Handfasting Wedding Ceremony Guide

All You Need to Know About A Handfasting Ceremony

So, you want to tie the knot and a wedding is on the cards. With so many types of ceremonies to choose from, the choices and decisions can be endless.

Couples who are looking at having a ceremony that is different from the more traditional type of ceremonies often opt for a Handfasting Ceremony.

This name may sound a little strange, but a Handfasting ceremony can add both difference and symbolic meaning to your ceremony.

What exactly is a handfasting ceremony? Simply put, a handfasting ceremony is the part of the wedding where a couple will wrap cords, cloth, or ribbons binding their clasped hands together while either the couple or the officiant will tie the knot to symbolize the binding of the couples union.

In this article, we will tell you all you need to know about how a handfasting ceremony works, what each cord symbolizes, and what you would need to perform this type of ceremony.

The Handfasting Ceremony

A Handfasting ceremony is an ancient matrimonial tradition that has become very popular amongst brides and grooms in recent years.

It can also be referred to as a hand tying ceremony or binding ceremony, but in essence, they all have the same meaning.

Here is some helpful information to look at if you are considering a Handfasting ceremony:

  • A Handfasting ceremony is an amazing way in which to add extra meaning to your wedding ceremony when you are exchanging vows and rings.
  • Rituals differ and can be made to fit the couple’s personal preference. Some other rituals can include lighting candles and layering colors of sand but Handfasting is the most popular ritual amongst couples today.
  • You can incorporate Handfasting into a traditional wedding ceremony and still include the legal vows and ring exchange.
  • Although a Handfasting Ceremonies traditionally takes place at a wedding ceremony it can also be performed at any other time and does not matter if the couple is married or not.
  • Handfasting can also be done by couples who do not want to be formally married but would like to make vows to promise their commitment to each other.
  • The couple uses a Handfasting ceremony to make meaningful pledges and vows to each other when they follow this ancient tradition.
  • A Handfasting ceremony can also be done at a later date after the wedding with just your family and friends to celebrate your marriage.
  • A Handfasting ceremony symbolizes the couple being bound together and allows them to demonstrate their commitment to one another.

The video above is an example of a handfasting wedding ceremony.

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The History Behind The Handfasting Ceremony

Dating back to as far as the year 7000 B.C the handfasting ceremony is an ancient Celtic tradition that started in Ireland when two people chose to be married.

While still engaged to be married the pair were brought together and a braided cord was tied around their hands. This happened in the presence of a priest.

This act formed part of the pair’s engagement and ran for the length of about a year. You could think of it as a kind of a contract that was made with your beloved to say that you were going to marry them.

The Scottish referred to it as a term that meant “striking a bargain by joining hands” and was considered a Celtic tradition.

In Pagan celebrations, handfasting was when a couple would wear the ribbon for a year and then decide if they would like to stay married.

It was looked at as a trial marriage and if the couple wanted to separate, they were able to do so and walk away without the legal documentation that would be required to divorce if traditionally married.

What A Handfasting Ceremony Represents

A handfasting ceremony represents the binding together of two people who love each other.

This ritual has been used for thousands of years in Scottish history and would traditionally take place one year before the wedding and then again on the wedding day.

The Handfasting ceremony would represent the couple’s intent to marry and emphasize their commitment to each other.

Thereafter when the couple decided to get officially married another form of handfasting would be used at the wedding ceremony as a more permanent and binding ritual.

This ritual would take place at a church and be considered to be legal.

The term handfasting is derived from the custom of tying the bride’s and groom’s hands together during the ceremony.

In some cases, the cord could not be untied until after the marriage had been consummated!

At the end of this ceremony, the cords would be tied into a knot. This gives you more of an understanding as to why some people often refer to getting married as “Tying the knot”.

It is believed that even Shakespeare was married in a handfasting ceremony!

“And your will shall decide your destiny. I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions. I ask you to pass through life at my side — to be my second self and best earthly companion.” – Mr. Rochester, “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë

Handfasting Ceremonies in The Modern Era

Although Handfasting ceremonies originate from the Pagan tradition, it does not mean that a couple needs to be practicing Pagan for them to have a Handfasting ceremony.

These ceremonies have become extremely popular over the years and are a great way to add a bit of a difference to the ceremony.

Handfasting ceremonies are not religious ceremonies and are perfect for those couples who would like to partake in a more spiritual and not religious ceremony. 

Before the Marriage Equality Act was passed in 2015 many couples used handfasting ceremonies when legal marriage was not an option for them to join themselves together in ritual.

Non-Denominational Officiants learned how to perform Handfasting ceremonies to accommodate couples from all walks of life.

These couples could also partake in a commitment ceremony and incorporate handfasting as an additional part of the ceremony.

As the years passed so handfasting ceremonies changed and are now also used for wedding betrothals, renewal of vows, and to celebrate special wedding anniversaries.

There are, however, core elements of the Handfasting ceremony that are steadfast and cannot be changed such as how the ribbon or cord is tied during the ceremony.

These elements are rooted in the legal aspect of the tradition and need to be adhered to.

We live in an increasingly diverse society and weddings no longer need to be traditional if the bride and groom choose for them not to be.

The tradition of Handfasting can make your wedding day more memorable by replicating the tradition and rituals that were used in ancient Pagan tradition.

“Upon this day, our hands we bind, A symbol of our hearts entwined. To witness this, we ask of thee, our union forever blessed be.” – Author Unknown

Can a Traditional Handfasting Ceremony Be Performed By Anyone?

This all depends. If the couple has decided that handfasting is going to form the basis of the entire ceremony and be connected to all the aspects of the wedding, then a highly trained celebrant will be needed to perform the complex handfasting ceremony.

In these cases, the handfasting is the actual wedding ceremony and is not just done to add an extra touch to the wedding.

The cords need to be tied in specific ways and the celebrant will guide the couple through the binding process and incorporate pledges that the couple makes to one another.

When a couple chooses to have a celebrant lead their wedding instead of a traditional church or civil ceremony the celebrant will normally lead the way but also allow family and friends to get involved in the wedding ceremony.

The bride and groom can invite special friends or family members to help wind the Handfasting cord as the celebrant recites the couple’s vows.

Many couples leave the vows up to the celebrant but in some cases, the couple chooses the vows that they want to be said. This is all up to the couple and the celebrant that is going to be performing the Handfastings ceremony.

How Is A Handfasting Ceremony Performed?

Every couple is different and will want a certain type of ceremony depending a lot on their cultural traditions, but generally, a Handfasting wedding involves the joining and binding of hands while the celebrant says the vows at the same time that the Handfasting cords are tied around the hands of the couple.

More often than not a couple will cross their hands and bind both hands, but some couples opt to bind their right hands only.

The cords are usually wrapped around the hands at least three times and then tied with a certain kind of knot that the bridal couple has chosen.

Thereafter a declaration of the couples union is done by the officiant.

In modern ceremonies, the couple usually decides to remove the cord at the end of the ceremony and try to slip the cord off without undoing any of the knots.

Here is a step-by-step guide on the way that a Handfasting ceremony is traditionally performed:

  • The officiant starts the ceremony by explaining the purpose of the ritual and what it means.
  • The couple will then join hands either by placing their hands into each other, stacking them, or intertwining them.
  • The officiant will then read the vows as they wrap the cords around the couple’s hands.
  • Once this has been done the officiant will go on to explain more about the symbolism of the binding.
  • The couple is then able to exchange additional vows while bound together should they wish to.
  • The ceremony is led by the officiant, but family members or friends can take part in the binding if chosen to do so by the couple.

An interesting fact is that in medieval times couples would often have to be bound together for the entire duration of the wedding!

Luckily in modern times, that is not the case unless you decide to do so!

When During The Event Is The Handfasting Ceremony Performed?

The Handfasting ceremony is commonly performed just before the ring exchange but it can, in essence, be performed at any time during the ceremony depending on the couple’s personal preferences.

The nice thing about a Handfasting ceremony being conducted just before the ring exchange is that the vows can be said while the bride and groom’s hands are tied together, and the ceremony can be concluded by the exchanging of rings.

Another thing to note is that a Handfasting ceremony does not only have to be limited to your wedding day and can be done when the couple gets engaged, celebrate anniversaries, or renew their vows.

What is Needed for a Handfasting Ceremony?

When it comes to a handfasting ceremony you will need either cords or ribbons which will be used to tie the couple’s hands together.

The colors can be coordinated into your wedding color scheme or specially chosen according to their different meanings.

Traditionally the handfasting cords need to be about nine feet in length and each end of the cord needs to be knotted with thread to prevent it from fraying.

Cord Colors and What They Mean

In most cases, the braiding is done by the couple in private a few days before the ceremony is due to be performed.

In traditional Pagan weddings while braiding the cords the bride and groom to be would speak aloud about their desires for their upcoming marriage.

This time could even be used as a form of meditation or prayer.

If family or friends were invited to join in on the braiding, then each person would announce out loud their best wishes for the couple.

“Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.” – Simone Signoret

The different cord colors do not necessarily need to mean anything to you specifically, although there are symbolic meanings that have been used throughout time for each color.

This does not mean that you need to choose the color of your cord according to its meaning. If your favorite color is blue, then go for blue!

Here are the different cord colors and what each one signifies:

White                  Purity, Devotion, and Peace

Red                       Passion and Love

Dark Blue           Strength and Longevity

Light Blue           Health and Patience

Gray                     Balance

Black                    Wisdom and Empowerment

Green                  Fertility and Luck

Yellow                 Charm and Harmony

Orange                Plentiful and Kindness

Purple                 Progress and Power

Pink                      Romance and Happiness

Gold                     Unity and Longevity

Silver                   Protection and Inspiration

Brown                 Earth and Home

In handfasting ceremonies, three cords are traditionally used. Each one has a different color and meaning.

Because all the cords have a powerful and symbolic meaning a bride can choose three of her favorite colors irrelevant to their meaning as all of the meanings would be symbolic.

Therefore if the bride’s three favorite colors are white blue and silver then each cord is going to be symbolic in its special way even if you are only choosing the colors to incorporate them into your décor.

This is unless of course you purposefully want to choose the color of your cords according to their symbolic meanings.

Learn more about handfasting

The Different Ways to Wrap The Cord

There are many ways in which to wrap the cord around the couple’s hands during a handfasting ceremony. None are wrong and each couple will choose their knot according to their preference.

Once the knot tying has been done the couple’s family and friends will usually clap and applaud. It can be a magical and memorable experience for the bride and groom and a fun way in which to unify them in marriage.

Here are some of the most common knots to choose from once you have decided on a Handfasting ceremony:

# 1 “The Wrap” Handfasting Knot

The couple remains seated with their hands clasped. The bride will have her hands on top of the groom. The Handfasting cord will be then be wrapped around their hands without tying a knot.

The cord is wrapped around the couple’s hands until it has been fully used up with no parts dangling.

# 2 The “Loose” Handfasting Knot

In this Handfasting ceremony, the couple uses both of their left hands or one person uses the right hand and the other the left hand.

This option of the right and left hand allows the couple to turn and face their family and friends as well as walk together through the crowd while their hands are still tied.

# 3 The Fun “Wrap, Release and Pull” Handfasting Knot

This is a more fun way in which to perform the Handfasting ceremony.

The couple forms a handfasting knot themselves by releasing their hands from the wrap while at the same time holding the opposite ends of the cord. The couple then pulls on the handfasting cord.

# 4 “The Drape” Handfasting Knot to Add Glamor and Romance

This knot uses the right hands of the couple while facing each other. It is not a knot but more of an entwinement that travels up the arms.

The couple can hold each other’s wrists or gently touch palm to palm.

# 5 “The Gift” Handfasting Knot Symbolizing the Couples Gift of Vows to Each Other

This knot looks very similar to the knot that would be used when tying a ribbon on a gift. In this Handfasting ceremony, the couple will face each other and put out both of their hands with their palms facing each other.

The officiant or celebrant will drape the Handfasting cord alternately around the couple’s stacked hands and will then wrap and knot the hands at the top.

# 6 The Romantic “Infinity Knot” Handfasting Knot

This knot symbolizes no beginning and no end and is the symbol of eternal love. It is often used as a symbolic way to emphasize the union of the bride and groom at the wedding ceremony.

Watch to find out more about how to do an infinity knot for your handfasting ceremony.

# 7 TheTrending “Side by Side” Handfasting Knot

This is one of the most trending handfasting knots. The couple holds hands and has two hands tied together at the wrists while standing side by side.

This helps the couple to remain mobile and walk past family and friends while the knot is still in place. Meaningful, symbolic, and comfortable!

If the couple wants their marriage to be legalized, then they still need to follow the proper steps and procedures to ensure that their marriage is recognized by the government. State laws vary and the couple needs to find out what they need to do in their state by checking their local laws.

Generally, the wedding has to be carried out by an ordained or legalized officiant and the proper paperwork needs to be filled out before the actual ceremony.

Once this has been done then the handfasting ceremony can be incorporated into any wedding and whether or not the couple chooses to do a Handfasting bears no impact on the legality of their marriage.

Is it For You? Handfasting Ceremonies In A Nutshell

Is a Handfasting Ceremony for you? This is all up for debate and while many couples prefer to have a more traditional wedding many couples feel that incorporating a Handfasting ceremony into their wedding day can be an extraordinary and unique experience.

Handfasting ceremonies can be carried out in a variety of ways and mixed with either a religious or traditional ceremony. There is no right or wrong way of incorporating a Handfasting ceremony into your nuptials.

If you as a couple want to take something historical and traditional and put your spin on it then a Handfasting ceremony is one to consider using for your special day!