The Meaning Behind Handfasting

We all know the phrase, “to take each other’s hand in marriage”, but how often do we stop to think about what this really means? There has been somewhat of a revival in the world of wedding ceremonies to reinstate traditional methods of binding the couple together in matrimony.

During the ceremony, hands are used to exchange vows and rings; however some couples are taking this tradition one step further, using centuries-old practices of tying their hands together in an act called handfasting.
Dating back to medieval times, and originally a Celtic (pagan) custom of betrothal, it became commonly adopted as a legal marriage in the Tudor era, when it did in fact constitute the entire legal wedding ceremony.

The 1995 film Braveheart depicted the secret handfasting wedding of the hero William Wallace, who married his sweetheart Murron in forest; their hands bound together with cloth, declaring “I will love you my whole life; you and no other forever”. The simplicity of the vows spoken and the beauty of the scene make this movie scene a popular internet search.

Sally and Simon with Judith at a handfasting ceremony
Ute and Jamie with Judith at a handfasting ceremony

Today, an authentic handfasting ceremony can still be performed by a pagan priest or priestess, but is not, in itself, recognised as a legal marriage ceremony. Scotland is however, an exception to this rule, if the Celebrant is authorised by the Registrar General.

It is more common to include handfasting in a broader ceremony where it can be used as a way of strengthening the vows and as a commitment to your married relationship.

The fasting cord or sash can be specially made for the tying, and so could include personal elements such as the family tartan or fabrics of particular significance. So it adds a very visual personal element to the ceremony. The binding can be done in all kinds of ways, and knots are often tied with the making of each vow. This leaves the couple with a keepsake cord in which each vow is represented by a knot. The cord can also be used in future anniversaries or vow renewals.

Couples wanting a visual expression of ˜tying the Knot’, but nothing so elaborate as a handfasting might opt for a simple hand tying, which can often be done with coloured ribbons. Depending on how simple or how elaborate you want your ceremony to be, you can, of course, design and write your own ritual, including in it the elements that have special significance for you, and which will best represent your taking of each other’s hands as an important symbol of marriage.

Thank you to Rev Dr Judith Hampson (Interfaith Minister) for preparing this article. You can visit her website by CLICKING HERE.