Handfasting – What’s That?!

Mar 29, 2016

At my last handfasting wedding, I was delighted by the guests’ reaction to the ritual. Of course, I had  explained what it was all about, but the warmth and spirituality of the occasion obviously was a great success.

However, most people don’t know what a handfasting is. I therefore hope it will be helpful if I say a few words about it. It forms a central part in pagan ceremonies, but is often chosen as an “add-on” in a traditional wedding.


It may be something you yourself would like to consider.


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, indeed, 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 them 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 commitment and mutual love. Here’s a suggested order of service that may include a handfasting, although it will, of course, be different for a full pagan ceremony.

  • Walking down the aisle, to be given away by the father
  • Officiant 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

Details would be up for discussion, but that might be a starting draft.


Possibly my favourite handfasting was part-pagan, part-Jewish with rituals from both sides. For this ceremony too, I explained the symbolism for those unfamiliar with the other’s practices, so everyone could understand and feel included.

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

If you want to add extra sparkle and personality to your big day, you could do worse than try a handfasting. Your civil celebrant will be only too pleased to tell you more.