2. Handfasting Pagan Wedding and Marriage Ceremony in Scotland
3. Initial Planning
4. Planning Calendar
5. Main Participants
8. Clothing and Footwear
11. Cake and Ale
16. Handfasting: A Pagan Wedding (Explained)
17. Went the Day Well?
18. Checklist (Quick Reference)
We got married in Scotland on 21st September 2014 at Sunset. The ceremony was a Handfasting Pagan Wedding carried out by a “Celebrant” (one of nine licensed by the state and registered with the Scottish Pagan Federation) which included a small section to make it legal. The rest of the ceremony was of our own choosing. Although Scotland allows Pagan Weddings to be legally recognised you will have to check your own local laws to see if you need a separate legal ceremony to be officiated over by a state appointed representative.
As we had both been married before, in traditional ceremonies, we decided, due to our lifestyle, that a Pagan Wedding would be the perfect way to celebrate our love for each other and our love of nature. Our initial thoughts were to ensure that nothing that was part of the ceremony would be wasted and could be used again for other events or parties. For example all clothing worn would be able to be used again without it lying mouldy in a cupboard for many years. We also looked at the costs of a traditional wedding which shockingly ranged from £20,000 ($32,000) to £25,000 ($40,000) and decided that we would be sensible with the costs without skimping. In the end our ceremony cost a total of just under £2,000 ($3,200), which included everything from clothing, footwear and gifts, to catering.
Obviously our ceremony was unique to our needs and what people and friends we had offers from to help us. Your needs and requirements will probably be different but please take what you will from this article and use it to make your own day special and bespoke.
2. Handfasting Pagan Wedding and Marriage Ceremony in Scotland
Part, or all, of the information detailed here will apply in other parts of the world.
A ceremony can take place at any venue approved for civil ceremonies.
You must contact the local registrar in the district the wedding is taking place at least four to six weeks before proposed wedding. You must allow more time if you have previously been married or are widowed.
Registrar will then prepare a marriage schedule which is collected in person by one of the parties to the marriage and given to the Celebrant on the day of the ceremony. After the ceremony the schedule needs to be returned within three days (by one of the parties or anyone you trust) and the marriage certificate is then issued.
All civil ceremonies can be personalised to incorporate readings, poetry, music or personal vows. With regard to the actual marriage vows there is no legally prescribed form of words.
The statutory aspects or declarations by the parties must be in the presence of the Celebrant and two witnesses. This declaration is the part that states that both parties accept each other as husband and wife. The Celebrant then declares that the parties are now husband and wife.
3. Initial Planning
Before you do anything buy a suitable notebook. Then write every thought and idea in this book. Even if you don’t use or expand on things you have written down at least you will have a record of every stage of the planning to refer back to. In our case from our first tentative scribbles to the day of the ceremony we filled in 50 pages of our Anne Stokes Fantasy Fairy book. The following guidance and information, which does not cover every type of ceremony, can be used to start your scribbling.
Consider why you as individuals and as a couple want to have this type of ceremony. What does it mean to each of you? What will it do for both of you and your relationship? This may seem obvious but it is worth giving some thought to this as it will ultimately form the basis of how you will plan and design your ceremony to your needs and beliefs.
In our case we picked the most suitable date closest to the Autumn Equinox and timed it to begin 30 minutes before sunset. You can opt for a Solstice or Equinox date or even a moon phase just whatever makes you both comfortable and means the most to you.
We lost our first venue due to the owner of the establishment selling up and moving abroad. It was a problem at the time as the location was selected due to being almost central in distance away from our intended guests’ homes. After a lot of deliberation and checking out other venues and because it was possible, and to avoid being let down again, we decided to hold the ceremony outdoors in our garden. This of course required a back up plan in case of bad weather on the day. We asked around and one of our friends had a large gazebo, not ideal but necessary. Finally, if the weather was so bad we would have had a smaller ceremony in our house.
Whatever your own choice of venue is, always have a backup plan especially if you intend to have the ceremony outdoors. Consider the remoteness of the venue such as a Pagan or Spiritual site and what you would do if the weather took a turn for the worse.
Consider who will perform the ceremony? How many guests do you want to invite? Who will have specific roles? Do you want music? Do you want a photographer?
Do you want the ceremony to be legally binding? How long do you want it to last? Will it be formal or informal? Will it be a simple or complex ceremony? Will the guests be seated or standing?
Do you want a handfasting as part of the ceremony? Do you want to jump the broom? What colour theme will you chose? What type of flowers (or herbs) do you want for wearing or carrying?
When we choose the date of our ceremony we had six months to allow for planning and organising. I will say that we definitely needed ever one of those days. We wanted it to be perfect and for that to happen time is needed so that there is no pressure on anyone and everything can be arranged in good time. Some say you can arrange a marriage in two months, depending on the type of ceremony obviously, but based on our experiences give yourself as much time as possible.
4. Planning Calendar
Use your notebook to start a month-by-month planning calendar. Make entries of what you need to do and accomplish by the end of each month. As examples; when do you have to get the official paperwork? When will you send out the invitations? When do you have to order the clothes? (Give this some months in case alterations are required) When do you want to have your first draft of the ceremony completed?
This was our planning calendar. Everything mentioned had to be completed before the end of each specific month;
-6 months: First meeting of the Elements, First meeting with the Celebrant, Rings ordered, Draft ceremony to Celebrant, Order my clothes, Order specific Elements clothing, Order boots for bride.
-5 months: Order other Elements clothing and boots/shoes, Compile draft guest list.
-4 months: Make up invitations, Order Witnesses clothing.
-3 months: Order clothes for bride, obtain official paperwork, Complete final guest list, Obtain all guests email addresses, Choose final objects for altar.
-2 months: Send out invitations, Choose music, Arrange catering, Arrange wedding cake, Confirm all clothing ordered, Arrange Ceremony rehearsal and invite all relevant participants.
-1 month: Complete final Ceremony contents, Write Vows, Arrange drinks for post ceremony, Buy gifts for elements and witnesses.
Month of Ceremony: Decorate garden, Confirm handfasting cord ordered, Cake ready, Check caterers, All objects for altar available, after ceremony take schedule to registrar.
5. Main Participants
Two witnesses are required for the legal part of the ceremony. Both also played the role of supporters (equivalent to a best man and bridesmaid) for us. In this case I chose my daughter and the bride chose one of her closest friends.
The four elements were represented in the circle by our friends. Earth (North), Air (East), Fire (South) and Water (West). Each of our elements was given a scroll to read from calling on the four elements to be recognised and acknowledged and to open the circle at the start of the ceremony. The Elements also help the couple on their journey of growth. It is worth having a compass handy so you can position the elements in the proper place.
Your final guest list will ultimately depend on the size of the venue, how easy it is to get to and from, parking availability, and whether you want them standing or sitting. We had fifty in total standing and that was a sensible number due to the size of our garden and the fact that our house is only a wee place with one toilet.
Appoint someone for what we termed as “crowd control”. Someone who is confident and you can trust to have everyone in their places shortly before the ceremony begins. We found that people liked to wander and mingle in groups but when our authoritative voice called them to their places they all obliged.
Again this is your own choice as to whether you want them “professionally” done or make your own. We made our own for free using a picture of a Unicorn with Old English Text and the wonders of Windows Paint. They were then mostly emailed to all our guests with a few being printed off and hand delivered to our neighbours (don’t forget to invite the neighbours if you are having a ceremony at home). This fitted in nicely with our principles that as far as possible we would not generate waste, keep costs down and have the pleasure of creating our own individual designs for our ceremony.
We also included an explanation of what is involved in such a ceremony as few people knew and some even asked if we would be sacrificing an animal!!! Please see Section 16 for a copy of the wording we used to calm the worried and inform the others.
8. Clothing and Footwear
The criteria for all who attend, including us, was that whatever outfit or footwear was chosen it had to be able to be used the next day if anyone was attending another get together or even as casual wear. There was no way that anyone was spending vast amounts of money on something that would be worn once or only at “weddings”. The bride chose a purple dress which was the colour theme for the ceremony. Each of the Elements chose colours for their dresses that matched their specific Element; e.g. Fire was in red and Water was in blue.
Pick what is appropriate and personal to each of you. The rings are an important part of the ceremony as the exchange of rings represents the circle of life. They are blessed by the Celebrant and are a protection for the couple.
Our “engagement” rings were matching Celtic bands. Our wedding rings were amethyst in colour and made by Sheila Fleet based in the Orkney Islands. They were inscribed inside “Forevermore 21st September 2014” and have old Viking language inscription which reads when translated “Dreams of Everlasting Love”. The four rings cost less than £400 ($650) in total.
We had initially planned to have the rings delivered by an owl. We even had a Long Eared African owl called Toto arranged for the day. Alas when we lost our venue we didn’t think that the area around our garden was suitable for an owl so we got our faithful rescued dog to deliver the rings instead.
What you put on your Altar is entirely personal to each of you. We had pictures of family and our dog which are no longer with us, a piece of Amethyst, a Triple Moon Candle, Handfasting Cord, Feathers, a Bell, and a Pentacle of salt. Also consider what kind of cover you want over the Altar. And don’t forget to have a lighter handy to light the candles. Our Altar was just one of our tables from the house and our cloth was a purple and black table cover to match the themed colour of the day. As well as the altar we had a separate table to use for the signing of the marriage schedule.
11. Cake and Ale
We took a bite from the same piece of cake symbolising a promise to feed each other spiritually and emotionally. A friend of ours offered to make our cake which we asked to be decorated with butterflies and black roses. It was topped by a Unicorn head which gave it more personal meaning to us. Each guest received a piece after the ceremony and while we were still in the garden.
Our drink of choice after the ceremony was Mead which we drank from the same goblet. This symbolised that we would never thirst in our hearts and minds. In addition to our own bottle of Lindisfarne Mead we were fortunate that a friend of ours brews his own Mead and gave us six bottles. The Mead was also passed around each of our guests for them to taste and toast to our future together.
As there were children present we decided that only disposable cups and plates and plastic cutlery would be used, apart from our goblet for the mead.
After the ceremony we had a buffet delivered by our friend who owns one of the local Indian Restaurants.
We decided that apart from the natural woodland flowers in our garden there would be posies carried by the bride, the two supporters and our noise maker. These were made by ourselves using a few flowers purchased from a local store with some of the wild garden flowers added, and in addition in the bride’s posy we put some myrtle. Total cost for the four posies was £6 ($10).
Each of our elements, the two witnesses and the Celebrant was presented with a personal gift from us after the ceremony. These were in keeping with the theme of the day and included pendants, necklaces, bracelets and a gothic stone tile.
With regards to gifts for us, we already had all we need having both been married before. We wrote in the explanation sent out with the invitations that there would be a blessings book for anyone who wishes to leave us their own personal message which we said we would truly treasure as our own special gifts from everyone. We added that a Pagan Wedding tradition is for guests to bring food and drink along in lieu of gifts which would also be most welcome. Finally we said that if someone really feels they would like to provide something for us to remember the day then anything to do with nature or paganism, or a small donation to an animal charity, would be just perfect.
This can be as simple or as complex as you wish. An example of a simple ceremony would include,
• Openings, Welcoming and Greetings
• Declaration of Intent
• Blessing of the Rings
• Exchange of Vows
• Exchange of Rings
• Statutory Declaration
• Closing Words
• Sharing of Food and Drink
This is a copy of our ceremony which we mostly wrote ourselves apart from the legal part and the parts included by the Celebrant. The Ceremony itself lasted around 30 minutes. We also had my granddaughter as a noise maker using a tambourine, though everybody present joined in when prompted.
Welcome by Celebrant
On behalf of the happy couple I welcome all here today family and friends to witness the solemn vows to be undertaken by V and B as they are legally handfasted. I welcome all assembled to bring their blessings on this happy occasion.
This is a time of the harvest thanksgiving when all of nature’s bounty is there to be gathered in. It is also a good time for us to evaluate our own harvest, make sure we keep it well and in so doing sustain us through the days ahead whatever may unfold. It is our time to enjoy the opportunities we have been given. This is a special time in the wheel of the year a time of balance between light and dark and therefore a fitting time for our handfasting here today.
The ceremony of Handfasting is an ancient one and has long been celebrated by the Celtic people to mark a couple becoming wedded to each other. V and B come here today freely, willingly and with love in their hearts and minds to make a solemn commitment to each other in front of family and friends.
Hail and welcome to all here today, the seen and unseen. In the name of Goddess Bride, keeper of the sacred flame of love and in the name of the ancestors whose words speak through us we call upon the presence of the Eternal Creative Spirit to be with us today. We gather here today in love and in peace to celebrate the Handfasting of V and B. We stand here together in this sacred place, between the stars and the earth to join these two people in a sacred holy ancient equal union.
Celebrant introduces the Elements
Voice of the North: Hail and welcome. Then reads from her scroll.
Voice of the East: Hail and welcome. Then reads from her scroll.
Voice of the South: Hail and welcome. Then reads from her scroll.
Voice of the West: Hail and welcome. Then reads from her scroll.
Each presence here is a blessing and with each breath, we breathe light and life into our circle. Blessed Be.
As your life is fashioned through the winds of change and in times of unrest and uncertainty will you still love and honour each other?
Couple: We will
May you travel with blessing of Air and the spirits of the East and that together you will find the freedom of flight like the great messenger of life. May your journey together be like clear mountain air and be reborn with each new dawn. Blessed Be.
If the fire in your hearts and passion of your love burns low will you still love and honour each other?
Couple: We will
May you travel with blessings of Fire and the spirits of the south and may your hearth overflow with warmth and the heat of passion fill your hearts and dance with the fire as it brightens your path with courage, strength and vitality. Blessed Be.
Couple are each given a lighted candle by the Celebrant that represents their past lives. They both light a single candle representing their future life - two spirits as one.
Through the deep still pools of emotions of tears and sadness will you still love and honour each other?
Couple: We will
May you travel with the blessings of Water and the spirits of the West and together your feelings flow with beauty as you weave and blend your desires like the ripples on a still pool. Let each teardrop be filled with love and clear vision. Blessed Be.
In times of adversity and cold boundaries when problems seem immovable will you still love and honour each other?
Couple: We will
May you travel with the blessings of Earth and the spirits of the North. May your roots be strong like the great and sacred Oak and your life grow in rich and fertile soil, and your union grow strong and successful. Blessed Be.
As Vand B stand here together in love, we thank our ancestors for this special time we have together between the stars and the earth to make their true and binding promise as one love binds one heart to another. Vand B are you ready to make your solemn vows witnessed by this assembled gathering here today?
Couple Reply: We are
Exchange of Rings
Delivered by our faithful companion to D, who then hands the rings to the Celebrant.
The wedding ring is a circle, a symbol of wholeness, strength, co-operation and peace. The circle is a symbol of your love and strength for each other and represents a bond which is complete and without end. These rings are a permanent reminder of your love for each other and of the vows you exchange here today.
V and Bwould you now place the rings on the top of each other’s fingers as you offer your vows to each other.
B would you now say your vows to V.
V would you now say your vows to B.
Will you now place each of the rings on your fingers and let them be seen as tokens and symbols of your continued love for each other.
As your hands are bound together with this cord make your sacred vow.
V and B (as one)
As my hand is bound to yours today, we are now one and handfasted for our tomorrows.
Holding hands now repeat your solemn wedding vows.
B will you repeat after me: I call upon these persons here present - to witness that I B solemnly and sincerely accept you V as my lawfully wedded wife – to the exclusion of all others.
V will you repeat after me: I call upon these persons here present – to witness that I V, solemnly and sincerely accept you B as my lawfully wedded husband - to the exclusion of all others.
V and B in front of these witnesses and myself you have been handfasted, exchanged your rings, given your vows to each other and made the necessary legal declarations. It is therefore my great pleasure to pronounce you husband and wife. B you may now kiss your Bride.
I now pronounce that V and B are legally husband and wife.
Handfasting cord is untied by Celebrant.
Closing the Circle
Let us unwind our Sacred Circle and thank the Spirits and the Elements for protecting us here today and being with us at our ceremony of Handfasting.
Voice of North. Element of Earth.
Spirits of the North we thank you for joining with us here today. Hail and Farewell.
Voice of the East. Element of Air.
Spirits of the East we thank you for joining with us here today. Hail and Farewell.
Voice of the South. Element of Fire.
Spirits of the South we thank you for joining with us here today. Hail and Farewell
Voice of the West. Element of Water.
Spirits of the West we thank you for joining with us here today. Hail and Farewell.
May peace and love radiate throughout the whole world. Blessed be to all between the Stars and the Earth. Today we celebrate the union of V and Bat this sacred time and bright blessings we give to this loving union. May we all go today full of this blessing, united by love and friendship and may peace and harmony always be with us as we share these feelings and emotions with humanity. May we give blessings to our happy couple. Blessed Be.
Couple, Witnesses and Celebrant walk to Summer House to sign marriage schedule.
T brings chalice from Altar to Summer House.
Couple cut first slice of cake and take a drink of Mead from the chalice.
M slices rest of cake and passes round to guests.
T passes Chalice (Mead) and Glass (Whisky) round to guests.
Then all make way into house for feasting and drinking celebrations.
Your personal Vows are written separately by both parties and signify a pledge of love to strengthen the union of marriage. I have included our Vows below only as a guidance of how unique and personal you can make them relevant to the person you are marrying whatever the type of ceremony.
When you and I look up at the night sky and see the stars burning bright, or sit quietly together watching the oceans crash against a sandy shore, or stare intently into a burning log fire, or watch the shadows cast by flickering candlelight, or feel and hear the wind and rain blowing through the forest, I wish to share each and every one of those moments with you, and all our other moments together forevermore.
Whatever we may encounter together or whatever path we may walk I will always be by your side, not merely as your husband but as your friend, confidant and companion. Through your words and deeds you have made each day of my life since I met you not only magical, spiritual and complete but perfect in every way. Today I take my place as your husband and I promise you, through these vows, my devotion, appreciation, respect, support and unconditional love from this day forward and forevermore.
As the Sun-Goddess rises in the East, and the warm Air of Spring carries us on our journey through life together I will awake with you and celebrate every day forward. As she moves South and takes us through each morning, her Fireball burning in the mid-day sky above I will share with you the Summer garden she nurtures and share the bounty we help create together.
As she gradually cools and lowers in the Autumn sky, preparing for her slumber we shall watch her set in the West, safe in the knowledge that she shall rise again just like the Phoenix from the embers and as the storms and rains of mid-Winter shadow our path, I will light our way. And just as the Moon-God guides the moving Waters of tide and time, I will lead us through the storms.
And the Earth will be drenched in our joy, ready again for us to reap and sow and continue our never-ending journey together. Husband and wife Forevermore.
16. Handfasting: A Pagan Wedding (Explained)
This is a copy of the explanation of the ceremony that we sent out with our invitations.
The following is to give you some idea of what you’ll be letting yourself in for if you decide to attend!!
A handfasting is the Pagan equivalent of a wedding. In Scotland the ceremony is legally recognised in law if it is carried out by a celebrant. There are nine registered celebrants in Scotland and one of them will be carrying out our ceremony. She will lead the ceremony and explain to those present each stage of the ritual.
You will find that as the ritual includes a belief in mirth and reverence, although taken seriously, it will involve more humour and fun than you would normally expect at a wedding.
There will be two supporters (the Equivalent of the maid of honour and the best man) who will look after us on the day. As the handfasting is closely linked to nature it will also include four people who will be the elements (earth, air, fire and water) to also bear witness to our vows being made. In deference to nature we ask that you do not throw confetti.
Whereas the people who have roles to play in the ceremony will be dressed in clothing of their own choice and the celebrant dressed in robes, all other guests can come dressed in any way they wish. For this type of ceremony the bride does not wear a traditional wedding dress and the groom wears something more interesting than a suit. It is a relaxed occasion so dress as you please. That includes anyone wanting to turn up in a t-shirt and jeans; though it is September so a woolly jumper may be better!!
Guests will be directed to the slabbed area above the garden or the chipped area in the garden to view the ceremony, which will last around 30 minutes, will take place in our garden around an altar in a scared blessed circle, where all those who have roles to play will stand. Once the ceremony is completed at the altar we then proceed down to the summer house to cut the wedding cake and drink some mead. All those present will be offered some mead and some cake. Following the ceremony an Indian buffet and drinks will be available in our house.
We had hoped an owl would deliver our wedding rings to one of our supporters, however we now feel it is more appropriate that our rescued dog is our ring bearer on the day. Please bear in mind that he can be nervous and as such there must be a clear path left from the garden gate at the slabbed area down to the altar. It is also most important that he is not touched or distracted so he does not get stressed and therefore we gratefully ask that no flash photography takes place, as well as no sudden loud noises, while he is carrying out his role.
With regards to gifts, we have all we need. There will be a blessings book for anyone who wishes to leave us their own personal message which we will truly treasure as our own special gifts from everyone. A Pagan Wedding tradition is for guests to bring food and drink along in lieu of gifts which would be most welcome. If you really feel you would like to provide something for us to remember the day then anything to do with nature or paganism, or a small donation to an animal charity, will be just perfect. You will not be turned away, or talked about, if you do not bring a gift!!
If there is anything we haven’t covered, or would like to know more about please ask. Otherwise just let us know you are coming as we would love to see you on the day.
B and V
17. Went the Day Well?
We were blessed by beautiful weather which continued late into the night allowing groups of people to sit outside. On reflection if it had been cold or raining it would have been very difficult to squeeze 50 people into our wee house.
The delivery of the buffet after the ceremony caused a large crowd to build in the kitchen which meant none of the food could be set up until my new bride and my daughter cleared the area. We should have had more people assigned to helping with the catering.
It wasn’t until we both arrived in the garden for the start of the ceremony that we discovered the altar had not been put in the proper place. No one had been tasked to check that this was done. Despite specific instructions not to, feathers and a pentangle stone were placed on the altar by the Celebrant. She did apologise later, but it is something we should have reminded her of when she arrived.
As the Ceremony commenced we quickly realised that the Celebrant was reading from the wrong ceremony. I had to rush inside and find a copy of the correct ceremony. She did apologise later, but again it is something we should have checked when she arrived.
Apart from those issues we had a fantastic day and judging by all the comments on social media and in our blessings book so did everyone else.
18. Checklist (Quick Reference)
• Date and Time
• Altar and Cloth
• Food and Drink
• Cups, Plates and Cutlery
• Colour Theme
• Main Participants
• People assigned specific roles
• Clothing and Footwear
• Official Paperwork
• Planning Calendar
• Handfasting Cord
As well as us searching eBay and Amazon the following links are for the companies and individuals we used to obtain our clothing, footwear, rings and gifts. There are many other reputable companies that provide the same or similar items so shop around.
@ 2014 Brian McKechnie (aka WorldEarth)
All photographs were taken by ourselves or our family and friends and are copyrighted to the individual.
Suggested Further Reading
Brian OldWolf (author) from Troon on January 14, 2019:
Glad you had a lovely handfasting
Adelaida Black from Canada on January 10, 2019:
oh, why I didn’t find this article when I was planning our handfasting? Everything was a little simpler, although I was still satisfied. All shortcomings were forgotten with time, but the best moments will be remembered. That's why I'm very glad that we had excellent photographers (Tara Weddings from Toronto taraweddings.ca ) who were able to convey and preserve the whole divine atmosphere of the ceremony in the photos!
Brian OldWolf (author) from Troon on October 07, 2015:
I'm glad you found it useful. Good luck to you and Tracey. Blessed be.
bill on October 06, 2015:
Thanks, this is a useful guide.
I just pledged commitment to my partner, Tracey, last weekend (the engagement if you will)
This starts the life together which we both want to be legally recognised but also celebrated in line with each of our beliefs, which are going to take some time to align.
No rush but we will make it happen when the time is right.
Brian OldWolf (author) from Troon on January 21, 2015:
Rev. Candy Lacey-Partlow from Columbus, Ohio on January 20, 2015:
Well written and a great guide for those planning their handfasting ceremony. -HPs Sophia
Brian OldWolf (author) from Troon on October 27, 2014:
Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the hub.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on October 23, 2014:
What a lovely day. Thanks so much for sharing your personal experience!