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Unity Rituals and Symbols Ceremony Ideas: Handfasting!

Updated: May 1

Unity Rituals and Symbols Ceremony Ideas: Handfasting!


What is 'Handfasting'?

It is a ritual that binds a couple's hands together, using different coloured cord or ribbons. This 'binding' symbolises the 'joining' and binding of the couple.

Where does 'Handfasting' originate from?

This ritual pre-dates Christianity and stems from Celtic origin. The shaking of hands as a 'binding' agreement between two people then developed into the 'tying the knot'. Couples did not have the resources to purchase 'gold rings', reserved for the aristocracy class. So the ribbons torn from old garments or cords from old rope would be used to bind their wrists together. The custom was to keep them tied until midnight. All the obstacles they would physically need to overcome would symbolise the strength of their union to overcome future obstacles in their marriage. In the Scottish Celtic tradition the handfasting was more like a modern engagement period, where they would be tied together for a total of 366 days (367 for a leap year). Imagine that today! If they decided they could remain together and get 'married' their 'handfasting' was recognised formally with a second handfasting ritual. So some people today have a 'anniversary handfasting' one year and one day after their first handfasting at their ceremony.


In Christianity, there is also the symbolic ritual of binding the hands. The religious priest will use their 'stole' to wrap around the couple's hands, to unite the couple whilst referring to 'what God has joined together let no man separate'. A ritual where the couple receive's Gods blessing and the stole (scarf) binding symbolically joining them for life, with only God allowed to separate them.


So you may wish to have a handfasting ritual to symbolise your 'union' and your symbolic binding to one another in your ceremony.


How can you make your Handfasting Ritual Unique?

The colours of the ribbons may have particular significance or meaning to you, your family, your culture or world view. For example, colours representing different qualities in their lives, different dreams or hopes or varying promises. What colours have meaning for you? Which colours would you chose? Why?

The material of the ribbon or cord may have meaning such as a family heirloom or wedding dress. Which materials would you decide upon? What meaning does this have?


What happens during a 'Handfasting'?

The ritual can be as bespoke and as personalised as the fabric used. The couple usually face each other holding hands or some may hold opposite hands (so their arms make a figure eight—representing eternity). As a handfasting prayer is read aloud, the cords/ribbons are tied around the hands or draped across the hands . Some couples may wish each ribbon/cord to be presented by different members of their family or friends, including them in the ritual too. Celtic poetry may also be read. Once the knot is tied, the ribbons are kept in a box for safekeeping and physical memento. The theme and mood of the handfasting will reflect the couple, traditional, Celtic and natural (with the four elements being present - earth, air, fire and water) or quirky, modern and inclusive with other family or guests being included. The choice is yours! Make it your own and meaningful to you.


Why chose a 'Handfasting' element in your ceremony?

  • Handfasting creates a bespoke and personalised cord/ribbon with meaning to you as a couple.

  • It is a way to have lots of people united in the ceremony, through different ribbons and cords entwined together.

  • You may wish to embrace your cultural tradition, e.g. Celtic.

  • You may wish to have a spiritual handfasting in a sacred site e.g. Stonehenge.

  • You may enjoy festival vibes and have seen this at festivals such as Glastonbury. You can create your own 'WedFest' or 'PartnerFest' in a field, garden or woodland.

  • You may have seen 'handfastings' in the media, on TV or in films e.g. Braveheart or Game of Thrones.

  • A handfasting ritual adds a beautiful visual 'union'.

  • A handfasting allows you to have a permanent visual reminder of your union, with some making a wall-hanging or framing their cord/ribbons and placed in the heart of their home.


Can you have other Unity Symbols along with a Handfasting ritual?

Yes you can! That is the beauty of designing your own ceremony with your celebrant. There are so many other rituals or symbolic actions that can accompany a Handfasting. Perhaps a 'Loving Cup' ceremony, 'Jumping the Broom' ceremony or 'Cake and Ale' ceremony. The options are there for your choosing!


'Your Day, Your Ceremony, Your Way!'


Donna x




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