Anamcara: Hand-fasting 101

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Tadhg’s Journal: A day in the life of an Anamcara. 5 June 2016: Today I was privileged to conduct my seventh hand-fasting ceremony of the year . And so, I thought it would be good to share with you something about my role as an Anamcara and one of the joyful duties I have: hand-fastings in general, and also to share something specifically about this special event, today.

Hand-fasting ceremonies are deeply Celtic rituals which originated from a time ancient and beyond memory or record, and are (still) conducted by latter-day Druids.

Originally hand-fastings, and the intention behind them, would have varied depending on the couples’ wishes. Some couples may have wanted hand-fasting as an event to make public their formal engagement to each other, to others it might have been the start of their married life together (before such events were organised by the modern world), or it might have been used as a form of ancient ‘trial marriage’ with various ceremonies spread over the course of a year to celebrate that couples deepening love for each other, progressive commitment,  ending with a ‘full’ marriage ceremony.

Today, hand-fasting rituals are still prevalent with latter-day Celts and others in the UK and elsewhere (and especially with those from families containing more than one faith). And usually (but not always) they are used as wonderful event to announce a formal engagement, or as a form of marriage ritual or blessing after a formal registry office marriage, or to celebrate and give thanks after, say, a number of years of wedded bliss, or for vow renewal. The form of words changing to suit the type of event.

Hand-fastings today are, therefore,  adaptable, are great family-group occasions, inclusive and joyful events, and are full of ritual and deep meaning.

Today, it was Thomas and Sarah’s big day, and it was indeed a pleasure to lead the ritual in my capacity as anamcara (gaelic/celtic for ‘soul friend’).

Thomas and Sarah are both enthusiastic and deeply spiritual latter-day Celts, and have been to several related workshops I’ve organised over the last year or so. Having a Christian and Jewish family, they used this ‘fusion’ hand-fasting ceremony to announced their formal and public engagement to each other (and have already planned a registry office wedding to be followed by another, marriage-adapted hand-fasting ritual later on this year).

It begins…
The nearby church clock chimed 2pm. In Thomas’s parents large garden, and seated in brilliant sunshine, and as a string quartet played a charming classical melody, I walked slowly down the centre aisle, with Thomas and Sarah behind me.

The following, then, is but a vignette, part of an adapted ceremony consisting of a blended, Christian, Jewish and ancient Celtic ethos. A hand-fasting ceremony usually lasts 40-50 minutes.

I welcomed some sixty-five family and friends, spoke of the meaning of hand-fasting, and outlined this ceremony. I mentioned that it would be a ‘fusion’ ceremony, and at the heart of it we would be a seeking God’s blessing on Thomas and Sarah.

Prayer: ‘Be with us now Lord, as we join in this joyful celebration of Thomas and Sarah’s commitment to each other, their engagement, and we pray that You would bless us all during this special ceremony’.

I went on to say that I would explain things as we went along so that there were no surprises, and then stopped…

‘You’ve noticed something about me, haven’t you? And about Thomas and Sarah?’, I said to the group.  I paused, even longer. A ripple of laughter started.

I spoke an innocent, ‘Whaaat’? And, though they were rhetorical questions, the little child (who would later be ring-bearer’), came up, tugged my trouser leg, smiled, and looking upwards at me and then glancing toward Thomas and Sarah, said: ‘You’ve got grass on your head, mister’.

Everyone laughed heartily! It was true about the grass! (Well, almost.)

Everything you wanted to know about the dorchau pen…

Yes, a head wreath. I think we all looked rather smart in them. I explained that part of the ritual ‘fusion’ of this event meant that we would encompass some ancient Celtic belief and ritual as well as honouring both the Jewish and Christian faith, and that it was Thomas and Sarah’s wish that we three also wear the traditional dorchau pen, literally the ‘head wreath’.

Thomas and Sarah preferred fern head-wreaths (which is also my favourite, though some like oak leaves), and that it was usual for the woman to (and Sarah did) add small white flower to her fern head-wreath. They both looked wonderful. But, yes, it must have looked odd to some to have ‘grass on your head’. I continued to explain the symbolism, one of which was the Christian symbolism of eternity.

Introduction: Gan dynnu neiltu. The Drawing Aside
As celebrant I stood at the front and invited Thomas and Sarah to step forward. At this point I said words to the effect that Thomas and Sarah had invited each of us to witness this time as a declaration of their love for each other, and freely undertake this act of engagement, and are here to seek God’s blessing at this special time.

Liminality: The ‘stepping out of ordinary time. Time between time. It’s where significant things happen.

Defodol. The Ritual
As Thomas and Sarah stepped forward I said an opening prayer. A family member read from the Hebrew Scriptures. Genesis 2:18-24.

A hymn was sung: Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here…

[No instruments. Just yours truly as celebrant and cantor]

Another family member read from the Christian Scriptures. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

I spoke to Thomas and Sarah. ‘Do you Thomas and Sarah freely and formally announce your heartfelt love for each other in this engagement to each other, before family and friends? Do you pledge to journey together in your love, devotion, honesty, trust, and in partnership with each other, forsaking all others? Do you seek God’s blessing and favour on this, your engagement.

They both replied: Yes!

I replied: ‘Phew!,’ and everyone laughed!

At this point the small child brought the rings to the front (still looking oddly at that ‘grass on my head’). The couple exchanged rings, and spoke loving words of promise to each other. They smiled. Some clapped, some whistled, and others wept for joy.

It’s from there that we get the phrase, ‘Tying the knot.’

As they held each others hand, I immediately wound around their united hands twelve coloured cords, and gently tied each cord, one by one. Explaining as I tied each cord, that Thomas and Sarah had chosen:

– a red cord for romance and passion, and
– an orange cord for encouragement and kindness, and
– a yellow cord for charm and confidence, and
– a green cord for fertility, and
– a blue cord for happiness, patience and peace, and
– a purple cord for piety and sanctity, and
– a black cord for wisdom and strength, and
– a white cord for purity, meditation and ‘Godwardness’, and
– a grey cord for neutrality and balance, and
– a brown cord for earth, grounding and home, and
– a silver cord for prosperity, treasure and creativity, and
– a gold cord for energy, wealth, knowledge and longevity.

I prayed for them using an old Celtic marriage prayer, adapted, which concluded: ‘Love, life and happiness be yours; may your troubles be few and your blessings plenty’.

The Conclusion: Dychwelyd, The Return
I then wrapped, temporarily, one end of the blue ‘Celtic-patterned’ stole I was wearing around their still-entwined hands, and, and said a closing prayer for Thomas and Sarah: The Aaronic blessing: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. May the Lord look upon you. Amen’.

With the sun still shining on what was a glorious day, I concluded the ceremony, which was followed by a wonderfully joyous garden party, as a string quartet played.

I have never got so may requests to pose with people in my dochau pen. Just as well I’m not shy.

Our prayers go to Thomas and Sarah in their life together.

This, then, is an outline of one of the Anamcara’s duties: hand-fasting ceremonialist. More details and photographs of Thomas and Sarah’s hand-fasting appear on their blog.

2 thoughts on “Anamcara: Hand-fasting 101

  1. This was absolutely lovely and full of meaning. You described this so well, I felt like I was an antendee. I learn so much from you my friend. God’s continued blessing on you.


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