Handfasting and Pagan Wedding Etiquette
So you’ve been invited to a Pagan or Wiccan wedding or Handfasting. You may never have attended such an event and may not know what to expect. You may feel nervous because you this sort of thing is way outside your comfort zone or maybe you’re excited for the new experience. Maybe it’s not that big a deal to you, but there is a cultural difference you’d like to be prepared for. Either way, you’ve come to the right place.
Should You Go?
If you feel very uncomfortable about attending a Pagan wedding or Handfasting because of your own religious beliefs or pre-conceptions about the couple’s beliefs, it might be better that you don’t attend. Energy is important in Pagan ceremonies and your negative or fearful emotions could disrupt the positive, loving energies the couple and their officiant are striving for.
However, if one or more of the people involved is someone precious to you, you should try your best to overcome your fears and preconceptions and attend the event with an open mind and heart. Hopefully, this article and the other articles on this site will help you along the way but you should also talk to your loved ones and get your concerns out in the open well before the event. Chances are if you have been invited to a Pagan wedding or Handfasting, the people who invited you feel comfortable sharing their beliefs with you or have stepped outside their own comfort zones to do so because you are precious to them.
What to Wear for a Pagan Wedding or Handfasting
Pagan weddings and Handfastings tend to be somewhat less formal than church weddings and they also tend to take place outdoors. This is not always the case, but in general you’ll want to dress nicely but comfortably and prepare for the weather. Think, semi-formal to formal garden party. Make sure you are also wearing comfortable shoes because there does tend to be a lot of standing involved in Pagan ceremonies, though they don’t tend take much time. If you feel you will need a chair, you may wish to mention this to your host/esses or bring your own chair. It is not uncommon for Pagans to show up at ceremonies with camp chairs if their back or feet are hurting.
If you are not sure, there is nothing wrong with asking the couple’s advice on the matter.
Appropriate Gifts for a Pagan Wedding or Handfasting
A Pagan wedding, like any other wedding is the joining of two souls and two extended families and the creation of a new nuclear family. Appropriate gifts for such a wedding are the same as any other. Housewares and linens are popular and many Pagan couples sign up for a registry just like any other couple might. If no registry was identified on the invitation, feel free to ask. If you’d like to do something special, beyond the matching towel set, some ideas are listed below.
My community tends to especially appreciate hand-made things. Afghans and quilts, embroidered napkins and table cloths, hand crocheted doilies, hand-thrown pottery, hand-made candles or soaps all tend to draw greater appreciation from Pagans and Wiccans than their store bought counterparts. This is because to us the act of making something is always an act of magic. When you make something for us you are putting your energy, your love, your wishes for our happiness into the item you are making in a way that simply does not happen with a store bought item. Not that we don’t appreciate store bought items too. They’re just a different sort of gift.
Pagans and Wiccans also tend to appreciate ethnic and exotic things, fragrances, statuary, designs. Celtic, Asian, Native American, you name it, it’s cool. It doesn’t even have to be Pagan. Illuminated manuscripts are cool, even though they’re Christian. And we like folklore and classical literature too. Pagans and Wiccans tend to be readers and Druids and Asatruars tend to be really into Celtic and Norse folklore and art.
Of course, many Pagans make use of candles, essential oils and incense but these things don’t really make very good gifts because they are somewhat disposable or have a limited shelf life. Their paraphernalia, however, can last forever. Nice candle holders, a fancy incense burner or an oil diffuser are likely to go over well. Many Pagans also enjoy making their own oils, incenses, candles, soaps, etc. so they may enjoy gifts that will allow them to explore these crafts. Many also enjoy spending time outdoors, or perhaps don’t enjoy it so much, but tend to end up spending a lot of time outside because Pagans so often gather outdoors. These may appreciate camping or outdoor cooking supplies or other outdoor gear to make their time outside more comfortable and enjoyable.
These are all sweeping generalizations, of course. Not all Pagans are into folklore or arts and crafts or smelly stuff and there are plenty who would rather relax in a hotel than camp and/or prefer a gift from Nieman Marcus to one from the farmer’s market. Pagans are just people, after all, and you get all sorts. I can only assume that since someone invited you to this wedding or Handfasting they are friends are of yours so you must use your judgment based on your knowledge of them personally.
What Happens at a Pagan Wedding or Handfasting?
These ceremonies vary based on tradition. Wiccans, Pagans and Heathens all do things a little differently even within traditions and especially between them. You can find lots of Pagan handfasting ritual scripts online, but most people give their own rituals a personal touch.
Some things you may be concerned about are not likely to happen. There absolutely won’t be human sacrifice, and while animal sacrifice does happen it’s extremely rare and has been forbidden by most traditions. You’re not likely to see it at a wedding. (Don’t laugh ye Pagans. My father asked about this one!) If there is a sacrifice it will be of a symbolic nature.
Nudity is also unlikely. People don’t just invite people to things without warning them that they are clothing optional. There also isn’t going to be any public sex. There may be a symbolic ritual sex act known as the symbolic Great Rite, but you’re not likely to even make the connection if you’re not looking for it.
The guests will probably stand in a circle around the couple. There is likely to be dancing, clapping and chanting. There may be a fire and things may be thrown into it and it’s possible there will be some jumping over it. Likely there will be candles, especially if it’s an evening ceremony and flowers are almost certain. The couple may be tied together symbolically or literally. The cord may be removed immediately or they may remain tied together for some time. They may or may not jump over a broom. The ritual may be simple or elaborate. They with probably exchange rings or some other token. It will probably end with a kiss.
What am I Supposed to Do at the Ceremony?
Just do what everyone else does. If you’re supposed to do anything special, it will all be explained to you. Likely you will be expected to join in if there is any dancing, clapping or chanting. You may be expected to walk around a circle with the rest of the group. You may be asked to throw rice, birdseeds, flower petals or flower seeds in the general direction of the bride and groom at the end, to bless them with fertility and love.
Will There be Food?
Pagans don’t tend to do much of anything without food being involved, and the wedding feast is an important part of the wedding, so it’s highly likely you will be fed. It may be a potluck.
While this is, I am informed, considered “tacky” by “normal” people, Pagans tend to embrace the potluck. This goes back to the idea that all creation is magick. If people prepare a dish for the wedding, they are incorporating their blessings and love for the couple into the dish and sharing it with everyone. Of course, the sharing of food for a handfsting isn’t usually as free-for-all as your everyday ritual potluck. Often the couples’ immediate family and closest friends are preparing the food according to a specific menu, rather than the community-at-large.
Of course, they might also hire a caterer. Everybody is going to do their own thing. I’m sure your hosts will let you know and if it’s not clear, you can ask.
What if I am on a Special Diet or Have Allergies
While it is no more appropriate for one person to attempt to dictate the menu of a Pagan wedding as it is for them to dictate the menu of any other type of wedding, you may actually have an easier time here for several reasons.
First, Pagan wedding feasts are more likely to be communally prepared than catered. If this is the case all you have to do is offer to bring a dish or two. Then you know there will be something for you to eat.
The other factor in your favor here is that most Pagan Circles, Heathen Kindreds, Druid Groves and Wiccan Covens have some members with allergies or who are on special diets so most Pagans are used to accommodating these special diets. Many ceremonial feasts now feature cards labeled “gluten-free” or “vegan” or “nuts” for just this purpose.
If you are really concerned you can ask about these things.
Should I Bring the Children?
As with most weddings, it is up to the couple to determine whether they want children at their event. If your invitation says something like “And Family” then it’s likely safe to bring the kids. If you aren’t sure, you can always ask. If there is an RSVP, do make sure you mention the kids when you respond. If you are worried the kids will see something they shouldn’t, you needn’t. People don’t tend to invite people to their ceremonies if they think they’re going to be scandalized by them.
I Have More Questions
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