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The Unique Tradition of Handfasting Ceremony

The Unique Tradition of Handfasting Ceremony

Updated on Jun 26, 2023

Reviewed by Julianne Cantarella, MSW, LSW , Certified Relationship Coach

The Unique Tradition of Handfasting Ceremony - Know All Details

Every single person on the planet desires to have a starry wedding that speaks of uniqueness and love vibrations.

When a couple decides to get married, they usually want to pay their respect to all the rituals followed by their ancestors from.

And talking about these rituals, handfasting ceremony is one of the more popular ones. 

Indeed, this great tradition is actually a ‘unity ritual’. In it, a symbolic gesture is made by the couple to exhibit their love and life-long commitment towards each other.

It’s an old and unique wedding virtual first originated in ancient Britain around the 12th century.

However, with time, it spread across various countries and thus, became a part of many cultures. Today, we are going to learn about the same.

Handfasting Ceremony Infographic

The Unique Tradition of Handfasting Ceremony
The Unique Tradition of Handfasting Ceremony

What is a Handfasting ceremony?

From the 12th to 17th century, handfasting was described as ‘engaged to be married,’ in England. This ceremony traditionally took place a month prior to the official or church wedding. It is done at the home of the bride.

However, the place of the ceremony wasn’t particularly significant. Thus, it also used to take place in gardens or taverns. In England, handfasting continued until the passing of the Marriage Act of 1754.

In Scotland, this ceremony became a Celtic tradition. It was often referred to as ‘temporary marriage.’

However, as per the Scottish law, ‘tying the knot’ confirmed that this ritual meant legal marriage. It was legally binding. However, people still considered religious marriage at the church to validate it. 

When Does Handfasting Take Place?

Under Scottish culture, handfasting took place a year before the wedding ceremony. It was also believed that the groom will ensure whether the ‘maid’ is able to ‘please him’ or not.

However, this attitude did raise some questions about the custom since it seemed abusive toward the bride party.

Today, this ceremony is primarily performed in Irish weddings. But couples across the world are adopting this symbolic tradition as a part of their wedding ceremony.

What is the Meaning of the Handfasting Ceremony?

Coming to the meaning of it, handfasting is a symbolic act where the soon-to-be married couple literally ties the knot.

The hands of the couple are tied together with a ribbon. These clasped hands are then bound for a life-long commitment in both physical and spiritual terms.

Traditional handfasting included the couple holding each other’s right hand as they declared their love and commitment for each other.

This would be followed by ring exchange as a token of their love and respect for each other.

Basically, handfasting ceremony is a symbolic unity between a potential married couple. It is originally included in wiccan and pagan culture.

However, in today’s world, hands are bound as one of the unity rituals under which they follow ancient celts.

What Happens at the Handfasting Ceremony?

The couple hands, as per ancient celtic culture, is ‘blessings of the hands.’

During the ceremony, the high priest or priestess, explains the couple about the ritual.  A statement released by high priestesses or priests is released in the presence of the couple who is tying the knot.

The statement is related to the couple to bless them for a union of hopes and dreams for a lifetime. 

After this, he or she invites the couple to join hands to symbolize their willingness to enter into the marriage. Following this, the couple whose hands are bound to enter legal marriage hold the right and left hand of each other.

They can also stand next to one another holding their right hand with the other’s left.

Now, a cord or ribbon of certain fabric is wrapped around their hands. The priest reads certain vows to bless their marriage.

Many couples also choose to use a separate cord for each vow. Or, they can braid a knot in the same cord or ribbon for each vow.

What Happens After Handfasting Ceremony i.e. the Knot is Tied?

The priest or priestess will make another statement about the completion of the ceremony. The hands of the couple remain tied to each other.

With their hands bound, they continue sharing their own vows with each other and move to the ring exchange ceremony.

After the vows, the couple can carefully slip the knot out of their hands. They can then keep it safe somewhere for the rest of their married life.

Once a part of pagan ceremonies, handfasting ceremony is now a token of love and commitment. Normally, it is done a year and a day before the traditional wedding takes place.

There are several ways to tie the knot of the ribbon. However, it is recommended to tie simple knots on the hands of the couple. It can be simple and more elaborative for people who want to do something different with the cords.

What is a Handfasting Cord?

It is basically a ribbon, or a long piece of fabric, usually silk or similar material. It is used to tie the knot which binds the hands of the soon-to-be married couple at the time of handfasting ceremony.

There are no rules or conditions as to choosing the fabric or size or length of the handfasting cord. However, some couples use fabric which is spiritually, religiously, or personally significant to them.

This adds a special aura to the ceremony. It also lets their love speaks in a complete flow during the time of this ceremony.

Generally speaking, a single handfasting cord should be about one to two metre long. This makes it easier to turn, twist, and loop around the wrists of the couple.

Well, there is again no hard and fast rule for the number of ribbons or cords to be used. Even so, many people consider number three to be auspicious for this ceremony. However, one thing that should be taken into interest is that the ribbon should not be made from a heavy material.

It would be a trouble for the couple to hold it in their hands for a long time. Also, make sure that the ribbon material does not leave a rash or scratch on the skin.

What Do the Colors in the Handfasting Cords Represent?

Couples will give different meanings to these colorful cords based on their personal relationship. Here are the meanings of the Handfasting colorful cords –

  1. Red: passion, lust, fertility
  2. Orange: encouragement, attraction, plenty
  3. Yellow: charm, joy, balance
  4. Green: finances, fertility, prosperity,
  5. Blue: tranquility, devotion, sincerity
  6. Purple: Power, piety, sentimentality
  7. Black: strength, vision, success
  8. White: purity, meditation, peace
  9. Gray: neutrality, canceling, balance
  10. Pink: unity, honor, happiness
  11. Brown: earth, grounding, home
  12. Silver: treasure, values, inspiration
  13. Gold: energy, intelligence, longevity

Who Can Perform a Handfasting Ceremony?

Ideally speaking, the handfasting ceremony can be completed by either the priest or family members. Even a friend or a loved one can perform the ceremony.

Often, a celebrant is asked to perform the ceremony because he or she has experience in performing at these ceremonies.

The bottom line is that handfasting isn’t a religious activity. In fact, it follows pagan and celtic traditions. Thus, can be performed by anyone as long as they can be approved by the happy couple.

Honestly speaking, there is no subjective answer to that. It can be legal if you look at it that way, or not. Handfasting is a legally-binding wedding ceremony.

There is no doubt about that. You do not have to get married after this ceremony to validate your marriage. However, many couples choose to look at it as one of the unity rituals before they get married.

In case of making it legally-binding, marriage certificate needs to be issued by the priest. In case of a non-legally binding ceremony, issuing a certificate isn’t mandatory for the couple.

What Are the Merits of Such a Ceremony?

There are many merits of a non-legal handfasting ceremony as well. It can be used as a tool to unite LGBT and queer couples to stay together. This can be done even if same-sex marriage isn’t allowed in the country.

Another thing is that it is professing love for one another exclusively. No governing body or any other kind of approval is needed to bind it.

It is a simple way to make two people promise each other a lifetime of love, care, and commitment.

There is another reason why modern-day couples are choosing this ceremony. There is no commitment of a ‘happily ever after’ or ‘till death do us apart.’ A couple can easily separate, in case they want it.

Even though handfasting can be legally-binding, its legality varies from place-to-place. For instance, it is not recognized as a legal wedding in the UK. A legal marriage is required to follow a civil ceremony to be considered to be legal.

The registrar or priest/priestess often allows the couple to have the ceremony in a separate room before the wedding. In Scotland and nearby areas however, humanist ceremonies have a legal status and therefore, handfasting is considered to be quite honorable and an important wedding ritual.

What More is There to Handfasting Ceremony?

Apart from the couple, the guests attending this ceremony are treated with utmost respect and affection.

In fact, in many ceremonies, the guests form a circle around the couple at the time of fasting and move in an anti-clockwise position.

This position is considered to be a positive circle in pagan ceremonies and blesses the couple for a long and happy married life.

Many guests also hold hands after making the circle for channeling positive energy.

The other reason for having your guests form a circle around you is to exhibit that there are no sides, front seats, backseats, and no spots reserved for any specific person.

Every guest is treated as an equal in the ceremony. The main aim of the circle is to support the union of two souls, that is, the couple.

Why Should You Choose a Handfasting Ceremony?

Handfasting is one way to visibly acknowledge the connection, love, and respect that the two people share and have for each other.

It is a truly intimate ceremony that when performed between the couple amidst their family, speaks of all pure things for the life that both of them are about to live together.

It is an ancient tradition, thus carries the energy and love of our ancestors. The popularity of this tradition is such that couples from all over the world are using it as the highlight of their marriage ceremony.

Sample Handfasting Ceremony Script

Hello and Welcome!  Thank you all for being here today.  You who are here in person and all of you joining us by way of the interwebs.  Today is a wonderful day.  Today is the day Bride and Groom are proclaiming their love for each other through the joining of hands and exchanging of vows. .  They are pledging themselves to each other for life through marriage.

They’ve decided to celebrate their marriage  with something a little different.  Today, they will be handfasted.  This is actually a very old tradition.  They chose it for the Romance.  Braveheart, The Princess Bride, Bride and Bride, Groom and Groom, Bride and Groom.  It’s a tradition of many cultures and also of the Pagan faith.  One of the traditions that can make us all stop and think is the fact that Pagans, traditionally, are handfasted for a year and a day.  Now, this may sound like an easy out.  You just have to get through a year….  They are of course signing a marriage license today so this day it’s a little different when you add a legal contract.  But, The idea of making a conscious decision to pledge their lives to each other like this really has many good points.  I usually tell couples I’ve been married for 28 years and we are having a good year.  I wish everyone very many good years. 

Sometimes it’s easier to think about things in small increments.  Sometimes getting through a moment or an hour is how you have to break it down.  Sometimes a day.  In respects to a marriage lasting a lifetime, a year at a time is very good choice.  The way of our lives is to keep moving.  To go through the seasons, to learn and to grow.  Breaking it down into smaller pieces can be a good thing. At this time we also ask those here present to remember that just because a couple had made a commitment and is married, they still need support to keep a good thing going!  Thank you for being the community that surrounds them.

Now, for the binding…

What we are doing is taking a chord that Bride and Groom have made.  They put thought into it and we are using it today for the handfasting but they will also have this chord as a memory.  

Bride and Groom join hands and Officiant ties the chord

In days of old, rings were not exchanged or worn when a couple married. Bride and Groom are waiting on rings too. The way the hand of the couple are joined when they are crossed like this to make the symbol for infinity.  With this, may your love for each other be infinite and may you draw up on the infinite force of love that flows through the universe to flow through and support you.  

Now, I ask You:

Do you promise to be there for each other when you need each other?

We do.

Do you promise to fill each other’s days with sunshine?

We do.

Do you promise to comfort each other

We do.

Do you promise to comfort each other

We do

Do you promise to encourage each other?

We do

Do you promise to help each other reach your goals?

We do

Do you promise to be best friends forever?

We do

And do you promise to love each other with all your hearts?

We do

May the words you have chosen to share today stay with you throughout your lives.  May they have meaning for you in the days to come – Through the triumphs and challenges of life, through plenty and want, through sickness and health.  May you continually bring all you have into your relationship and may you continually be replenished from the source of love itself.  

Now, some old cultures used to leave the couple’s hands bound for the first 30 days of their marriage.  Only 2 of their hands, not all 4.  How’s that for real?  Now, I’ll remove this cord, may it’s symbolism stay with you always. 

I wish you the strength To be true to the vows You have made here today. May you always have the wisdom To cherish the precious love you share. May you Nurture yourselves and this marriage With acceptance, understanding,Cooperation and loving.

May the life you share Be peaceful, healthy and filled With blessings and joy. Now you will feel no rain, For each of you will be shelter to the other; Now you will feel no cold, For each of you will be warmth to the other; Now there will be no loneliness, For each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, But there is one life before you. As you leave here To enter into the days of your togetherness, May your days be good and long upon the earth.

So, by joining hands and looking into each other’s eyes, let it be known that you are joined, body and soul in this lifetime, and that this bond is sacred and eternal. And now that you have exchanged these rings and these vows,  I witness and affirm your union of love and it gives me great pleasure to pronounce that you are and will continue to be partners for life.

You are married!

You may kiss!!

We do not claim to be the original author of this script. We are sharing it like this to make it easier for anyone to use.

Closing Thoughts

If you love following traditions, then this is one of the most beautiful ones for your wedding. Even though it has its origin in pagan culture, yet handfasting ceremony is not related to any particular religion or community.

It is one of the purest ways for married couples to welcome their new life together. After all, a touch of tradition in modern-day weddings will never go out of style!

Are you interested to know more about ‘My Husband Hates Me – How to Save Your Marriage When It’s Falling Apart’ then click here?