Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to be institutionalized?
There is no doubt that the traditional marriage is in trouble. According to the previous census, “About 50% of first marriages for men under age 45 may end in divorce, and between 44 and 52% of women’s first marriages may end in divorce for these age groups.” (Over the past decade the percentage has decreased, but that may be due to the economy: people can’t afford to get divorced.) According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2005 unmarried households became the majority of all U.S. households.
Originally, marriage was strictly for economic, political, and practical reasons: they indicated possession and bloodlines for inheritance. The introduction of romance and love as the focus of marriage seems to have developed only at the end of the 11th century. Today it appears that the model of love and marriage has changed from “one spouse forever” to “serial monogamy,” moving from one partner to another, one at a time.
Is there something that might work better?
There is an ancient European tradition known as Handfasting. It was outlawed in the mid-16th century by the Council of Trent which required a priest at any sort of matrimonial union, but has been recovered and is being practiced again today.
Handfasting is a joining of a couple signified not by exchanging of vows (although vows may be exchanged) or rings (although rings may be given), but through the holding of hands or even having the hands bound together with a cord or ribbon and a simple agreement. Originally, the agreement was that they would stay together as a couple for “a year and a day” (a phrase still used on many legal documents). At the end of that period they could handfast again for the same period. This can be repeated (What a great opportunity to have a ritual where you invite your friends and family to share your joy!) every year or extended to “for as long as love lasts,” “for a lifetime,” or even “for eternity,” recognizing that our spirits can continue through multiple incarnations.
Living as a couple with an agreement such as a handfasting is different from simply living together. There is a commitment, and it becomes necessary to work out issues rather than take the easy way out and leave. It allows a couple to determine whether they really can accept their partner who snores or wastes money or has bad breath. They obligate each other to work out their issues for a period. They don’t merely live together, they become a couple.
At the end of the period of the handfasting, they can choose to go their separate ways without the financial and legal issues of divorce. Some may see this as an “easy way out,” but others say it recognizes the realities of today.
With each year, the couple has to choose to retake their vows. This can increase communications and intimacy. They may or may not wish to intertwine their finances. They may or may not choose to also have a government-approved marriage.
The key to the value of handfasting is that it is not about “having” to do anything. It is not about “having” to stay together with your spouse. It is not about “having” to stay together for the kids. It is not about “having” to stay together for finances. Instead, it is about choosing to stay together. It is about choosing to stay together for love, for children, for financial security or any other reason. It is a different way of looking at being with a partner.
Handfasting is not for everyone, but the census reports show that traditional marriage is for fewer people every year. By dedicating yourself to a partnership for a limited time through a handfasting, and then choosing to re-endorse that partnership, the result for many can be more freedom, more cooperation, more understanding, more intimacy, and more love. And isn’t that what this should be all about?
Donald Michael Kraig graduated from UCLA with a degree in philosophy, and has become a certified hypnotherapist and Master NLP practitioner. His book, Modern Magick, is the most popular step-by-step course in real magick ever published.