The Great Handfasting Project: Secular Wedding Planning Books

While historical sources about pre-Christian weddings and books written by modern pagans can give you a lot of good ideas for your ceremony, many of them don’t cover the most stressful part of getting married: planning, budgeting, scheduling, and managing a modern wedding.

My fiance and I decided in December to move our wedding date up from August of 2024 to August of 2023 — cutting our planning time from nineteen months to just over seven months. This meant we had a lot less time than intended to make a guest list, make a budget, book a venue, send out invitations, buy our outfits, arrange catering for the reception, and all the other things you have to do to make a wedding happen. It also meant that our timeline was a little more rushed than we’d originally intended.

Because our timeline had suddenly shrunk, we decided to prioritize planning the reception first, then start writing a script for our ceremony after we’d nailed down reception details. We did this because we knew our reception was going to have more than three times as many guests as our ceremony and would be what we spent most of our budget on. Our reception is also going to be 100% secular out of consideration for guests who may not be comfortable attending a pagan ceremony but who still want to support us.

I cope with new and stressful situations by reading about them. Research is the balm that soothes my worries and the foundation that lets me build my own kickass plans. When we decided to move up our wedding date, I immediately went out and bought a couple of books to help me navigate the many big and small decisions I’d have to make in the coming months.

The Everything Guide to Micro Weddings by Katie Martin

When I first started looking into planning my own wedding, I quickly learned that what my fiance and I wanted to do is called a “micro wedding.” According to Katie Martin, a micro wedding is any wedding or commitment ceremony with fewer than 50 guests. I feel like most pagan weddings end up falling into this category. (Something about pagans makes us prefer small, intimate gatherings, I guess?)


  • Katie Martin is actually a professional wedding planner, so this book very much comes across as expert advice from an industry professional.
  • There’s lots of good, practical advice about logistics, which is exactly what I wanted. This book taught me how to make a wedding planning spreadsheet, and I love that.
  • I like that the author includes advice for dealing with family members’ expectations for your wedding day, especially when they would have liked to see you do things differently. I think a lot of this advice is relevant to pagans whose family doesn’t understand why they want a handfasting, or anyone else who has to gently break it to their grandmother that they aren’t having a church wedding. I felt like these sections did help prepare me to defend our decision to do a small, casual wedding and my decision not to have my biological father present even though several of my siblings are still close to him.
  • This book is LGBTQ+ inclusive!
  • I also love that the author gives practical advice for interfaith and multicultural weddings, including alternatives for when one or both religions doesn’t allow interfaith ceremonies.
  • I like that the author addresses guest dietary needs in the sections on planning the menu. For example, she recommends asking guests about food allergies before finalizing the menu, making sure to have vegan/vegetarian options, and offering non-alcoholic drinks for toasts. As a vegetarian with Celiac Disease, I appreciate this and can testify that it’s unfortunately not something every wedding planner thinks about.
  • This book was written after the pandemic and includes tips and ideas for celebrating during quarantine, which is really helpful.
  • The appendix has literal checklists you can use to plan different parts of your wedding.


  • Katie Martin is a professional wedding planner who specializes in destination weddings, and it shows. She discusses destination weddings a lot in this book. Maybe it’s just because I’m not planning a destination wedding, but I felt like that topic could have been its own book instead of being lumped into this one.
  • The “environmentalist” politics of this book are inconsistent. At one point, Martin says that one of the main draws of micro weddings is that they have a smaller carbon footprint than bigger weddings, which I’m sure is true. But just a few chapters later, she gives a list of potential locations for destination weddings that includes Hawaii and other places where both the environment and Native people are seriously harmed by tourism. This is a very minor gripe, but it annoyed me and felt a little bit like greenwashing.
  • I wish Martin gave price estimates for the things she suggests. I understand that she probably didn’t want to date her book by including exact numbers, but a rough estimate would have been helpful. There are almost no numbers given, and when the author says that Option X is cheaper than Option Y, she doesn’t say how much cheaper it is. This makes it hard to think about budgeting while reading.
  • It really rubbed me the wrong way that this author subscribes to the outdated etiquette of referring to married women as “Mrs. [husband’s name]” in invitations and programs. Martin even says divorced women should be addressed as “Mrs. [ex-husband’s name]” if they haven’t remarried! This is based on the incredibly patriarchal idea that women’s identities are defined by their husbands, and if I received a wedding invite that addressed me this way, I wouldn’t go. There are also no alternatives given for addressing same-gender couples. This just feels like an incredibly old-fashioned and misogynist inclusion in a book that is otherwise very modern.

Overall rating: 4/5 stars

Would I recommend it? Yes, especially if you’re doing most of the planning for your wedding yourself.

Offbeat Bride by Ariel Meadow Stallings

When my fiance and I first decided to (literally) tie the knot, Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride) was an incredibly helpful source of inspiration. It was the first time I’d ever seen photos of polyamorous weddings, which I immediately sent to all of my partners with lots of hearts and crying emojis. It’s also a goldmine of inspiration for queer weddings, nonbinary/genderqueer weddings, disabled weddings, and so much more. So when I learned that the site’s founder had written a wedding planning book, I knew it would be an invaluable resource.

(Note: This book has been revised twice since it was originally published. The version I read is the third edition, which is the most recent version.)


  • This book addresses things I’ve never seen talked about in other wedding planning resources, like the conflict of hating the beauty industrial complex for making money off insecurities they created vs. wanting to look nice for your wedding photos. (Because even if you don’t hire a photographer, someone is gonna take photos.) I loved this book’s “do what you gotta do” approach and the emphasis on feeling comfortable and beautiful on your special day.
  • I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate the section titled “A Big-Bride Survival Guide.” As a fat girl, lemme tell you: as stressful as shopping for wedding outfits already is, it’s more stressful with a bigger body. And don’t even get me started on the subtle (and not-so-subtle) weight loss comments from relatives. I loved that this book includes practical advice for how to navigate the entire process as a fat bride (or groom, or spouse).
  • This is by far the most LGBTQ+ affirming wedding planning book I’ve read so far. There’s an entire chapter dedicated to queer weddings, but advice for queering your wedding is sprinkled throughout the rest of the book as well. “Queer wedding” also isn’t only defined as two men or two women getting married. There’s advice for bisexual and pansexual weddings (and the author identifies as bisexual!), asexual weddings, transgender weddings, and nonbinary/genderqueer weddings. There’s even a short but sweet section on polyamorous commitment ceremonies, both for groups of more than two people who are “getting weddinged” and for polyamorous couples who may not be out to all their guests but still want to find subtle ways to include their other partners. I also really liked that the author acknowledges the struggles and hardships faced by queer couples (and throuples and more) and the importance of celebrating queer community, resilience, and chosen-family.
  • I really appreciate the warning about the pitfalls of wedding planning apps, magazines, and social media. The author warns readers about the risk of having so much inspiration you fall into the hole of choice paralysis or keep redoing things you already finished. She also warns about the temptation to compare your wedding to someone else’s. I loved this gentle reminder to be mindful in how we engage with the wedding planning industry. Here’s a wonderful direct quote: “Remember, the wedding tech is here to serve you. You are not here to serve it.”
  • There’s an entire chapter on disabilities and accessibility! I really appreciated this inclusion, and I found the advice genuinely helpful as I plan a wedding that accommodates my own chronic illnesses, my fiance’s and my ADHD, several guests with mobility issues, and other guests with various other health conditions and invisible disabilities.
  • I loved the chapter on self-care and navigating wedding planning anxiety. Planning any big event, but especially one as legally, ideologically, and culturally loaded as a wedding, is really stressful, even if you’re doing a small celebration with just close friends and family. I appreciated the acknowledgement that feeling stressed or anxious is both normal and common, and I loved that the author talked about the ways this stress can affect your physical body as well.
  • Overall, this is a really great book with excellent advice, and it really does cover every single aspect of wedding planning.


  • It’s actually really hard for me to think of stuff I dislike about this book, if I’m being honest. There were a few typos, but nothing atrocious.
  • This book is written from the bride’s perspective. The author includes lots of stories about her own wedding, and she is a woman who married a man, which definitely shaped her experience. Like I mentioned, there’s a lot of good advice here for grooms and other-gendered people having weddings, and there’s a lot of advice and suggestions for queer weddings. But if it’s important to you to read a book about someone’s firsthand experience of having a same-gender wedding, or of being a transgender bride/groom, or of navigating the wedding industry when you don’t identify with a binary gender, this book isn’t that.

Overall rating: 5/5 stars

Would I recommend it? Yes!!! Especially if you’re having a “nontraditional” wedding.

2 responses to “The Great Handfasting Project: Secular Wedding Planning Books”

  1. Gabrielle Zurlo Avatar

    What an awesome reference and review!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: