Jumping the Besom
This is such an old tradition and one that survives today as a romantic gesture and ritual representation of the change in life that marriage will bring. The besom is broom, often made with straw or Birch twigs at the brush end, an Ash handle and Willow strands to bind it all together. It’s used to spiritually clear and purify an area so that it can be made into a sacred space.
In years gone by, a besom would often stand at the threshold of the house or be hung over the threshold to keep the home purified, to bring good luck and to keep away unwanted nasty influences.
For a wedding, handfasting or vow renewal, the besom is often decorated with coloured ribbons, trinkets that are meaningful to the couple and the rings can even be tied to the besom handle or brush end. During the ceremony, the besom is laid down on the ground and the couple jump over it from one side of single life to the other as a married couple.
Jumping the besom as a ritual represents the commitment by the couple to one another. As in times gone by when to cross the threshold where the besom was stationed meant that you would bring good luck to the home, so too does crossing the besom now in the wedding, handfasting or vow renewal ceremony. By jumping the besom, the ritual reinforces how the married couple would cross the threshold to their new home together, to their new life and how they would bring good fortune, fertility and happiness to the union.
The besom becomes a treasured symbol of that commitment and should remain, brush tips upwards, always safely near the door of the couple’s new home.
Tying the Wrists Together
The actual history is a little foggy but records show that in days gone by, couples would dedicate themselves to one another (traditionally on May Day) for a year and a day as a trial marriage. By having a priest tie their hands together, this signified their commitment to share that time together to see if they were suited for marriage thereafter. At the end of that period, they would choose to cement that commitment with a full wedding, would handfast again for another year and a day or go their separate ways.
Today, the handfasting ritual, where the couple tie their hands together, reflects the firm commitment to share in life‘s trials and joys as a couple. The knot round the hands is done in a figure of eight which represents infinity. Thus their vow to one another should be reflective of their commitment to be together for life.
The cords used to tie the hands together should ideally be made by the couple and are often three lengths of wool or silk plated together. These can all be the same colour or three different colours. Popular colours include;
- a strand of red, the colour of which corresponds to passion, to will and determination, to physical health and to fertility,
- a strand of blue, the colour corresponding to devotion, sincerity and honour, friendship and loyalty, protection and wisdom,
- A strand of white which corresponds with purity and healing, peace and a devoted, loving relationship.
During the ceremony, the knot is tied and the love of the couple is injected into that knot. The couple’s commitment and vow of dedication to one another is held within the knot so once the ceremony is over, the knot is loosened and the cords removed from the couple’s hands but the knot is never untied. The tied cords remain as a special representation of the vows made.
Cakes and Ale
For a wedding, handfasting or vow renewal, the cake is often a specially prepared honey cake and the ale is traditionally a honey mead. Honey is a long honoured symbol of devotion and dedication being a pure substance made from the hard work of the humble bee.
Once married the bride and groom would usually share a wedding breakfast with their guests. This has developed of course into the wedding reception as we currently know it which usually includes the wedding cake and a glass (or two!) of champagne.
However, within the Pagan ceremony itself, a small ritual where the bride and groom feed each other a little cake and share mead or wine with one other symbolises the ongoing sharing they will do in their lives together. The bounty provided to them by the Divine and the universe around them continues only through the continual sharing of individuals with each other and with the land from which they come. For example, wheat provides us with bread but if we don’t share some seeds back with the land, we’ll have no crops the following year.
With this in mind, the couple share their first meal together symbolically in the ceremony, giving thanks for the bounty of their love and the wealth of happiness they have, and will continue to create for one another.
The wedding ring is of course a circle. It has no beginning and no end, like time, and like enduring, never ending love. Evidence shows us that even 5000 years ago, the Egyptians gave a ring as part of their wedding ceremony, as a symbol of enduring love, a love with no beginning and no end, like a circle. They placed the ring on the third finger of the left hand because it was believed that a vein in that finger led directly to the heart. That finger was therefore the finger of love.
This custom travelled far and wide and the Romans eventually made the giving and receiving of a ring a legal and binding contract of marriage. Her wedding ring bound the wife to her husband and enforced upon the husband the responsibility to care for his bride until death.
Today couples routinely give each other a ring as the material symbol of their union and vow to one another. In Pagan ceremonies, these rings are often tied to the besom or the cords as safe keeping until the wedding day.