What is a Handfasting Ceremony?

What is a handfasting ceremony and where did it originate?

Traditionally, handfasting ceremonies were Pagan betrothal ceremonies; performed as an intention to marry rather than an actual wedding ceremony.  Couples who wanted to marry took part in a ceremony declaring their intentions to the villagers or their community. Their hands were bound together using cloth, cord or material from each of them. For a year and a day, they would live together as husband and wife. After this time was over, they married, or if they decided they wasn’t suitable for each other, the knots made to tie their hands and wrists together during the ceremony were untied, and the couple went their separate ways.

Handfasting is the main part of a Pagan or Wiccan wedding ceremony. Usually performed by a priest or priestess in the evening, the ceremony binds a couple together in the presence of their guests, and invokes blessings from the four corners, or the four elements of the earth. North, south, east and west; earth, wind, fire and water. The couple usually include a broom jumping and wine or mead drinking ceremonies as part of their wedding too.

Non Pagan handfasting ceremony

Non Pagans are also choosing to have a handfasting ceremony as part of their wedding ceremonies too. They are ideal for involving children, parents, siblings or close friends to be a part of the ceremony rather than just watch as guests. Most couples I perform handfastings for usually choose the traditional elemental colours of white, blue, green or brown, red or orange for their colours bindings in the ceremony. Some also choose two other colours in representation of them as individuals.

There are different ways to have a handfasting ceremony. I usually switch between the ribbons way, and the plaited cords way. If the couple choose to include others into their ceremony, individual ribbons are placed around their hands by each person or the Celebrant/officiant.  This way can include up to seven different people, and is easy for children to be involved. Some couples decide the knot is to be tied by their child, some by the bride’s father.

Using the plaited ribbons involves one person, either the Celebrant/officiant or a chosen person to wrap them around the couple’s hands and tie three knots in the end, binding them as a couple. Ribbons, cords, lace or other material can be used. Once the knots have been tied and the couple bound, their hands are freed and the handfasting binding are kept as a reminder of their union and commitments to each other. Should the couple decide to separate, the knots traditionally are undone to symbolise the union has come undone.

Handfasting bindings can be made tying either two or four hands together. In olden times, handfasting ceremonies were legally binding ceremonies; except when performed left hand to left hand. This way of handfasting symbolised the woman was a mistress and not entitled to any of her bound husband’s estate; but any children from the union were recognised heirs to his estate.

Handfasting has become popular in all kinds of weddings regardless of beliefs. I perform a lot of handfasting ceremonies, some are Pagan themed, and some aren’t. As part of a handfasting ceremony, I provide the couple with a personalised commemorative parchment which can be signed by chosen witnesses during their ceremony. Cords, ribbons, wine and brooms can be blessed or moon energised if required, and ceremonies can be held outdoors or of an evening.

For more information on alternative weddings or handfasting ceremonies, please contact me.

Read more on: Viking themed handfasting ceremonies

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