A BIT ABOUT HANDFASTING – NOT JUST FOR PAGANS OR WICCANS
Handfasting is a marriage unity ritual that has been used during weddings for centuries. Like many other unity rituals, such as unity candles or sand rituals, it represents the combination of two people coming together to create a new singular entity. A couple joins their hands together and they are wrapped with a ribbon or cord. If done in the traditional way, as the couple separates their hands, they literally tie the knot (hence the origin of the phrase), and are joined together in their commitment to each other.
Handfasting is gaining popularity, but it isn’t a ceremony commonly seen in traditional Western or Christian-centric weddings. While it has Celtic origins, it is a ritual that has largely only been used by Pagans and Wiccans since the 1960s. But it isn’t a ritual just for those that identify as Pagans, Wiccans, or witches. Anyone can take part in this meaningful and visually beautiful ritual.
So Where Did the Practice of Handfasting Come From?
When the term was first used in rural Scotland, two people would form a contract by joining hands. Back when most people lived in small rural villages, you might not always have access to a government or religious official who could oversee your marriage. In some Pagan groups, you also might not have the same hierarchy of religious figures as we see with ordained ministers and priests in Christianity. The ritual of handfasting was accessible to all, and still held the same weight, validity, and importance as any of our modern-day ceremony practices.
The Ribbon or Cord You Choose Is Up to You
It’s fun to add a personal flare by selecting or creating a ribbon or cord that is meaningful to you and your partner. You can use a fabric strip from an old family heirloom, a ribbon in a colour that has meaning to you, or have one made with a clan tartan. The possibilities are endless and you can make it as personal as you like.
Your Guests Are All Treated as Equals
In more traditional handfasting ceremonies, guests are encouraged to form a circle around the couple. This is a common practice with most Pagan rites and rituals, and any clockwise movement in a circle is considered positive (deosil), while counter-clockwise movement is considered negative (widdershins).
You can also have your guests call the elements or directions. I will write about both at a later date.
Having your guests form a circle means that there are no sides, no front seats, no back seats, and no spots reserved specifically for family. Your guests are all seen as equals in this ceremony, and are all there with the express purpose of supporting your union. Guests are also usually encouraged to join hands while in the circle, which, as a bonus, helps keep them focused and off their phones.
Whether Your Handfasting Ceremony Is Legal Is Up To You
People often ask whether or not handfasting is a legally binding wedding ceremony ritual. The answer is, “maybe”. It depends on the type of handfasting ceremony you have.
Handfasting can absolutely be a part of a legally-binding wedding ceremony led by a certified officiant or wedding celebrant. It can also be a non-legally-binding commitment ceremony, and there a few reasons why that’s really awesome.
Handfasting has long been used as a tool to unify couples that have been denied access to legal marriage. Since its origins, it has often been used as a self-uniting practice, and we love that it takes the definition of love and marriage out of the hands of a governing body and rests it squarely with the couple, much like Quaker ceremonies do.
Handfasting Can Be As Secular or As Religious As You Want
While handfasting does have Pagan roots, it does not require you to reference any religious entities or works, and therefore is a great option for non-religious couples, or for couples who have a lot of non-religious family or guests. It can also be great for interfaith couples, as it is a neutral ceremony that doesn’t focus on any single religion over another.