What is a Handfasting?
In times long gone, our ancestors did not have formal clergy nor laws concerning the contract of marriage. Marriage was entered into as a simple agreement between the parties, acknowledged occasionally only by some simple public ceremony, such as the jumping of a broom after exchanging vows. Often, this exchange was for an agreed upon limited period, more often than not, for a year and a day, after which it might be renewed, or perhaps not.
In these modern times, things are much different. We have the benefit of clergy. A legal union can only be formalized by recognized clergy, or a marriage commissioner under British Columbia’s existing law. Yet there may, from time to time, be situations where the parties wish to unite in an informal union, in the sight of the Gods only, and not according to law for good and valid reasons. For example, older folks, on legally marrying, usually will suffer the economic hardship of the reduction or loss of Social Security benefits and the like.
Although the traditional name of Handfasting is still used, today it may be a legally binding marriage, or just an informal agreement sanctified by the Gods alone and not the state.
The Legal Requirements in BC:
For a legally binding wedding, the parties must obtain a Marriage License from the appropriate authorities and use it within the period it remains valid. In British Columbia a prospective couple must be over 19 years of age, or the union must have the permission of both parents, no one under 16 years can be married without the permission of the British Columbia Supreme Court. You do not have to be a B.C. resident in order to be married here, but the license is only valid in B.C. Blood tests are not required under B.C. legislation. If one or both of the intended parties was recently divorced (within the last 31 days), proof of divorce must be provided, and no license may be issued until a divorce has been finalized by the courts (this is normally 31 days after the divorce decree has been issued by the courts). In B.C., couples can choose a religious or civil ceremony. Either type of ceremony must be witnessed by two people. Religious ceremonies are performed by a religious representative of your choice, as long as they are registered with the British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency under the Marriage Act. Civil ceremonies are performed by Marriage Commissioners (ATC Canada does not have marriage commissioners, our Handfastors are registered Religious Representatives). For complete information on legal requirements and other information relating to marriage go to the B.C. Vital Statistics site on Marriages at: http://www.vs.gov.bc.ca/marriage/howto.html
The Handfasting Rite
The form and content of the ritual for a Handfasting and the vows exchanged by the parties generally have only a few simple requirements to satisfy the law as a valid marriage:
There must be an acknowledgement by both parties that they intend to marry; that they enter into marriage of their own free wills, and a pronouncement by the officiant that they are now married. There is little else legally necessary beyond these simple requirements for the union to be valid.
Wiccan and Pagan weddings are truly Rites of Passage, marking an important transition in our lives, and are suitable occasions for creating some unique transformative ritual. While the ATC Tradition maintains a large collection of Handfasting rituals, it is most appropriate for couples to prepare their own vows and a unique rite.
We suggest that couples take some time to review our collection of Handfasting rituals for inspiration, and then create their own. If you have a copier available to copy interesting parts, you can assemble a unique and customized rite all your own, at your leisure. Alternately, you may select one from our library that you would prefer; the choice is yours to make. Please, let us know in advance of your choice.
Because in these modern times so many marriages seem to end in failure, we feel strongly that some pre-marital counseling is always in order. Today, half of all marriages end in divorce, most often quite unnecessarily. It is our hope that through counseling, we may be able to give couples some valuable basic tools with which to forge a stronger union, strengthening their bond and their commitment to each other. We feel this counseling is important and we often will not conduct a Handfasting unless we have met with the couple for this marital counseling a few weeks in advance of the ceremony.
There are many suitable places to hold a Handfasting – in parks, at home, out in the countryside – or at some other suitable location of your choice, perhaps at the local ATC Church location. There are many possibilities. If a public park or such is chosen, don’t forget to get written permission or a permit to use it. The choice of site is yours, but remember, clergy will have to travel to the site, and you are expected to cover the expense of such travel in addition to an honorarium.
Most ATC Pagan and Wiccan clergy have to support themselves as well as their religious efforts, and should not be expected to minister to the needs of others at their own personal expense. The usual honorariums for each clergyperson (Priestess and Priest) performing a Handfasting are voluntary and above the basic cost of $100 to cover filing fees, plus travel expenses.
Getting the License
A marriage license must be obtained. In B.C. the bride or groom must apply in person to the Marriage License Issuer in their before the date of the ceremony and the marriage license will remain valid only for a period of three months. Generally there are no tests or other requirements, and license fees are currently $75.00 plus GST. When the marriage is solemnized, the officiating clergy will complete the forms, have the bride, groom, and two witnesses over 18 sign the form which is then sent within 48 hours of the marriage ceremony by the Handfastor to the Vital Statistics Agency, where the marriage is registered and a legal record is kept. At the time of the ceremony, your Handfastor may provide you with a statement of marriage – this interim document can be used temporarily to prove that you are married. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church (Canada) can also provide you, for a small charge, with a unique Pagan Certificate of Handfasting, which also serves as a legal document attesting to the union.
Handfasting Certificates issued by the Church for non-legal Hand-fasting ceremonies clearly specify that the union is NOT recognized by the laws of the land, and is a union in the sight of the Gods only.