What’s A Handfasting all about?

Apr 23, 2024
Outdoor handfasting for civil wedding

Quite a lot of people seem to have heard of the term “handfasting”, but considerably fewer know what it is.

Enlightenment is on its way!


Handfasting originated in pagan times, and it gained force in medieval days.

It was a way for peasants – mostly – to afford a wedding. Clergymen would usually prove too costly to hire, so an alternative was offered.

A cord could be wrapped round the couple’s wrists until their union was consummated.

They would keep the cord afterwards as a token of their love and commitment.

Up-to-date versions

In modern times, the symbolism has remained, although there are essentially two kinds of handfasting nowadays.

One kind is where the handfasting is a small (but significant) part of a larger ceremony. The other makes it one of the most important elements of the entire service.

There is a whole variety of options how you can be bound together, Cord or ribbon, usually at least 1 metre long, is commonly used. It may have several “heads” and colours. Personal preference is fine, but there are also certain colours considered more auspicious that others. You can also have the choice how the cord/ribbon is tied.

Personally, I prefer the (eternity) figure of eight.

A Full Service

Again, there is fluidity and choice as to how to put together a full service, have a chat with  your celebrant beforehand. However, the following components are usual:

Sanctifying the Circle

The circle symbolises the womb of Mother Earth and the idea is to make the ceremony site a holy place. The celebrant will make a circuit, offering prayers.

Elemental Blessings

Again some legwork for the celebrant! Blessings are offered in the four principal directions – enabling us to appreciate how the four elements help us on our journey.

Loving Cup

The couple may use their favourite drink quaffed from a loving cup (or “quaich”). The rationale for this is that we drink in the promises or vows we have made.

The Handfasting

This is the symbolic binding of the hands. We get the terms “tying the knot” and “bonds of holy matrimony” from this. This actual rite may only last a minute.

Jumping the Broom

This custom, though colourful and potentially amusing, may well be a throwback to American slave weddings. Therefore, not everyone approves of it.

It symbolises the creation of a new home together.

What’s the Point of a Handfasting?

The act of handfasting and the words that accompany it can be very beautiful. Moreover, the ritual stands out by its uniqueness and also the interplay and visible reactions of the couple.

The connection to nature is also highly significant.

To discuss handfastings further, feel free to give me a call.