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What is a Handfasting

Jul 8, 2021 | Weddings | 0 comments

Handfasting is a Unity Ritual which has become more popular in recent times, particularly after being portrayed on popular tv series such as ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Outlander’.

The handfasting ceremony can be traced back to ancient Celtic tradition, and some scholars say it dates as far back as 7000BC

In ancient Celtic society, when two people chose to marry they may have to wait some time before a priest or official could visit the village. Therefore the couple would be brought together by the elders, and have a braided cord or ribbon tied around their hands to acknowledge the pair’s engagement, and this provided a signal to potential suitors that the woman was intended to her betrothed, and, off limits. Typically they may be bound for one year and one day to demonstrate their compatibility, but often they would be released at midnight on the same day, when they would then consummate the marriage.

Today, the ritual is incorporated into the wedding ceremony, but could also form part of an engagement ceremony if the couple so wish.

Braided cord and ribbons are still used today although some couples opt to choose a fabric or material which may have significant meaning to them, such as lace from a mother’s wedding dress. The cords come in many different colours to match the them of your wedding or perhaps colours that are special to the couple or have significant meaning such as red cords to signify Love, purple to signify Strength, pink for happiness, just to name a few.

Your Celebrant will be able to discuss the options with you.

The handfasting ceremony can be a stand-alone ceremony itself or incorporated into a wedding ceremony, and is often accompanied by a vow exchange and ring exchange, plus Celtic readings or traditional music to add to the experience.

As with many Unity Rituals families, friends or children can be involved in a Handfasting, and whilst the usual number of cords are three, I have conducted Handfastings with six cords, when parents of the couple, and significant friends have placed a cord on the arms of the couple.

Symbolically, a Handfasting can represent the binding of two lives, and also the joining together of two families with the production of a strong bond or knot. 

The resulting knot can be kept as a keepsake by the couple to remind them of their bond, and in some cases I have placed the knot in a display case to form a permanent reminder of their special day.

And, if you haven’t already guessed by now, this is where the saying ‘Tying the Knot’ comes from.

Contact your Celebrant to explore this magical and meaningful wedding ritual