket is fairly traditional, and many people will tell you to put thirteen specific blessings symbolized by certain items into a basket for a new couple. But I like to make mine up a little differently.
In a basket I like to put a fresh loaf of bread, a bag of sea salt, and a bottle of wine or ale for a house warming gift. Casting salt through your house, while carrying fresh bread and wine blesses your home with abundance and captures any “leftovers” from whoever was there before. If you are moving in with your spouse for the first time, it helps to get rid of your habits as a single person. If you already lived with your partner, it helps cast out any distance that might remain between you. Of course you sweep the salt up with your broom and cast it out your front door.
I also like to include a Bridget’s Cross. A Bridget’s Cross hung in a house prevents fire.
A piece of iron for protection.
A horseshoe to hang over the couple’s door for luck.
A tin can with a bright shiny penny in it. (If a couple sets this somewhere in the house and continues to add loose change to it, it will help attract financial success to the household).
Lavender sachets to set near the bed for peaceful dreaming.
And finally I like to create a poppet that gives all the blessings, hope and love I have for the couple in their new marriage.
If you’ve never created a poppet before, it’s a very personal type of magic. I always make mine to look like small stuffed animals that can be placed on an altar, a shrine or a mantel.
How to create a poppet:
First, choose an animal that symbolizes whatever you’re creating the poppet for.
For a marriage I would create one that looks like a hare.
Taking two pieces of fabric (in a fabric that seems appropriate to you), cut out the shape you’re going to sew.
I hand sew it together, thinking about all the things I will to give to the new couple. This takes a lot of your energy and focus, so be prepared to be pretty wrung out after you’ve completed your sewing! If you need a way to help you focus on the task at hand, you can always choose a traditional song or rhyme to sing or speak while you’re working. For a wedding I would pull out “Hares on the Mountain” or the “Bonny Black Hare.”
Before closing the poppet up, stuff it with a mixture of herbs, a stone or two and regular stuffing to fill it out. For a marriage I would consider using woodruff, rosemary, marjorum, mint, marigold, ivy and maybe a hint of cinnamon. I would also add rose quartz (it’s usually better to place the stone near the bottom of the poppet to help it stand up!).
Close your poppet up and then have fun decorating it! I usually use buttons for eyes and paint to place any other symbols that I think are appropriate for the occasion.
If you work in a group, you can also have anyone help with the creation of the poppet or do a group blessing when it’s finished.
Finally, gift the poppet to whoever you made it for!