Fifteen Years of Wiccan Weddings

by JoHarrington

I first officiated at a Wiccan Handfasting in 1998. As a High Priestess, I get to see all of the background stuff which makes up the big day.

I know the theory. I know the practice. I have the robes, the tools and the words to say. I know the meaning behind the words. But chronic stage fright lets me down each time!

It's only at Handfastings. I can raise circles with the best of them, conduct Wiccan funerals with all due gravity. But at a Wiccan Wedding so much depends upon it being perfect. The numbers of people watching just grow and grow. I become crippled with shyness utterly unbefitting a representative of the Goddess.

Here are three memories from a decade and a half of performing Wiccan marriages.

Panicking Priestess at a Wiccan Handfasting

My friend said that I didn't have to do it. But all those people were waiting and we both knew that I did.

"I can't do it."   White-faced and wide-eyed, I faced one of my closest friends.   She'd followed me into the hotel room bathroom, where I'd just thrown up.  "I can't remember the words.  I can't remember anything."

"You can do it."  She told me emphatically, trying to keep the worry from her expression.  "Let me make you a nice cup of tea."

It's the British answer to everything, but I didn't think even that would work in this instance.  My stomach was in knots.  I was trembling.  Just the thought of walking out into that circle made me want to cry.

She was soon back.  Out in the bedroom the kettle was bubbling away.  "Ok, you don't have to do it."  She spoke calmly, slowly, like someone addressing a frightened bird.  My heart rose in hope, even though my quivering reason told me that I had to do it.  People had traveled from all over the country to be here.  I'm sure I heard that someone had flown in from abroad.  "But why don't you just have a wash and brush your teeth.  I'll make a cuppa, then we'll go out for a cigarette."

That was all.  Baby-steps.  I followed her instructions, but they didn't end there.  After that it was 'why don't you just run through your words?', 'why don't you just put on your robes?' and 'why don't we just get in the car and go to Avebury?'  

Each time she assured me that I didn't have to do it.   Each time we both knew that I did, but the lie was kind and good to hear.

Avebury Stone Circle is owned by the National Trust.  The groom had contacted them personally for permission to hold the Handfasting there.  We arrived early and the area was packed with people.  "They're probably all tourists,"  my friend opined softly, as she herded me into the Red Lion pub. 

They all looked like wedding guests to me.  The older ladies were all wearing hats.  The gentlemen were in suits.  There was a profusion of flowers stuck on lapels.  "Yes."  I agreed, fervently wanting to believe it.  "National Trust tourists.  Definitely."

I threw up again in the toilets of the public house. 

When I returned, it was to find the groom sitting beside my friend.  In the split second before he saw me, he looked terrified too, but then his face illuminated into a welcoming grin.  "It will be fine!"  He assured me, though it was supposed to be me supporting him. 

By the side of my mug of coffee, my friend had added a whisky shot.  I'm not in the habit of entering circles drunk, but I knocked that down.  Dutch courage.

Still being assured that I didn't have to do it, I was gently conveyed to the area of the Handfasting.  Wicca was the religion of only about five percent of the people there.  The ceremony had been adapted accordingly.

There were a lot of people there.  The promised sixty looked more like a hundred.  I moved between them, with my friend alongside, answering questions about what would happen.  Remarkably I began to calm down.  One on one or small groups.  I could do this.

But inevitably the bride arrived and the groom was waiting.  All of those people had formed a circle around us.  I was in position to be a HIgh Priestess officiating at this thing.  Fear gripped my stomach in its fist.  The hand around the athame shook.  I wanted to be sick. 

And then they were all waiting, expectant.  Some apprehensive.  Some excited.  Most smiling.  All staring at me.  For a long moment there, I thought I was going to faint.  I sent a silent panicked SOS to the Goddess for help.  But it seemed She wasn't there.

I stumbled through the opening line, then stared in horror at the groom.  I'd forgotten the next line!  He smiled kindly back and whispered, "It's ok."

And suddenly it was.   A great calm came down upon me and the words rushed past the blockage in my brain.   I could raise my athame and perform the service.  There were some watching on who later said it was the best wedding they'd been to in their lives.

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"He's just asked me if I would be handfast to him!"  The young witch beamed excitedly, as I emerged from my tent.  

I grinned back, "Wow! Nice one!  When are you looking to do it?"

"Now!"  She gushed.  "It makes perfect sense.  Everyone is here and we have a High Priestess!" 

It did make a lot of sense.  We were all camping out in the Shropshire borderlands.  Most of the Pagan moot was present and, as we were there during a Sabbat, we had enough paraphernalia to do this thing. 

Plus it wasn't like the couple had just met.  They had a home together. 

She was still talking.  "We're going to do it for a year and a day, then perhaps extend that to a lifetime next year.  Then our parents could be there."  Ah! Yes.  Family.  "Say you'll do it!" 

It wasn't like I had much choice in the matter.  I could see past her, where the news was spreading like wildfire.  Pagans like nothing better than a chance to party and organize pretty things.  People were already getting ready.  I was fine with this.  "Ok, where do you want to do it?"

"Here!"

Here was a camp-site.  We'd taken over half of the field, but it wasn't busy.  There were only a handful of other tents at the other end of the site.  Alongside us, the River Clun was barely a stream, babbling its way towards the distant town.  Trees lined the riverbank and the site itself.  I went to fetch my athame.

By the time I was back, the circle was already forming.  I'd not had time to speak with the bride and groom together to discuss how this was going to be done.  They both stated that they preferred the spontaneity and they trusted me to get it right.

I didn't have time to get stage fright.  I was in that circle within minutes of knowing it was going to happen!   It was fun.  It was pretty.  It was loving.  It was this great outpouring of friends, all focused on the ecstatic bride and groom.  The words flooded out of me, the sun beamed down and all was wonderful.

Except for two members of our moot. 

They were Heathens, not witches of any stripe.  They'd organized this whole trip and liked to frame themselves as our leaders.   They had been the last to be informed about this Handfasting and their faces were grim throughout.

The ceremony didn't last too long.  Everyone there knew what they were doing, so there was no need to pad it out with explanations for non-Pagans.  All roles were performed to perfection and it was a great atmosphere.  But for those two.

The second it was over, we began party mode.  In the pre-wedding rush, some members of our moot had raced to the shop.  They brought out cake and bottles of wine now.  We celebrated, until we found the bride in tears and the groom with a face like thunder.

"What's happening?"  I asked, but before they could answer, I too was called over.  It was the two Heathens, both looking stern.  I followed them behind their tent and was basically told off. 

How dared I hijack their peaceful Pagan outing to turn it into a wedding?   How dare I not show them the respect of asking them first?  This wasn't just any campsite!  It was one which they came to regularly.  We hadn't had the common decency to ask the owners!   Now they were both outed as Pagans there too.

"Has there been a complaint?"  I asked.  There was no-one but us around.  It was mid-afternoon and the other tents seemed deserted.  No cars were parked alongside.  The owners lived in a house on the other side of a henge.  I hadn't seen them appear.

"That's not the point!"  I was informed.  But they didn't get much further.  The rest of the moot, now wedding party, were equally informed now, through the tears of the bride and the ranting of the groom.

They say that there's no good wedding without a fight, but I have to say that one was quite spectacular.  It ultimately split the moot apart. To this day there are a handful of different Pagan groups in the city, all dating back to the schism wrought by that Handfasting.

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Holding Back the Storm at a Witches' Wedding

The day had been fairly dry and bright for Britain. Not so the week, that had mostly drizzled and poured. But there were hints that this would be something special.

When AJ called upon the Watchtowers of the South and Fire, forked lightning flashed in the distance.  I knew she was good, but not that good.  Then IA turned to call the Watchtowers of West and Water.  A single drop of rain fell.  The skies above had darkened dramatically.

This was not supposed to happen.  I know that all good literature has witches prancing around on blasted heaths, with storms raging in all their fury, but reality has never looked like that.  We'd all be hospitalized with permanent pneumonia if it did.

"Shall we do this quickly?"  The High Priest beside me murmured.  I concurred, looking in pity at the bride and groom. 

They had traveled all the way to Britain from Colorado, USA, for this ceremony.   They were already legally married, so it was more a blessing.  They'd both heard SR and were nodding emphatically in agreement.

I've never quite done a ceremony like that.  Not a circle in general, let alone a Handfasting.  We raced!   There was no sedate walking around the contours, it was a mad dash to reach the cardinal points.   SR and I took it in turns to say our lines, not gabbling incoherently, but still faster than usual.

Above our heads, there was an ominous rumble.  The afternoon had gone as black as night.

It wasn't like there was shelter to sit out the storm.  We had climbed to the top of Glastonbury Tor, which was notoriously open to the elements.  The wind had picked up as soon as we arrived.  One member of our party was watching from the scant shelter of the open St Michael's Tower.  She'd injured her ankle and couldn't stand in all that wind pressure.

Others were in the circle but not precisely concentrating on the Handfasting per se.  There is much lore in Wicca about controlling the weather.  The story goes that witches across Britain caused the 'holy wind' which kept the Spanish Armada from our shores in the 16th century.  When you look at the bizarre nature of that particular storm, you do have to wonder.

At least three members of the circle were attempting just this.  They wanted to hold back the storm long enough for the Handfasting to take place. 

It worked.  The couple said their vows, leapt over the broomstick and kissed.  The groom paid honor to the Goddess Bride with a kiss.  The sheer energy of the circle practically crackled as much as the clouds above, but the rain did not fall.

I looked at SR and he looked at me.  "Let's get this circle down!"  We ran.  We literally ran, feeling high on the situation in a way that has never quite happened before or since.  Everyone there was giggling, euphoric, gasping with the fact of just being there.  It was awesome in all its senses; and the circle came down. 

The second it did, the instant those witches broke their concentration with the weather, the storm unleashed itself in all its fury.  We hurtled off that sacred hillside.  The older members helped, alongside BP with her dodgy ankle, but the rest of us defying the storm with dancing and laughing and absolute joy.

To this day, we talk about it, that most Pagan of Handfastings.  To this day, every one of us is glad that we were there.

Finally down in Glastonbury Town, in the shelter of the George and Pilgrim, I apologized to the bride and groom for the British weather.  It was ok, they assured me earnestly.  It was perfect.  I had to agree.  It was one of the best Wiccan weddings I have ever had the honor to attend, despite all that should have been wrong.  Because of all that should have been wrong.

As for back then, I was still buzzing on the actuality of the thing, intoxicated by nature itself.  I ran out into the Square, where SR was already waiting; and we danced in the rain. 

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Updated: 02/05/2014, JoHarrington
 
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JoHarrington on 06/07/2014

I've not really thought about it in those terms before. You're right, of course.

In my experience, all people are beautiful and dress sense is - at best - a fad. Wait long enough and you'll be the trend-setter.

frankbeswick on 06/07/2014

The big enemy of public speaking is self-consciousness. You cannot present to a live audience because you are wondering how they regard you, and this takes your mind off the subject. I can speak publicly [need to, as I have been teacher and a one time candidate for parliament-Liberal Democrat 1992-came third.] But what got me able to speak publicly was training for the Catholic priesthood. They make you speak publicly by having everyone take turns at leading prayers. You feel terrified at first, and some people forget common prayers, such as the Lord's Prayer, but after a while you become immune.

What gets me nervous is that I have no confidence in my appearance. I have not a great dress sense and do not consider myself good looking, never have. In fact my nephews and nieces had a vote on who has the worse dress sense, I or my brother. They voted for me, as at least, they declared, I have one. As a writer, examiner and gardener I have no need to consider appearances.

JoHarrington on 06/07/2014

There's something ridiculously off-putting about being able to see your audience. I've now got a regular readership of 1000+ a day on Wizzley. But I'm calm as a cucumber, because I can't see them. If I had to stand up and read my articles out to the same people, I'd end up in a heap on the floor.

You have to be careful with some Tarot readers. You'd be amazed how much you can give away, just in your person, aspect and reactions to what's being said. When I'm giving readings, I'd prefer the person to be in another room!

I've done a couple on the Tor. I'm trying to recall which one you're referring to. I have done a Beltane one there. As for the rainy one, I really don't remember which time of year, though I don't think it coincided with a Sabbat.

Yes, leaping over the broomstick is that. But it's not really the fact that it's a broomstick that matters. It's the wood. I tend to use my stang, unless the couple request an actual broomstick. A stang is just the stick without the broom. And yes, re the carrying the bride over the threshold link.

WordChazer on 06/06/2014

I can't present to an audience either. But I managed to co-present a hospital radio show without thinking about those who could be listening. My former University lecturer was the same - couldn't present to a lecture theatre to save his life but went on to have a successful TV presenting career because he was able to talk to the camera and sound staff with no problem.

As for Tarot, the last time I had my cards read was over 30 years ago, and that made me so scared by its accuracy I refused to go anywhere near them again.

By the way, do put me out of my misery: was the Tor Handfasting a Beltane wedding or is jumping the broomstick a normal part of a Handfasting, like the groom carrying the bride over the threshold of their new home for Christian weddings?

JoHarrington on 03/16/2013

Back in the early 90s I was mad on a band called EMF. The lead singer James Atkin used to get stage fright so badly, that none of the band would believe he'd get onto the stage. But he always did and you'd never have guessed he'd suffered from it!

As for Tarot cards, my friends always said that I did my best readings while drunk. They get me drinks with this in mind!

I'm terrible speaking in front of any audience. I was in a play once and threw up with fright then too. Yet I'm perfectly relaxed about thousands of people reading my stuff on the internet. Disassociation!

JeanBakula on 03/16/2013

You have some great stories! Before I do a group of tarot readings, I get like a stage fright too. I don't throw up, but I feel like I can't do it. Once I have the person with me and start the reading, it all fades away and I feel OK. I understand many musicians get sick before they go on stage too, though we would never suspect. It must feel so nice to witness so many handfastings!

JoHarrington on 03/10/2013

She was brilliant! She played it perfectly and saved the day. :)

kate on 03/10/2013

excellent to hear these stories. Your friend who kept you calm sounds great by the way :)

JoHarrington on 03/08/2013

Happy to have shone a light into a new area for you. :) Thanks for reading.

MonisMas on 03/07/2013

This is awesome! I haven't heard about it before. Very interesting.


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