Handfasting: The Celtic Union of Love

Tying the Knot

Handfasting is a ritual that is rapidly seeing integration in modern weddings no matter the belief or religion. But what does handfasting really consist of? And where did it come from?

The handfasting ritual has its roots in the Celtic tradition but was popular in 16th and 17th century Scotland, Ireland, and even England.

“The term handfasting translates into ‘To strike a bargain by joining hands’”, Tammy Krofta, a wedding officiant with over 10 years of experience with handfasting ceremonies and owner of Two Shall Become One Ceremonies, told us.

Krofta explained that, in the past, the handfasting ceremony was a ritual made prior to the official wedding.

“It started when two people chose to be married”, Krofta said, “They were brought together to have a braided cord or ribbon tied around their hands in the presence of a priest. This was a public declaration of their intent to be married”.

Krofta, who lives and runs her business from Richfield, Ohio, stated that the cord would stay on the couple’s wrist for one year and one day. In medieval England though, the custom was to do the handfasting ceremony at least a month before the actual wedding.

Picture Credit: EmbracingUnion/Etsy

Just like in the Scottish and Irish traditions, English handfasting was also an engagement to be married in the future.

“After this time (the time spent together after the handfasting and before the actual marriage), the couple returned to the priest to declare that they wanted to get married, or they were going to separate”, explained Krofta.

Today, handfasting ceremonies are done during the wedding for the couples to express their love and their commitment to each other. And the couple doesn’t have to be tied together for months or a year.

The couple can take the cords off after the ceremony or at the end of the celebrations.

“This ceremony is still a special way to honor the marriage ceremony”, said Krofta, “They [the couple] appreciate the symbol of unity the ceremony represents”.

Krofta continued, “By using carefully selected cords. They each represent different promises to one another, couples then begin the start of their marriage, quite literally, tied together”.

One bride that chose to tie the knot – which is where this saying comes from – was Tabitha Takala a Columbus, Ohio native. In truth, she and her husband chose to have a ceremony blending various aspects of their family traditions and other non-traditional aspects.

Submitted by Tabitha Takala

“We both are more spiritual than religious”, Takala, who married in 2019, admitted to us, “And felt the traditional meaning of a handfasting represented both of us more than typical wedding words”.

“Additionally,” Takala continued, “Some of his family follow a more Wiccan path and mine has strong Native American, Jewish, and Traveling Irish. We are a large melting pot so handfasting has a stronger connection to all of our family elements”.

One of the atypical things that Takala and her husband did was to vow to love instead of the usual “honor and obey” that is said in wedding vows. They also wrote their own vows and met together instead of being given away.

“The wedding was a Victorian masquerade theme where we both ‘unmasked’ rather than wearing a veil and presenting a bride”, Takala stated, “We met together rather than being given away. We started on equal footing from the start”.

How is the handfasting ceremony performed?

Before the handfasting ceremony is performed the couple must choose at least three cords or ribbons of their liking. They must be long enough to be able to wrap around their hands various times and to be able to make the knot with.

“During the ceremony, I begin by explaining to the quests what handfasting means”, Krofta explained, “And what I will be doing. Then I ask the couple to join their hands”.

Krofta continued, “During the wrapping of the cords around the couple’s hands, I am reading a series of vows. When all the cords are placed around their hands, I say a few words about the couple’s commitment and unity of each other. Then I form the love knot with the cords”.

Picture Credit: EmbracingUnion/Etsy

“At this part,” Krofta said, “the couple can leave the cords in place for the remainder of the ceremony, or I can take them off and put them in a place of importance”.

It is preferable to keep the knot intact when taking it off as it can be stored or displayed by the couple later in a safe place.

According to Krofta, family members and friends can take part in the ceremony by giving the couple their cords or ribbons and taking them off the couple’s hands once the ceremony has concluded.

Although this ceremony was often done by people who follow pagan beliefs and practices, Krofta says that more and more couples from other religions and beliefs are opting to do handfasting in their own weddings.

“I think couples like this tradition because it gives them a spiritual, non-religious option”, Krofta said, “Also, it is a very romantic and unique way to show their commitment to each other”.

Handfasting is a ceremony that binds two people in love. It doesn’t matter what religion or spiritual path you follow. If you want to have handfasting at your wedding, you can do it.

Author: Daila Ayala