What is handfasting?
Handfasting is a beautiful old Celtic Ritual that has been used as a way to marry people for hundreds and even thousands of years. Its origins can be traced back to 7000 BC in ancient Ireland, where two people who chose to be married would be brought together to have their hands bound with Cord or Ribbon to symbolise their commitment to one another and the binding of two lives. This was sometimes seen as an engagement of such which ran for one year and one day.
A Brief History of Handfasting.
In centuries such as the 14 and 1500’s in the Scottish Highlands, a Handfasting was often performed when a Priest was not going to be available or come through for a long time and the couple wanted to be Married, they would perform a Hand fasting which would be seen as a legal marriage in the eyes of the law, thus meaning the couple didn’t have to wait as it could be years before a Clergyman would come through the village. Although by the 18th Century the Kirk of Scotland no longer recognised Handfasting a legal marriage without the blessing of the church, Civil Authorities did. So to minimise any legal actions, Handfasting Ceremonies were performed in public. This remained a legal form of marriage with Scottish Civil Authorities up until 1939 when the Scottish Marriage laws were reformed and marriages had to be conducted either by a Clergyman or a Registrar.
In England after the Lord Harwicke’s Act of 1753 declared Handfasting to only be recognised as legal if performed by a clergyman, couples from England would travel to the Scottish Border town of Gretna Green to perform their Handfasting Ceremonies which the couples often performed themselves. The Old Blacksmiths Shop at Gretna Green was a very popular spot for couples to get “Married” and have their Handfasting Ceremony. Many still go to Gretna Green to have a Handfasting and legal marriage Ceremony over the old anvil.
In Pagan, Wiccan and other nature based religions, a Handfasting is often performed by a high Priestess and is but one part of a three part ritual. Firstly the Priestess will call upon the gods and goddesses and other deities, cast a circle, then there is the Cord or Ribbon part and then the couple jump over the Besom/ Broom to signify their leap into their new life together.
Couples can choose to have a Handfasting for either a year and a day, where the couple repeats their vows the following year when the term expires or for a lifetime commitment. Although the first option is quite practical, in the case of Australian Law, only performing the year and a day Handfasting is not recognised as a legal marriage. But definitely a wonderful way to have a commitment ceremony!
The Legalities and Recognition in Australia.
According to law in Australia, a marriage is only legally recognised if it has been performed by an Authorised Marriage Celebrant or Registered Religious Minister. (Some Pagan Ministers fall under this category.) Certain words must be spoken as well as legal documents completed in accordance with the Marriage Act. To have a Pagan/Wiccan Handfasting that is legally recognised as a marriage in Australia, your High Priestess/Priest or Pagan Minister will need to be Registered with the Attorney General of Australia to perform legal Marriages as either a recognised Religious Minister or an Authorised Marriage Celebrant.
The manner in which the Cord or Ribbon is placed over the couples joined hands will form a knot when the hands are pulled out of the knot and ends pulled together. The Cord/Ribbons can be placed in a way so as the infinity symbol is made by the knot thereby symbolising never-ending love.
This is undoubtedly where the saying “Tying the Knot” originated.
There are multiple different ways the Cord/Ribbon can be “Tied”. The performance of which can be done by your Celebrant or a loved one or multiple loved ones! Each Cord/Ribbon can be placed over the hands representing different aspects of the relationship or representing each family/friends blessing of the union.
For instance three separate cords/ribbons can be placed over the joined hands representing each individual and the third representing the union of the marriage. All three are then bound together with the knot representing the bond that has been formed.
Or each guest brings a Ribbon/Cord that they have blessed and when the time is right each one comes and places their “blessing” over the couples joined hands. Then, either the person solemnising the marriage or a chosen guest/loved one, gathers all the Cords/Ribbons together and ties them handing the couple an end each that they can then pull after they have slid out their hands. Choosing to use someone that has experience in Handfasting or has practiced and perfected the way in which the couple’s knot is tied, is really a must or it can lead to a huge mess depending on how many cords or ribbons there are. Some methods are simple and some are definitely more for the experienced hand.
There is an abundance of Promises or Vows if you will, that can be said during this ceremony or, like with any wedding, you can write your own. These can be said by the Celebrant or Officiant, and or by the couple. Remember all these words can easily be “tweaked” to fit in with your situation and relationship.
Although some choose to have a more formal Ceremony with a High Priestess or Pagan Minister perform a formal Handfasting, it is not for everyone. Some couples simply love the idea and the history and meaning of being Handfasted and want it as either a tradition or ritual if you will, added into their wedding Ceremony similar to a Sand Ceremony or lighting a Unity Candle. Others may prefer to have the entire Ceremony be the Handfasting and simply add the Mandatory Legal Vows and Monitum (These are the Legal requirements that must be said in a Wedding Ceremony in Australia) into the ceremony. The choice is yours! Either way we do suggest you find someone who is not only experienced in “knot tying” but also someone who understands and is experienced in performing a Handfasting and can seamlessly weave your choices into your Ceremony so your day is quite simply, MAGICAL.