The third handfasting

28_postThe second handfasting was a simple backyard ceremony; by contrast the third was a grand affair. As this was the last and eternal rite, we wanted to conduct it in an ancient, sacred site; preferably a stone circle. However, as winter passed into spring, we were still unsure how to achieve this. Then in March, tragedy struck, as we lost our precious cat, Bibi, to the gods of traffic. Friends gathered around the two of us, but we still felt alone as we all made our way across Avebury circle to West Kennet longbarrow on the spring equinox to scatter her ashes; hoping its' many departed souls would keep her in good company.

06_cuddlesIt turned into a magical event. We came across the British Druid Order enjoying their equinox rite, and tears were shed as they prayed for souls lost, and turned all our minds to the new life all around us. They gave flowers from their handfasting altar to take as offerings to the spirits of West Kennet, and then informed the gathered community that a midsummer Gorsedd would be held at Stonehenge at dawn on the 23rd June; and handfastings and other rites would be offered there. We went on our way having turned the corner of our mourning, and having found the perfect place and time for our final handfasting. Thus it was we came to finish our souls' binding in 2002 with around 200 friends new and old, watching the sun rise over one of our tribe's most ancient and magnificent sacred sites.

After consulting with our previous priest and priestess, and Bobcat and Greywolf, chief druids of the BDO, Barclay and Wendy graciously stepped down, and the stage was set. The rite to be used was thus that of the British Druid Order, with our own vows, and the all important tying of the knot in the handfasting cord to make the rite eternal.

08_sunthrustonesOur first task was gathering our guests for 3.30am sharp in the car park at Stonehenge. We arrived at 3.15 with Bart and, having been quizzed on our knowledge of the British Druid Order by the English Heritage staff on duty in order to gain access, parked up in darkness. Remarkably, the Mystery Machine (a hired people carrier full of friends from London) and the other three expected carloads arrived seconds later. The car park quickly filled with assorted druids, bards and ovates donning a combination of ceremonial regalia and warm clothes. A little after 3.30, the call went out to gather by the entrance for an explanation of the rite, assignment of ceremonial rôles, and much teasing of each other by Bobcat and Greywolf; as is the way of longstanding friends. Two of our party, Felix and Sean, each volunteered to call one of the quarters, much to our delight. With the administration concluded, we all handed in our tickets and made our way through the tunnel under the road, emerging into the pre-dawn light.

12_handbindingLed by Bobcat and Greywolf, we processed a full circuit around the outside of the stones, before entering one by one at the eastern entrance. We completed another circuit along the inside of the stones, before forming the circle necessary for the rite. Bobcat and Greywolf bound the circle with words and flute, and then, with the eastern sky brightening, we concentrated on clearing the clouds for sunrise. The collective thoughts, drumming and chanting successfully delivered a sunrise which Greywolf later declared the finest he'd experienced in this sacred place. The rite could now begin.

The quarters were called with Felix and Sean executing their duties to the east and to the south. Sean's calling of the gods of fire worked so well that Bobcat immediately halted the ceremony for all to apppreciate the impact of the sun's rays shining full on the altar. Thus bathed in sunshine, the final quarter was called. Offerings of all kinds, and bread and mead for the ceremony, were asked for and received on and around the altar in the centre of the circle.

15_ceremonythrustones We were one of two couples to be handfasted that morning. When the call went out, the other couple responded first, which was fine by us. Their handfasting was beautiful and touching, and very soon it was time for our own. We stood in the centre of the circle, bathed in sunlight. Bobcat bound our hands using our usual cord and talked to us of bonds of love and many things. The rite flowed smoothly until nervousness took hold during the personal vows, which we'd borrowed from our previous ceremonies. Phil had most trouble remembering his lines, but we held hands tightly and made it happily to the end. Hugs, kisses and blessings followed, and our hands were unbound with more words from Bobcat. The knot in the cord, however, still remains, symbolising the eternal nature of our committment.

26_landscape We rejoined the circle and exchanged our personal gifts: pendants of agate wrapped in silver wire. There were hugs and congratulations and gifts from friends, before we sneaked out of the circle for a quick cigarette. We were back in time to join hands for the bardic initiation and the chanting of the Awen. Bread and mead were blessed and shared, as the bards entertained. A few hours had passed, and it was time to bid farewell to the quarters and end the rite. The excitement over, everyone was looking very sleepy, so after a quick thermos of coffee for the drivers, we headed back in convoy to our home near the Ridgeway. Food, music and lots of lying around in the sun followed until the early evening, when everybody finally drifted away leaving Phil, Theo and Bart to watch 'Cats and Dogs' on DVD.