For those of you unfamiliar with Pagan ceremony, a hand fasting is an official engagement. It's a ritual the bounds the lovers to each other. Think of it as getting down on one knee, if getting down on one knee was a religious ceremony and instead of a ring, it's a cord or cloth you've made together that's bound around both hands. I'm racking my brain, but I think that was the last 'traditional' ceremony that I've done on Samhain.
Don't think me lazy, I started looking into Paganism at the age of 15. I had friends in high school who were Pagan, Wiccan and studied other alternative religions. While looking at some of those alternative religions (I thought about Buddhism, but I couldn't give away my material possession and giving up meat was worse than quitting smoking), some friends of mine explained to me about Paganism, that literally it meant 'worshipping more than one God.' And then someone told me about the Wiccan Rede. It seemed far more straight forward and honest than the 10 Commandments, Mosaic Law or other Judea-Christian rules and ethics.
Over the years, I watched ceremonies, purchased my first Tarot deck, started spell casting and meditation. But, it still felt like the same tired religion to me. It still felt like the chore of going to church. It was tradition after tradition. Also, after observing many a Coven, I discovered that most were like a large roommate situation: the little things started getting on people's nerves way to much and that within six months to a year they abandoned over drama and infighting and went their separate ways. I'd like to think that this was only my observation of a few groups, but the more I've talked to Pagans, the more I find this happens frequently.
After the last time I watched it happen, I started becoming somewhat of a lapsed Pagan, but then something interesting happened. I was living with my brother and sister-in-law (the one who would later perform my hand fasting) when they began having weekly full moon rituals. And while they did stand on certain traditions, others they did not. They also had the practice of having 'herbal refreshment' before the ritual started. I asked if that was such a good idea. I mean, we didn't want to sit around like mindless stoners just talking about religion. My sister-in-law agreed, but told me a secret I've carried with me ever since:
"We're Pagans, we're supposed to celebrate our religion. What separates us from other religions is that in our religion, we get to have fun. Real, honest fun." And to me, that's truly what it's been about since. I've asked people to be honest with themselves about it. Really, what would be more fun to do on Samhain?
Having a long, drawn out ceremony in the woods somewhere?
Or, doing a good deed by handing out candy to neighborhood children, maybe giving some to a local Head Start, having a short and sweet ceremony wishing everyone well and ending the night at The Rocky Horror Picture Show?
I can already visualize the collective rolling of eyes out there and the nostalgic looks. The Rocky Horror Picture Show? I haven't done that since I was in college. True, but did you have fun doing it in college? No? Then what did you have fun doing on Samhain? Did you still call it Samhain or did you still call it Halloween when you stopped having fun?
If you need to ask which one I'm planning on this Samhain, you're missing the point. As Pagans, the most important self-discovery you can make is when you truly realize that magic comes from within you. You can read books and cast spells based on other people's interpretations of magic or you can use books as a guide while you create and discover what your potential and abilities really are. More often than not, you'll find that when you're truly calm, at peace with yourself and truly happy.
Justin Staley has been a Pagan since he was 15 years old. Despite the strong religious objection of his parents, he has since proved that being Pagan was more than 'just a phase.' He currently resides in eastern Washington State with his wife and two children. In his spare time, he greatly enjoys movies (which he blogs about on MySpace), writing (he's currently working on a novel) and spending time with his family.