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 ancient ritual that embodies the qualities of a loving relationship: commitment, coming together and trust.

In its simplest form, two hands are bound together using cords or ribbons. The moment can be embellished and expanded upon in an infinite number of ways to suit your needs. Simple yet symbolic: a Handfasting can be at once deeply personal and universal in meaning.

A New/Old 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 (the intention to wed) with the actual marriage occurring about a year later. Since the advent of neo-paganism in the 1950’s, Handfasting has become a popular alternative to the traditional wedding ceremony, particularly amongst Pagans and those with Celtic (Scottish, Welsh, Irish) heritage.

More recently the ritual has been embraced by Celebrants of all kinds, who now offer it as part of their unique ceremonies as a visual affirmation of the act of being wed.

Some couples still honour the old intention and their engagement by choosing to Handfast for a “year and a day” then legalising their marriage at the end of this period.

 

 

Tying The Knot

A Handfasting cord (or cord) is traditionally looped over the hands and/or wrists of a couple; the binding symbolising their intention to live a life entwined. Then a knot is tied in the ends as a clear indication of their commitment; they quite literally ‘tie the knot’.

Some speak vows whilst their hands are being bound. Others receive blessings or words of wisdom from family and friends. Still others will choose to have a poignant reading spoken or play music during their handfasting. Some even perform the ritual in silence.

Handfasting can be the heart of a wedding ceremony, replacing all other traditions and embodying everything the folks involved wish to say. For others it is one ritual among many; a powerful act that lingers in the memory long after the day is over.

A Beautiful Thing

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

Numerous online sellers now offer handmade Handfasting cords. The colours, materials and charms used can often be personalised; either to match your colour scheme or to embody specific qualities and meanings.

The number of Handfasting cords used is not fixed either. Some choose a single cord but others will have more; each one embodying a particular promise, quality or even the blessing or loved one. A bundle of different cords wrapped around a pair of hands is a truly beautiful thing; expressing the abundance of love held in that moment!

Asking your friends or family members to make Handfasting cords for you can be a wonderful way of including them. The cord will be filled with their 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; how marking promises with action has been a part of being human since prehistory.

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, having entrusted their hands and hearts to one another’s safe keeping.

Most importantly is the tangible sensation. The tightening of the cord around your joined hands is visceral confirmation of the promises and vows you have made to one another. One that you will remember in your body as well as your mind for years to come.

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

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