Handfasting Rituals: Tying the Knot

Handfasting Rituals: Tying the Knot

Couples come in all shapes and sizes, and so do handfasting rituals. There is a significant amount of variance when it comes to the materials used to make handfasting cords, to the specific type of knot that’s tied, and to the motivations behind handfasting rituals.

Here are few vignettes about some of the handfasting ceremonies I’ve performed.

But first, a brief history of handfasting rituals

Handfasting was practiced in several European countries including Germany and Scotland. Until the mid-1700’s few marriages were consecrated in a church. Rather they were celebrated by a simple hand-binding ceremony in which two lovers joined hands over the village anvil, in a field, or in a grove.

In addition to uniting heterosexual couples, there is evidence that some version of this ceremony was performed, at different times and places in European history, for women who wished to become a family.

Sources on handfasting rituals offer differing information about what a handfasting ritual symbolized (engagement, temporary commitment of a year and a day, or marriage), when and why the tradition became obsolete, and the different protocols for handfasting rituals in various European countries.

Same-sex couple who eloped to Carmel-By-The-Sea

Same sex couples are not currently permitted to get married in Northern Ireland. In the case of this wedding ceremony, the brides are wedding photographers who have shot both heterosexual and same-sex weddings. They admitted feeling devastated each time they heard the words "as set out by the law of this county marriage is the union of one man to one woman…” So they decided to elope to Carmel-By-The-Sea when it was their time to get married.

As descendants of Ulster Scots, the brides chose to bind their hands in order to honor their beloved Celtic ancestry, and incorporate a tradition from home, even though they were on the other side of the world at the time of their ceremony. They commissioned a textile artist from Belfast to make their hand-binding cloth. It was made of Irish linen and had small squares embroidered on to each end to represent pixels - a reference to both a cheesy joke that one of them made when they first met, and to their shared profession as photographers.

Rope Bondage

This couple considers rope bondage (a form of BDSM) an important and deeply connective part of their erotic life. They wanted to be bound as part of their ceremony as a symbol of the intimate love they share. The deeper motivation behind their handfasting ritual was not publicly revealed during their ceremony... rather it was a discrete act of intimacy and private significance that was meaningful enough to them to include in their ceremony.

Eight Strands

This couple has roots Celtic roots (as well as Indian, Mexican, German, Jewish, Catholic, Swiss). We did various things during the wedding ceremony to incorporate the cultural and geographic richness of their roots, family and community, but they also wanted to include the ancient Celtic custom of handfasting to honor their Celtic ancestry. More than that, they chose this ritual because they wanted a tangible representation of their lives being strongly tied together, a symbol of an inextricable bond, with the understanding that their marriage vows - like the knot itself - are not something to be undone lightly. The bride wove a cord out of eight strands - one for each year that she and her now husband had been together as a couple.



Thinking of including a handfasting ritual in your wedding ceremony? Please share ‘your why’ in the comments below!