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Handfasting Information

The term“handfasting” is actually taken from Old Norse “hand-festa” meaning to strike a bargain by joining hands and practiced by the Vikings.

 

It was also practiced by the Greeks and Romans. The Romans created a garland made of magnolia, elder, and roses that was then wrapped around the couple’s wrists to signify love and fidelity.

 

The Celtic cultures of Europe and the British Isles used it as a betrothal or a promise of marriage between two people who would spend a traditional term of a year and a day together to see if they were compatible. After this time, if they were in agreement the vows could be taken again and they would be considered married.  It became a popular custom in the British Isles and in rural areas it could be weeks or even months before a clergyman happened to stop by your village, so couples learned to make allowances.

 

A handfasting was the equivalent to today’s common-law marriage where a man and a woman simply clasped hands and declared themselves married. Generally this was done in the presences of a witness or witnesses.

 

In Scotland, marriages were considered the office of the church until 1560, when marriage became a civil matter rather than a church sacrament. After that time, marriages were divided into regular and irregular marriages. Handfastings were considered irregular marriages and were considered the domain of the lower class and peasants.

 

The custom spanned the centuries and was still legal in many parts until 1753 when Lord Handwick passed an Act through Parliament declaring that marriages in England could only be legal if sanctioned by the Church. However, this law was exempt in both Scotland and the Channels Islands. Handfasting continued to be legal in Scotland until up to 1939. 

 

The word “handfasting “ fell by the wayside for many years and then in the 1950s when witchcraft laws were repealed in England, various occultists and witches searched for a non-Christian term for their wedding ceremonies and they settled on “handfasting” and the concept was resurrected within the Neopagan movement and has since been making its come back in modern days in part to the 1995 movie Braveheart in which William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) and his girlfriend Murron are joined together with a handfasting ceremony.

 

Because of its timeless beauty that symbolizes the union of two people and their willingness to be together it is becoming a new popular tradition among Pagan and Christian couples alike seeking a new and spiritual way to honor their love for one another.    In the handfasting ceremony the bride and groom cross arms and join hands, basically creating the infinity symbol (a figure-eight) with the hands. The clergy person performing the ceremony will lightly bind the hands of the couple together using a cord, rope, ribbons, a scarf, tartan, or strips of fabric. It is meant to signify a couples coming together as “One”. This also where the term “tying the knot” comes from.

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