Pyrography Artist and Craftswoman


Handfasting on the Green

Earlier this year I was featured on a Bridal Blog site called Offbeat Bride, you can view the article here... I thought I would add a bit of back story as it may be of interest to some, as Chris and I haven't had the most conventional of paths!

Becoming a Pagan Bride....

Chris and I met in 2006 when we were 26 and 21, after he found me online. We chatted via messenger for a few nights- you know, talking about random things for hours whilst I worked on my computer. We decided to meet up, and I ended up moving in the same night, falling pregnant with Jacob after a few weeks. I can’t explain it, but it just felt right. In fact, I don’t think I even questioned the series of events unfolding even though they had the potential to be life changing.

Of course, we’ve had ups and down, that’s life. Chris was made redundant soon after we met, but managed to find a new job quickly, keeping our heads above water. Jacob’s birth wasn’t brilliant, although I felt amazingly lucky to have a very much wanted, healthy boy – the NHS failed me on this occasion (unwarranted section, horrendous after care)

…and for the first time I felt something stirring inside of me – that perhaps I was facing things too blindly and not following my instincts as much as I should.

I lost a baby between my boys. I don’t think this is ever something that you truly come to terms with, and even when you think you might have, something; a smell, a sound, a place – stirs up something hidden and you spend a while processing it and laying the thought to rest all over again. I do believe everything happens for a reason, a bit of a mantra maybe, and even if I think about what could have been in-depth, I can not put my lost baby in any future feelings. He wasn’t supposed to be there, destined for another purpose and also making me grow a little more as a person.

Noah, or Ski as he is nicknamed (Noski) arrived 18months after Jacob. This time I followed my feelings, my gut, my instinct, what ever it is that was forever comforting me when I felt the doubt creeping in. It’s hard, especially when people who you have previously held in high regard and whose advice you have never questioned suddenly become at odds with the direction you are taking.

Ski was born at home in water, I caught him like a blubbery fish, and lifted him to the surface, seeing him, smelling him and witnessing his first breaths of the outside world first hand – a million miles away from the events surrounding Jacob’s birth. The NHS deserted me again, not allowing me to birth at home because of my previous section. My dear mother extended her loan and hired an independent midwife, who was worth her weight in gold and helped me explore a really rocky bit of the path.

Of course, there are no medals for birthing naturally at home with no pain relief.

There should never be any hierarchy concerning birth in my opinion. I made a choice – we should all be free to choose. I feel proud I chose to explore the path I felt was right, just like every new mother should, when they embark on the journey of pregnancy and birth. Be it in a hospital, birthing centre or cave. There is really no distinction between births when you boil it down to it’s pure state.

I don’t care how you did it, I care that you were given the right to choose.

I wasn’t given the right to choose and acted upon this, this for me was my victory, and for me was a permanent way marker and reminder of what I could accomplish.

The transition from woman to mother is a strange one. You do not cease being a woman – a person in your own right, but you become a mother – another’s life is suddenly dependent on you and your choices. At the time I didn’t really think about it.

I didn’t feel I was losing my identity, I felt I was gaining one.

In the first few days Chris and I were together, I suggested we take the dog out for walks, as her normal route was around the houses, alleys and parked cars. I showed Chris and Jessdog, some of my favourite places in the Peak District – and soon we became avid walkers preferring the outdoors to the cinema or other popular date location. This has continued with both children. I’ve waddled up peaks whilst pregnant, and we’ve carried the kids around Snowdonia, tightly snuggled in a sling, emerging when we’ve reached a cairn or trig, and viewing the world from a whole new perspective. Nature is a big part of our family.

We decided to tie the knot. I used to ask Chris about it often, and he’d just answer “Of course” nothing particularly proactive though, so the subject was left in favour of more pressing things like finding money for car insurance and council tax.

One day in Summer 2010, I asked him “shall we get married?” again, I got – “yes, of course” So, as soon as he left for work the next day I booked all the legal bits and pieces, giving notice, register office bit, found all the paperwork out etc. He was a bit shocked, but we both knew it was right.

Up until this point I hadn’t really acknowledged how Pagan we had both become, and despite the fact the we had pondered a handfasting in the past, it wasn’t until we had booked all of the legal mumbo jumbo that we realised we in fact didn’t particularly want any of it – just a handfasting would have been perfect for us – it’s symbolism exactly purveying our feelings for each other and our relationship.

So, how do we do this? No spare money, a lot of our friends living opposite ends of the country, many with small kids. Answer; just tell your friends and family.

We tried to hand make as much as possible. I made all of my own invitations, and asked all the guests to bring a home made dish of food instead of a gift. Doesn’t matter what, something good to share – your favourite food, a dish you make well. My close friends started to offer assistance with difficult things too, money towards my dress, the handfasting scarf and Mead for the ceremony. Home brew, cheese, bread for all, joints of meat, a meat slicer, dishes that cater for vegans and those on a gluten free diet. Flowers for me to carry, and lifts for more elderly guests with no transport.

A friend linked me to the profile of a fantastic druid celebrant – Cat Treadwell, who we liked immediately. She was perfect. On our wavelength, and extremely accommodating. Cat and her partner James met with us a few times before the rite and made sure we were comfortable with everything. She found us a photographer, as it was a area we were struggling with a bit, and was there for us if we needed her.

Although it was obvious in hindsight that I had been on a Pagan path for a long time, I guess at this point it ceased to be just a hum in the background and became a voice to be listened to.

The weather on the day was beautiful, sandwiched in between two days of rain. I kicked off my shoes and the rite was performed with the grass between my toes. Closer to nature and the earth to which we owe so much.

Everybody raved about the food. Constant whispers and chatters of “Who made this?” “Can I have the recipe” “What’s in here?” “Did you make this?” So, I decided to put together many of the recipes in a booklet and send them out at Yule.

Then I took part in an online Christmas Handmade Market, and thought it would be a good idea to get the book printed in aid of SANDS, the Stillbirth and Neo Natal Death Charity.

The orders and feedback were amazing, and soon I had sold upwards of 50 copies with orders still coming in. The local paper, The Sentinel picked up the story and came to take photos. The story was published on New Years Day, with a headline;

“Pagan bride raises charity funds with wedding cookbook”

And so, it began. Over 100 copies have been sold to date, with donations made to SANDS at my father’s funeral. Copies have been posted to The States, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and Spain.

Soon I was on local radio as “Pagan bride, Sarah Bell…” bringing the story out to yet more people.

My dad passed in February 2011, and all of our friends and relatives at the funeral gave donations for SANDS - The total stands at £350 currently, which is amazing.

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