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A Guide to Handfasting

A Union of Love and Commitment

Welcome to glorious Spring in Edinburgh, love is in the air and wedding season is just around the corner. The city’s plethora of ornate stone churches, town halls and beautiful gardens in bloom will be holding space this summer for the ceremonies of enamoured couples. Pledging their commitment to each other, loved-up pairs across the land will be celebrating their love and union with their clan and kin. Weddings are a time of fun and joy, where two communities are thrust together, two families are joined forever and where speeches go on and on. Steeped in traditions and customs, weddings conjure up images of elegant dresses, kilts, rings and vows. One of the oldest marriage traditions that was lost but is once again coming back into favour, is the ancient Celtic custom of handfasting.

When did Handfasting originate?

Handfasting in an ancient Celtic tradition that dates back some 7000 years. The phrase ‘tying the knot’ comes from the practice of handfasting. A union of commitment and love, a handfasting ceremony was originally a betrothal rather than a marriage. A couple would commit to each other for a year and a day. At the end of this time, the couple could then agree if they wanted to make the commitment permanently or to amicably part ways.

How long does Handfasting last?

Over the years the meaning of a handfasting evolved depending on which area of the British Isles the couple wed. In Scotland, the ceremony was legally recognised as a marriage ceremony up until 1939. The couple were bound together in union not just for a lifetime, but for eternity. It is this intent, to celebrate the intertwining of souls and destinies, that celebrants and couples now honour in a handfasting ceremony – and commit to each other for this lifetime.

How does Handfasting work?

The hands of the couple are bound together by ribbon or cord to represent their commitment. Facing each other during the ritual, the celebrant or humanist will literally ‘tie the knot’ whilst the couple recite their vows or promises to one another. The couple are then bound together until midnight or for the rest of the wedding day or until the end of the handfasting ceremony – this is a personal choice. The bind is made of three intertwining cords of different colours each representing different aspects of their relationship. For example red means passion, black – strength and green – fertility.

Is Handfasting a Legal Marriage?

A handfasting ceremony alone as part of a Humanist ceremony is not a legally binding commitment. In Scotland, due to the separation of church and state, a couple can only be wed in either a Civil Registrar Service or a Religious Service. However, if you are a practising Pagan you can have a handfasting ceremony as part of a Pagan wedding ceremony – and this is legally reconsigned in Scotland!

Handfasting for Wedding

Many couples chose to incorporate a handfasting ceremony into their wedding to honour their Celtic roots or to embrace their nature-based spirituality. It is also a meaningful symbolic act, as well as exchanging of the rings, to show they are literally as well as energetically bound to one another.

Handfasting on Beltane

In Edinburgh on Beltane night, handfasting has become an important tradition for both members of the Beltane Fire Society community and spectators. The ritual is performed within The Bower, the final resting point of the procession and the site of the union of the red (passion) and white (purity) energy. The May Queen and the Green Man bless the couple during their handfasting ceremony – marks the start of their commitment for a year and a day. This intense and powerful setting, alive with drums, fire and the representations of the elements, transports us to an otherworldly environment – a glimpse into the realm of an ancient Celtic handfasting ceremony.

Celtic Jewellery and Handfasting Ceremony

The Celtic knot represents eternity and interconnectedness – a perfect symbol for marriage and unity. When planning a handfasting ceremony, couples can incorporate Celtic jewellery to deepen the symbolism of the occasion.

1. Rings

Exchange Celtic knot rings or Celtic Dragon Tungsten rings as wedding bands to represent your bond for eternity.

2. Claddagh Rings

Exchange Claddagh rings during the ceremony, symbolizing eternal love, loyalty, and friendship – the pillars of a strong and enduring relationship.

3. Handfasting Cords

Incorporate Celtic knots or Celtic symbols into the cords or ribbons with which to bind your hands during the ceremony, adding layers of meaning to the ritual.

4. Accessories

Dress yourselves with Celtic-inspired accessories such as brooches, bracelets, or earrings featuring traditional Celtic knot or triple Goddess designs to symbolise unity and strength.

5. Gifts

Present each other with Celtic jewellery as tokens of your love and commitment, to be cherished for years to come.

Previous: Beltane Fire Festival In Edinburgh

Next: Tree Of Life Jewellery

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