When a pagan couple decides to get divorced, it is possible to hold a ritual to dissolve the spiritual ties of marriage. As paganism and shamanism are composed of many communities with divergent practices and beliefs, it is difficult to generalize about wedding and divorce customs, but certain rituals are widely used as templates for divorcing couples.
Pagan Marriage Traditions
“So long as our love shall last” is a common Wiccan marriage vow, which acknowledges that the marriage commitment is a choice freely entered into that may be dissolved in the future. In a pagan wedding, or handfasting, the couple’s hands are tied with cords symbolizing the spiritual ties which now bind them. In the past, a handfasting lasted for a year and a day, after which period the vows were dissolved or renewed as the couple desired. Today, this period is often used as a betrothal, after which lifetime vows are taken.
A separation ritual, or handparting, is available to couples that wish to ritually end their marriage when they choose to divorce. According to beliefnet.com, both partners should ideally be present, along with the cords that bound their hands at their handfasting and symbolize their ties. Also present might be a priestess or priest, family or friends, and the couple’s children, if they are old enough and it is their and the couple’s wish that they attend. It may possible to complete a handparting ritual with only one of the partners present, as with some legal divorce proceedings.
Pagan and shamanic practitioners do not usually use churches as official places of worship. The handparting ceremony may take place outside, or in a private location that is meaningful to the former partners, for example in their shared home. If the couple saved the cords from their handfasting, these will be placed on the altar and severed during the ritual by the priestess or priest. This is symbolic of their spiritual ties being cut. There may be a ritual parting of ways, perhaps by having each former partner walk out of the ritual circle in opposite directions. According to shaman Caroline Kenner, a shamanic divorce may include a soul retrieval ritual, which helps the former partners heal from the trauma of the separation. Through chanting and dance, the shaman guides the lost soul back to the body of his or her client.
Handpartings and shamanic divorce rituals have no legal import and if the couple had a civil marriage, they will have to seek a civil divorce to complete the separation legally. However, ritual is considered a helpful way to manage transitions, even painful ones, and can help the participants move from one stage of life to the next.
- Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images