This lovely ritual has it roots in ancient times and many believe that it developed in the Celtic cultures of Europe and the British Isles.
Originally it was a betrothal or a promise of marriage between two people who would then spend a traditional term of a year and day together to see if they were compatible. After this time, and if they were in agreement the vows could be taken again and they would be considered married.
The Handfasting ritual takes its name from the joining and tying of the hands of the couple to be wed, usually with cords. This is where the term "tying the knot" comes from today in reference to getting married. The Handfasting ritual would have been performed by an important member of the community - chieftain, Priest, Priestess, Shaman or Elder, who would have guided the couple through the ritual and presided over them as they exchanged vows in front of witnesses, probably the whole community. The witnessing of the ritual by friends and the community would make it law in the eyes of the community as no official records would have been kept until the introduction of a "Church based" wedding.
This custom spanned the centuries and was still legal in many parts until 1753 when one Lord Hardwick passed an Act through Parliament declaring that marriages in England could only be legal if sanctioned by the Church. This law however was exempt in both Scotland and the Channel Islands. The Act set the precedence for modern Church marriages in the UK ever since with some updates being allowed for modern times. However Handfastings continued to be legal in Scotland up until 1939, particularly in the Highlands and Islands where they may not have had a permanent Clergyman. If this was the case a Handfasting ritual could be performed and then when a traveling Clergyman visited the community the marriage could then be legalised by the Church. As a direct result of Lord Hardwick's Act and its strict marriage laws the famous town of Gretna Green became popular with English couples running away to get married as Scotland was outside the jurisdiction of English law. Today, Handfasting is the choice of many Pagans and Magical Folk when choosing to commit to a partner. It is sometimes, although not always preceded by a civil ceremony. Whether or not the marriage has been legally performed, in the eyes of the pagan community the couple Handfasted are seen as married within Pagan tradition. For those people who follow a Pagan Path the vows taken within a Handfasting ceremony are no less binding than those taken in a Church or Registry Office.
Besom Weddings - Jumping the Broom
I have read about what was called the ‘besom wedding’, an unofficial custom that was considered quite lawful in parts of Wales until recent times. A birch besom was placed aslant in the open doorway of the house, with its head on the doorstep and the top of its handle on the door-post. First a young man jumped over it, then his bride, in the presence of witnesses. If either touched or knocked it in any way, the marriage was not recognised. In this kind of marriage, a woman kept her own home and did not become the property of her husband. It was a partnership, “cyd-fydio,” rather than an ownership. A child of the marriage was considered to be legitimate. If the couple decided to divorce, they simply jumped back over the broomstick again, but this could only be done in the first year of marriage. If a child had come, it was the father’s responsibility.
Broomstick ceremonies in the USA began on pre-Civil War plantations whose owners prohibited Christian or civil weddings among slaves. The desire of couples to bond for life in a sanctified ceremony won out, however, as slaves created their own ceremonies, which included an eclectic mix of rituals from different African tribes. The traditional slave marriage ceremony called "jumping the broomstick." was informal. The bride and groom jump over a broom lying on the ground. It was a symbol for sweeping out the old and welcoming the new as their married life starts.
"Tradition says that whoever jumps the highest will make the decisions in the family," says Hunter. "If one doesn't jump, the other wears the pants."
Dark an' stormy may come de wedder
I jines dis he-male an' dis she'male togedder.
Let none, but Him dat makes de thunder,
Put dis he-male and dis she-male asunder.
I darefor 'nounce you bofe de same.
Be good, go 'long, an' keep up yo' name.
De broomstick's jumped, de world not wide.
She's now yo' own. Salute yo' bride!
A song found in the sheet music of "At an Ole Virginia Wedding" and is dated Sept. 9, 1900