What is Handfasting?

Handfasting is a traditional practice that, depending on the term’s usage. It usually defines an unofficial wedding, a betrothal, or a temporary wedding. The phrase refers to the making fast of a pledge by the shaking or joining of hands. The ceremony of Handfasting involves a couple’s hands being placed together and bound with ribbon or cord.

miniatures of bride and groom

What is Handfasting? :bride_with_veil:

Hand-fasting is a symbolic unity ritual that is among the mutuality of the couple, in which a couple standing face to face as their hands are tied together, hence the phrase, tying the knot. or getting married in simple words. As your hands are bound, you can commit and the thing which you in love with each other. Hand-fasting rituals are associated with compiled Pagan ceremonies but are now often seen in secular, spiritual, and even some Christian marriage ceremonies. It is an ancient marriage ritual that is becoming increasingly popular with modern couples and the people love it too.

A handfasting cord is a ribbon or a long piece of fabric that is used to tie the hands of the couples together who are getting married. Some couples use only one cord or a piece of cloth, or some of them use multiple of them, it is totally up to their choice. You can use simple ribbons but some couples use special cords which they think are comfortable, whether it is a family heirloom or is gifted by the family families to be worn by the couple. A single hand-fasting cord should be around one to two meters long and not more than that because that is not suitable. It is mainly because the handfasting cord of this type of length can be easily fit on your wrist comfortably

Sometimes the term is also used synonymously with “wedding” or “marriage” among Neopagans to avoid perceived non-Pagan religious connotations associated with those terms. It is also used, apparently historically, to refer to an alleged pre-Christian practice of symbolically fastening or wrapping the hands of a couple together during the wedding ceremony.

Where does Handfasting came from? :thinking:

Handfasting is around us for thousands of years. It can be so difficult to measure the exact time of when it has been around us as a marriage tradition. It is an ancient ritual in which people have been celebrating and bonding the couples together. This idea is eventually traced from the Celtic and Druid. It may even be where the phrases ‘tying the knot’ and ‘bound for life’ have been originated because these words are the main theme of this ceremony. In Scotland, a piece of tartan was traditionally used for the handfasting and it was enough to do so, although it was often used to signify betrothal rather than a ceremonial marriage itself. Handfasting has become popular among modern couples who are looking for a more intimate and personalized celebration.

The handfasting ceremony has its roots dug here since around 7000 BC. Every single person knows about it and knows how long it had been originated. In ancient Ireland, When a couple decides to bound together, they are brought and both of them are tied around a braided cord or a piece of fabric cloth in the presence and the guidelines of an experienced priest. The Handfasting ceremony derives from marriage celebrations which are also known as a betrothal in Early Modern England. The term is completely derived from Middle to Early Modern English to describe the thing more properly.

How can you do Handfasting?

There are multiple ways of doing handfasting because it is now a trendy material and is performed in mostly all Christian weddings. Here are some points on how can you do handfasting easily:

  • You can choose to bind with one hand each or two. For one hand, stand side-by-side and hold out your arms together. If you choose two, stand face-to-face and clasp each other by the hands (or wrists for a more secure grasp!) - many couples will cross their arms, with one’s left hand linking the other’s right, which looks like an infinity knot from above. There are no hard or fast rules, try it out beforehand and see what’s comfortable to you!

  • You can ask either your celebrant or chosen members of your family or friends to do the fasting, some couples ask lots of different guests to come and place a ribbon over their hands.

  • There are several ways to tie the ribbon, from a simple knot to a more elaborate wrapping of the wrists that results in an impressive infinity knot. The video above will show you how it’s done.

  • However you choose to tie it, **it shouldn’t be so tight that you can’t pull yourselves loose afterward.

  • As the knots are tied, some couples will plan to recite vows of commitment to one another (more on that below!).

  • After the ceremony, you’ll have your cord as a keepsake of your vows.

What Should You Say During a Hand-fasting?

It’s a very good and unique idea to introduce the hand-fasting ritual, explain the meaning behind it, and why you’ve chosen it for your wedding. This can easily be done by your celebrant or either any of the rituals. There are lots of hand-fasting vows online and to be very honest with you, some of them are very cheesy. You will be more comfortable when performing in on your own rather than writing or learning about it sitting at your house.

You celebrants must have gone through the handfasting rituals and may have experienced them on their own. You should always have a look around and observe every single thing before starting the handfasting ceremony on your own. The couples say a few lines to each other as the ritual defines, and if they have any other bounding cord so the vows can be changed. You can also freely leave your vows until the big ceremony ends. In Handfasting, you should always be gentle with everyone and practice on your cords to get good vows.

a couple after marriage

What Does Hand-fasting Symbolise?

Hand-fasting ceremonies are being done from back over 2000 years. An ancient Celtic tradition is always attended like a betrothal in the handfasting ceremony. During it, a priest would declare that the couple is now finally married and are bound together. This engagement would last and take at least a whole year, which is like a trial marriage. After it, you should decide to do an opt-in and opt-out, this ritual has been done over the years in lieu of the presence of a priest.

Today, Celtic hand-fasting rituals are particularly common among couples from overseas getting married in Ireland and Scotland. But more and more Irish and British couples are featuring them in their own ceremonies too to symbolize the binding together of their separate lives and the commitment they’re making together.

Examples about Handfasting

As you know, handfasting is celebrated all over the world especially it is widely celebrated by Christians. Here are some examples about handfasting and its rituals:

What you will need:

  • A cloth or ribbon suitable for hand-fasting
  • Family member or guest to complete the tying of the knot

Example 1

There is an ancient Celtic tradition of binding a couple in marriage by hand-fasting – literally, tying their hands together with cord or ribbon as a symbol that they are bound together not just for a lifetime, but for eternity.

[Party 1] and [Party 2] have decided to include hand-fasting in their wedding ceremony to emphasize their eternal bond and reinforce the feeling that they never wish to be parted from one another.

In Scotland until the 1700s, the handfasting was done only by a couple tieing a cloth around their hands and that’s it. But nowadays, all of the things are completely authentic and are performed perfectly. The couples would be bound in a piece of long cloth and will attend all the rituals tieing all around the piece of cloth defining that the two of them live in one. It is from this practice that the expression “tying the knot” probably comes from. [Party 1] and [Party 2 have chosen this day to engage in a traditional handfasting ceremony.

Could [name] please come forward to complete the tying of [Party 1] and Party 2]’s hands.

With this material I bind [Party 1] and [Party 2] to the vows they make to each other.

The binding is not formed by this knot but eventually is it by your vows. You should hold in your hand and your heart and pray for the couple who had been happily married and will live together forever after. Just as your hands are now bound together, so too are your lives. May you be forever one, sharing in all things, in love and loyalty for all time to come. May your marriage be blessed with patience and dedication, forgiveness and respect, love, and understanding.

Example 2

[Party 1] Please Take [Party 2] Left Hand In Your Left Hand.

May this knot remain tied for as long as love shall last. May the vows you have spoken never grow bitter in your mouths. Hold tight to one another through good times and bad and watch as your strength grows. In the joining of hands and the fashion of a knot, so are your lives now bound, one to another.

Example 3

Ladies and Gentlemen, at this stage we are going to perform an old Celtic tradition called handfasting. In the past, tradition said that while couples were waiting on an official to arrive who could bless their wedding, a local dignitary would perform a hand blessing ceremony on the couple, this meant that they were legally married for a year and a day, giving them a chance to have their Marriage officially blessed.

[Party 1] and [Party 2] have chosen to incorporate this ancient Celtic ritual into their wedding ceremony today.

Could [name] please come forward to complete the tying of [Party 1] and Party 2]’s hands.

Blessing of the hands

These are the hands of your best friend, young and strong and full of love for you, that are holding yours on your wedding day, as you promise to love each other today, tomorrow, and forever.

These are the hands that will work alongside yours, as together you build your future.

These are the hands that will passionately love you and cherish you through the years, and with the slightest touch, will comfort you like no other.

These are the hands that will hold you when fear or grief fills your mind.

These are the hands that will wipe the tears from your eyes; tears of sorrow, and tears of joy.

These are the hands that will tenderly hold your children.

These are the hand that will help you to hold your family as one.

These are the hands that will give you strength when you need it.

These are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch.

As your hands are bound together now, so your lives and spirits are joined in a union of love and trust. The bond of marriage is not formed by these cords, but rather by the vows you have made.

What Happened at Medieval and Tudor England?

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) forbade clandestine marriage and required marriages were allowed to be publicly celebrated and attended in churches by priests. In the sixteenth century, the Council of Trent legislated more specific requirements, such as the presence of a priest and two witnesses, as well as promulgation of the marriage announcement thirty days prior to the ceremony. These laws did not extend to the regions affected by the Protestant Reformation. In England, clergy performed many clandestine marriages, such as so-called Fleet Marriage, which were held legally valid, and in Scotland, unsolemnized common-law marriage was still valid.

From about the 12th to the 17th century, “handfasting” in England was simply a term for “engagement to be married”, or a ceremony held on the occasion of such a contract, usually about a month prior to a church wedding, at which the marrying couple formally declared that each accepted the other as spouse. Handfasting was legally binding: as soon as the couple made their vows to each other they were validly married. It was not a temporary arrangement. Just as with church weddings of the period, the union that handfasting created could only be dissolved by death. English legal authorities held that even if not followed by intercourse, handfasting was as binding as any vow taken in church before a priest.

During handfasting, the man and woman, in turn, would take the other by the right hand and declare aloud that they there and then accepted each other as husband and wife. The words might vary but traditionally consisted of a simple formula such as “I (Name) take thee (Name) to my wedded husband/wife, till death we depart, and thereto I plight thee my troth”. Because of this, handfasting was also known in England as “troth-plight”. Gifts were often exchanged, especially rings, a gold coin broken in half between the couple was also common. Other tokens recorded include gloves, a crimson ribbon tied in a knot, and even a silver toothpick. Handfasting might take place anywhere, indoors or out. It was frequently in the home of the bride, but according to records handfastings also took place in taverns, in an orchard, and even on horseback. The presence of a credible witness or witnesses was usual.

Despite the validity of handfasting, it was expected to be solemnized by a church wedding fairly soon afterward. Penalties might follow for those who did not comply. Ideally, the couple was also supposed to refrain from intercourse until then. Complaints by preachers suggest that they often did not wait, but at least until the early 1600s the common attitude to this kind of anticipatory behavior seems to have been lenient.

Handfasting remained an acceptable way of marrying in England throughout the Middle Ages but declined in the early modern period. In some circumstances handfasting was open to abuse, with persons who had undergone “troth-plight” occasionally refusing to proceed to a church wedding, creating ambiguity about their former betrothed’s marital status. Shakespeare negotiated and witnessed a handfasting in 1604, and was called as a witness in the suit Bellott v Mountjoy about the dowry in 1612. Historians speculate that his own marriage to Anne Hathaway was so conducted when he was a young man in 1582, as the practice still had credence in Warwickshire at the time.

Early modern Scotland

In February 1539 Marie Pieris, a French lady-in-waiting to Mary of Guise, the consort of James V of Scotland, was married by handfasting to Lord Seton at Falkland Palace. This ceremony was recorded in the royal accounts for the payment to an apothecary for his work on the day of “Lord Seytounis handfasting”

The Scottish Hebrides, particularly in the Isle of Skye, show some records of a 'Handfast" or “left-handed” marriage taking in the late 1600s, when the Gaelic scholar Martin noted, "It was an ancient custom in the Isles that a man takes a maid as his wife and keep her for the space of a year without marrying her; and if she pleased him all the while, he married her at the end of the year and legitimatized her children; but if he did not love her, he returned her to her parents.

The most disastrous war fought between the MacLeods and MacDonalds of Skye, culminating in the Battle of Coire Na Creche, “when Donald Gorm Mor handfasted with Margaret MacLeod, a sister of Rory Mor of Dunvegan, expelled his mistress so ignominiously from Duntulm. It is, indeed, not improbable that it was as a result of this war that Lord Ochiltree’s Committee, that formed the Statutes of Iona in 1609 and the Regulations for the Chiefs in 1616, was induced to insert a clause in the Statutes of Iona by which ‘marriages contracted for several years’ were prohibited, and any who might disregard this regulation were to be ‘punished as fornicators’”

By the 18th century, the Kirk of Scotland no longer recognized marriages formed by mutual consent and subsequent sexual intercourse, even though the Scottish civil authorities did. To minimize any resulting legal actions, the ceremony was to be performed in public. This situation persisted until 1939 when Scottish marriage laws were reformed by the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1939, and handfasting was no longer recognized.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

:pen: Is handfasting a legal marriage?

No, Handfasting can absolutely be part of legal marriage as it is only a specific ritual on which couples are told that they are bonded together. It has been led among thousands of years from the description of the ancient rituals from early times.

:pen: How long does handfasting last?

The handfasting ceremony is performed and directed by the couple, it is totally up to them whether if they want to end the ceremony in a short time period or they want to make it last longer. It is totally up to the couple’s choice.

:pen: Is handfasting Irish or Scottish?

In Scotland, Handfasting was a Celtic tradition that was probably considered the bounding period of a couple and making the two of them in one. The Scottish law declared that the handfasting will be performed and adults will be chosen as witnesses for the couple

:pen: What is a handfasting ceremony?

Handfasting is an ancient Celtic ritual in which the hands of the couple are tied together to symbolize the bunding of two lives that are going to live together ever after.

:pen: What to say during handfasting?

Brides or Grooms says, “We do.” These are the hands that are going to love you and cherish you through the years.

:pen: How do you perform a hand tying ceremony?

  1. Blessing of the Hands
  2. First cord is draped across the couple’s hands
  3. Second cord is draped across the couple’s hands
  4. Third cord is draped across the couple’s hands
  5. Fourth cord is draped across the couple’s hands
  6. Sixth cord is draped across the couple’s hands

:pen: What is tying the knot ceremony?

Tieing the knot ceremony is the most common ceremony of the handfasting rituals. In this, a knot is tied around the hands of a couple. As a primary option, it is used after the exchanges of vows and rings

:pen: How do you end a handfasting?

The main thing to end the handfasting is to cut the knot or the rope which is tied around the hands. It can be done by burning the cord or either by cutting it. It is totally up to the choice of the couple.

:pen: Why does marriage have 3 knots?

The first two knots are tied by the groom herself. It is to assure the significance of the couple and to assure the good behavior and the well-being of the bride. The third and final knot is tied by the groom’s sister which signifies the commitment between the two families.

:pen: Why do we say to tie the knot?

The phrase “tie the knot” is among the traditions of the marriage ceremonies almost as old as time itself. This is also a part of the Celtic tradition which is being phrased since the handfasting ceremonies are around us with the traditions and in the marriages.

:pen: What is an example of tying?

Take the example of one automaker that has bundled the tires that are sold with the manufactured automobile and a second automaker that has tied the purchase of a car to the requirement of buying a specific brand of the toolbox.

:pen: Why is it called getting hitched?

From there it came to be used to describe tying horses up to a wagon, and then in the US, it came to be used to describe getting married as if two people were being tied together with the way that horses are tied to a wagon.

Conclusion :closed_lock_with_key:

Handfasting is the ritual of a wedding this defines the bounding or the marriage of a couple. It is an ancient
tradition that has been around us for thousands of years. Hand-fasting is a symbolic unity ritual that is among the mutuality of the couple, in which a couple standing face to face as their hands are tied together, hence the phrase, tying the knot. The ceremony of Handfasting involves a couple’s hands being placed together and bound with ribbon or cord. A handfasting cord is a ribbon or a long piece of fabric that is used to tie the hands of the couples together who are getting married.

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