Pagan/Celtic Handfasting – Fiction v Fact – You Decide!
In this blog I take a lighthearted and fun look at Handfastings and share some information around this topic as many couples are unsure about what a Pagan/Celtic Handfasting Ritual is, what it’s all about and what is actually fact or fiction.
Pagan Celtic Handfasting is an Ancient Celtic Ritual where the hands/wrists are tied together with ribbons, cords or fabric to symbolise the binding of two lives together. A Handfasting is most often used in Wiccan or Pagan Wedding Ceremonies to publicly declare your intent to marry (Betrothal) and would usually last for a year and a day but has now become more popular as a ritual within its own right in mainstream religious and secular wedding ceremonies around the world.
“Tying-the-knot”, “Giving-one’s-hand-in-marriage” or “Bound- for-life” are all phrases derived from this Ritual.
There are 3 main branches within Paganism and you will find that the Handfasting Rituals within these groups contain similar elements but are not all the same. There are many ways to perform this Ritual depending on which path you follow and just as many different ways to tie your Handfasting cords, ribbons, fabric.
Here is a very brief summary of the 3 most popular forms of Paganism
WICCAN – this is the most popular nature-based path and most often their ceremonies are held outdoors in the evening/night following and honouring the cycles of the moon which is an important part in all Wiccan ceremonies .
DRUIDRY – this is a fairly recent and modern interpretation of an ancient Celtic practice focusing on nature, poetry, storytelling and is also practiced outdoors in woodland groves and follows the different festivals of the natural year. They focus mainly on the sun and the cycles of the earth. ASATRU – This is a new religion started in the ‘70’s but it’s roots are ancient as it incorporates Germanic Spirits and Gods. This is a growing Spiritual path practiced in Scandinavian countries and is gaining popularity in many other countries around the modern world.
Pagans all have various versions of how they perform their Rite of Handfasting which traditionally is a Betrothal, Engagement or Trial Marriage ceremony which lasts for a year and a day. If you survived the year you had the option of extending your commitment for the rest of your life or if using the modern interpretation – as long as love lasts. In ancient times if you or your family held a position of high standing in your community, a passing Druid or in later times a clergyman, would perform your ceremony. Most often your wedding ceremony was a public affair and was done in the community with everyone acting as a witness for you. The modern Pagan/Druid/Wiccan or Viking ceremonies are usually held in Sacred Stone circles, Sacred Groves or places that have been consecrated specifically for their Rituals and Ceremonies.
Who can conduct my Handfasting and tie my cords?
A High Priest/Priestess cloaked in a long robe with a sword hanging from their side, uttering incantations to the couple, while the followers are standing in a circle around them, under the light of a full moon. This is a common stereotype and while some leaders and elders do wear robes, it is not a prerequisite to wear one when doing a Handfasting or to do them during a full moon. It does add to the atmosphere however by creating a magical vibe to the ceremony and looks great for the photographs too.
As it is not a legally binding Ritual in modern times, anyone who has done some research and who understands the ritual can perform your Handfasting. There are many ways you can tie or bind your own cords. Usually the Celebrant does this though while saying a Blessing for you. A friend or family member can do this for you too as there is no right or wrong way but what is important is to create a binding knot. You may leave your cords wrapped around your wrists for as long as you like. Some couples take off the bindings carefully before the ring exchange, some leave them on for the remaining parts of the ceremony or even until they go to the Honeymoon Suite. Traditionally the cords remained on until you were escorted to your bedchamber at midnight!!
What materials and colours can I use?
Most couples assume you use a short, wide piece of lace or fabric and drape it over your hands and that this fabric is usually white or cream coloured.
Any colours can be used. Most couples will choose colours that match the colour scheme of their day or use colours for their symbolic meaning. Ribbons and cords of various widths and thickness are often used and mixed in with fabric that may have a sentimental value for you. Charms and small items are usually incorporated into the cords. The most important thing is to ensure the cords are at least 2 metres in length. This is so you can drape the binding around your hands a few times and have sufficient length to hang down to look good and also to have enough length to tie a special knot to seal in your vows. You can use anything for your handfasting but it must be able to be knotted. There are videos on YouTube showing you how to make your own cords so please take a look if you would like to make your own.
What happens during a Ceremony?
Couples meet in secret woodland groves or meadows surrounded by beautiful women dancing around wearing floaty medieval gowns (or less) and men with tunics, trousers and boots, wielding swords, shields and lances whilst minstrels play melodies on lutes. Seriously though, while similar scenes are found at Medieval fairs offering quick Handfasting wedding ceremonies around the country, most real Handfasting ceremonies are far removed from this scenario. The items used for your actual wedding ritual however, will be similar to those discussed in the section below. In truth, there is more to draping some fabric around your hands, saying a few words and assuming you are now joined. It has deep symbolic and spiritual roots that should not be sanitized or forgotten when performing a Handfasting Ritual for couples.
Most Handfastings are not done at night
or held in secrecy as they are traditionally community-centred rituals witnessed by all in the village. Although the order of the wedding service may be slightly different depending on who will be conducting it, there will be similarities to modern Christian Marriages. There will still be vows if you want but these may be said with each of you holding onto the end of your cord and a knot tied into the cord with each vow. You can still exchange your rings if you wish or exchange a meaningful gift with each other. You may include any readings you resonate with and music of your choice. Couples can wear anything they feel comfortable in. Brides usually wear floral crowns and dresses of various colours and Grooms wear tunic style shirts with trousers and boots. Candles of yellow, red, blue, green or black, white, silver and gold are used to welcome in the Quarters or 4 Elements of North, South, East and West as well as the Lord and Lady/God and Goddess. There will also be an altar with ritual items on it like salt, water, daggers, goblets, statues and flowers to name a few. You may find that the couple stands in the middle or around the edge of a circle with guests completing it. Sometimes the seating is arranged in a spiral so that everyone can feel connected and included in the ceremony. Pagans love to burn incense, ring bells, make lots of noise by using drums, chanting or singing. This is to awaken and welcome in benevolent Spirits and to ward off negative energy. You may hear declarations of “Hail and Welcome”, “Blessed Be” and “So may it be”.
Stunning ‘secret locations’ for your Pagan/Celtic Handfasting, to captivate your imagination can be booked with us!
I hope this light-hearted blog highlighting the differences between expectations v reality in a Pagan/Celtic Handfasting Wedding Ritual has been informative, helpful and inspiring for you. Having a Handfasting is a wonderful, community-orientated, family-friendly way to Bless your Union. It is a meaningful, magical and unique Ritual where everyone can participate.
Cornwall really is the perfect place for your Wild Wedding adventure and I would love to help you realise your dream of experiencing a beautiful outdoor ceremony in it’s rugged and raw landscape.
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