How to Officiate a Handfasting Step by Step

So, you’ve been asked to officiate a handfasting.  

Maybe you work as a professional interfaith officiant, but never performed a handfasting ceremony before.

Or, maybe someone in your coven wants to use an officiant familiar with their tradition.

Either way, we got you!  Here’s a step-by-step outline of how to officiate a handfasting ceremony.

Please note:  This article describes the process of officiating a handfasting in a modern neopagan fashion.  But if you need a wedding officiant who specializes in pagan handfastings, Wiccan weddings or witchcraft-based weddings of any denomination, I am legally ordained and qualified to perform marriages in most states.  Want to find out if yours is one of them? 

Contact magicalmoodymoons@gmail.com for information.  

Step 1:  Find Out What the Couple Means by “Handfasting”

The term handfasting technically refers to the specific section of a marriage ceremony wherein the officiant ceremonially binds the couples hands with a rope, cord or piece of fabric, symbolically joining them in matrimony.

However, handfasting means different things to different people depending on their tradition.

For example, a Wiccan handfasting typically only lasts for a year and a day, at which time, the couple decides whether or not to continue the relationship.  The Wiccan year-and-a-day handfasting ceremony is not intended to be legally binding, but to give the couple time and space to get to know each other as domestic partners and decide whether a longer commitment makes sense for them. 

However, when most couples approach an officiant for the purpose of handfasting, they intend to marry in the legal sense.  Which brings me to my next point  . . .

Step 2:  Research the Laws in Your State and County

If the couple intends to marry legally, take the time to research what your jurisdiction requires of you as an officiant.

It is extremely important to know whether or not the marriage you perform is a legally valid one.  You do not want to find yourself embroiled in a sticky legal situation if the marriage is ever challenged (during a divorce proceeding, for example).

Do not assume that if the organization that ordains you claims your ordination is “legally valid” that it actually is.

As of this writing, several states do not recognize marriages performed by ministers ordained by online “instant” clergy certifications.  Which doesn’t stop many of these “clergy farms” from claiming their ordinations are legal.

However, you may be able to certify yourself if:

-You already act as a high priestess for your coven or moon circle.
-There is a clear process for ordination in your tradition or order and
-You engage in regular communion with your congregants.

When in doubt, call the courthouse in your area and inquire about the requirements for ministers to properly perform marriage ceremonies in your jurisdiction or speak with an attorney.

Also, in most jurisdictions, the couple needs to apply for a marriage license before the ceremony.  Make sure they do that.

Step 3:  Set up a consultation.

Take the time to sit down with the couple and discuss their vision for the ceremony.

Go over each major section of the ceremony and get a clear idea of what they want.  A typical outline of a marriage ceremony looks something like this:

Intro 

A brief introduction welcoming friends and family.  “We are gathered here today to witness and support the joining of two people, ect. ect.”

This part varies in length, but you generally want to keep it pretty brief.  Consider including:

-Short, guided meditation to set the tone and mood.

-A charming story about the couple’s courtship.

Circle Casting

If you typically cast a circle during ritual, offer the couple the option of doing this.

There are many unique ways to cast a circle.

For handfastings, this is my go-to method:  ring the altar area with flowers ahead of time.  To cast the circle during the ceremony, walk around the perimeter clockwise with a bowl of water and sprinkle the flowers by dipping your fingers in water and gently flicking them.

You can also:

-Have someone in the wedding party beat a drum around the circle or

-Ask the guests to visualize a white light around the couple.

Do NOT use candles to mark the circle.  Yeah, it looks really pretty.  But you know what does not look pretty? 

The bride running down the aisle the wrong way with her wedding dress on fire.

Reading

Ask the couple if would like to include a reading of their choice.  It can be anything.  For example:

-Piece of scripture.

-Love poem.

-Eloquent words of wisdom on the meaning of marriage.

Ritual Cleansing

Offer the couple the option of including a ritual cleansing to symbolically “clear” their past and begin a new life.

Use anything method you want, but I love using bells for weddings.

Vows

This typically the most personal part of the ceremony.  

Many people want to write their own vows.  I encourage couples to do this, as it’s a great exercise that forces them to sit down and really think about what the commitment of marriage means to them.

But some people feel self-conscious about writing their own vows.  In this case, just Google “sample wedding vows” and offer them some ideas.

Rings

If the couple plans to exchange rings, now would be the time to do that.   I like to make reference to the circular shape of the rings as a symbol by asking each partner to repeat after me:

“This ring symbolizes the eternal cycles of love.  I give it to you as a reminder that my love is infinite, with no beginning and no end.”

Handfasting

Okay, now comes the tricky part.  As noted below, you want to practice this part with the couple before their ceremony.

I usually do this during the rehearsal, but you can meet them at their hotel the night before or however you want to do it.

It’s much easier to watch someone tie a handfasting knot than to explain it in words or pictures. 

This video demonstrates the most common method in a clear, concise way.

During the ceremony, before I perform the handfasting, I usually take a moment to explain its meaning and history.

Declaration of Intent & Pronouncement

Again, I urge you to check the laws in your jurisdiction, but generally, this part is crucial and required in most places to solemnize a marriage.

The exact words don’t necessarily matter, but they usually go something like:

“Do you so-and-so take so-and-so to be your lawfully wedded spouse blah-blah-blah?”

Each of them must answer in the affirmative.

Once they do, the officiate pronounces the marriage.  Again, the exact words usually don’t matter, but it generally goes something like:

“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”  (Or wife and wife.  Or husband and husband.  Or whatever language is appropriate.)

Typically, this is followed by offering the couple the opportunity to kiss or otherwise express their affection/joy.

Contract

If you plan to charge for your services, make sure you have a contract with the couple specifying exactly how much you plan to charge and when payment is due.

I highly recommend you insist on payment before the ceremony, but that’s your call. 

Many officiants specify in their contracts that it’s the couple’s responsibility to obtain the marriage license. 

Some officiants get pretty detailed in their contracts regarding liability. 

I can’t advise you there, so seek professional help if need it.

Preparation

At least a week before the service (especially if it’s your first time), spend some time going over your ceremony.

Practice in front of the mirror.  Speak in a clear, firm voice.  Smooth out any rough spots.  

The night before the handfasting, make sure to meet with the couple, especially if they aren’t planning a rehearsal.  Go over exactly how to tie the handfasting knot.  Make sure you know who will have the rings (if there are any), and go over any parts of the ceremony that include the wedding party to make sure everyone knows what to do.

On the day of the handfasting, make sure to get to the location ahead of time.  Figure out where you will place your altar tools.  Make sure everything you need will be in reach.  

Then, relax, pour yourself and drink and enjoy the evening before the big day.

A step-by-step guide to officiating a pagan handfasting.

1 Comment

  1. I got ordained by Universal Life Church, if that matters. I live in Gettysburg,PA. Got ghosts? We do.

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