Wiccan Beliefs on Marriage


wiccan beliefs on marriage

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There are as many different kinds of Wiccan marriages in the world, depending on who you ask and what their preferences are. Wiccans see marriage in the Wiccan community as an open, loving pursuit. Marriage and handfasting is about following your heart– not about following rigid rules and stale conventions. So Wiccan beliefs on marriage span a wide range.

Let’s continue reading and learn more about Wiccan beliefs on marriage, the ancient heritage, and what sorts of things you might see at Wiccan weddings today.

Wiccan Beliefs on Marriage

Depending on the wishes of the parties involved, a Wiccan wedding can include any ceremonies suit them. It can also exclude rituals which don’t. Handfastings and jumping the broom are two common inclusions. However “traditional” ceremonies like exchanging rings and elaborate wedding cakes are popular as well.

Wiccans believe marriage should be pursued with openness and love, and that a union should be tailored to fit the desires of all parties. A coupling can be for a lifetime, or just for a year-and-a-day period. It can also be a “voluntary” agreement– the coupling lasts only so long as both parties still feel love for one another. 

Ceremonie also vary on who exactly is being handfasted. Unions can be for a monogamous couple, they can be for a couple in an open relationship, or they can involve three or more people.

Are handfastings legally binding?

Handfastings and legal marriage are two different things today, but that doesn’t mean you can’t combine them into the same day, or even into the same ceremony. Or you can do one without the other.

Many Wiccans wish to redefine what a union is, outside of the monogamous, heterosexual, and lifetime commitment of a legal marriage. There are a number of reasons why this might be.

How Long Are Wiccan Handfasting In Effect?

Traditional marriages are a lifetime commitment, at least until divorce. Many Wiccans disagree with this union of obligation.

Handfastings are often in effect for a year-and-a-day, such that at the end of the period, the couple can decide whether to continue being married. This tradition recognizes that over the course of a year, both partners will grow and change, and the union may no longer fit. If they choose to stay together, they can have a more formal handfasting ceremony or re-dedication. It not, they will part ways and are free to see other people.

The 366 day period can occur once at the beginning of the union, so that the handfasting period serves like a trial marriage. Alternatively, the union can last just the 366 days, to be renewed annually. A common Wiccan wedding vow is “for as long as love shall last,” so both parties continue in the union only if they are still in love.

Polyamorous Wiccan Handfastings

Other Wiccans wish to redefine their union by allowing polyamory. A ceremony could include multiple parties. It could also consist of just a couple, but maintaining an openness so that others can join the sacred union later.

LGBTQ+ Handfastings

Other obstacles or aversions to a legal union may exist. For same-sex couples, the prospect for a legal union may not even exist. And for transgender or nonbinary individuals, the male-female dichotomy of legal unions may not fit for them.

How to Have a Legally Binding Handfasting

If you want to become both handfasted and legally married, there are a couple of different options. First, unless a handfasting is performed by someone who is a legally ordained officiant, the union won’t be a legal marriage. So one option is to find a Wiccan officiant who is legally certified. The disadvantage of this is that you might need to use an officiant from outside of your coven.

Another option is to do both ceremonies separately. For example, you could do a civil ceremony in your local court house by the Justice of the Peace. And then hold a handfasting ceremony at another time. You can even hold both ceremonies on the same day. You could do the legal marriage in the morning, and attend the handfasting in the evening.

A third option is to hold a civil ceremony, but incorporate a Wiccan handfasting or elements of it.

One thing to keep in mind if you desire a legal marriage, is that you must follow all of the marriage laws. This can include a marriage application, waiting period, and having the required number of witnesses present during your civil ceremony.

Is there a Wiccan divorce?

Wiccan divorces do exist. Handpartings are Wiccan ceremonies that dissolves a marriage union between an unsuited couple, or a couple which is no longer in love.

Also remember that handfastings may not be “till death” arrangements, and so the union may split naturally after the coupling period ends.

Wiccan Beliefs on Marriage: Handfasting

One of the most popular Wiccan wedding ceremonies is the handfasting ceremony. This ancient ritual predates Christianity and forms the basis for most Wiccan commitments today.

Historical Origins of Handfasting

The handfasting ceremony originates with the Celts in pre-Christian Europe and the British Isles. It was a tradition which started several thousand years B.C. in ancient Ireland. Handfasting was essentially a common law marriage. It was performed among friends and family and other witnesses, but a priest or member of the clergy didn’t necessarily need to be present.

The marriage wasn’t officially recorded anywhere, and it wasn’t a legal ceremony. It was a meeting of two people and their families. Typically, the two families would meet to arrange the union along with any dowry or transfer of land. 

The root of the verb handfast literally means to promise or to make a contract (like a handshake). So handfasting was an agreement between two families, their wedded children, and the community. It was a signal that the bride was now coupled, and not available for other suitors.

Ancient Handfasting Traditions

 A handfasting ceremony was normally conducted with a bride and groom standing together facing each other. The event could take place indoors or outdoors, but a common location was the home of the bride or in a public establishment like a tavern.

The couple joined their hands in a figure-eight pattern, one over the other. A witness to the ceremony would then tie the couple’s hands together, symbolizing the binding of two lives. Typically a braided cord or ribbon was used. The bride and groom would then declare aloud their intention to join together, and proclaim their love and loyalty. After a kiss to seal the act, the bride and groom might exchange rings or gifts. 

There were two forms of handfasting. One was immediate marriage: after completion of the ceremony, the couple were spiritually and officially bound. Another was similar to an engagement. Upon being hand-fasted, the couple started a period during which the couple was essentially engaged. The period lasted a year-and-a-day, after which they could decide whether to become officially married, or to dissolve the union. If choosing the “engagement”-style handfasting, the couple was expected to refrain from intercourse throughout the year-long period.

Evolution of the Handfasting Ceremony

When Christianity spread over Northern Europe, the church took charge of all marital affairs. Although it wanted to be the arbitrator of all marriages, there were some practical difficulties. Not every town and village had a member of the clergy. And for far-flung hamlets, it was not practical for a priest to travel there for each and every marriage.

So handfasting adapted with the times. For awhile it was used as a stop-gap. Locals were allowed to engage in their traditional self-marriage handfasting ceremonies, provided that when the traveling priest came to town, they formally registered and had the union sanctified by the church. However despite the delayed blessing of the union, at the time of handfasting, the union was legally binding.

Later on handfasting was seen more of a betrothal rather than a marriage. It was a way to announce the engagement of a couple. Even Shakespeare was witness to a handfasting!

Eventually though, handfasting fell more and more out of favor. Legal changes meant that witnesses were no longer sufficient. A priest or magistrate absolutely needed to be present for a marriage to be legal. There were also requirements for marriages to be publicly announced in churches. The final blow to handfasting was the Marriage Act of 1753, which effectively ended the practice.

Handfasting Today in Wiccan Weddings

After the repeal of the anti-witchcraft laws in England, handfastings became more accepted and more popular. The arrival of neo-Pagan religions like Wicca furthered this trend.

Pagans, Wiccans, and those in the growing community of alternative faiths needed a marriage ritual which was sacred and historied, but that didn’t have an association to other religions. Thus came in handfasting. It is an important and meaningful ceremony which predated Christianity. And so, handfastings tend to be the go-to marriage ritual for Wiccans.

Today in other countries, similar self-marriage ceremonies are not only common, but legal! The modern restrictions on marriage registration, licensing, witnessing, and so forth are purely a recent development. We should all look back to the simple and enchanting wisdom of these ancient unions!

Wiccan Beliefs on Marriage: Jumping the Broom

 Another ancient tradition is the practice of “jumping the broom.” In this ritual, the couple jumps over a broom, jumping into their new life. The jump symbolizes their commitment and the sealing of the wedding vows.

Like handfasting, jumping the broom was another informal, self-marriage ceremony. Handfasting created a common-law marriage from necessity, when legal marriage was either not desired or not possible. The practice originated in the 18th century in the British Isles. 

Although a very old historical custom, jumping the broom is still used today by the Romany people in Britain and in the African-American community in the United States. 

Wiccan Beliefs on Marriage: What is a Wiccan Wedding? 

Each person will have their own unique beliefs, so there’s no two Wiccan weddings that look alike! There are however, recurring themes and commonly used ceremonies. Whether you’re planning your own wedding, or you’re attending a friend’s, this information will help you navigate this special day!

Where Does a Wiccan Wedding Take Place?

Wicca is a nature-based religion, and its adherents spend a great deal of time outdoors worshipping in nature. So it makes sense that Wiccan weddings and handfastings would also take place outdoors. 

Common locations include fields, forests, meadows, and so forth. The best location is on private land, as this offers privacy for the event. It may also be legally necessary in the event of a sky-clad wedding (see Wiccan Wedding Dress) below.

However that’s not to say that a Wiccan wedding can’t take place indoors. It is certainly a possibility and it’s more common than you think. But the preference by and large is for an outdoor ceremony.

When Does a Wiccan Wedding Take Place?

There are no stipulations in Wiccan beliefs on marriage about when a wedding or handfasting can take place. Since these events are normally held outdoors, they tend to occur during the warmer months of the year.

Certain sabbats and other holidays are also popular times for Wiccan weddings. Litha (summer solstice) and Beltane are very popular. These sabbats are special occasions in their own right, and they have great weather as well. But they also honor fertility, love, and romance, which makes them popular handfasting dates.

Who is Involved in a Wiccan Wedding?

Wiccan weddings and handfastings generally involve the couple or parties getting joined, the officiant (if there is one), and all of the guests. Depending on how elaborate the function is, there may or may not also be bakers, caterers, an event planner, etc.

Can Non-Wiccans Participate in Wiccan Handfastings?

Handfastings are a centuries-old tradition that has been used in both Wiccan and Pagan ceremonies. However, anyone can participate in this tradition!

It is not at all unusual for non-Wiccans to be invited to a Wiccan handfasting. And also for non-Wiccans to hold their own (secular) handfasting ceremonies.

As Wiccan communities can be small and insular, inviting only Wiccans might make for a very small ceremony! So many opt to invite non-Wiccan friends and family to create a warm and inclusive celebration.

Who Officiates a Wiccan Wedding?

Typically a coven’s priestess and priest preside over a Wiccan wedding. They will perform all rituals, instruct guests on the meaning of ceremony, and ensure that the coven’s traditions are followed.

You may also bring in your own officiant, particularly if you wish the ceremony to also be a legally binding marriage. Alternatively, the ceremony need not have any officiant! In this case we call back to the ancient handfasting tradition of self-marriage (unofficiated wedding) in front of the community.

What Happens at a Wiccan Wedding?

Wiccan are highly diverse, and so are their weddings! No two weddings are alike, but there are many similar items, rituals, and dedications at each one. Let’s step through some of the more common things that occur in Wiccan weddings.

Casting the Circle

Just like other important spellwork, a Circle is cast at Wiccan weddings. The officiant will walk around the perimeter of the circle and mark it, typically with an athame. The sacred Circle will encompass the sacred altar, and it may be larger than what you would normally cast in a ritual by yourself. This is to allow space for the couple and other wedding guests to participate in the ceremony. 

Besides being magickally cast, the Circle may also be physically decorated as well. It can be marked with flowers, fruits, nuts, berries, which all symbolize abundance and fertility. Other common decorations are leaves, straw, branches, moss, stone, and Earthy materials.

At the end of the wedding rituals, the Circle will be closed in a reverse casting.

Honoring the Elements

Just like in other Wiccan rituals and spellwork, the Elements are invoked at wedding ceremonies. 

The officiant will call the quarters at the start of the ceremony to pay respect to each of the elements: North (Fire), South (Air), East (Water), and West (Earth). 

Wedding altar items may also be used to represent the elements. For instance, stones and crystals may represent the Earth element, candles may represent the Fire element, etc.

Invocation of the Elements is a way to bless the union of the couple.

Blessing the Space with Deities and Ancestors

After the Circle is cast, the space will be blessed with sage or incense. The officiant may invoke the Lord and Lady, other gods and goddesses, ancestors, or spirits. These entities will be called upon to bless the event.

Anointing

After the sacred Circle is cast and blessed, the officiant will wait at the entrance of the circle. They stand ready to welcome the couple and guests to the space.

Often the couple will be welcomed at the East entrance of the Circle, and are anointed with oil by the officiant. The anointing represents consecration under the deities and spirits which have been brought out to the ceremony.

After this the guests are welcomed similarly by anointing, one-by-one to the Circle. The guests gather in a circle surrounding the space where the altar, couple, and officiant stand.

Sacred Altar

A Wiccan wedding would not be complete without a blessed altar. The altar will contain a number of altar tools along with a number of other symbolic and sacred items. Each item placed on the altar is special and has a deep meaning.

You may see “typical” altar tools like athame, chalice, candles, incense, wine, flowers, herbs, or crystals. There may also be offerings to deities like food. There will be small gifts or tokens that the couple will exchange amongst themselves. And there will be a long length of cord or ribbon if the ceremony is to include a handfasting ritual.

Ceremonial Fire

A Wiccan wedding ceremony is almost never complete without ceremonial fire. This can be a small fire inside a cauldron at the wedding altar. It can also be a large bonfire made for dancing and singing at the feast.

Wedding Readings

A Wiccan wedding ceremony need not be a serious, strait-laced affair. There is plenty of romance and inspiration with poetry, storytelling, and singing songs. These performances can be carried out by the officiant, the couple, and even the guests themselves. There can even be interaction in such theater– guests may be asked to participate or provide inputs to the performances. 

Exchanging Vows

Just like weddings in other religions and cultures, those being joined may choose to exchange vows. 

The officiant may direct the couple to recite vows aloud, or the couple may have written their own vows and read them in front of the group.

At this point the officiant may speak to the solemnity of the vows and offer the couple advice for the future. They may also ask all those in attendance to approve the union.

Exchanging Rings

Although more commonly associated with the “I Do” type of weddings, Wiccans do also exchange rings at their wedding and handfasting ceremonies. It is termed the “giving of rings.” These items are a formal proclamation of the bond, on display to all who encounter the couple.

Necklaces, small metal tokens, and other small gifts can also be exchanged in lieu of rings.

Wiccan Wedding Handfasting

As we’ve described, the handfasting ceremony is the most ubiquitous of all the Wiccan wedding rituals. The couple’s hands are symbolically tied together with a cord or rope to signify their union. It is the most timeless and powerful Wiccan wedding ritual.

Typically a natural fiber or ribbon is used, such as silk, woven cloth, or cotton. It may also include sentimental items, such as fabric from a sentimental piece of clothing. The cord can be decorated with charms, crystals, or beads. Cords may be a single color, or made from different-colored cords plaited together.

The cord is consecrated and wrapped around the couple’s joined hands by either the officiant or friends and family. Some couples face each other, crossing their hands over one another, allowing both sets of hands to be bound. Others stand side-by-side, so that one person’s right hand is bound to the other’s left.

A blessing is given, and it is announced that the couple is united in a spiritual union. The cord is then slipped off without untying it. It makes a wonderful gift to the couple, signifying their everlasting bond. Many couples choose to display their cords in their home as a reminder of their special day.

Jumping the Broom

Another heritage is the tradition of jumping the broom. It represents a sealing of the vows and the couple “jumping” into their new life together. Some believe that the higher the couple jumps, the longer lasting the marriage will be.

It can be used in the Wiccan wedding ceremony in different ways. 

The couple may jump the broom just after their handfasting, jumping while their hands are still bound. They can also perform this ritual at the feast or reception. And other couples do it when they reach their new home together. Some couples also incorporate fire into the ritual, such as first jumping over a fire, then over the besom.

Often the broom is used to clear the area before the ceremony. It is used to “sweep away” obstacles in the couple’s march toward the future. The besom used in this ceremony also makes a wonderful gift to the couple to display in their new home.

Libation

One of the last rituals of the Wiccan wedding is a libration. For this ceremony, the officiant give a Cakes and Ale offering to the couple. They provide a blessing to the couple that they never want of hunger or thirst.

The couple may then pass the offering around the Circle, allowing friends and family to take part in the blessings.

Wedding Feast

And finally, no wedding is complete without a feast, right?! 

The wedding feast is a joyous celebration of the completed nuptials. It includes a ceremonial bonfire, music, dancing, singing, and merriment. Traditional and magickal foods may be served. The party can go on late into the night.

The couple may give gifts to guests at this time, as a small thank-you for sharing this momentous day with them.

What Does a Wiccan Wedding Dress Look Like?

Technically there are no official standards or requirements in Wiccan beliefs on marriage for wedding dresses. It depends primarily on the dreams and creativity of the participants. There are a number of trends which are popular today though, and common clothing which you are likely to see.

Wedding costume spans a wide range of stylings, but the most popular is probably white robes. The second most popular is being “skyclad,” or in the natural state (nude). Other choices include robes and gowns in black, light pastels, or very bright colors.

Clothing may also hearken back to times of legend. Kilts are extremely popular, as are medieval- and renaissance-inspired gowns. You can find a variety of beautiful fairy gowns with flowing sleeves, intricate lacings, long capes, and dramatic hoods.

For headwear brides and grooms may choose to wear natural crowns or wreaths. Flowers are typically used for brides, and ivy is a common choice for grooms. In addition to a flower crown, the bride may also carry a bouquet of flowers or herbs. These are thought to ward off evil spirits and draw loving energies into the ceremony.

Participants may also choose to wear natural shoes, sandals to keep their feet open to the elements, or remain barefoot.

For guests, clothing can vary widely as well. They may wear white robes along with the wedding party, or they may wear their own clothing. It is not unusual to see other long flowing dresses of natural fabric among the guests.

What are Some Wiccan Wedding Symbols?

Common Wiccan wedding symbols are handfasting cords, flower crowns, candles, white robes, and a circle ritually marked with flowers.

Do Wiccans Exchange Rings in Marriage Ceremonies?

Rings are a common symbol for marriage in our society, so as a result, some Wiccans like to exchange them as well. Besides displaying one’s commitment to the community at large, rings also represent the element of Earth. And so they can be incorporated meaningfully into the ceremony in this way.

Alternatively, Wiccans may exchange other tokens like necklaces.

Do Wiccans have a Wedding Cake at Marriage Ceremonies?

Just like wedding rings, wedding cakes are another common element of marriages in our society. A wedding cake can be part of the Wiccan “cakes and ale” ritual. But wedding cakes may also be incorporated just because they are beautiful and delicious, and make a wonderful end to the post-handfasting feast!

Cakes can be customized to fit the personalities of the wedding party. Natural themes are common, like flowers, forests, and gems. Magickal themes are common as well, such as the moon, faeries, or even Wiccan symbols. Cakes might have a more gothic theme, and depict darker colors, bones, or death elements.

For Guests: What do you do at a Wiccan Wedding?

If you have never attended a Wiccan wedding before, much of it will be exciting, new, and magickal. But other parts may feel familiar. You may see deities called, fires lit, and songs sang. But regardless of the specific rituals used, we guarantee you will have an enchanting evening like no other!

At the wedding you will more likely than not see:

  • A sacred energetic circle being cast
  • A blessing of the space with incense
  • Lighting of candles
  • An altar filled with items like a brightly colored cloth, a chalice (cup), candles, bowls, incense, athame (knife), a cauldron, feathers, bright stones, etc
  • References to the elements of Fire, Earth, Wind, and Water
  • Invokations to deities
  • Invocations to ancestors and the spirit world
  • A reading of poetry or story
  • An exchange of vows
  • A ritual offering of wine, with the couple drinking from the same cup
  • Singing of songs
  • An exchange of rings or similar token
  • A ceremonial fire

Note that the items listed above all have spiritual and symbolic meaning stemming from Wiccan beliefs on marriage. So unless you are told to do so, it’s wise to refrain from touching any of these ceremonial objects.

Questions to Ask Before Attending a Wiccan Wedding

To get your bearings before you go, consider asking the wedding party a few questions. This will help you orient yourself to the ceremony and make sure your expectations are in line. Here are a few examples of questions you might ask:

  •  How long will the ceremony last? Sometimes gatherings start in the evening and can last into the early morning hours.
  • What should I wear? If your invitation doesn’t describe this, ask your host to see what an appropriate wedding outfit might be. Generally bright, positive, and natural wear is always welcome, but if you’re unsure it’s best to ask.
  • Can I bring anything? The feast might be potluck, or your host might enjoy if you brought a dish to share. If the invitation doesn’t specify not to bring a gift, the wedding party might also enjoy a token of your affection.
  • What food will be served? Be sure to discuss any dietary requirements you may have.
  • Will alcohol be served? As many Wiccan ceremonies involve ritual use of alcoholic beverages like wine, discuss with the host if you are not comfortable.

How Can I Learn More About Wiccan Beliefs on Marriage?

Here are two excellent books on the subject of handfasting and ancient Pagan and Wiccan union rituals. They will give you a deep dive into Wiccan beliefs on marriage and how to incorporate them into your own ceremony.

Sources

Handfasting Wedding Ceremony 101

Wiccan Wedding Ceremony

Celtic, Wiccan, and Pagan Wedding Ceremonies

Pagan Weddings

How to Perform a Wiccan Wedding

A Wiccan Wedding: What is it and how does it work?

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