I think an early sign of how things were to go as I was working with Anna and Guy, was the fact that I must have spent around 3 hours at their house when I first went to talk weddings with them. In that time, we not only spoke about weddings but about children, kitchens, horror films, theatre, obscure Mexican religions and all manner of other things beside. It’s safe to say all three of us are big talkers! A lot of laughing went on too, and I came out of their house really excited about creating their dream ceremony.
Guys dad, Jeff, who sadly had died a couple of years before, had had a hand fasting at his wedding. Guy and Anna were inspired by that style of ceremony and wanted not to copy but to nod to his influence (a Jefference, Guy called it).
There are many ways of incorporating a handfasting into a ceremony and these guys wanted a Pagan feel to theirs, but without a lot of pagan ritual or reference. They had lots of friends who they wanted to include in the ceremony, as well as their young children. Plus bags of their personalities, of course. And what a lot of personality they have.
Our second meeting might even have been longer than the first, and the pair discussed the answers to the questionnaire I’d given them. There was a lot of laughter again as well as much (light-hearted) argument. I could have written a novel about them, not just a ceremony. There was so much to say, so much fun but also so much really deep-felt commitment.
The ceremony was going to be at Coombes Farm near Worthing, outside in a field in front of an 11th century church in the heart of the South Downs and they wanted an informal, relaxed feel to the day with lots of children running round. Perfect. We’d visited the site together before the big day, accompanied by their friend and photographer Miles.
Cue lots more laughter, even when we realised that the place we were to hold the ceremony was covered in stinging nettles… We worked out where to stand and where the friends who were representing the four directions of the compass needed to be in the circle. We even worked out a contingency plan in case of rain – so at least some of our talk was efficient!
When I arrived at the venue, we set to work marking out the rough boundaries of where we wanted people to stand with little windmills stuck into the ground. Despite being an (almost) summer solstice ceremony, the weather was rather overcast and it was threatening to rain. Luckily, Guy and Anna’s friends and family are a hardy bunch and many had arrived wearing wellies, prepared for ceremony in a field on a farm.
When it was time, we herded the guests through into the field and got them to stand around the windmills. When everyone was settled, I led them in a short visualisation about making it into a circle of light and friendship and we were ready to welcome in our bride.
Anna walked through the field with her dad to The Rainbow Connection (such a sweeeet song), who gave his blessing on behalf of the whole family, and then we welcomed everyone and I explained a little bit about what was going to happen, before reading a solstice blessing.
Anna and Guy had chosen four friends to represent the compass directions. In a Pagan ceremony, this would be called calling in the quarters. Instead, the friend at each position talked about what that direction represented and how those qualities could bless their union.
Another friend read Love Song by Wendy Cope as the rings were passed around the circle of loved ones, and I told Anna and Guys story. Then it was time for the handfasting.
Guy and Anna turned to each other and I said a few words and tied the first knot around their linked hands. Anna was rather tied up as she was holding their youngest child Merryn in her other arm! The pair had written their own vows which (not surprisingly!) were quite long.
They hadn’t shown each other but had taken me up on my offer to check that they matched in terms of tone and length (you don’t want to make promises from your heart only to hear your partner promise to hoover up twice a week…) and I knew they were both a similar length, with a lovely mix of funny with meaningful.
When Guy said his vows, I tied the cord around their hands again, and then Anna said hers and I tied it a third time. Tears and laughter were both in plentiful supply in the circle at this point…
Its obviously not very practical walking around for the rest of your lives with your hands tied together(!), so we slipped off the knotted cord and replaced it with a ring exchange, sealed with a kiss.
The couples friend Will read Dr Seuss’s Oh The Places You’ll Go! and then the pair shared a cup of mead, the traditional drink of handfastings and the solstice (it didn’t go down too well with Guy though – apparently it was horrible!)
As well as committing to each other, Anna and Guy wanted to say some words to Lochlan and Merryn, their gorgeous kids. I think its fair to say that Lochlan and Merryn weren’t really listening when their parents made their vows to them, but its all down in writing for them to appreciate a bit more when they’re older!
Jumping the broom
As a traditional part of the handfasting ceremony, Guy and Anna took a besom broom and swept around the circle, representing sweeping away their past problems and their previous cares. Then the broom is laid down on the floor to represent a threshold between the past and the present.
The bride and groom jump over it together into their new married life and on, more immediately, to an absolutely awesome party…!
All photos by the wonderful Miles Davies.