Handfasting ceremonies were originally Pagan Celtic betrothal ceremonies. As an alternative Celebrant, I perform various handfasting ceremonies, for all kinds of couples regardless of any belief they may or may not have. Handfasting is popular with Pagan couples still, but many other couples who aren’t Pagans are incorporating this betrothal tradition within their wedding ceremonies.
I write and perform individual handfasting ceremonies, and these can be stand alone ceremonies, or can be incorporated into an engagement, wedding, naming or renewal of vows ceremony. Handfasting can be performed in any location, but most couples prefer them to be performed outdoors
Children, families and friends can be apart of the ceremony and each wrap a different coloured ribbon around the arms of the couple. Family handfasting ceremonies with friendships bracelets are also available, and are an ideal way to include parents, families and children.
Braided long length cords, or individual elemental coloured ribbons are available for more traditional ceremonies, and cords can be blessed or energised if required. Handfasting cords are available in all colours, and in various materials with attached charms or beads.
Unity ceremonies such as a mead or wine ceremony, unity candle ceremony or a jumping of the broom ceremony can also be included in a handfasting ceremony. These additional elements are ideal if you want to include guests in your special day.
Handfasting ceremonies information
What is handfasting?
Handfasting ceremonies are possibly the oldest documented recognised wedding custom. It is associated with Pagan, Neopaganism Viking/Norse, Wiccan, folklore, Celtic, Judaic and Hindu weddings.
In many years of studying and specialising in various kinds of handfasting, the exact origins of its true history haven’t been found. Many claim it comes from certain religions, many claim it comes from certain parts of the world. What is important to know for those seeking a handfasting ceremony is it is a symbolic and memorable aspect of any ceremony, and it is what you want it to be.
Agreement or love?
There is so much information about how handfasting should be done. References to a ‘lovers’ a ‘unity’ and an ‘infinity knot’ can be found online from many different sources. These knots associated with love are according to personal research a fairly new concept. Handfasting was believed to be a betrothal binding agreed upon by elders, and chieftains. If this is factual, handfasting had nothing to do with love; it was an agreement of a good union between the offspring of agreeing families.
Handfasting as a ritual is said to get its name from the Old Norse word ‘handfestr’ meaning to strike up a bargain; to bind. Spelling variations of the word differ with ‘handfesta’ also being used. Handfasting and its association with love is a fairly new conception, one which is accredited to have developed in the late Middle Ages when it was adopted by Christians.
Was it an early engagement ritual?
When Handfasting became more mainstream for Christians as well as Pagans it was a pre-wedding ritual. There are once again various sources online and in books suggesting handfasting was an engagement period before a marriage took place. Engagement and wedding rings were very expensive items and not affordable to the average person.
Strips of clothing were believed by some to be used to bind a couple’s hands together signifying to others in a village or a community that the two people involved were betrothed to each other.
Various sources state the couple were together for a year and a day before they married to decide if they were right for each other. If they were they would marry, if not the knots tied were undone and they would go their own ways.
Why is handfasting popular for Pagans?
For Pagans of many beliefs, handfasting is a significant and important ceremony. Many choose to engage vows, promises and declarations of intentions as the ribbons or cords are placed. The symbolism of being bound together through choice in the presence of the four elements (earth, wind, fire and water) and the cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) is of high relevance. Pagans have a belief that only lack of love can break the binding between a handfasted couple; death even can not.
It is a spiritual and meaningful ceremony. Gifts are given to the couple and ceremonies are held outdoors during selected times of the year. For Pagans handfasting is the ultimate declaration of love between two people.
Can non Pagans have a handfasting?
Yes. While it is popular for Pagan couples, many non-Pagan couples can and do have handfasting ceremonies. Focus is given to the colours chosen for the handfasting rather than the Pagan reasons designated for the colours in Pagan ceremonies.
Indoors or outdoors?
Handfasting ceremonies can be performed indoors or outdoors. Pagan couples prefer outdoors as do those who have a festival or fantasy themed ceremony. Woodlands and beaches are the most popular outdoor chosen locations.
Handfasting ceremonies and celebrants
In recent years handfasting has become more popularised with the introduction and increase of wedding celebrants. Those seeking a handfasting ceremony over ten years ago were limited by their choices of people to perform them. Pagans performed them for each other with those belonging to temples, groups, gatherings, covens and circles requesting ceremonies to be led by elders, Priests or Priestesses. Those who practised alone or those without a specifically Pagan belief had limited options if they required a handfasting ceremony.
The introduction of wedding celebrants in recent years could be seen to be linked to the significant increase in the supply and demand for handfasting ceremonies. As an alternative celebrant I specialise in handfasting ceremonies for all who desire to have one regardless of a belief or spiritual practise. I have spent many years researching the history and the practise of handfasting ceremonies. Since becoming a celebrant I have written and performed a large number of handfasting ceremonies for couples and people, and each one has been tailor made to their individual requirements.
Each celebrant performs handfasting ceremonies in their own way. I perform Norse/Viking, Pagan, spiritual, fun, quirky but always personalised handfasting ceremonies. No two ceremonies are the same because no two couples are the same.
Popular culture and the increase of handfasting ceremonies
With the increase in numbers seeking celebrants to perform handfasting ceremonies, many couples have been influenced by TV, film and media shown handfasting. Game of Thrones and Vikings both featured variants of handfasting ceremonies as have various programmes about weddings. A form of handfasting was also featured in the film Braveheart.
What is used?
Religious, spiritual or colour themed handfasting is the binding together of the hands of the couple or the people the ceremony is for. Different chosen colours of cords and ribbons are the most popular materials chosen and these are placed singularly or have been braided are placed around the wrists and tied in a knot around, over or under joined hands. Materials used are personal choices of those involved and some choose to use family clothing from loved ones no longer with them.
Family members, children or friends can be involved in a handfasting by placing the ribbons if required.
Many couples make and decorate their own handfasting cords. It is a symbolic occasion and some do it during specially chosen times on relevant dates. Other couples request the cords are made for them used specific colours, some buy them online from sellers or from shops in visited places.
Charms and important trinkets and small photographs can be added to handfasting cords. Pictures of family members, pets, tokens of remembrance of important places, the initials of the couple or jewellery are often used.
Is it for you?
Handfasting is a meaningful, memorable and visual ceremony element. It can be fun and quirky just as much as it is serious and traditional; a handfasting ceremony can be whatever you want it to be regardless of any beliefs or not.