A handfasting or handbinding ceremony is one of the oldest forms of wedding ceremony that exists – it can be traced back many centuries and across many countries but the exact roots are not clear. What is clear is that the phrase “tying the knot” which is so familiar to us all derives from this form of commitment.

Today a handfasting is often viewed as a pagan ceremony and associated with ceremonies which take place outside, in woodlands, up mountains or on beaches. However, I think it’s one of the most flexible ways for a couple to mark their commitment to each other and can be adapted to reflect their personalities and their relationship in so many ways regardless of the location.

Some couples will choose to have a stand alone handfasting, with no separate vows or ring exchanges while others will include it as part of their wedding ceremony – either is absolutely fine. Some will choose to follow a more strongly Pagan route with the ceremony area being cleansed and blessed and invoking specific mythological gods and goddesses within their ceremony. Many however prefer a lighter touch with reference to a connection to nature and the environment. I’m always happy to write a handfasting ceremony at the right level for each couple – the important thing is that is has a meaning and relevance to them and their lives.

How does a handfasting work?

A handfasting starts with the couple holding hands (either right hands or both hands) and looking at each other. The meaning of the ceremony is explained and the couple confirm that they want to go ahead. You can call on the Cardinal Directions and refer to the elements of earth, fire, water and air throughout the ceremony, connecting the couple with nature and the environment.

Then individual coloured ribbons, cords or plaited ribbons are bound around the wrists and hands crossing where the hands are clasped. I include explanations of the symbolic meaning of the ribbons for that couple, and the gifts and characteristics that they represent within that relationship. The couple make promises to each other as each ribbon or cord is wrapped around their hands. Then the ribbons or cords are tied together with a unity cord, which is then knotted repeatedly, as the couple remove their hands from them. This is the point at which the knot has been tied and when the couple’s hands have been fasted.

This is the basic outline of a handfasting but there are so many ways to make it personal to each couple, and this is where the inventiveness of your celebrant comes into play. I have included handmade bunting which has been signed by all the guests, a dressing gown cord and tie from deceased grandparents, ivy and hessian strips which formed the theme of the decorations, plaited ribbons representing children and many more. You can ask your parents or your children to choose the ribbon colours, I did one ceremony where everyone chose a colour and they also wrapped the couples hands with their ribbon. Parents and children have stood with me to do the binding as I say the words. It’s a fantastic way to involve other people in your ceremony. The possibilities are endless.

What is the significance of the different colours?

Red Passion, strength, lust, fertility

Orange Encouragement
, attraction, kindness, plenty

Yellow Charm
, confidence, joy, balance

Green Finances
, fertility, charity, prosperity, health

Blue Tranquillity
, patience, devotion, sincerity

Purple Power, piety, sanctity, sentimentality

Black Strength, wisdom, vision, success

White Purity, concentration, meditation, peace

Grey Neutrality, cancelling, balance

Pink Unity, honour, truth, romance, happiness

Brown Earth
, grounding, talent, telepathy, home

Silver Treasure
, values, creativity, inspiration

Gold Energy
, wealth, intelligence, longevity

Some people chose their favourite colours while others connect with the meanings behind the colours and either of these is fine. For me the most important thing is spending time with the couple so that I understand their characters and their relationship which means that I write a handfasting which is meaningful to them.

Images by:

1/3/4. olivierburnside.com

2. anyarebeccaphotography.co.uk