"We Did It Our Way"
When Carl and I were married, we chose to have an Irish Handfasting Ceremony instead of the "traditional" wedding vows that most couples use today. Some people did not understand what this meant, and others were absolutely fascinated by it when we told them what we planned on doing. Anytime I tell anyone how we got married, they are surprised, and interested by it, and ask so many questions. After explaining all of it, and the reasons why we did it, every single person's response has been so overwhelming, and just amazing. Most of the women cry, lol. The beautiful woman in Grand Cayman who registered us for our papers told us not only did she cry, and was she so touched by our vows, but she emailed our ceremony to her daughter. She said she "felt" our vows to the very core of her heart. She said that she knew our wedding was not just a ceremony, but it was a true marriage. When someone tells you that, it is truly an honor. I was crying right there in the Georgetown office, and it was so emotional, and we hadn't even said one vow yet. :-)
Below is just a small explanation of what an Irish Handfasting is, and the history of the ceremony. Why it began, how it began, and how it has sculptured and molded the ceremonies of modern times. Yes, Pagan ceremonies were the FIRST ceremonies. :-) Yes, they were spiritual, beautiful, and yes, they were a binding contract between a man and a woman, before churches, before religion, before all of the nonsense began. I am so proud to be Irish. So proud that my heritage is so strong, so rich in culture and history, with color, diversity, and blarney. :-) It's good to be Irish.
Handfasting is an old Irish ceremony of commitment. The ceremony formalized a relationship, whether an engagement, a trial marriage, a permanent marriage, or optimistically, a marriage over several lifetimes. This Celtic ceremony of unity, whatever the terms, represents the intention of two (and nowadays sometimes more) people to make their lives together and ideally to love and cherish one another.
The Celtic harvest festival, Lughnasa, celebrated on August 1, was greeted with great anticipation not only because it expressed gratitude for the harvest, but because by the end of it, many couples had formed, were handfasted, and went off for a year of marriage to renew their vows the following year---that “year-and-a-day”---or not, as the case may be.
Though handfasting goes back to the mists of ancient times in Ireland, as do the Brehon laws, when marriages were not always what today we think of as “traditional,” it was practiced even in Christian Ireland. There were not always priests around to perform the wedding ceremony, and love, like time, prefers to wait for no man. It was not even a requirement that the marriage be witnessed for it to be legally binding once the couple had performed the ceremony.
Under Brehon law, there was an understanding that marriages didn’t always work out, and incompatible couples needn’t stay together, but the care of children, division of property, and inheritances were serious matters, and provisions were made under these sophisticated laws.
Irish wedding ceremonies are rife with symbolism, and handfasting is no exception. In handfasting, the wrists of the couple are bound together with a ribbon or cord. Each partner holds the hands of the other---right hand to right hand, left hand to left---their wrists crossed. The ribbon is wound around the wrists over the top of one and under and around the other, thus creating the infinity symbol. It is said that this ritual is the origin of the term “tying the knot.” The vows are spoken and the celebration commenced.
In a Celtic ceremony, everything has meaning: the music, the flowers, the braids in the bride’s hair, the rings---now often Claddagh rings---and even the use of evergreen garland around the doorways.
Though some may think that the symbols used in these ancient rituals are somehow anti-religious, make no mistake; they may be hold-overs from pagan times, but they are valid representatives of the things we humans hold precious. They speak to the collective unconscious, to the inner person. Do you shake hands? Does a suitor ask for the hand of a woman in marriage? And when we marry, do we promise to love the other forever…and a day?
The following is our ceremony, word for word, as it was written by myself, with the two lines added lines by Joy Basdeo, those that are required by law in the Cayman Islands. I had sent her what I had written by email, a few weeks before we were to fly to Grand Cayman for our Wedding/Honeymoon. I expected a response with some corrections and a polite reply. Her response was surprising, heartwarming, and genuine. I count my blessings every time I think of the moment I found her website. She was so warm, and kind, and so wonderful to us. She was very respectful of our wishes for the Handfasting, and performed our ceremony as if she had done hundreds of them before. I highly recommend that anyone going to the Caribbean to be married to contact Joy. Our pictures were taken by the beautiful Yvette McField.
We are gathered here where the sun meets the sky, the sky meets the water, and the water meets the land to witness and bless the vows of Carl and Penny, as they are joined in marriage.
In marriage, two people share all their dreams and goals, their weaknesses and strengths. In marriage, two people share all the joys and sorrows of life, and all the supreme pleasures. In marriage, two people share all their emotions and feelings, all their tears and laughter.
Marriage is the most fulfilling relationship one can have, and the love that you share as husband and wife is beautiful, forever.
Carl and Penny, to this celebration you bring the fullness of your hearts as a treasure to share with one another. You bring the dreams that bind you together. You bring that particular personality and spirit which is uniquely your own, and out of which will grow the reality of your life together. We rejoice with you in this outward symbol of an inward union of hearts; a union created by friendship, trust, respect, and love.
Today you wish to be joined in marriage. I am required to ask you if you know any reason why you many not be lawfully married to each other, to declare it now.
Since no reason has been declared, please take each other by the right hand.
Carl, do you take Penny as your wife, to be your friend and companion, to share your life and your love through all the days of your lives? (Carl~I do)
Penny, do you take Carl as your husband, to be your friend and companion, to share your life and your love through all the days of your lives? (Penny~I do)
Carl and Penny, you both have already weathered many challenges together. You have met them with humor, understanding and compassion. In careful consideration of both the beauty and the obligations assumed when lives are wed, we are here today to rejoice and celebrate one of life’s richest gifts~ the love you share.
These rings are the token of the vows you will say to each other, and the promises you will make. They are circles of wholeness, perfect in form, may these rings always glow in reflection of the love you share and the pledges made to each other. Please take your rings and put them on each other’s left hands.
May your rings always reflect the love you share, and forever remind you of this day, this hour, and this moment. Now will you repeat your vows to each other. Penny, will you say what you have prepared for Carl.
I choose you to be my husband. To live with you, and to laugh with you. To walk by your side, in love with kindness, with loyalty, with honor and respect. I promise to always cherish you as my companion, my confidant, and my best friend. From the dreams in our hearts to our dreams coming true. From each of our yesterdays to all of our forever’s, I give all the love of my heart to you, and to you only.
Will you love him and keep this pledge on your hope of Tir Na nOg? (Tear-nan-oak) Penny~I will
I choose you to be my wife. To live with you, and to laugh with you. To walk by your side, in love, with kindness, with loyalty, with honor and respect. I promise to always cherish you as my companion, my confidant, and my best friend. From the dreams in our hearts to our dreams coming true. From each of our yesterdays to all of our forever’s, I give all of the love of my heart to you, and to you only.
Officiant~ Will you love her and keep this pledge on the hope of Tir Na nOg? (Tear -nan-oak) Carl~I will
Officiant binds the hands with the Hand fasting cords.
In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. The old Irish term Anam Cara is translated as soul friend. When you have an Anam Cara, you are joined in an ancient and eternal way with the person who is a friend of your soul. There is a deep sense of belonging and recognition. You are understood as you are and you are at home. When you feel understood, you can release yourself into the trust and shelter of another person’s soul and they can release themselves into you. This kind of soul love is the most real, substantial and powerful form of human presence because it is the place or threshold where human presence and divine presence move in and out of each other.
Officiant holds the ends of the cords~
May you be encircled in love and safety. May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again- May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.
Officiant removes Hand fasting cords, and holds them in her binder as she continues~
Let us rejoice this day in the marriage of Carl and Penny. Let us celebrate the love that brought them to this day, the love that has deepened through the years. May you continue to know its meaning and its mystery. May the enchantment which you hold for one another grow in strength and beauty, and may you be ennobled by the blessings that comes to those who truly love. May your home be a sanctuary of welcome for all who enter it, a place for growth, a place for music, a place for laughter. And when shadows and darkness fall within its rooms, may it still be a place of hope and warmth for all who enter it. May those nearest you continue to be enriched by the beauty and the bounty of your love for each other. May you live in peace and joy, and may you grow old together…on one pillow.
For as much as Carl and Penny have grown in knowledge and love of one another, and because they have agreed in their desire to go forward in life together, seeking an even richer, deepening relationship, and because they have pledged to meet life’s challenges together, in accordance with the laws of the Cayman Islands, and by the authority vested in me, I pronounce that Carl and Penny , are Husband and Wife, Anam Cara eternal.
Carl, you may now kiss your wife~
For those wondering what the "promise of Tir Nan Og" is, here is a brief explanation.
Tir nan OgTir nan Og (also spelled Tir na Nog) and Tir inna Beo (pr. teer ne nog and teer ne mo) – the land of the afterlife and the land of the living respectively, surround a Celtic tree of life image whose branches and roots (nine of each in three sets of three) are intertwined. The Celts saw threes as foundational in their understanding of their world.
Creation is divided into the stellar, solar and earth/lunar realms. Existence into the sky, earth and underworld. The triple goddess is seen as maiden, mother and crone.
Tir nan Og is pictured as a western island on which all those who have "gone across" are forever young and lovely and spend their time singing beautifully, feasting, loving and enjoying one another's company. Today there's many a pub that's taken the name Tir nan Og, in which youth and beauty are always present - at least after a pint or two.
Every culture, every faith, has their idea, their "version" of Heaven. To the Irish, it is Tir Nan Og. To pledge on the promise of Tir Nan Og is similiar to those that promise "now and forever", or in "the afterlife" or are sealed. In any culture, the translation is the same. We aren't leaving each other, no matter what.
Our ceremony was written by myself, with Carl giving his input here and there saying "yes, I like that" or "make sure you remember this". It was our original intent to be married by my Aunt, and then as plans and finances began to unfold, our intent needed to be changed. For many reasons. Our first priority was that we were married OUR way, in a way that was meaningful to us, with our words, our intent, our promise. Weddings are supposed to be a celebration, a happy moment to cherish for the rest of your lives. Often, everyone surrounding you, without malicious intent, ruins this for you. Everyone has ideas, points of views, how they think it all should unfold. As it has been said before, "The Wedding is for "them". The Marriage is for you." Well, we didn't want that. We also couldn't afford to pay for a massive party for everyone else, and also be able to have a honeymoon. Plans and ideas are plentiful when they are coming from those who are not paying for them. Then, unexpected "hazzards" stepped in, and it looked as if we were not going to be able to do any of it. No Wedding, no Honeymoon, nothing. Thanks to an Angel of a friend, we were saved at the very last moment. We had decided that just the two of us, on the beach, in the most beautiful place on Earth, that we both love, and are drawn too, would be the perfect location. Honeymoon and Ceremony all in one. It was perfect, private, intimate, and very personal. We were fortunate to have Joy and Yvette take absolute care of us in every way, respecting all of our wishes and ideas. They made us comfortable, welcome, and it made our Wedding magical. The sounds of the waves peacefully behind us were more gorgeous than any music could have ever been. The sunset was stunning, and even though I spent all that time curling my hair, the humidity made it go completely flat in 2 minutes....and I didn't care. Nothing could have prevented it from being exactly how it was supposed to be. Just two people who love each other, making a very sincere and adoring promise to live together, stay together, and live, laugh and love.
I adore my heritage. It is rich in culture, history, folklore, and customs. I am lucky that I have an adoring husband who also loves my heritage, and that we found a way of being married that was suited to US. We understood that this moment was about our promise to each other, to our lives, to what we wanted it to mean. It wasn't about everyone else. It wasn't about food, or a band, or flowers, or invitations. It was about the words, the meaning, the moment that we became partners for life. When you make mistakes in life, you should take that moment, and learn from it. Grow and understand that your life is yours to live, to empower yourself with strength, ability, knowledge, and a voice. It was the very best decision that we ever made, and I am so grateful for every single second of that day.
Sometimes, "traditions" are forced upon others to pacify the "wants" of others. Make your own traditions. Start your own history. Years from now, I hope to be sharing the story of how Carl and I "ran away" to the Caribbean, got married on the beach, had a traditional Irish Handfasting, surrounded by sand, water, wind, and the warmth of the Caribbean Sunset. The Four Elements, binding us in love. That is better than any over the top $$$$ Wedding any day.