Handfasting, handfasting, let me count the ways! | Aileen Dockerty
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Handfasting, handfasting, let me count the ways!

Handfasting using coloured ribbons and cords

Handfasting, handfasting, let me count the ways!

Due to the fact that I have received a number of inquiries and bookings for a handfasting ceremony as part of a legal wedding ceremony, it caused me to delve quite deeply into the tradition, its origins and the many cultures that embrace this ancient custom.  Here is a very brief summary of my findings:

A Brief History of Handfasting

We find the word “handfasting” actually referring to a kind of marriage in the British Isles.  A handfasting ceremony is an ancient marriage ritual made popular in Ireland and Scotland during the early Christian period.  This symbolic joining together of the couple’s hands is the origin of the familiar expression, “tying the knot”.

Unlike “official” weddings which had some kind of officiant, and would be recorded solemnly by people whose job it was to record these things, handfasting was simply performed by a couple in front of a witness or two.  It was generally no more complex than the couple joining hands (thus making “fast” their hands) and declaring themselves united.  Often signifying a betrothal, rather than a marriage or often a marriage between peasants where legal marriage was not possible, signifying a “common law” relationship.

With the advent of the church rather than the civil wedding, the term handfasting fell out of usage until the 1950s.

Today, a handfasting ceremony is a beautiful and unique way to represent your union and honour your heritage.  The ritual takes place during the ceremony, before the rings are exchanged.

Handfasting Alternatives

There are actually very many types of handfasting ceremonies including Celtic, Pagan, Druidic, Grecian, Romany and Wiccan which can be incorporated into a wedding simply for the couple.  In addition significant guests and family members can be included in the handfasting ceremony.

Vows can be said by each of the bride and groom spontaneously or repeated after the celebrant/officiant.  In addition, vows can be asked of the bride and groom, and/or appointed guests, each adding a different coloured cord or ribbon to the handfasting collection on the couple’s joined hands.

Instead, a braid can be made from different kinds of cloth or ribbon in different colours which are significant because of the meaning of that colour (or simply bridal party colours) and as each vow is asked by the celebrant, the long braid is wrapped one more time around the hands.

For Scottish handfasting ceremonies (and sometimes ceremonies for their Irish and Welsh cousins), the cloth/ribbon used is made of tartan.  A family tartan or two can be incorporated if in existence or an alternative tartan can be selected.

Handfasting with two family tartans

Handfasting with two family tartans

HANDFASTING VOWS

Samples:

Vow No. 1

You cannot possess me for I belong to myself. But while we both wish it, I give you that which is mine to give. You cannot command me for I am a free person.  I pledge to you that it will be your eyes into which I smile every morning. I pledge to you my living and my dying, each equally in your care. I shall be a shield for your back, and you for mine. I shall not slander you, nor you me. I shall honour you above all others, and when we quarrel, we shall do so in private and tell no strangers our grievances. This is my wedding vow to you. This is the marriage of equals.

Vow No. 2

I pledge my love to you, and everything that I own.
I promise you the first bite of my meat and the first sip from by cup.
I pledge that your name will always be the name I cry aloud in the dead of night.
I promise to honor you above all others.
Our love is never-ending, and we will remain, forevermore, equals in our marriage.
This is my wedding vow to you.

HANDFASTING VOWS AS QUESTIONS

Option A

(Groom) and (Bride), I bid you look into each other’s eyes.

Will you honour and respect one another,
and seek to never break that honour?

We will [the first cord is draped over the couples’ hands]
And so the first binding is made.

Will you share each other’s pain and seek to ease it?
We will [Second cord is draped over the hands]
And so the binding is made

Will you share the burdens of each so that your spirits may grow in this union?
We will [third cord is draped over the couples’ hands]
And so the binding is made.

Will you share each other’s laughter, and look for the brightness in life
and the positive in each other?
We will. [fourth cord is draped over the couples’ hands]
And so the binding is made.

Is it your intention to bring peace and harmony into your every day communications?
We will [Fifth cord is draped over the couples’ hands]

And so the binding is made

And when you falter, will you have the courage and commitment to remember these promises and take a step back towards one another with an open heart? (We will).
We will [Sixth cord is draped over the couples’ hands.]

And so the binding is made

[Vows can be expanded]

[Cords are tied together]

Option B

Do you wish to enter this ceremony? Yes, we do.

I ask that you face one another and look into each other’s eyes.

Groom, will you bring suffering into the relationship? I may.
Is that your intent? No.

Bride, will you bring suffering into the relationship? I may.
Is that your intent? No.

Bride and Groom, will you make peace your first priority and, at those times when you forget, be brave and take the first step forward to healing? Yes.

And so the binding is made. (The first cord is placed over the couple’s joined hands).

Bride, will you share Groom’s laughter and joy? Yes.
Groom, will you share Bride’s laughter and joy? Yes.
Bride and Groom, will you look for the brightness and joy in life and the positive in each other? Yes.

And so the binding is made. (The cord is looped over the couple’s hands).

Bride, will you trouble Groom? I may.
Is that your intent? No.
Groom, will you trouble Bride? I may.
Is that your intent? No.

(Sentiments like the ones above will make the guests laugh momentarily until they realise that this is the truth of what happens and how important it is for Bride and Groom to acknowledge this).

Bride and Groom, will you be present in the challenges so that you may grow strong in this union? Yes.

And so the binding is made. (The cord is looped again over the couples hands).

And so on…
Eg: Will you dream together…
Willl you cause anger…
Will you honour …
Will you always respect and give gratitude to the other.

After each question, the ribbon will be looped around the couple’s hands.

After A and B, the Officiant/Celebrant will say: 

(Bride) and (Groom), as your hands are bound together now,
so your lives and spirits are joined in a union of love and trust.
Above you are the stars and below you is the earth.
Like the stars you love should be a constant source of light,
and like the earth, a firm foundation from which to grow.

(from this point the ceremony will  move on to traditional vows and the ring exchange)

Interestingly, today, couples which do not wish to legally marry, may instead engage in complete handfasting ceremonies, making the commitments their peasant ancestors made.  Have we gone full circle?

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