Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Tie That Binds

This past Sunday, high on a hill just a few miles away, we were witnesses to something we had never experienced before. We were guests at a "handfasting".

A handfasting is what most of us refer to as a wedding, and like a wedding, the ceremony binds the couple together for life.

Each religion has its rituals, hymns, leaders, and congregation, and those that practice handfasting are no different than the rest of us that hold some belief close to our hearts.

I have to admit, not having ever participated in a ceremony like this before, that I had the preconceived notions that one develops from plain ignorance. Those notions vanished as I witnessed the ritual.

Quite frankly, I was very moved. Really.

A few weeks prior to the handfasting we received a letter from the couple. In the letter the couple wrote of the history of the ritual, what to expect when we arrived, and how the day would evolve. The letter did give us a great deal of insight, but as I said, my ignorance, and my preconceived ideas were only enhanced.

When we arrived at the function room on top of the hill, we met briefly with family, and friends in the parking lot, and then after awhile, we moved into the hall. As we passed through the main doors a few people outside wafted the smoke from burning sage towards us as a cleansing. I've always loved the smell of burning sage. In the summer, if you stick a bunch of it in an old coffee can and burn it outside, the mosquito's are kept at bay. The down side, for some, is it smells like ganja, and if your neighbors are nosey, that's what they will assume you are burning.

After we entered the hall we placed a small rock on a table with many others. The couple had asked us to bring a stone, about the size of a golf ball, to the ceremony. It was to symbolize the foundation on which they would build their lives from here on out. There were scores of small stones on the table cloth, and a very helpful person behind the table to explain the symbolism to all.

We then walked to the next table for a cleansing of the hands. Water from a pitcher was poured onto our hands, and we then dried them with a cloth at the table.

In the letter we received, we were asked to prepare some words of advice for the couple. The words were to be written at the ceremony, and then placed inside of a book for the couple to have. I wrote, "Trust, patience, and laughter." That, to me, says it all, not need for an essay here, and no need to mention the obvious, love. That is why they were there.

For a while before the actual ritual, we mingled with others in the room. People we knew, family we knew, and many others that we didn't know, but met and spoke with them for sometime. This is part of the ceremony as well, the meeting, and learning of each other.

I was beginning to feel comfortable.

The music was live and came from drummers at the end of the room. Large drums beaten by hand and stick kept a rhythmic cadence. It grew on me. I found my leg beginning to keep time.

So far, so good. The ideas that had formed in my head over years of not knowing slowly began to fade.

The ritual ceremony itself was very real. Not to say a joining of two people at any other wedding is not, but there was no pretension; the moment spoke for itself. Soon, the couple led us all out onto the lawn in front of a gazebo where a harpist sat. The couple led us in a circle, a very special symbol in their beliefs, and after a bit, we stopped. There was several chairs for those that could not stand the entire length of the ceremony spread out in the circle. What happened next was extremely moving.

As the harpist played, the Priestess welcomed us and made us feel, not only wanted, but needed. Soon, the woman, of the about to joined couple, spoke from her heart to her parents. She thanked them for bringing her into this world, raising her, and loving her. She unsuccessfully held back the tears. The man did the same, and spoke eloquently to both his parents. The words they shared with their mothers and fathers are the same most of us hold deep in our hearts for our parents, the difference was, they spoke the words to them, aloud, and in front of the world.

The parents of the couple then spoke to each other, and welcomed each other into their families. Hugs had become commonplace by this time, but still sent a good shiver down my back each time I witnessed it.

A braided cloth of several strands had been made prior to the ceremony. Each strand held by a parent , and the man and the woman as it was woven. The cord was them tied around the hands of the couple by the priestess for the first knot. This ritual is an ancient ritual that originated in Europe in the Middle Ages, thus our modern expression, "tying the knot" when referring to a marriage. The man and woman then each tied an other knot, and in turn, said their vows to one another.

The vows to each other were spoken aloud, but I had this distinct feeling that the voice box had been bypassed, and that the brain was sending the words out for all to hear directly from their hearts.

My contacts began to bother me at this point, and my eyes were all wet.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, a "web" was woven by the attendees. A tall wooden pole was held in the center of the circle, and a dozen or so smaller poles, connected by a cord to them main one were spread out into the circle of family and friends. Each of the guests were given a small ball of yarn which they tied one end of it to a cord , and then walked around the circle weaving the yarn under and over each successive cord. The web symbolized the love and support of all the attendees for the newly joined couple. It also symbolized that we were all connected through the couple. Simple, but true. It was a wonderful way to show it.

After the couple was given the completed web, we all went back into the function hall. The reception was held in a large white tent attached to the hall. Cocktails were now being served, a ritual I am familiar with, and after a bit we all sat down to a great meal, music, dancing, and mingling with family and new friends.

I guess the long and short of why I am writing this is that I made assumptions, and I was way off base. Long ago I invented notions in my mind that were wrong. And, although I did say I had an open mind before the event, it was only partially open. Maybe just a bit ajar.

It's a lot like many of the things we do, and say in our lives. We carry opinions about people we don't know, we carry notions about groups that we believe to be true, and we act out as if the beliefs of ours are correct, and righteous, without ever considering what others think of their own beliefs.

I have always thought myself to be among those that doesn't carry preconceived thoughts. After this weekend, I realize I have more work than I had thought to do on this person I call me.

Enlightenment is a good thing.

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