The interior of Dode Church
It’s now been four days since our wedding and handfasting on July 12th (which incidentally was a Full Moon), held at the Lost Village of Dode. It was the happiest day of our lives, but it’s surprising how emotional I felt afterwards (even just looking at the photos from the wedding would make me well up!) so only now do I feel ready to write about it without bursting into happy tears at the memory! (this might seem weird to anyone who hasn’t been married before, but it really does make you very emotional).
As I mentioned previously, our wedding/handfasting was held at Dode Church, a rebuild of a structure that has been at Dode for 800 years or so. The church is not consecrated, and is no longer used for Christian worship, and inside it has decorated to resemble what it might have looked at those 800 years ago – straw on the floor, sheepskin-covered pews, bunches of dried herbs and roses, wall drapings and dozens and dozens of candles.
The legal part of our ceremony took place in the church. Pagan handfastings or other Pagan wedding rituals are not recognised by English law, which means that the legal marriage itself had to be 100% secular, i.e. no religious content in the readings, vows or music. But after the legal parts, we went outside for our handfasting.
Our handfasting altar
The handfasting was conducted by Doug Chapman, the owner of Dode Church. He makes handfastings an option to anyone who gets married at Dode, regardless of their beliefs. I think this is wonderful – it is because of the option to have a handfasting that I went from being someone merely interested in paganism to a fully-fledged practising pagan. Doug provided a basic script for the ritual, but after consulting with a very good friend of mine who’s also a long-time pagan (and co-founder of the Medway Pagans moot), we decided to personalise it a little.
The ritual was held at the bottom of the mound upon which Dode Church stands, where Doug has erected a ring of standing stones including one central stone where the altar was placed. Doug conducted the ritual in a full robe (which must have been hot – we had exceedingly good weather, perhaps thanks to the teru-teru bozu and Tanabata wishes I made!) , and equipped with a staff – he did look very much look the part of a Druid priest. One of the alterations we made to the ritual was that we had seven members of our family present a ribbon of a particular colour (silver, red, blue, purple, pink, green and gold) corresponding with a particular deity (Diana, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Apollo) and read a blessing appropriate to that diety. Some may say that our choice of gods and goddesses wasn’t really appropriate to a handfasting (why Mars and not Juno?!), but the fact is, as most of our congregation were not pagan, we wanted to stick with the deities most familiar to non-Pagans, i.e. those of the planets, the sun and the moon.
Doug then made further blessings and bound our hands with the ribbons as we made seven vows (we also wrote these ourselves). We then drank some mead from a shared chalice, and finally jumped a broom and a sword (the addition of the sword was my pagan friend’s suggestion and I like it – it give a more masculine/feminine balance than the broom alone, I think).
The handfasting was followed by a hog roast feast in Dode Church (delicious!), followed by a larger party at Gravesend Rugby Club. It all went by too fast and was quite a blur to say the least, so I am really glad about one particular thing Doug did at the beginning of the handfasting – he asked us all to take a few seconds to just stop and contemplate the moment and its significance, as it is all too easy to lose this in the wedding frenzy. It was a wonderful suggestion and a great way for us to ground ourselves.
I can 100% recommend that anyone, pagan or non-pagan, strongly consider having their own handfasting with Doug at Dode Church! It was a deeply spiritual and deeply emotional experience for us both.
We were delighted that one of our guests (not pagan!) presented us with a traditional handfasting basket, containing 13 items that each bestow a particular blessing on the couple. I knew about the tradition but didn’t think we would get a basket as we had a mainly non-pagan congregation, so we were really touched by this. You can read all about this tradition here (although be aware that there are lots of variations as to what goes in the basket).
Finally, I’d like to add a few more photos from our wedding/handfasting.
Blessed be our marriage and all our guests!
Dried hops and herbs in Dode Church
The stone circle outside Dode Church
The groom’s buttonhole. The ferns represent the Groom’s New Zealand heritage, and the rose represents my English heritage (plus I love Baccara roses!)
Close up of the altar. The chalice, which belongs to Doug, looks like it has Elvish on it, which seems appropriate seeing as my husband is from New Zealand where Lord of the Rings was filmed!
Our rings, resting in an abalone shell, which is one of New Zealand’s many treasured symbols (my little nephew was Ring Bearer and carried them up the aisle in the shell). The gold ring is mine and was originally my husband’s mother’s. The black ring is my husband’s and is ceramic. They were tied on to the shell using New Zealand flax.