Blessed Be the Ties That Bind: A Christian in a Pagan Handfasting

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Sarah and Jacques unite in a ceremony that holds deep meaning for them, steadfast in their choice despite family objections.  

Sarah and Jacques, know now before you go further,

that since your lives have crossed in this life,

you have formed eternal and sacred bonds.

I thought the hardest part would be telling my parents. It wasn’t. The hardest part was not having them there on our special day.

With full awareness, know that within this circle

you are not only declaring your intent to be hand fasted

before your friends and family,

but you speak that intent also to your creative higher powers.

I didn’t even invite them, because I couldn’t face the rejection. My mom had told me she regretted going to a handfasting with me when I was in college because it was Pagan, and therefore anti-Christian, so I couldn’t imagine her coming to my own. I am a Christian, at least nominally, but I considered the handfasting ceremony extra-Christian rather than anti.

I grew up with my dad as a preacher and my mom grew gradually more fundamentalist after her mother died. I remember a time when I brought home a library book from elementary school about evolution that I guess was anti-creationist. I liked the pictures of the ape-like men. My mom chastised me, saying, “We do not believe in that.” I felt like I had done something terribly wrong and rushed into the living room, shoving the book under a couch cushion until it was time to return it. I came to believe that evolution and creationism are not mutually exclusive.

I guess that’s also kind of what I believe about other traditions and faiths. I can be a Christian, but still participate in other religion’s ceremonies. It doesn’t make me NOT a Christian, but adds to the tapestry that is my spirituality. If I had to give myself a label, I’d probably be a Christian Universalist, but even that is not quite accurate. Regardless, as a Christian, I am not worried about participating in other faith traditions causing me to convert. Generally, the other traditions don’t evangelize as much as Christians, anyway. Their adherents are just appreciative that I am respectful and want to learn.

The promises made today and the ties that are bound here

greatly strengthen your union and will cross the years and lives of each soul’s growth.

My fiancé Jacques and I were also planning a church wedding, mainly to appease my parents, but decided to do a handfasting first. A handfasting is a ceremony that binds two persons together for a year and a day, after which, if there is no child from their union, they can go their separate ways, or make it permanent in an affirmation ceremony.

Ours is an interfaith relationship. Jacques was not raised a Christian. He found spirituality later in life, but certainly made up for lost time. He trained with a shaman in Peru and explored his spirituality through music, as well. He learned Khoomei, or Tuvan throat singing, which is practiced in Mongolia, and watching him do his Middle Eastern drumming, you would not be left without feeling it in the depths of your being.

Jacques put together the whole ceremony himself. He hand tailored the vows, organized food and beverages, secured the use of the pirate ship at our camp, found musicians, and carefully chose the participants. A gray-headed man named Master Elrich, who held some status within the Society for Creative Anachronism, lent the ceremony more gravitas by officiating. Jacques’ good friend Angus and Angus’ wife Maria stood with us. There was even a part for his mother, who was eager to contribute. Many people came up to us afterwards and said it was the most beautiful handfasting they had ever seen.

binding

In the binding itself, we were asked to make certain vows that were more meaningful than anything I had ever heard at a traditional Christian wedding.

Jacques and Sarah, I bid you look into each others eyes and take one another’s hands.

Will you honor and respect one another,

and seek to never break that honor?

We will [the first cord is draped over the couple’s hands]

And so the first binding is made.

Will you share each other’s pain and seek to ease it?

We will [Second cord is draped over the hands]

And so the binding is made

Will you share the burdens of each so that your spirits may grow in this union?

We will [third cord is draped over the couple’s hands]

And so the binding is made.

Will you share each other’s laughter, and look for the brightness in life and the positive in each other?

We will. [fourth cord is draped over the couple’s hands]

And so the binding is made.

Not long after the handfasting, Jacques and I decided it was time to move in together. Because of the handfasting, we felt like we were sufficiently committed to each other– bound together– and thus it was just weird not living together. Because we weren’t married before the eyes of the law or the Church, my parents did not approve. In fact, they were livid. They said things like “Don’t talk to me about that handfasting,” and insisted “You’re not married before the eyes of God.” It was a tumultuous time because I was once again going against my parents’ wishes. I had never rebelled in high school or college, so this was uncharted territory for me. But my love of Jacques and my separation anxiety when I was away from him drove me forward.

Sarah and Jacques, as your hands are bound together now,

so your lives and spirits are joined in a union of love and trust.

Gradually, détente ensued. My parents still wanted to be a part of my life, so they had to accept that this was my life. We all went to dinner together and buried the hatchet, so to speak. That Christmas, I will never forget opening a present from my parents. My Mom had wrapped it herself. I pulled out the silver filigree framed picture of Jacques and me at our handfasting. My eyes welled up and I had no words to express the gratitude that my parents at least accepted that this was something important to me, and, since I was someone important to them, they had to come to a degree of acceptance about that, as well. I felt full, like I had feasted on a spiritual banquet, but at the same time, I was hungry for more. I knew it wouldn’t always be readily accepted by my parents, but I smiled nonetheless, imagining the worlds I’d yet to explore. And now I had a partner with whom to continue the journey.

Above you are the stars and below you is the earth.

Like the stars, your love should be a constant source of light,

and like the earth, a firm foundation from which to grow.

 

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About Author

Sarah Adkins

Sarah E. Adkins has published poems in The Open End Blog, Babelfruit, Plainspoke, The Pittsburgh Quarterly Online, and Istanbul Literature Review, as well as published poetry reviews in Fourth River. Her first chapbook, Prolonged Exposure, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2015. She has earned both a Master’s of Fine Arts (in Creative Writing/Poetry, from Chatham University) and a Master’s of Divinity (from United Theological Seminary). To paraphrase Bon Jovi, Sarah is a poet, fighter, preacher, student, and teacher. She is currently a humanities teacher at a Pittsburgh high school.

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