Hand Fasting 5/24/19

By Richard Bleil

There are a lot of seriously cool wedding traditions. I love the Catholic Unity Candle (except I am not a fan of blowing out the individual candles; just because you form a new unit doesn’t mean you lose your identity as an individual in my humble opinion). The tea ceremony is just beautiful; I love that very much.

My friend from India tells me that the weddings there last weeks, with ceremonies and traditions, largely centering on the bride, abound. I love this. The bride should be celebrated, and I adore that this kind of attention is paid. By the way, as a side note, I also love the “rice ceremony”, which centers around a baby’s first taste of “solid” food. Just marvelous.

As a licensed minister, and saint, by the way, it has been my pleasure to oversee several weddings. One of the more unusual ones was what I refer to as my “Rendding”. This was a Renaissance Fair wedding where the bride and groom wanted it performed in accordance to the Renaissance tradition.

A lot of people wonder why divorce was so uncommon in the Renaissance (around 1300 – 1600). Then someone brings up King Henry VIII, and feelings get hurt, and it’s a big thing.

Well, as it turns out, murder is NOT the reason divorce was so rare.

First, let’s talk about the “hand binding”. You’ve heard the expression, no doubt, to “tie the knot”. Well, this was a tradition from the Renaissance. The bride and groom’s hands were literally bound with a rope or a strip of clothe to designate their union. But it was done twice.

First, there was a hand binding ceremony wherein the bride and groom’s hands were loosely bound. This was to signify that the bride and groom intended to be married and marked the start of a full year in which the intended bride and groom would live as if they were married.

Starting at that point, they would live together, and do everything together as if they were, indeed married. Quite scandalous, I thought, considering the time, but I think that the people were more liberal than we might think today. For example, in 1897, Bram Stoker published his famous book “Dracula”. Okay, this is after the Renaissance, but still in that very uptight era where I always assumed everything was prim and proper, and it’s MY blog, so I say it counts!!!

Anyway, although the Vampiric legend started long before Bram Stoker, I always assumed that Dracula was the first published account of the legend. As it turns out, I was wrong. Twenty-five years earlier, in 1872, Sheridan le Fanu wrote a vampiric book called “Carmilla”. More than just beating Bram to the punch, as it turns out, Carmilla was actually a lesbian vampire.

Can you imagine? A lesbian vampire, risque by today’s standards, published in the nineteenth century! There was a comedian who discussed a very interesting phenomenon with which we are all familiar, namely that every generation likes to pretend like they are the ones that discovered sex and kink. Well, gars and goyles, our parents’ generation had sex, and their parents’ generations, and everything that the generation following us is discovering has been discovered many many generations before our own.

So, in the Renaissance, yes, sex existed. Kink existed. Homosexuality existed. It all existed, and I have no doubt in my mind that these intended betrothed truly lived together, as husband and wife, in every sense of the word. Can you imagine living with somebody that you want to be with for a full year, and not living like a married couple in every sense of the word except in the carnal sense?

Nope. Not buying it.

So, we have a young couple that has gone through a hand-fasting ceremony, except that the clothe is only bound very lightly. One year later, if the couple still intend to go through it, they would go through a second hand-binding, and a full-fledged marriage ceremony, wherein they take the vows forever.

Forever sure is a long long sentence.

Most marriages fail within the first two years. Living as if married for one year is well within this time period, and while not covering the entire two year period, within a year I am certain that if there will be serious problems, they are beginning to materialize, and all the couple had to do was say, “no, we changed our mind.”

One other interesting statistic is that couples that have never had sex have a higher divorce rate that those who have engaged in premarital sex. Let’s be honest, not every sexual coupling is good, so to live as a married couple also allowed, I’m speculating, for discovery of these issues as well.

Today, it’s not so terribly different. The most successful marriages have been found to be those between couples that have had premarital sex, and who have lived together before getting married. In the Renaissance, with the loose and tight hand fasting ceremonies, they just formalized these.

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