You might not have heard of it, but handfasting is a pagan tradition that’s gaining traction as an alternative to marriage. My partner and I have decided we have no interest in traditional marriage and the values that go along with it and are planning on holding a handfasting commitment ceremony this year. Here’s why we’re choosing this over a wedding.
Handfasting is an ancient pagan tradition.
Dating back to the time of the ancient Celts, handfasting traditionally served as a type of ‘betrothal’ – something like an extended engagement period. While it was originally intended as a prelude to marriage (that is, if the couple decided they still wanted to marry after the betrothal) it has seen a revival recently and is more flexible than ever. The crux of the ceremony consists of the couple exchanging vows while a priest or priestess binds their hands together with a cord, marking their bond.
We wanted an alternative and found it accidentally.
My partner isn’t really the marriage type either, and we’ve both made clear to each other that we have no desire to get hitched. Nevertheless, we wanted some way to mark our commitment to each other. By chance, I heard of handfasting from a friend who had committed to his partner in his own pagan ceremony. I immediately loved the idea and when I brought it to my partner, he did too.
I’ve been disillusioned by marriage.
Having been married once before, I can wholeheartedly say I don’t want to do it again. I went into my marriage somewhat naïvely and while I have nothing against marriage in general, I know it’s not for me. I found there to be a lot of pressure connected with the idea of a life-long commitment that didn’t last.
I value commitment but I don’t think marriage is the only way to show it.
I love my partner and I know I want to share my life with him. The idea of commitment is important to me and I also love ritual and ceremony as a powerful way of marking intention. However, marriage can’t be the only way to show that kind of commitment to one another. Unfortunately, most of my life I’ve been told that marriage is the ultimate step in a healthy committed relationship. I’m not convinced.
It’s less weighed down by conservative values.
Marriage has a long tradition in church history and I, for one, would like to distance myself from an institution that I don’t particularly agree with. Given the ongoing battle for marriage equality and the historically patriarchal values of marriage, I’m happy to have found an alternative less burdened by these ideals.
I find handfasting much more personal.
Cookie-cutter weddings can be a completely impersonal approach to an incredibly personal aspect of life. Because handfasting is not yet part of the mainstream, it feels somehow untouched and therefore more personal. We plan on having a very small handfasting ritual in our home, keeping it as a secretive and intimate experience.
There’s no “’til death do us part.”
In some variations of the tradition, the commitment marked by a handfasting ceremony is said to last one year and one day (the traditional betrothal period). This is the way my partner and I intend on carrying out our handfasting and it’s something we’ll have the opportunity to renew every year if we choose to.
Traditional marriage makes no allowances for life to get in the way.
While “as long as we both shall live” is very romantic, it’s hardly realistic. More than half of marriages end in divorce, while divorce isn’t necessarily a bad thing (sometimes a relationship truly has run its course), I think we’re setting ourselves up for failure when we have such unfeasible expectations. Life happens to the best of us and sometimes the end of a relationship can be a great thing. Why not allow for that?
Handfasting is more realistic.
In my opinion, one year and one day is a reasonable amount of time to commit to for two people in a stable relationship. Inevitably, we’ll have ups and downs, but making a commitment to stick through it (as best we can) is something I’m willing to do when it comes to handfasting. Having shorter increments of commitment seems like the smart thing to do. Relationships can be hard work and, for me, this makes much more sense.
It’s a reminder to continuously choose each other.
It can be so easy to take a relationship for granted, especially when you’re living together. I like the idea of having a yearly opportunity to choose each other afresh. It allows us the chance to take stock of our relationship, check in with ourselves and each other, and see if we really want to keep walking the path together. If we do, what a wonderful opportunity to intentionally choose each other. And if not, we know we’ve walked as far as we can in conscious choice.
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