How To Get Handfasted

It’s that time of year again. We know about it in the north-west because this is the time of year when our mailboxes are over-flowing with handfasting requests, some of them are better than others…

So here it is, a bit of advice for how to get handfasted and how to get it done right!


First of all, think about what sort of pagan path you’re on and how you want your handfasting to reflect that. If you’re both Heathen then maybe a Wiccan celebrant won’t provide the sort of ceremony that you’re looking for!

In the north-west Janet Budd co-ordinates the celebrants, if you’re looking for a ceremony that is Druidic, Heathen, Shamanic, Wiccan or something completely different then if you give her enough time she can probably find the right celebrant for you.
This brings me to the phrase ‘enough time’, if you want to get handfasted tomorrow then that’s great but we probably won’t be able to all jump to attention and come and do it with you! The more time you allow to get to know your celebrant, to discuss what you want with them the more likely it is to happen the way you imagine.

Most celebrants are very serious about their relationship with their god/s and/or spirits, they will probably want to talk to you about why you want a handfasting and what your relationship with your spirituality is. You can use this conversation to work out if their path is compatible with yours – remember this is your handfasting and they are there to facilitate that.

If you want the handfasting to take place in a particular venue then you are going to be responsible for booking that venue. A lot of popular pagan sites aren’t bookable as they are public spaces such as stone circles and the like – is it going to bother you if your handfasting has a whole bunch of tourists taking pictures in the background? (More about this when we get to the legal stuff later).

    Forever or For A Year And A Day?

It’s common in many pagan paths for the handfasting vows to be first taken for a year and a day and at a later date for longer. This can be seen as being similar to an engagement – this is often a useful analogy for any family members who are not Pagan who you would like to attend. In regards to celebrants then you might like to consider whether you would like the same person performing both ceremonies (if you intend to have two – one for a year and a day and the second for life).

The duration you are promising to commit to each other for will need to be reflected in your promises and may need to be reflected in any vows or promises you are having your witnesses make.

A handfasting for a year and a day is not reflected in any British law so you don’t need to worry so much about the legal stuff as you may need to do when you’re promising for life. However, some celebrants may not follow the paths you do or may not participate in year and a day handfastings – remember to ask them if this is the case BEFORE your big day!

Discuss what vows you intend to make, if you’d like to jump over besoms, tie each other up with string or have other people involved in the ceremony itself before the big day. Your celebrant may be happy to play around with the format of a handfasting which they are used to or they may be expecting to stick rigidly to a set ritual which forms a part of their tradition. You need to know what you want and if this coincides with what they want.

    Legal Stuff

If you are getting married in Scotland be aware that Scottish Marriage Law is different to Marriage Law in England and Wales. The main difference is that there are Pagan Celebrants in Scotland who can perform legal religious marriages – this is not the case in England (see below).
If you want to get handfasted in Scotland then you need to get in touch with the Scottish Pagan Federation, you can contact their Celebrants Register Co-ordinator at medionemeton@blueyonder.co.uk. Unfortunately because the celebrants in Scotland are only licensed to perform legal religious ceremonies they can’t perform legal civil partnerships though this may change in the future, more information is available here.

But if you want to get married in the north west of England different law means that the religious part of your handfasting needs to be conducted separately from the civil part (ie. the marriage registration).

Some Pagans choose not to have their marriage recognised by the state which, although it is the simplest option, may leave you with legal problems later on as the state counts your life partner only as a cohabitant.

Some Pagans choose to have their religious ceremony entirely separately and head down to their local registry office at some point before or afterwards. (This is the case if you want to be handfasted at a particular sacred site or stone circle as these places are usually not recognised by English law as places where a wedding can be reigstered.) This must be worked out with the registry office in advance though they do not need to know about your handfasting plans, similarly your Pagan celebrant may like to be kept informed about what you’re doing with registering your marriage but there is no need to give them the specifics.
The registry office will need to see certain documents as proofs of identity and they will need to record your intent to register as married 15 days in advance. This will cost £45 and a copy of the certificate will cost a further £4. More information on this is available on the government website.

The third option is the one that requires quite a bit of planning and often a bit of money. There are some places which are approved for civil wedding ceremonies. You can find a list here. You can also find out which registrars the places use by contacting or visiting them. Different registrars are comfortable with different levels of how separate the two ceremonies (the religious and the civil) actually are. You will definitely need two separate locations within the venue and some registrars may insist on two separate days – if it’s a hotel then it may be doable for you to get married by a Pagan Celebrant, stay over and have this registered for the state the next morning. It may be an option to rent out whichever room is commonly used for marriages, have you and your partner sign everything with witnesses (which can often be provided by the venue), before heading out into the garden/below the marquee to have the actual handfasting performed.
In order to do it this way though EVERYONE (you, the registrar, the venue, the celebrant) needs to be happy with the plans beforehand and know what is expected. Obviously you don’t need to invite your guests to the registration of marriage and though it is usually common for the witnesses to be people who are involved with the religious ceremony.
This can be used as a useful way of getting family members who are not pagan involved in the day itself by having them witness the civil part of the ceremony.

    Your Relationship With Your Celebrant

Some of the celebrants that Janet (or Google) can put you in touch with won’t charge you for performing a handfasting (depending on where they live they may ask for a contribution to travel costs), some will as that is how they make their living. You need to decide what you feel is fair (and what you can afford), some celebrants may refuse to accept payment as they view celebrations as part of their spiritual path – you can always offer to donate a sum to a charity they suggest or invite them to the wedding feast if you’re having one.
Remember that in order to get to know you and help you decide how you want your handfasting to be performed they are drawing on their years of experience and spirituality.

Be friendly, though you should expect a certain level of knowledgeability and understanding your celebrant is less likely to want to work with you if you go in with a demanding attitude.

It will help your relationship if your celebrant is on a similar path to you or is used to performing handfastings which are in alignment with what you want. If you don’t know what you want then most celebrants are happy to suggest things. Remember to communicate honestly about what you’re looking for and expect them to do the same.

Once all the prep is out of the way – have a really good day!

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