Handfasting Rituals

wedding rings

Handfasting rituals are popular additions to traditional wedding ceremonies because they have a strong cultural and historical background. They also provide a surprise for guests, which keeps the ceremony more interesting. Handfasting rituals can be performed as a betrothal, or engagement, or as an addition to a wedding ceremony.

You and your groom may perform this ritual before or after you exchange rings. First, you should understand the history of the Handfasting ritual, and then you should read through the different variations of the custom. There are several to choose from, so you'll be able to find the one that is just right for your wedding.

A History of Handfasting

Handfasting was used as a form of trial marriage in Ireland and Scotland during the early Christian period. The couple was considered married, and they would have a formal wedding ceremony when a priest was available to officiate. During the Roman Empire, the couple's hands were tied together, which explains the origination of the phrase “tying the knot”. This type of ritual can be incorporated in your wedding ceremony to add a bit of fun and, if you have a Scottish or Irish ancestry, an historical touch.

Modern Handfasting is common within the Neopagan culture, where this ritual is considered binding. The vows may be taken for a variety of time periods, including eternity. The ceremony may or may not be legally valid, depending on the place of residence of the couple. Handfasting rituals vary greatly, and any couple who wishes to have one may choose as many traditional or modern elements as they please. Modern couples usually exchange rings during the Handfasting ritual, whether they are Celtic, ethnic, or traditional.

The Handfasting Ceremony

The officiant of a Handfasting ritual will create a blessed space, paying special attention to the four corners, which represent air, fire, water, and earth. An altar is placed to the north and three candles are placed upon it. Two small candles represent the bride and the groom, and a larger candle represents the couple together. Gifts, birthstones, and other symbolic elements representing the four elements are also placed on the altar. The bride and the groom are each given their candle, and together they light the large candle, symbolizing their joining.

The officiant of the ceremony will call upon the spirit to bless the union and will tie the couple's hands together after readings and blessings from the guests have been heard. The bride's right wrist is tied to the groom's left wrist. The couple exchanges vows and rings, then they drink from a wine goblet before their hands are untied. The untying of the wrists represents the couple's independent wish to be joined together.

The newly married couple is given an ivy wreath which has flowers chosen by the guests to symbolize personal wishes for the couple. They leave by walking under a floral archway while being showered with flower petals by their guests.

Adding a Handfasting Ritual to Your Traditional Ceremony

To add a Handfasting ritual to your wedding ceremony, you may simply choose to have your wrists tied after you exchange vows and before you exchange rings. There are many materials that you may choose to use, although some carry meaning from specific cultures. Silk cord is a traditional fabric for the ceremony, but other options are:

  • Rope – used in Latino ceremonies
    • Draped in a figure eight over the couple's shoulders while they kneel at the altar. This may be done by the officiant, a family member, or the couple's godmothers.
  • Kente cloth, grass plait, cowrie shell plait
    • Used in African-American ceremonies, the tying is performed by the ceremony officiant, a close friend, or a family member. The bride's right wrist is tied to the groom's left wrist.
  • String
    • Used in a Hasthagranthi ritual in Hindu wedding ceremonies.
  • Buddhist Rosary
    • During a Buddhist ceremony, a mala – the rosary, is tied around the wrists by the officiant of the ceremony or the parents of the couple.
  • Prayer Stole
    • The bride's prayer stole may be used to tie the couple's wrists to demonstrate not only the couple's unity, but also their unity in their devotion to God. The officiant will make the sign of the cross following the tying ritual.

As you can see, there are many ways to incorporate a Handfasting ritual into your wedding ceremony, no matter your religion. This tradition is a beautiful, timeless ritual that symbolizes the union of two people, and their willingness to be together. You may choose to follow any of the above customs, or you may combine them to create your own special form of Handfasting.