The origin of ‘hand-fasting’ is believed to come from ancient, Celtic practice. A couple made their relationship official by holding hands in front of a witness or two. They were literally ‘making fast’ their love. This comes from the term used when you tied a boat to a dock. Marriage was traditionally reserved for the rich; a way to provide paperwork for inheritance rather than as a sign of eternal love.
Many of the original traditions of handfasting are still used today. These include the drinking of a toast by the couple, with their arms crossed over as they drink. I am pleased to say that the amount of time the couple have their hands tied is greatly reduced in modern handfastings. In ancient traditions this could be as long as a month! Most of my ceremonies only involve around 20 minutes of being tied together.
Including a nod to history in your handfasting ceremony
Some of my favourite ways to include some of what we know about handfasting tradition, in my ceremonies include:
- Include some Celtic references and symbolism.
- Using a mixture of ropes, ribbons and ivy to tie the knot.
- Read a passage to explain the history of handfasting during the ceremony and explain why you, as a couple, wanted to include it.
- End the ceremony with a special knot, such as the inifinity or reef knots, both of which were used in ancient ceremonies.
Other cultures also include tying the hands and the ceremony is significant to them
There is believed to be reference to a ceremony similar to handfasting, in Ancient Egypt. I have also heard that Druids, Inuit and Wiccan groups (among others) all have ceremonies that including the couple having their hands tied as a symbol of unity and commitment to each other.
There is no right or wrong way to carry out a handfasting, but you should be aware of the cultural implications of simply taking what appears to be ‘on trend’ and making it a ‘fun’ element of your wedding day. Cultural appropriation can start with things that seem unimportant, but if it isn’t your culture, you don’t get to decide. I encourage you to do some research and to respect the elements of culture, local folkelore and history that belong with the ceremony you choose.
Updating your handfasting for a modern, personal ceremony
There are several ways to tie your hands during a handfasting, and none of them is right or wrong, just different. Several Celebrants use the infinity knot (a figure of eight knot) to symbolise the never ending love that binds you. I have also used the reef knot, which comes from the nautical origin of the term. Once the couple are ready to remove the knots, they can slide their hands out of the ties without undoing it, and keep it as a reminder of their ceremony. However, when asking other people to help with the ties, it can be simpler to use less complicated knots and just to loop them. Whatever works to create a beautiful moment is good.
Use living ‘ropes’ as a way of connecting the ceremony to nature
You can also choose different fabrics, ropes and living trailing plants such as ivy, instead of, or along with, ribbons. Having several strands can be beautiful. using a mixture of materials to signify different parts of your lives together, or the people in it, I have performed a handfasting ceremony where fabrics were torn from clothes belonging to grandparents, parents and siblings of each of the couple and then braided to form plaited ribbons. Lace from the wedding gowns from the brides’ mothers on another occasion created a moving way to keep them in mind at the ceremony.
The words you use and the way you include them will make your handfasting special
The words you chose will make your handfasting unique. From the script your Celebrant will create for you, to the vows or promises you exchange during the ceremony (if you wish) it will be these words that help to create an authentic and modern version of this ancient ritual. You might draw inspiration from a favourite piece of music or even a shared hobby. I have helped couples create commitments to each other that covered everthing from sharing that last, favourtie biscuit to being there to make the toughest calls on life and death.
Handfasting works for everyone and is highly inclusive
I’ve lived with disability most of my life. I like how easily the handfasting can be adapted to accommodate someone’s personal needs. Even with limited movement, the alternatives can be easily found. A new ceremony style, unique to the couple is born. Often, those of us who live with a disability are told about the things we can’t have at our wedding. Creating a handfasting ceremony that can be truly inclusive is easily achieved,
If you’re thinking of a Handfasting ceremony, I’d love to talk to you about your plans. You can book a time straight into my diary by following this link . There’s no charge and no commitment to work together. I hope to hear from you soon.
From my heart to yours
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