Love is the Law was the theme for Asheville's 18th Annual Samhain Public Witch Ritual. In protest against North Carolina's religiously bigoted "Amendment One" constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and the refusal of Buncombe County to protect its LGBT employees from discrimination, Lady Passion and *Diuvei conducted a mass wedding/handfasting/vow renewal for couples of any and all sexualities in the name of the "Sacred Sun and Divine Moon" on the green in front of the Buncombe County Courthouse, then led a Spiral Dance that culminated around the famous Pack Square magnolia trees.
The rite began with free-form trance dancing to a Witchy iPod mix on the park green, while around a nearby decorated table many single attendees participated in a lively Pagan speed dating called "Merry Meet Mingle" led by Latisha. We then gathered the hundred-plus attendees together in a circle and meeting dance, after which we moved to the spotlit stage for the wedding/handfasting/vow renewal ceremony.
Speaking from the stage, Lady Passion eloquently described the meaning of Pagan handfasting, and noted the appropriateness for modern partnerships of its open-ended vow of commitment for "as long as love shall last". She also pointed out that elders in a widely recognized Witchcraft tradition — Gardnerian, in our case — are legally empowered by North Carolina to marry and bury, just like clergy of any other religion.
Some seven couples participated in the ceremony, including both straight and gay partners. One couple and their parents had come from several states away to have Lady Passion and *Diuvei marry them officially. The High Priestess and High Priest led all the couples in reciting a traditional Wiccan handfasting vow, after which each couple's hands were made fast by having bound round their wrists a silver ribbon emblazoned with a phrase from the vow, "Love Within Our Hearts". Then all returned to the green for the couples' jumping of the broom.
*Diuvei's iPod was playing through a terrific sound system that we'd rented from an excellent local company, Classic Event Rental (after another locally well-known but unexpectedly bigoted audio vendor, Stewart Sound, rejected our business for religious reasons). But magic and electronics have an oft-dysfunctional relationship; and just as the ceremony was about to begin, the iPod froze and refused to play another note of music. We managed fine with spoken words alternating with shouts of joy, but when it came time for the rite's final stage — well, you just can't do a Spiral Dance without music!
But Pagans are nothing if not resourceful. From under cloaks and the back seats of cars suddenly appeared drums, flutes, and strings. An impromptu band provided live accompaniment for the Spiral, led by the High Priestess, that culminates every Samhain Public Witch Ritual. We ended by circling around the entwined magnolia trees — beneath whose boughs local couples for decades have celebrated after getting hitched in the Courthouse — and shouted, "Freedom for all! So mote it be!"
The Afterparty was truly awesome — a mutual love-fest of sorts where folks of great diversity really dug each other while one volunteer channeled Jimi Hendrix and played live electric guitar accompanied by extemporaneous drumming, followed by classic Halloween tunes such as Monster Mash. We laughed, ate, enjoyed being thoroughly ourselves!
The Halloween handfasting rite was the top news story that evening on Western North Carolina's ABC affiliate, WLOS-TV. The positive coverage made Witchcraft look fun, ancient, and powerful. For example, a mother of a bride was quoted as feeling that her daughter's Witch wedding was preferable to her own, when she was dressed in boots and blue jeans .
Jack Hedden (Backspace Photography) filmed the entire rite with a night-sensitive camera, and *Diuvei edited the footage into the three inspiring and exciting YouTube videos here. "Mass Hand-fasting/Wedding, Broom Jumping" especially captures the love, joy, and courage shining in the faces of the couples, even through their Halloween costumery.
We had further positive feedback afterward from a mother who brought her young daughter: As was our intent, she met a nice Pagan man at the "Merry Meet Mingle", and they've been in love ever since — as you can see from the photo they sent us that a friend snapped the moment they walked through her door together.
Meaning of Handfasting
Some say the word derives from Old Norse, "hand-festa," a bargain struck by joining hands; others, that it's a medieval Scottish term denoting a betrothal, or preliminary ceremony wherein families promised a dowry or land or livestock grant prior to a formal marriage service. Or, that the word was mentioned in the old Scottish book Pennant's Tour, but popularized by Sir Walter Scott's novel The Monastery.
Truth is, history shows a long line of hedge-marriages — secret or clandestine marriages performed by a Hedge Priest. Supposedly performed by a poor, illiterate priest, the phenomenon is detailed further in the Wicca Words in the traditional Gardnerian Book of Shadows: Many corrupt or disenchanted clerics defied their uncompromising superiors and performed covert marriages outdoors for a fee. The couple scurried away and sealed the deal by jumping a hedge — in one leap letting Nature bless their union and crossing a boundary into a new life together, while also scorning the Church's sanctimonious pomp that oft, for arbitrary reason, had made them feel like outsiders unworthy of love.
Considering that for centuries, couples faced many marriage restrictions, a hedge marriage or handfasting was a practical recourse. For examples, many were forbidden to wed without royal or familial approval. It was also frowned upon to marry outside one's "station," caste, or faith. And it was just not done to mate with a foreigner, etc. Also, Witches during the Burning Times were forbidden legal sanction. And as depicted in the movie Braveheart, even your birthplace might put marriage beyond arm's length: Some lovers risked an occupying lord taking the bride to bed unless the couple spurned a public ceremony and made other, more crafty arrangements.
No mere handshake, in many countries a handfasting was a trial marriage: If the woman conceived before a year-and-a-day had passed, the union was deemed auspicious, goodly; but if not, or if the pair didn't get along, no harm no foul — both could try again with others in due course.
Many polytheistic Pagans and Wiccans don't want their union sanctified by a monotheist, and are too romantically inclined to settle for a brisk court wedding officiated by a secular judge. They like to "tie the knot" the olde way — with a commemorative ribbon around their wrist, and to "jump the broom" and wish for fertility or abundance in their marriage.
Thus, a handfasting has become a sought-after "adventure wedding" that is personal, exotic, and spiritually endearing.
Some states like North Carolina allow Third degree Witch clergy to officiate legal weddings even if the ritual is completely Pagan in décor, word, and tone.
Lady Passion and *Diuvei legally marry folks, but still prefer to handfast folks for the traditional year-and-a-day time period. E-mail them about their rates at: [email protected]