When it comes to wedding rituals, just like a big sticky spoon of marmite, people seem to fall into one of two camps…. they either love them or hate them… and I definitely fall into the former category because I just LOVE them!
Human beings have been performing wedding rituals for centuries, and today you will find couples incorporating traditions such as; sand ceremonies, candle ceremonies, time capsule ceremonies, tree planting ceremonies and oathing stone ceremonies (amongst others) into their special day, and not only are these beautiful to watch, but in my experience, these rituals are often very symbolic and spiritual.
And for me, the most beautiful and meaningful of all wedding rituals is the Handfasting Ceremony.
The Handfasting, (or Hand-Tying) Ceremony is an ancient Celtic tradition, which can be traced back to the 16th Century, to a time when it was only the rich aristocracy and gentry who could afford big, elaborate wedding ceremonies. However, it was still deemed very important for a couple to publicly declare their intent and commitment, thereby proving themselves to be a couple within the community, and so in a simple but personal ceremony, they would have their hands bound together in a symbolic gesture of two becoming one. The term Handfasting comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Handfaestung’, which was the custom of shaking hands over a contract.
Handfastings were recognised by Scottish law right up until 1939.
Nowadays, there are two ways in which to include Handfasting as part of your Wedding Ceremony (this blog will focus on a mini-handfasting):
One of my gorgeous Handfasting Cloaks
A Mini Handfasting Ceremony: This is the most common type of Handfasting where a couple has a traditional wedding ceremony, (either indoors or outdoors), and will include elements such as declaration of intent, address, vows, ring exchange… and then at some point during the ceremony, the couple will have a a Handfasting. In a Mini Handfasting, there is usually only the binding of the hands without any of the additional rituals such as jumping the broom, or drinking from a loving cup, but really it’s your day so you can have whatever you like!
Jumping the Besom at Loch Etive
A Full Handfasting Ceremony: A full Handfasting Ceremony is where the entire focus is on the Handfasting. This is a much more elaborate ceremony, with rituals within rituals, and will almost always be held outdoors, usually surrounded by nature. If I’m performing a full Handfasting, I will normally wear one of my gorgeous Handfasting cloaks, and the couple will often be in Pagan style clothing. In a full Handfasting, there will usually be additional elements included in the ceremony, such as drinking from a ‘Loving cup’ (usually a quaich), and ‘Jumping the Besom’ (broom).
Cords or Ribbons: It is completely up to you what fabric you choose for your Handfasting. Some couples prefer cords to ribbons and vice versa, and some couples choose something meaningful like a piece of fabric from the bride’s mum’s wedding dress. There’s no right or wrong material, just make sure it’s the right length for how you want your hands bound (see the video below).
Who does the tying?: Ribbons or cords can be tied by either your celebrant or one of your family, friends or any other person that you would like involved in the ceremony.
What length should the cords be? This depends on how you want them to be tied, but I would usually go for 2 or 3 metres, and that way you won’t run out of cord! But the best way to work this out is to get a roll of cheap cord and then practice at home, or ask your Celebrant for a practice run through.
How many cords should we use?: Some people say argue that 3 cords should always be used in a Handfasting, but this seems to have come from a passage in the bible (Ecclesiastes 4:12) that says: “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” But really, there is no right or wrong number of cords or ribbons that should be used. Instead, use what feels right for you.
What knots should be used? There are a number of different knots that can be used (watch the wee video I made below), and so the best way is to do lots of research and then practice, and/or ask your Celebrant to run through the different ways with you.
What happens to the cords after they are removed? If this was still the 16th century, you wouldn’t be able to remove your cords until midnight on the day of your wedding! But today, the cords are often removed immediately and then they are given to the couple as a keepsake… often with the knot intact. I know quite a few couples who have tied the cord around their marriage certificate, as a further symbolic gesture.
To find out more about how to tie Handfasting ribbons, please watch this wee video I made. In this video, the couple are holding their hands ‘wrist to wrist’, but you don’t have to do this, you can just hold hands. And when it comes to the Infinity Knot…. keep a hold of the ribbon!