I recently got married, and while I was planning my wedding I decided to look into the tradition of Handfasting. I remember attending one a few years ago and thought it was beautiful. I had heard of them, but that was the first one I’d ever been to. I decided to look more into it to see if it was something my husband and I would want to incorporate into our day.
The first thing I wanted to find out was obviously the meaning behind it and the history. When the tradition was in its prime it was generally set for a year and a day. If the two people were still happy and wanting to be together after that, then the bond would stay in force. If, by that time the couple decided it wasn’t for them, they were free to walk away. It was also sometimes used to see if they would have a child in that time as well. It may seem kind of weird, but in a way it would save a lot of people from divorce. It was a binding of marriage before weddings became government or church functions, and the tradition involves the hands being bound together to signify the joining of their lives. It is the meaning behind “tying the knot”.
The two hold hands and a third person (preferably a priest or priestess) binds the hands together. Ribbon or small cord works best and the colours can be twisted together, or as most people prefer, the colours are separate and each one is woven individually through the hands. Most of the time around 3 or 6 colours are chosen. And I’m assuming most reading this know how much significance there is in colour, and on a day like your wedding, choosing the correct ones is something to think about. Below are the main colour choices of ribbon and what the meaning behind each one is:
Red: will, love, strength, fertility, courage, health, vigor and passion
Orange: Encouragement, adaptability, stimulation, attraction, plenty and kindness
Yellow: Attraction, charm, confidence, balance and harmony
Green: Fertility, luck, prosperity, nurturing, beauty, health and love
Blue: Safe journey, longevity and strength
Purple: Healing, health, strength, power and progress
Black: Strength, empowerment, wisdom, vision, success and pure love
White: Spirituality, truth, peace, serenity and devotion
Gray: Balance, neutrality, return to the universe without repercussion
Pink: Love, unity, honor, truth, romance and happiness
Brown: Healing, skills and talent, nurturing, home and hearth, the earth
Silver: Creativity, inspiration, vision and protection
Gold: Unity, longevity, prosperity and strength
The actual meaning behind the word Handfasting comes, of course, from old Celtic traditions and wording. “Hand- festa” means “to strike a bargain by joining hands” which also refers to things like a basic handshake. It was popular years and years ago in Scotland and Ireland, and for a while it was viewed as almost an engagement, and for the most part once Christianity became more wide-spread, weddings became taken a lot more seriously, and due to the lack of clergy, most couples would hold a handfasting before the clergy would come around so they could be joined in union without needing to wait for someone to come around.
In today’s times some people still use a handfasting as a type of trial-marriage, or it can be incorporated into a full ceremony. Most of the time it is held before the legal paperwork. Other traditions that work well with a handfasting are a wine blessing and a unity light blessing with candles. Some aspects that may be a little bit different than a typical wedding would be that usually you want people to stand or sit in a circle around the couple, and there should be a blessing of the scared space beforehand, and a circle may be cast. Typically a mention of various gods and/or goddesses and also the various elements. Another tradition that may be incorporated is jumping over a broom and even a maypole dance. Because of some of the traditions talked about may not be accepted by family members or friends who are invited. Some people may also be confused so if you are going to have a handfasting or any other ceremony you may want to put something in with the invitation or program. I definitely suggest looking into finding a High Priestess or High Priest so it is done correctly, but you can even do some research and get a close friend or loved one to do it, especially if you live in a small community.
All- in- all it’s a pretty customizable and meaningful tradition. It’s a beautiful thing to witness and be a part of. There are a lot of options and traditions to look into when planning to get married.
*Rachel Young is the owner of NamasteFreund. She began making handfasting cords by making one for her own pagan ceremony. Five years later she continues to make a wide range of wedding cords, infusing them with her best wishes that a marriage can bring, & has shipped products to every continent. Her product line expanded to include besoms, wands, bookmarks, & more. She is also a licensed Wedding Officiant specializing in handfastings, inter-faith, & same-sex marriages. You can find her on NamasteFreund, Etsy, Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter.