Handfasting is an ancient ceremony joining together a couple who declare their love in a ceremony conducted by a High Priest/Priestess/Druid. These ceremonies usually take place outdoors in the most romantic of places such as woods, ancient stone circles, even caves! The ceremony has its roots way back in the days of the ancient Celts and the word derives from “handfaestung”, meaning to strike a bargain by joining hands.
In ancient Scotland the scholar Martin Martin tells that the Scottish isles used handfasting where a man would take a wife for a year and a day without marrying her. If he was pleased with her he would keep her, if not she would be sent back to her parents. Charming!
From the 12th to 17th centuries, handfasting referred to a ceremony where the couple formally declared they accepted each other as spouses. It was legally binding (unlike today in the UK). The union could only be dissolved in the event of the death of one of the partners. However, it was expected that the couple would follow this ceremony with a proper church wedding and, in 1753, the Marriage Act resulted in the ending of handfasting as a legal marriage ceremony in England. Boooo!
In modern times, couples may consider the handfasting ceremony legal in their eyes, others may seal the deal by following the handfasting with a legal civil ceremony later. The handfasting ceremony itself involves the celebrant binding the couples’ hands together with rope or cords made from any materials (this, incidentally, is where the term “tying the knot” derives). This binding of hands symbolises the unity and oneness between the couple forever. There are no set rules for the cords, but traditionally, three cords were used.
Some couples like to decorate their venue with pagan attributes and most ceremonies end with the couple jumping the broomstick – they will hold hands and jump over a broom held out horizontally before them. This symbolises the crossing from their old lives into their new shared life.
A handfasting ceremony is magical, romantic and certainly different!