Hetaeria and wedding customs

handfasting 2
There is a serious dearth of good handfasting pictures out there

Henry is fortunate enough to be invited to attend a slave party and wedding in early February 1901. Now, I must say, my husband (who knows everything about Henry and Martin despite never reading a word I’ve written) was incensed when I told him Henry was going to a slave party. He was adamant that the slaves deserved something of their own, separate from masters, and I don’t actually think he’s wrong, but the fact is that Henry wanted to go and Martin wanted him there, so he went. I do think it was very unusual for Henry to be there, but it’s well-established that Henry does a lot of unusual things.

In looking for a ceremony for the wedding, I didn’t want to copy historical slave ceremonies. Jumping the broom might actually have European antecedents instead of African, but I wasn’t willing to use an actual historical slave practice that is now an African-American tradition for my alt history slaves.  Handfasting appealed to me for a number of reasons, one of them being the act of binding, or bondage, and bondage=slavery. I sort of smushed together ideas from history and neopaganism--I’m pretty certain people were not actually binding their hands together in 1901.

I had Timothy ask Billy and Jane five questions because I came across a very old idea (Pythagorean, I believe) that 5 is the number for marriage, being made up of 2 and 3, which are (apparently) the first female and male numbers, respectively, as well as representing the joining of heaven and earth. It also represents the five senses and the limbs+head of the human body, all of which seem beneficial in a marriage (though people manage to do without!).

As always, the symbolism of materials, colors, etc., is taken from multiple sources, reflecting the ad hoc nature of the practice of Hetaeria. Seriously, anything you come across–folklore, mythology, esoterica, botany, superstition–that seems like slaves might use, I’m pretty sure you’re right. They’re a creative and adaptable bunch!

Henry has a fleeting thought about whether there might be a Hetaeria ceremony that two men might do to bind themselves together, and I actually haven’t decided if that might be possible. I mean, I think Martin would readily do it if Henry wanted, but I don’t know if it would be common practice amongst slaves. My uncertainty is because I do believe the slaves want to present themselves to masters and the world in general as conforming to the mores of free people because it’s just easier that way, and having a big wedding party like Billy and Jane’s for two men or two women probably wouldn’t sit well with masters.  As things are, masters are able to ignore whatever aspects of slave society and sexuality make them uncomfortable because slaves have made it easy to do that by being discreet. I mean, Henry spent 16 years around slaves without ever knowing how common same-sex slave relationships are, and not all of that was because Henry is clueless! Anyway, I do think there are differences between how same-sex slave couples conduct their relationships compared to heterosexual couples, but I haven’t come to any absolute conclusions.

I do think Henry is getting rare access. His friends know a lot about slave society because they’re from old families who’ve owned slaves a long time, but they’re not as curious about it (maybe because they’re arrogant), and they’re just not interested in slaves as people the way Henry is. Consequently, none of Henry’s friends is in a position to be invited to a slave party. Tom would never invite Freddie Caldwell. Peter would never invite Louis. Even slaves like Simon, who is extremely close with Charles Ross, don’t think of including their masters in slave doings. Henry does everything wrong, to be sure, but so does Martin!

2 thoughts on “Hetaeria and wedding customs”

  1. The scene at the wedding is wonderfully written – and with everything Darrah does, generously conceived. Henry is part of his dominant society but alienated from it at the same time. He readily accepts the privileges of his position and doesn’t hesitate to control Martin [who defers to Henry] but he also asks the kinds of questions that only an outsider can ask. This special insight is a function, of course, of Henry’s sexuality. So interesting!

    1. Thank you for the compliment!

      I’ve considered what Henry might have done if Martin had not been interested in an intimate relationship with him. Beyond his disappointment, I think he would have still been very interested in the details of Martin’s life. I think he would have been drawn to the idea of a slave culture, a subculture, a secret world parallel to his own, because he would still be wanting evidence that there are places where people who are different (in whatever way) can be themselves, and he would take comfort and strength from that knowledge. I like it better that Martin returns his feelings, however!

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