I often perform a type of ceremony known as a Handfasting, which basically is a marriage wherein I actually bind the hands of the couple together as part of the ritual and it symbolizes their union.
It’s a great visual for your guests and an unique departure to the exchange of rings, although all the handfastings I have officiated have involved rings also.
The origins of handfastings are much discussed and the theories are many. I choose to believe that many of the weddings that were performed in history were between people of country lifestyles who followed simple systems and probably did not have access to either jewelry or to priests. The symbolic tying of the knot would have been performed by a person of honour, such as the village elder or family head. Handfasting is seen as a pagan ritual and in the true translation of the work pagan [dweller in the country] that would seem to be so, however I think the intent is to label it a ‘heathen’ practice, that is ‘of a non christian’ viewpoint.
Whatever you opinion may be of the origins and faith systems behind the ceremony, it is in fact a beautifully graphic way of expressing what is after all a binding of two people to each other. It can be incorporated into any faith system and used in several ways.
Attendants tie the knots
In this version we have the bridal party each step forward and wrap and tie a cord around the couples hands. They say a prayer, blessing or a wish for the couple and step back into line. This is usually quite a moving sight and involves everyone in more than just accompanying the couple up and down the aisle.
Family or friends tie the knots
I have performed this version quite a few times and it does take a little more planning than the previous version. The logistics are harder because this involves having members of friends and family groups come up the aisle to the altar and tie the knots. Seating becomes important as you don’t want the fuss of people having to stand to let them out, so I have found this works better in an informal seating setting, such as in a tent or at an outdoor wedding. Pews make it very difficult unless those persons sit at the end.
Little bags are attached
This version is trickier still, but definitely way more personal. I have had couples instruct their knot tiers to make a little ‘spell’ or ‘blessing’ bag to tie into the cord. Inside each bag are items to reflect the spell or blessing, for example a pink bag with rose quartz for love. A grandmother of the bride came up to me at one such occasion and said that she had spent a day browsing through spiritual supply stores looking for the perfect thing and had enjoyed it very much and she was so proud of herself for putting the blessing together. She and the others took turns to come up and tie the little bag into the cords that were draped over the couples hands and in between each tying I braided the cords to keep it in place. The cords were then hung on the back of their bedroom door with a small bell attached to remind them how they came to that place in their lives each time it rang. No slamming doors in that bedroom!
The officiant ties the knots
The simplest form of all. the officiant ties knots whilst performing the ceremony, usually accompanied by a vow taking. Such as ‘do you……do you……yes’ tie knot. Repeat.
I always leave the knot tied. Some traditions have you undoing the knots to let the couple out, but I drape in such a way that it is not necessary to do that. I actually have the couple face me and join hands on the inside of their bodies and drape the cords in a simple slip knot that mimics the infinity symbol or figure 8, that way I can tie the last knot and slip it off them for ring exchange, or they can keep it on for photos etc. The cords themselves can be coloured according to symbolic preferences and the vows tailored to those colours, for example red for passion would lead to something like ‘do you promise to be passionate in your love, to keep fire in hearts and souls and to kindle the flames of joy each day?’ Tie red cord. See how easy it is?
I am performing a full handfasting in June in a beautiful outdoor location so I will try and get a video clip to post here. Should be stunning.