Sunday, April 6, 2008

"Temporary" Marriage: Hand-Fasting and Mu'tah

This article is fascinating itself - Iranian Blogosphere Tests Government’s Limits (from The New York Times) - but it's this paragraph from the article that caught my eye: What gets filtered out is not entirely predictable either. Even some religious topics are deemed unacceptable. The government blocked the site of a blogger advocating the Shiite Muslim custom of temporary marriage, which is legal and considered a way for the young to relieve their sexual frustration without breaking religious laws. Whoa! What's this - temporary marriage? A concept still existing today - among the Muslims, no less? Interesting, verrrrryyyy interesting. Through my reading over the years, I became a little acquainted with an old Scottish custom called "hand-fast" - which was a form of temporary marriage. If the couple decided at the end of the period that they would not permanently marry, no shame was attached to either for walking away from the relationship, although after a year of living together it was more than likely the woman was no longer a "virgin" (patriarchal society at the time placed much value upon an intact hymen). Here's an interesting note from Wikipedia: One historical example of handfastings as trial marriages is that of "Telltown marriages" - named for the year and a day trial marriages contracted at the yearly festival held in Telltown, Ireland. The festival took place every year at Lughnasadh (August 1), and the trial marriage would last until the next Lughnasadh festival. At that time, they were free to leave or continue the union as they desired. Telltown was evidently named after the god Lugh's "step-mother:" Tailtiu. More from Wikipedia: In Celtic mythology, the Lughnasadh festival is said to have been begun by the god Lugh, as a funeral feast and games commemorating his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture. The first location of the Áenach Tailteann was at the site of modern Teltown, located between Navan and Kells. Historically, the Áenach Tailteann gathering was a time for contests of strength and skill, and a favored time for contracting marriages and winter lodgings. A peace was declared at the festival, and religious celebrations were also held. A similar Lughnasadh festival was held at Carmun (whose exact location is under dispute). Carmun is also believed to have been a goddess of the Celts, perhaps one with a similar story as Tailtiu. From Barbara Walker's "A Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets:" Lug (var. Lugd, Lud) Celtic god, son or reincarnation of the Dagda, eponymous founder of the cities of Lyons and London - formerly Lugdunum, the stronghold of Lug. His temple stood on Ludgate Hill.(1) "Lud's Gate" was a great stone called Crom Cruaich, the Bloddy Crescent, apparently a symbol of the menstruating Moon-goddess to whom Lug was married in suggestively Tantric style.(2) Lug was Christianized as several saints: St. Lugad, St. Luan, St. Eluan, and St. Lugidus, depending on local dialects. Irish legendary history called him a King Lugadius martyred by a lance-thrust from a druidic priest - a story taken quite directly from ancient cults of the sacred-king/dying-god. Lug perished after marrying the Great Goddess called "the Sovereignty of Erin until the day of doom."(3) Lug's special festival was Lammas Eve, formerly Lugnasad, "the Games of Lug." The pagan rites of Lugnasad were kept to a very late date at Taillten in Ireland, where the Goddess had been worshipped as a local Earth-mother, Tailltiu. At the annual Taillten Fair, men bought bridges in a custom reminiscent of the Goddess's ancient rites of sacred promiscuity and defloration. The hill where payments were collected was known as the Hill of the Buying.(4) Taillten was so notorious for promiscuity that any casual sexual affair came to be known as a Taillten marriage.(5) Taillten marriages were actually legal up to the 13th century. They were supposed to last the period specified by the old lunar calendars, a year and a day.(6) Lug's curious name may have come in some remote past time from Mesopotamia, where the title of a sacred king, the Goddess' spouse, was lugal.(7) Notes: (1) Squire, 254. (2) Briffault 3, 75. (3) Spence, 66, 102. (4) Joyce, 439. (5) Spence, 101. (6) Pepper & Wilcock, 273. (7) Campbell, Or.M., 107. Part of the old hand-fasting ceremony was the tying together of the couple's hands with a rope in a knot. The knot is suggestive of Isis' "knot" and also of the intercrossing of arms of a man and a woman ending in clasped hands in Tantric tradition (forming a "figure 8", the symbol of the goddess and today a symbol, still, of "infinity" - which is the "figure 8" laying on its side). "Temporary marriage," "trial marriage" etc. is a concept found all around the world from the most ancient societies up to today. Fascinating - a way for a woman to achieve sexual independence and not be bound forever to a man. It was the universality of the practice that was most enlightening to me! From the most restrictive patriarchal societies (Christian and Islamic) to the so-called "pagan" cultures. But - getting back to the subject of the Shiite form of trial marriage: Marriages entered into for a fixed period are found ... the ancient Arabs too, according to Ammianus Marcellinus, marriages were often contracted for a term of definite length, after which the wife might withdraw if she pleased. Somewhat of the same character is a temporary form of marriage which still exists in certain parts of Arabia. The Shi'ah Moslems recognise as legal marriages contracted for a certain limited period—a day, a month, a year, or any other specified term. Such a temporary contract of marriage, which is called ntut`ah, creates no right of inheritance in either party, although the children born of the union are legitimate and inherit from their parents like the issue of a permanent contract. The wife is not entitled to any maintenance unless it is expressly stipulated; the husband is entitled to refuse procreation, which he cannot do in ordinary marriages; and there is also this difference between a permanent and a temporary marriage, that in the case of the latter the husband has no power to divorce his wife, although the marriage may be dissolved by the mutual consent of the parties before the fixed period has expired. This temporary form of marriage exists in Persia to the present day, but is held to be unlawful by the Sunnis. Unfortunately, the article from which I quoted the material above did not provide an author's name or source. All I can tell you is that it is from an article purportedly published in 1936 and republished, without proper attribution, at Antiques Digest (a/k/a It did, though, give me this term: ntut`ah (mu'tah, mutah, muta) - to do further research. A website listing a number of article that are against mu'tah, see "The Revealing of Truth - the Marriage of Mu'tah" (scroll down for list). A website providing many links and information on Mu'tah "How Do I Do Mutah?" I wouldn't be surprised if the roots of this practice go all the way back to the ancient "goddess marriage" practices of ancient Mesopotamia. Just like the warrior woman tradition, which was particularly prevalent in ancient Persia, and the Arab tradition of the Lady of Victory, they are echoes of ancient times and practices (see prior posts for further information on the Lady of Victory, warrior women, and the Hind of Hinds:;;;;;;

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