Medieval Handfasting Gowns for a Pagan Bride

by JoHarrington

You are a Pagan Bride who wants a handfasting gown that's big, ornate and looks like a costume worn in Game of Thrones, or Mists of Avalon? Come on in.

Have you been telling everyone that you're in the market for an authentic Medieval handfasting dress?

I warrant that I could change your mind. Very few real dresses from the Middle Ages have survived to the modern day. They're all kept in controlled conditions and insured for millions. They'd fall to bits as soon as you tried to put one on.

Not that you might want to. Even new, the homespun, handwoven fabric tends to feel a bit coarse against modern skin. Plus the propensity for sand washes meant lice got into the crevices.

People used to take it in turns to hang their robes overnight in the restroom, where the ammonia fumes penetrated the material, leaving a pungent aroma, but killing the lice.

Would you prefer a modern dress for a Pagan bride which looks like an authentic Medieval gown? In that case, you're in the right place!

Want an Expert Opinion on Medieval Pagan Bridal Wear?

Sorry about the bit of pedantic fun up there. It's nothing personal. That's only my way of building this up for the big reveal.

I can now tell you that I'm a qualified historian with letters after my name and everything. Plus I'm a Third Degree Wiccan, most recently initiated at that level by Janet Farrar.

When it comes to finding a friend to offer advice on Pagan Medieval handfasting dresses, you couldn't get much better than me, if I do say so myself. I can do this from both the history angle and the Wiccan wedding dress angle.

So let's go find your perfect Medieval Pagan wedding dress.

Wedding and Bridal Boutique: Medieval Pagan Wedding Gown

I know it's your handfasting, not mine. But I'm all excited now. This is gorgeous!
Black and White Medieval Pagan Wedding Gown
Black and White Medieval Pagan Weddin...
Medieval Pagan Wedding Gown Black and White
Medieval Pagan Wedding Gown Black and...

Ready for the coincidence of the century here?  This is the very first Medieval Wiccan Handfasting dress that I've found.  I uploaded the pictures and went to see what I could discover about Wedding and Bridal Boutique, who have sourced the (freaking gorgeous!!) Pagan gown above.

The first thing I noticed was their address.  Christchurch, near Dorset, in England.  Ring any bells?

Gerald Gardner moved to Christchurch in 1939. There he made many significant contacts, most notably of all the New Forest Coven. To all extents and purposes, Christchurch - where the above Medieval Bridal Wear is waiting in a boutique right now - is the birthplace of modern Wicca.

So we're off to a flying start!

Pagan Medieval Handfasting Gown
Pagan Medieval Handfasting Gown
Pagan Medieval Handfasting Dress
Pagan Medieval Handfasting Dress

I'm going to do both dresses together, as they are the identical but for the color emphasis. Now that Gerald apparently has your back, let's begin with any other Pagan attributes.

To ensure that we're clear, there is no tradition in modern Paganism which dictates to a Bride the colors that she must wear. Individual covens or moots may have such things incorporated into their rites, but there is no general Thou Shalt anywhere near this.

Why would we dare to presume? When - in British circles at least - you will have taken on the aspect of the Goddess Bride, as soon as you arrived in that sacred space with intent to become handfast.  Other Pagans can attempt power games with a Goddess over a frock if they want. I'm happy to let Her (and you) pick your own clothes.

More on Pagan Bridal Colors

Wiccans aren't very good at being told what they can and can't wear, especially when it involves their own handfasting. Anything goes! (But especially red wedding dresses.)

That said, there are certain colors that hold resonance, and two of them are right here.  White = the Maiden, and Black = the Crone.

Both are entirely credible hues for a Wiccan handfasting dress.

They may particularly suit a handfasting held at New Moon, when the Crone has just passed the main responsibility for us lot over to the Maiden.  Or any other situation in which wisdom and energy go hand in hand.

As for the history, the materials are not accurate to the Middle Ages (Medieval is just French for Middle Ages). This is a good thing.

In a Wiccan Handfasting, the Bride takes on the aspect of the Goddess Herself. But where does that tradition come from?

You'd be itching all day if they were, and the dyes would have been fixed in by soaking the whole garment in a trench filled with the urine of a red-headed boy. I kid you not.

This is the 21st century, so the fabric is mostly taffeta to keep that beautiful sweeping shape. But hidden beneath the folds, the lovely designer has included small areas of Lycra, which means that your Wiccan Medieval Wedding Dress will be very comfortable to wear.

These gowns, fabulous as they are, can't be pinned down to any specific period of the Middle Ages. However, there are elements which match those worn from about 1100 to the late 1400s, plus a great modern flourish in that dramatic Scottish widow hood.

On that same theme, both of these Medieval inspired Pagan Bridal Gowns would be very fitting for a widow remarrying. The black of the Dark Lady meeting the white of the Maiden as a new beginning. Though naturally this isn't exclusively the state for these dresses. You won't be cursing your groom. (Obvious, I know, but you'd be amazed...)

Red Medieval Pagan Wedding Bridal Wear

This appears quite authentic. The company lists the Anastas Dress as 12th or 13th century peasant clothing. I dated it to the same.

I swear that I was about to give up. I've been working on finding suitable bridal dresses to match the remit - worthy of a bride, Pagan, Middle Ages and hopefully as accurate to the latter as possible.

There's plenty of Pagan choice. We look like everybody else and we can adorn ourselves in whatever takes our whim immediately prior to the handfasting. That doesn't exactly narrow down the field. It IS the field. Bridal - again quite broad - but not so much when you are coupling it with Pagan. And then you get Medieval.

It seems that the American Ren Faire market has swamped all reference to Medieval clothing in any form. But calling it a Middle Ages gown, and it being anything akin to the historical reality, are two very different things. (The high point was a Tudor skirt attached to a Victorian blouse labelled Medieval. I haven't seen my will to live for hours.)

And then I found Armor Venue. Ladies, we have a (close as damn it) winner!

14th Century Medieval Pagan Handfasting Dress

Early 14th Century Middle Ages Handfasting Gown

You can tell that a historian is writing their dress descriptions too. It's not in what's said, but the restraint underwriting every line. Unlike me, they know how to keep it succinct.

However, beware if you do just go into their Amazon store. Don't assume that every dress you see is one of the historically authentic Medieval Pagan dresses. There's a bit where it goes a bit weird in the middle. There was much confusion here, until I realized they were producing the dresses inspired by some Disney thing.

Armor Venue may work towards historically accurate Middle Ages dresses, but Mr Disney did not.

Pagan Wedding Medieval Dress - French, 14th Century

I laughed aloud when I spotted this Middle Ages French Royalty Dress for your handfasting. I know the illustration from which Armor Venue lifted the design. It's in a book propped open on my desk before me.

Therefore I can categorically confirm that this one is an authentic gown of the Medieval period. Well, as long as you happened to be in France and it was the 14th century.

Authentic Medieval Handfasting Gown

Pearson's Costuming Medieval Bodice Gown

There's nothing overly Pagan about anything that I've shown you from Armor Venue, nor from the Pearson's Costuming catalogue, ninja-ed in at the end there.

But then, we're focusing on authenticity with this lot. Historically accurate Pagan clothing at the start of the Middle Ages is synonymous with just the clothing itself. Christianity hadn't yet swept across Europe, then the world, so - by modern standards - everyone WAS Pagan.

The same is true once Christendom took hold, though there were fewer around.  In fact, the only thing that I can throw into the mix, as Medieval clothing that was genuinely Pagan too, is to wear a lit bonfire (or noose, depending on the country). But that might put a crimp on your handfasting celebrations.

That said, these two gowns incorporate the color symbolism of the Triple Goddess - white, red and black. The emphasis on the Mother's hue, which is fabulous, because She oversees the handfasting rites.

The Pearson's one is displaying green, white and black for me here, which is fine, as the Lady has been known to don her green dress. However, if you follow it to source, you'll see it's actually a red bodice in the store.

Pearson's Costuming handfasting bodice dress is only based upon contemporary dress for the Middle Ages. Someone at their company very creatively does all of the research, gets the authentic design, then uses that as a beginning towards a new, slightly altered gown.

Artemisia Designs Medieval Gowns for a Handfasting

Name-checking Artemis provides a nice Pagan hint there, but that's just the company behind these potential handfasting dresses inspired by the Middle Ages. Beyond that, the Paganism comes only in the symbolism behind your color choices.

On to the historical part - I've looked at these before, when I included the burgundy one in a previous article on Traditional Pagan Handfasting dresses.  I couldn't make up my mind then, and I still can't.

My head is saying that they're not at all Medieval. But this kind of design is so ubiquitous, that I'm wondering if the designers have access to a source, which I've never seen. I've even just double-checked through my own history books, but no, I can't match them to any period.

If anything, there are shades of the Tudor period in there, stylized and modern in their material. I'm going to stick with 'not historically accurate', but commonly rendered enough that even the historians are starting to doubt.

The issue here being that if you do source a genuine Medieval dress for your handfasting, accurate to some point during the long Middle Ages, would your wedding guests recognize it as such? And do you need them to? If the answer is no to the latter, then you might be as well going for a gown from Artemisia, or a similar design elsewhere.

ImPrincess Medieval Style Pagan Wedding Dress

I can see much here which could be deemed appropriate as bridal wear for a Pagan handfasting, and not just because anything goes for Her.

While purple isn't red, it's not a million miles away on the color chart. It might just about count as indicative of the Mother, and it certainly would as a Queen. The white is the Maiden.  But the big feature which I thought would really work is that flower motif, marking this bride out as belonging to the natural world.

If that isn't Pagan, I don't know what is. 

As for does this ping with any handfasting gown from the Middle Ages? The only part I can definitely agree matches is that word 'Medieval' in the title. On the dress itself, no, not really.  Unless it's a part of the globe with which I'm really not familiar. After all, the period did cover the whole planet.

There's more! Apparently ImPrincess has gone for a whole range entitled 'Medieval Wedding Dress'.

Here we go, a nice trio of ladies wearing the colors of the Three-in-One - instant Pagan credibility by default!  There's also a profusion of floral and/or leafy motifs in various features, depending upon the Medieval Style handfasting gown in question.

I'm glad that the company added in the 'style', acknowledging that their designs - beautiful as they are - can't really be deemed authentic for the period.

There's a lot which is historically awry, but a big one is the missing sleeves. The latter part of the Middle Ages was in the grip of the mini-Ice Age, descending ever further into the freeze. Much of the early Medieval was also a bit on the catastrophic side, as regards the weather. Though there was a balmy bit in between.

Where I'm going with all of this is that real Medieval ladies would have suffered constant bouts of hypothermia, if they had attempted to wear anything like these gowns.

But who needs historically accurate, when YOU can enter your handfasting circle in a Pagan wedding dress looking like this:

In summary, ImPrincess's line in Middle Ages handfasting gowns are all suitable for Pagans. Any one of them would have you speaking your vows looking like the Goddess Incarnate - which for that moment, you are. 

But don't reach for them if you require authenticity. They're Medieval style, not reality. Though most of your guests really wouldn't know the difference - historians notwithstanding - so if you could probably get away with it anyway.

Traditionally, Beltane bridal dresses are green, red or white/silver. To match the Lady as a May Queen bride, you will need to don a green handfasting gown.

Medieval Morgana Handfasting Gown

The huge heads up here is that this Morgana handfasting dress has been ethically sourced. That ticks the 'harm none' box for those seeking Medieval Wiccan bridal wear.

Could the Morgana Medieval Pagan wedding dress ever be considered historically accurate?

Absolutely!  It's perfectly authentic in every detail as 21st century feminine attire, and possibly part of the 20th century too.

But the accuracy slips somewhat if we try to apply its design to the actual Medieval, or the Tudor period, as the dress description name-checks that too. The Tudors were well into the Little Ice Age. They'd have froze to death within seconds!

The Morgana tag means we're in Arthurian territory, therefore circa 6th century Brythonic.

I could get really boring now and go into excruciating detail, as my own priestess robes were created as close to 6th century Welsh as I could tease from the scant evidence. They look nothing like this Morgana Medieval Pagan wedding dress.

Fun and sarcasm aside. I really do like this Morgana handfasting gown. It's beautiful, with some wonderfully ornate embroidery, elements of which appear as modern takes on Medieval themes.

Fancy enough wear for your handfasting, but not so much so that it ends up stored away unused once the big day is done. You could don this for a special occasion again without it looking too strange.

Forget white! As Christendom's traditional wedding dress color, blue wins outright. Come and explore your choices in blue wedding dresses.

More Handfasting Ideas for Pagan Marriage Rites

Tying the knot is very precisely applied in the Pagan world. Buy a handfasting cord for your Wiccan wedding, which unites not only the happy couple, but above and below as well.
Looking for Beltane handfasting stationery? Or themed Pagan wedding sets for unions held in the warm months that follow? Merry meet and come right in!
Pagan wedding rites are called handfastings for a reason. Tying the cord is when the couple are joined. Buy a cord for a handfasting, which reflects your Celtic heritage.
Running around naked and sacrificing babies or virgins are two things that will not happen at a witch wedding. Read on to find out what will!
Updated: 11/12/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 09/28/2014

Because I was trying to look like Morgan Le Fey. But more historian informed than New Age. LOL Though that was also hugely driven by the whole 'I wonder if I could really gain enough information to make this authentic' - another ancient quest of mine. You know how it goes.

frankbeswick on 09/27/2014

I am not into wedding dresses, for obvious reasons, but knowing that the style of religious robes tends to become fixed at some period in the past, why was the sixth century chosen as the model for the high priestess' robes?

JoHarrington on 09/27/2014

My priestess robes are based (insofar as possible given the scant contemporary evidence) on clothes as worn by 6th century British women. They are indeed very cozy.

Digby_Adams on 09/27/2014

Too late for a wedding dress for me, but they are so beautiful. I want one for hanging out around the house. They look very cozy warm.

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