Handfasting: A Practical Guide
By Mary Neasham
Green Magic, 2003
ISBN 0954296311, $26.95
Handfasting: A Practical Guide gives a good solid overview of handfasting, including historical roots, traditions, rituals, ceremony planning, ritual logistics, and modern spiritual considerations. It looks at betrothals, as well as handfastings for set periods of time, for life, or for eternity. It also includes information on handparting and unbinding rituals. Although written for a British audience, it works just fine for Canadians as well.
For clergy, the author goes through ritual structures and standard stuff like that. However she also touches on the role of the Priestess, the differences between a spiritual and non-spiritual ceremony, as well as practical considerations like whether to raise energy during the rite, and how, considering that many participant may be non-pagan.
For the celebrating partners, Neasham describes many different historical types of rituals, and gives tips on planning, preparation, location, altar set-up, music, feasting, and much more. The book even has some blank planning pages with key words on each page to help get you started.
This is the first book that I’ve seen that really takes the reader through the historical roots of handfasting, as well as different handfasting traditions over time and geography such as Medieval Druidic, Celtic, Viking, Irish, Saxon, and Tudor Weddings. To my delight, the author starts her section on history with a disclaimer, stating that “like many ancient British customs and traditions, the origins of handfasting are hard to pin down with any degree of chronological accuracy,” reminding readers that in questions of history nothing is known absolutely and the best we can do is to look critically at the evidence available.
Another unique section in this book is one devoted to tying the handfasting knot itself, and the different symbolisms that could be worked into the different types of knotwork. This section could have used some illustrations though, especially for the more complicated knots.
The author has done such a good job pulling the content of the book together, it is a real shame that the editing is truly horrendous. Sections of text are occasionally ambiguous, and I found myself rereading passages to make sure that I understood them properly. Worse yet, in some places the text refers the reader to earlier information that was must have been removed in the editing process, or simply not included to begin with, making the book read like a second draft.
Apart from the poor editing, which really detracted from my enjoyment of the book, Handfasting: A Practical Guide is very good with lots of interesting information and food for thought for people planning or considering a handfasting ceremony, whether spiritual or reconstructionist, as well as for Pagan clergy asked to Priestess the event.
© 2004. This review originally appeared in the Midsummer 2004 issue of WynterGreene.