Handfasting was a form of trial marriage in both Ireland and Scotland during the early Christian period. The hands were tied together which explains the origination of the term “tying the knot”. In rural areas it could have been weeks or even months before clergyman stopped by a village so couples had to learn to make do. Handfastings were the equivalent to today’s common-law marriage and was generally done in the presence of witnesses. In Scotland marriages were considered a matter for the church until 1560 when marriage became a civil matter rather than a church sacrament.
Today, handfastings are a ceremony used by heathens, pagans and non-pagans alike. It may be a non-state registered wedding or a wedding where a marriage license is filed and there are probably as many different ritual types as there are people who have had it performed. Generally the hands are bound with some type of ribbon or cord. One custom involves the couple facing each other then placing the right hands together, then the left, forming the infinity symbol while the cord is tired around them in a knot. Another, is that only one set of hands are joined together and bound.
As I shared earlier, for our wedding, my husband and I exchanged rings and then held our hands together in the shape of the infinity symbol. I had made our handfasting cords - 3 cords made out of ribbon in colors symbolising various things we wanted in our own marriage. Our vow was a Celtic vow I had found while doing some research and planning in the months beforehand. Each cord was tied around our entwined hands and to this day, almost two years later they are still tied together, just as they were that day, and hanging around the frame of our wedding picture.
Because of this, I also began making handfasting cords for sale on Etsy. Click HERE for a look at what I have to offer so far! (Just a little shameless, self promotion there!)