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Ancient Wedding Traditions: Handfasting

What is it? Handfasting is a beautifully meaningful ancient Celtic ritual. During a handfasting, which in many pagan cultures is a synonymous term to "a wedding", the hands of both partners are bound together with a chord or chords to symbolize the binding of their lives.

Most often included in Wiccan and Pagan ceremonies, this tradition has become more mainstream and pops up in both religious and secular ceremonies.

The History of the Handfasting Ceremony

This ceremony rite has its very ancient roots in Celtic and Druidic tradition. In fact, it dates back to 7000 B.C. In Ireland at this time, when two people chose to be married, they were brought together to have a braided cord or ribbon tied around their hands in the presence of a priest. This act symbolized the couple's engagement, which typically lasted a year. It signaled their intent to marry, an unofficial betrothal, so that other potential suitors recognized that the pair was officially "off the market". After a year, the couple returned to the priest either with a "Heck, yes we want to be married!" or a "Ehhhh, actually, I kinda can't stand this person." Both of them would then be freed of their engagement to pursue other potential suitors.

Today, the rite is performed more often in the actually marriage ceremony, although it can still be performed during engagement or when a couple decides to live together or any time of great importance to the couple as a symbol of commitment.

Who performs Handfastings?

Due to their growth in popularity, almost any officiant, religious or secular has heard of or even performed a handfasting or two. A Pagan priestess (or priest) might be able to perform a more traditional ceremony.

Who can have a Handfasting?

Anyone! Since their featuring in Game of Thrones and other television shows, handfastings have begun to be borrowed from Pagan tradition regularly. If it is a ritual that speaks to you, you can include it in your ceremony!

How is it done?

Many many ways. Some choose to cross hands, taking your partner's right hand in your right hand and their left hand in your left hand.

You could also opt to stand next to one another, joining one of your right hands with the other's left, and have your hands bound that way, around your wrists.

The knot can be tied in any fashion from typical to elaborate (like the inifinity knot)

What kind of chord should I use?

Traditionally, cords or ribbons are used that have symbolic meaning to you. Colors that represent energy, character traits etc. that you want your marriage to embody. You can also just use the colors of your wedding theme. Some couples choose to use cloth from sentimental items of clothing. Add charms to the end of the cords, like horseshoes, seashells, or beads. Maybe even vines, garlands of flowers or something else organic.

How many chords are needed?

As many as you like. Traditionally, three. You will want the cord about a yard in length, so it can be wrapped around the hands a couple of times.

Where does it go in the ceremony?

Where ever you like. First thing, mid-ceremony, right before the kiss. Your officiant should introduce your guests to the concept by describing the rite, what it means to you and what the symbolism of your chords is. They should walk you through it, by inviting you to join hands, starting with the symbolism of your readiness to be married. Then they will recite a series of vows as they wrap the cords around your hands. They may need assistance from a party member or family member to either hold their book or wrap chords. You can use a separate cord for each vow, or twist or braid together a few cords and wrap them as one around your hands. Then, your officiant should make a closing statement about the binding and what it symbolizes. After your hands are fasted, you can choose to share your personal vows or use your handfasting as the vows you'll exchange and move directly to the ring exchange, kiss or whatever part of your ceremony remains.

How long do we stay "fasted"?

Believe it or not, in medieval tradition, the couple stays tied together until midnight. But you and your new spouse do not have to stay literally stuck together that long. Many choose to take it off after the rite is complete and move immediately into the vows afterwards during their ceremony. You can wear it for the duration of the ceremony or wear it throughout the day (though that might make your reception a little interesting, it would make for gorgeous photos especially during the first dance).

When you do take it off, try to slip it off with the tie intact. So the knot remains as a symbol of your ceremony. Most couples bring it home as a keepsake.

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