Emerald and Katarzyna approached me in January, wanting a legal handfasting ceremony to celebrate their profound love and commitment to each other. They were weaving their lives together in so many ways, and they felt that a legal handfasting would offer that further level of binding they sought.
What I loved immediately about Em and Kat was their connection to each other.
Here were two beautiful young women who had a way of looking at the world, at their relationship, to depths that few have courage to go. Words were not merely tools to express needs and wants – they were opportunities to weave tapestries of emotive landscapes. Through our initial correspondences I was always left breathless by their emails – I would read them with wonder in my heart, and a gratitude that others were still weaving words in such exquisite ways.
When we met to sign their paperwork, our conversations were like a gathering of wordsmiths. It seemed to me that words – and the power of those words – were a talent they harnessed and used to create such beauty … ah, even my own words fail to share how soul nurtured I was by them.
It became very obvious that this handfasting was going to be something very sacred and special.
For four months we went gently back and forth sharing ideas and inspirations, me excited every time I saw my inbox had received one of these letters of poetry. As a triple-Capricorn (Sun, Moon & Mercury) I love organisation. Nay, it is one of my strengths and the tool I use to support my life. For me, planning a wedding ceremony with a couple usually involves us figuring out what will happen during the ceremony, in what order it will flow, and all of us knowing it prior to the occasion.
These two beautiful women were going to teach me what ‘going with the flow’ meant.
They had expressed that their usual style of ceremony and magickal creation was more intuitive, often without either of them knowing where the ritual would go, but trusting the flow and following it wherever it lead. They hoped that I could let go of my need to be super-organised and walk with them down this different path of ceremony creation.
And so I made a decision: yes, I could trust myself, and them, and let my need to organise take a back seat.
As the day approached, final emails confirmed that I only needed to bring myself, my tar drum, wedding certificates and any extra candles with me to the ceremony. They explained that they already had everything else needed for the ceremony. This was a further step in ‘going with the flow’ and in a small way I relished the chance to arrive at a ceremony without lugging many bags behind me like a packhorse.
I arrived at their home on the South Coast and my breath was taken away by what greeted me. Here was a beautiful, cosy home surrounded by a wild garden of herbs and vegetables, set in the cradle of rising mountains. A small creek watched over by a willow tree. Two goats watching me with little curiosity from within lush grasses. A swatch of reeds bordering one side of the property. Grey stones jutting out from the mountains around them.
And as I was ushered inside their home, I met the third member of their household, Lach, a graceful Elfin figure who I immediately felt at home with. I let my eyes feast on the home they had build – I admired the golden floorboards, the large windows and peaked ceiling – all recycled timber and supplies.
I was standing inside the heart of their nest, and their hopes and dreams, and it was something so tangible. So profound.
We had organised for me to arrive about 1pm, with the ceremony starting at 5pm, so I could commune with their land, and slowly and intently help them to create their circle for the ceremony. I shared in an adventurous, barefoot walk up the mountain to view the valleys and meet an old gum tree Em and Kat both felt connected to. They also shared with me the initial structure of what would be Kat’s smithy as she explored her blacksmith craft.
Those moments of connection – offering such insights into their lives – helped me to ground myself; centre myself not only in this Place, but also into their lives.
We all – Em, Kat, Lach and I – then began to collect different herbs from their burgeoning garden to create the boundary of the circle for the ceremony. As many of you know, song is not only a tool in my belt, but my lifeblood. As I circled through their garden, admiring such fertility, a song from a previous retreat sprung to mind, and I found myself singing it over and over and over again.
History, mystery, legacy, destiny
We are the gift, and we pass it on
Blood and spirit, from those gone before
Blood and spirit, from those yet to come *
Sprigs of lavender I gathered, and lengths of pineapple sage with vibrant red flowers on them. Around I went, picking a little of this and a little of that. And like magick we were all arriving back at the house together, our hands full of the generosity of land. All the herbs were placed in a pile by one window, alongside a large collection of tea lights and other miscellaneous candles they had been collecting from second hand shops of the last few weeks. There was also a soft pile of feathers – oh, the colours, shapes and styles of feathers! – and the dried bones of animals of this land.
As we stood there looking at our bounty, we all understood that the ceremony had begun.
For though most people consider the couple standing together and offering their vows as the ceremony, for this occasion, I understood that the moment we had begun preparing the space as sacred, we had begun the ceremony. From the moment I picked that first stem of lavender, I had entered into the place of magick and sacredness, and I also knew that for me, it would not finish until I stepped into my car and drove away that night.
With a few directions from Em and Kat, four chairs were placed in the position of the directions – this is where Lach, Em’s mother, father and brother (Jenny, Warwick and Kai) would sit during the ceremony, with Em, Kat and I sitting on a white rug on the floor. Then, as Lach and I began to place the herbs to the shape of the circle, Em and Kat began placing the bones and other pieces of earthly power under around each seat, according to the Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The Norse music of Hagalaz’ Runedance was playing in the background, and I could feel energy already spiraling through me.
Each movement became a piece of the magick – a placing of intention. Together, we wove the circle into being.
Lach and I then began adding all those tea lights and other candles to the outside of the herb circle. Feathers were then laced with the herbs, and all the while, Em and Kat were creating smaller, potent elemental altars. As we finished, Jenny, Warwick and Kai arrived, resplendid in Norse-inspired costumes.
The two women and I sat down briefly to discuss how they saw the ceremony unfolding and I received the rundown. In honesty, I was overjoyed to receive this – the Capricorn had been waiting oh so patiently. But I also realised that what they were giving me was only the bare bones, and my ritual skills would be needed tonight to help weave and flow the legal requirements with the magick needs of this ceremony.
As Em, Kat, Lach and I began dressing for the ceremony, Jenny and Kai started lighting all those candles, with Warwick capturing every moment with his camera.
When we were all ready, we looked at the circle, a forest circle softly lit by candles, and I felt so blessed to be present for this. I was entering that focused state before ritual, where I was almost in a deeper state of consciousness that allowed only for confidence, intuition and calm.
The sun was beginning to set, and rather than waiting for allocated 5pm starting time, we all felt ready to start. Curtains were pulled to offer more darkness, and a different atmospheric soundtrack was played in the background. One by one, I anointed each person with an amber balm, touching their foreheads (May your mind be clear), their throats (May your voice speak only truth), their heart (May you hear the voice of the gods), their feet (May you walk with both strength and grace) and their hands (May you know when to give and when to receive). Then they entered the circle and took their place.
Em and Kat left little gifts for each of us on our chairs and cushions – a piece of small parchment. On one side was an offering of words of love, and on the other, a very life-like sketch of something powerful for each person. I think that was the first time I actually let a tear drop so early on during a wedding ceremony. As we read and admired our gifts, Lach walked the circle smudging it with sage they had gathered and dried from their garden.
From there, the ceremony flowed so easily. The young women had already arranged to do the handfasting in two parts – the first part was done now at the beginning of the ceremony, with intertwined white threads and black threads. Then I began hand drumming and leading everyone into a light trance where we grounded and centred, cast the circle, called the elements, and the divine. I spoke about the purpose of the ceremony – the joining of these two people legally in marriage, as well as their binding in the magickal realms – and we all connected by toning^ together for a time.
Lach then spoke softly but passionately his Acknowledgment of Country, I followed with the Monitum, and we all toned a second time.
Em and Kat had invited everyone to offer a ‘speech’ – a story or commentary on how we saw them as a couple, their relationship, and their coming together tonight to be wed. As each person shared their love and support of the couple, I cried for the second time during the ceremony. This was followed by the completion of the handfasting, and the old Norse tradition of sharing drink as a couple.
It was now time for them to exchange their vows.
If I thought their emails were special, the words that they offered to each other – unabashed, passionate and evocative – put me in awe of them. I was listening to something that I think few people get the chance to share in – two people, without fear, open their hearts wide to each other. It was visceral in its intensity. It was brutally honest and sweetly truthful. It was an invocation of love. And it was the third time I cried during that ceremony.
When the final words were spoken, I declared them bound and wed.
As they signed their marriage certificates, Warwick played a piece of classical music he had composed at Em’s birth. He had taken the piece and rearranged it so the piece could commemorate this rite of passage for his beloved daughter and her wife.
One of the unique parts of the ceremony occurred next. The young women had wanted to mark this occasion with a mark upon their skin – instead of wearing wedding bands, they would wear tattooed bindrunes. As they used needle and ink to mark that specially-created bindrune on each others’ finger, we all offered the couple a story. Each story was to be a tale that we felt supported or in some way commented on their joining.
I went first, and offered my modern retelling of Innana’s Descent – with the focus on the story being the coming together of two women – sister selves – and their love and support of each other being the way to healing for both of them. Then followed stories of Yggdrasil, the Norse world tree; a retelling of Em and Kat’s coupling from a mothers point of view (fourth crying point); the story of a young woman learning that she is of the blood of the Elves, and falling in love with the female Elf she adventures with; and a recounting of ‘marriage’ according to the animal kingdom.
With laughter and reverence, tears and whimsy, we offered our love to them.
The tattoos and stories were completed, and the ‘official’ ceremony was finishing. I invited everyone to stand with me, and with the young women enclosed within the circle of our arms, we offered last words of blessing to them. We then closed our eyes as I thanked the divine, farewelled the elements, and grounded the circle back into the earth.
For the rest of the night, we ate of a beautiful vegan stew Em had been cooking, viking bread, and stewed fruit. This was followed by a range of French pastry delicacies. By the time I had made my farewells to the couple, the moon had risen in the sky, and I was replete with wonder and magick.
I had been irrevocably changed by this ceremony, and it had re-inspired my commitment to priestessing and my passion for ceremony.
* Chant by Tari Follett & River Roberts, as taught at CloudCatcher Witchcamp 2018.
^ Toning is when everyone begins by singing the same note together (like Omming). We then begin to sing different harmonies, breathing at our own pace (so there is never a stop in the sound). We may also change the sounds we are making (sometimes Oooing, or Aaahing, or Eeeing), and sometimes adding runs of melody or even words. The whole toning experience stops naturally and intuitively.