Handfasting ceremonies are the origin of the term to ‘tie the knot’ as when Handfasted the couple’s wrists are tied together with ribbons. The night before our own Handfasting we slept with our own ribbons beneath our pillows, then during the ceremony we were ritually tied together and at the end of the ceremony we gave our ribbons for each other’s safekeeping. That night we slept with each other’s ribbon under our pillows.
In some countries such as Scotland Handfastings are recognised as legal marriages. In England and Wales they are not and so we had a legal civil wedding for close family beforehand. Do check the legal situation in your own country.
Handfastings can be very personalised and the couple should have as much input into the ceremony as they’d like. Here are some of the questions you might like to consider if you are planning a Handfasting:
When will you be holding the ceremony? Traditionally Handfastings are held in the Spring, Summer, and Autumn, up until Samhain, or Halloween, as these are seasons of growth and abundance. Beltane is probably the most popular choice as it is a festival of growth and fertility, but other festivals including the Spring and Summer Solstices and full moons are considered auspicious. We chose May Day and celebrated with Maypole dancing.
Who will perform the ritual? This needs careful consideration. As a fully initiated High Priest and High Priestess, we carry out Handfastings, however not everyone has access to a Priest or Priestess in the traditional sense. It is important to find someone with ‘presence’ about them, someone who knows what it is to connect with the Divine. We chose a very close friend as our Priestess who embodies spirituality and has high integrity. Her energy was just right for our ceremony. Book your Priest and Priestess well in advance.
We wanted to share our day with a lot of people and had over 100 friends to join us. A couple we are Handfasting soon will have a very private ceremony with just half a dozen present. Guest numbers will influence where you hold your ceremony. Outdoors is lovely, but in Wales the weather can be unpredictable and so we chose a venue with both indoor and outdoor space. The couple we are Handfasting next are having their ceremony out in Nature and if it rains the guests will have umbrellas!
Will you be invoking specific Gods or Goddesses? Some are more appropriate to a wedding ceremony than others, but do choose energies that resonate with you. We called upon the Great Mother and the Great Father for our own Handfasting. Another couple we are wedding later this year are planning a spiritual ceremony in Nature and so will call on Mother Nature.
Will the Priest or Priestess be supplying the complete altar setup or do you need to do this? Do you have a colour scheme, perhaps you want an altar cloth that matches your dress? What colours would you like your ribbons to be? If you are in charge of the altar gather together a box of the items you’ll be using as there could be quite a few pieces to remember.
What you need will depend on your own ceremony. For our altar we had symbols for each of the elements: incense for Air, a candle for Fire,a chalice for Water and a crystal for Earth. We also used a Native American Prayer stick a friend had given us to hold our wedding rings. We had a second chalice on the altar for wine to bless our marriage and a cake another friend made us which we cut with our sword.
We decorated a besom as we included the old tradition of jumping the broomstick, which represents overcoming any obstacles by working together. Steve made a book of the ritual for our Priestess to read from which contained blank pages at the back for our guests to add their congratulations, creating a lovely keepsake. We also had a Certificate of Handfasting to sign.
Think about creating a sacred space. For our ceremony we purified the space beforehand and cleansed and consecrated all of the items on our altar. We nominated four Maidens, each placed in a quarter, or direction, to call in the energies of that direction. This was done at the opening of the ceremony working Sunwise from East to South to West to North. As we turned to face each quarter we visualised a circle of light being drawn around us and the congregation. Each Maiden held aloft an item appropriate for their direction. In the East our Maiden held a bronze sword to represent Air, in the South a Wand for Fire, in the West a Chalice for Water and in the North a Pentacle for Earth.
There are many Handfasting rituals on the internet, but if you use someone else’s words I’d encourage you to personalise them. Discuss your vows carefully with your partner. These are sacred promises made before the Divine and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Think especially about the length of time you promise to be Handfasted for. In the Wiccan tradition there are two timespans commonly used. One is for ‘a year and a day’, after which the couple may come before the Priest or Priestess if they are unhappy together and have their Handfasting annulled, the alternative is the other extreme, Eternity! We caution all couples against vowing to be together for Eternity as we have come across a number of unhappy situations with their roots in past life eternal vows. We promised that we would be Handfasted as long as our love for each other remains, after all who would want to stay tied together after all the love has gone?
Just as with a normal wedding you'll need to plan what you'd like to happen after the ceremony. We asked our guests to bring food and drink to our Handfasting rather than presents and they created a veritable banquet to share. We also had a band and much merriment over the Maypole dancing, plus fireworks when night fell. What would you like? It is your day after all.