Wedding Celebrant Keli Tomlin's hands are seen performing an outdoor handfasting; she binds the couple's joined hands with a hessian strip that has green leaves sewn into it.

What is a Handfasting Ceremony?

Handfasting is an old ritual that embodies what lies at the heart of any modern day wedding ceremony: commitment, coming together and trust.

In its simplest form, hands are bound to symbolise a promise has been made between the participants. The process can be embellished and expanded upon in an infinite number of ways to make that the act as unique as the promise and the people involved.

Some speak vows whilst their hands are being bound, others receive blessings or words of wisdom from family and friends. Still others choose to have a poignant reading spoken over the top or choose to perform the ritual in silence, while music plays.

For some the Handfasting is the entirety of the wedding ceremony, replacing all other traditions and embodying everything they need. For others it is one ritual among many; a powerful one that lingers in the memory long after the day is over.

 

the hands of a couple are bound together with many coloured cords and ribbons, in a Handfasting. In the foreground a drum is visible in the hands of Celebrant Keli Tomlin
© Matt Thompson Photography

An Old/New Tradition

The roots of Handfasting lie in the murky waters of ancient Celtic tradition. It is commonly thought to have been a promise of betrothal, or the intention to wed, with the actual marriage occurring about a year later. Since the advent of neo-paganism in the 1950’s, Handfasting became a popular alternative to the traditional wedding ceremony, particularly amongst neo-pagans and those with Celtic heritage. In more recent history, the ritual has been embraced by Celebrants of all kinds, who offer it as a visual affirmation of the act of being wed.

This history of being a promise of something to come is occasionally still honoured today, with couples choosing to Handfast for a “year and a day” before legalising their marriage at the end of that time, should they still wish to. Handfasting is more commonly used to express the act of marriage itself, as part of a larger (often relatively typical) wedding ceremony.

The binding of hands symbolises the intention to live a life entwined with another’s and “tying the knot” at the end is a clear indication of the long-term commitment being made.

 

a handfasting cord made from gold, white and green cords lies curcled on a patch of moss. Semi-precious stones and silver ivy pendants are attached to each end.
© Keli Tomlin

A Beautiful Thing

There are many ‘traditional’ ways of conducting a Handfasting, each with its own tools and format. Most come from Scottish historical culture and yet others have been created to reflect the beliefs and forms of various neo-pagan traditions. Gladly, its resurgence into popular culture has allowed the basic idea to be taken up and explored to its fullest, by individual Celebrants and their clients.

Numerous sellers online now offer handmade Handfasting cords; the colours, materials and charms of which can often be personalised, either to match your colour scheme or to embody specific qualities and meanings you might apply to them.

 

a couples hands are bound together with rainbow coloured handfasting cords. The Celebrant, Keli Tomlin, holds these joined hands between her own.
© Phillip Parnell

The number of Handfasting cords used is not fixed either. Some choose to have a single cord but others will have more; each one embodying a particular promise, quality or even the blessing of an outside force (such as the Four Elements) or friend/family member. A bundle of different cords wrapped around a pair of hands is a truly beautiful thing; expressing the abundance of love held in the moment!

Asking your friends or family members to make the Handfasting cords for you can be a wonderful way of including them and knowing that the tool you are using will be filled with loving thoughts and positive energy. Similarly you might choose to make your own Handfasting cord and fill it with specific intentions and dreams for your future together.

The Greatest Gift

There is something deeply moving about a Handfasting ceremony. It calls to the ancient part inside of us that understands the importance of ritual and how marking promises with action has been a part of being human since prehistory.

 

a bride and groom stand with their hands bound together by many different handfasting cords. The Celebrant Keli Tomlin stands with her hands on top of theirs in blessing
© Chris Seddon Photography

It goes beyond language, bringing a clarity of understanding that even the most well-crafted words cannot match. It declares that those involved are now bound together, joined in a way that is more than just paperwork; they have literally “tied the knot!”

But most importantly it is a tangible sensation; something that you feel and remember in your body as well as your memory. The tightening of the cord around your joined hands is visceral confirmation of the promises and vows you have made to one another.

That sensation, and all the certainty and promise it holds, are the ultimate wedding gift (for you and your guests) that will stay with you for years to come.

 

 

Have you considered having a Handfasting? Would you use one cord or more? Who would perform the binding?

Let me know and lets make it happen!

 

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