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History of Handfasting
September 9, 2021

The history of handfasting as a ceremony of the union of a couple in the UK dates back over many thousands of years. Whilst the detail of its origins are a little hazy, it is believed  early handfasting ceremonies and weddings formed part of pagan worship, particularly amongst Celts that migrated to Britain from Europe around 7000 B.C. As societies became more structured, the concept of marriage and weddings became increasingly important.

Whereas today weddings and handfastings emphasis on love and commitment, ancient unions were often more economic and political in nature. The ceremony itself had strong links with pagan worship. Furthermore, it is not just associated with marriage; through the centuries couples have used it to mark their betrothal or engagement.

The term handfasting derives from the custom of tying the bride and grooms hands and wrists together during the ceremony. A specially made cloth was used and in some traditions it was not untied until the marriage had been consummated. It is believed the term handfasting is derived from the Anglo Saxon word ‘handfaestung’.This described the tradition of shaking hands to signify any contract,  not just one associated with marriage.

Over the centuries handfasting ceremonies have changed. For example, in addition to marking a wedding or betrothal, they have been used as a means to renew vows at relevant points in a union. Some of the core elements remain fundamental to it, however, particularly the way in which the ribbon or chord is tied during the handfasting, which has roots in legal aspects of the tradition.

It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, in our increasingly secular and diverse society,handfasting is having something of a renaissance. Many couples are choosing to include elements of the ceremony or indeed replicate ancient pagan rituals linked to the tradition.This combination of the ancient and modern lends itself well to creating ceremonies that are unique and personal to each individual couple, yet brings the gravitas of thousands of years of tradition.

A winning combination I would say!