Rites of Passage #3: Handfastings and Dissolutions
Some time ago, I wrote a piece about Atheopagan Rites of Passage. In it, I described life milestones that might be celebrated by an Atheopagan, and which we as Atheopagan “clergy” (we’re all clergy, since we have none) might be asked to officiate over.
On reflection, it occured to me that just talking about these rites of passage probably isn’t helpful enough: that having some guidelines for each such rite would be helpful to the community. So here is the third installment in the series Rites of Passage: Handfastings and Dissolutions.
More has been written, imagined and published on weddings (or “handfastings” in Pagan parlance) than on any of the other rites of passage I am discussing in this series, so I will just touch on a couple of traditional elements that I like and let people design their own handfastings to fit their personal wishes and needs. Meanwhile, here is a Certificate of Handfasting you can download for use in your own Atheopagan wedding ceremonies.
Handfasting. Handfasting is an old tradition wherein the hands of those to be wed are bound together with ribbons, symbolizing the bond of their relationship. They then…jump the broom!
Making and jumping the Wedding Broom. A festive wedding broom can be made as a keepsake for those being handfasted: each guest ties a length of colorful ribbon onto the shaft of the handle, with their good wishes for those to be handfasted. Later, when the broom is complete, those being handfasted traditionally “jump the broom”: it is held about a foot above the ground, and they–with their hands still bound together handfast–leap over it, to the applause of the wedding guests.
A Year and a Day: In some Pagan communities, people may choose a “trial marriage” of a year and a day of commitment, to see how well it will work before making a longer-term commitment. Obviously, this isn’t a legal marriage.
Dissolution ceremonies are rare in our society, but if those whose marriage is to be dissolved are able and willing, they can provide a sense of closure at the end of a relationship that is no longer working.
Dissolution ceremonies should be 1) short and 2) final. During or before them, rings and family heirlooms should be returned.
Here is an outline for a simple dissolution ceremony for a separating couple. The officiant may have to keep a firm hand on the proceedings if the participants are angry and hurt. The ceremony should include members from the couple’s community to support them and witness their dissolution.
A large, inexpensive vase of water is prepared, with two empty glasses. A towel large enough to swath the vase and a large rubber band are at hand.
Officiant: We are gathered here today to achieve the final separation of the marriage of ___________ and ___________. Friends have joined with us to witness the ending of their time in committed relationship, and to support their moving on to new chapters in their lives.
Officiant solicits spoken emotions, values and characteristics from the participants which they would like to inform the dissolution process.
A ribbon from the original handfasting is cast into the vase of water (If possible, the couple’s rings may be tied into the ribbon to keep it from floating out). Officiant states: this is the relationship you have shared.
Officiant then empties the water from the vase in equal amounts into the two glasses and gives one to each member of the couple, saying, now it is time to take yourselves away from what has gone before.
Officiant swathes the vase–now empty except for the ribbon–in the towel, binds the bundle closed with a rubber band, and puts it into the hands (all four) of the divorcing couple. They raise it above their heads and then cast it to the ground to break the vase, ending their relationship.
The couple drink their water.
Gratitudes: Officiant solicits from each of the divorcing couple an expression of gratitude for what they have learned and experienced with the other.
Benediction: It is complete. Officiant declares the work to be done, sending all participants forth to live full, happy and wise lives.