Handfasting – What’s it all about?

Mar 5, 2019
civil celebrant wedding - handfasting ritual

So what’s it all about?

I often get asked what a handfasting is.

Do you remember when Prince William married Kate Middleton? Although the ceremony was religious, they briefly incorporated a ritual that resembled a handfasting. The Archbishop draped ribbons over the clasped hands of the couple.

So much else was going on that it attracted little attention. In fact, a handfasting is technically pagan, and can play a central role in pagan ceremonies.

However, it is often chosen as an “add-on” in a more traditional wedding.

A number of brides and grooms are intrigued by this and have decided to incorporate this in their wedding.

Of course, it can be included in a Vow Renewal too.


Handfastings began as a marriage rite in the Middle Ages. When peasants married, they might have been unable to afford a clergyman’s fee to hear their vows or a ring to signify their love. The ritual of handfasting became a popular alternative.

A cord was wrapped round the wrists of the couple and left on until their union was consummated. It would usually be kept as a tangible reminder and proof of their commitment and love.

It has given us the expression “tying the knot”.

Present-day Ceremony

Nowadays, the cord symbolises the pair’s mutual love. The way a handfasting can be slipped in to a service is as follows. Please note that this is only a suggestion, and it will be rather different for a pagan ceremony.

  • Walking down the aisle to be given away by a parent
  • Celebrant welcome
  • Meaning of love (possibly from a religious slant, if that’s wanted)
  • Here, or after the Handfasting, or at both times, a song or a reading/poem
  • Handfasting
  • Possibly, a Unity Candle or Sand Ceremony or Chalice ritual
  • Exchange of Rings/Vows
  • Jumping the Broom (not actually pagan, but deriving from wedding ceremonies conducted by slaves in the American South), now used to symbolise sweeping in the new as a new home is created
  • Concluding words


I conducted a memorable handfasting at an Iron Age Fort in Wiltshire. The ceremony was part-pagan, part-Jewish with rituals from both sides. (Of course, the symbolism was explained as we went along.)

It was a totally unique occasion – absolutely perfect for the couple and – clearly – for the guests too.

Another example was when I shared a wonderful experience with an American couple at Stonehenge at the time of the solstice – and that was quite unforgettable!

Otherwise, I have performed handfastings indoors, and they were just as satisfying!

To add extra sparkle and personality to your big day, do find out about a handfasting. It will be a pleasure for me to tell you more.

Photo: www.lyndseygoddard.com

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