The Handfasting we perform is an ancient Celtic custom. Steeped in tradition and symbolism, it was especially common in Britain, Ireland, and Scotland until the mid 1700’s, in which two people came together at the start of their marriage relationship to declare themselves engaged or “married for a year and a day”. Their hands, or more accurately, their wrists, were literally tied together. This practice gave way to the expression “tying the knot” which has come to mean getting married or engaged.
The Celtic Handfasting ritual recognized just one of many forms of marriages permitted under ancient Irish law. The couple who came together for the Handfasting agreed to stay together for a specific period of time, usually a year-and-a-day. At the end of the year the couple faced a choice. They could enter into a longer-term “permanent” marriage contract, renew their agreement for another year, or go their separate ways.
Handfastings were under the jurisdiction of common law rather than canon law. As such, only few unions were sanctified in a church or synagogue, rather they took place in the village square, in meadows, a grove of trees, or on a mountaintop and were celebrated by a simple hand fasting ceremony in which the couple joined their hands together in a figure 8 – the sign of infinity, symbolizing that their love and commitment was as vast as the Universe and would transcend time.
With only a few witnesses, the couple exchanged vows before their clan chieftain, family head, priest, priestess, shaman, or elder of the community and declared themselves to be united, binding together their hands and sealing their union with a kiss, the chords remaining knotted forever.
This time old tradition is gaining in popularity for its rich symbolism and down to earth realism. Found in a myriad of cultures, this rich and meaningful ceremony spiritual depth and meaning make it appropriate to use with all faith traditions and is perfect for both interfaith and secular ceremonies.
This ceremony is a wonderful way to include children and other family members or friends in your ceremony and is legal as long as you have a marriage license.
Thank you to Kimberly and Sean for providing this video of their hand fasting
Fishermen’s Knot – A True Lover’s Knot
For a Pandemic Friendly Version – this ceremony is delightful! As legend has it – around the turn of the nineteenth century, an art form arose from the ranks of deep-water sailors. That art form was knotting. Sailors used rope to create knots that were anywhere from simple to elaborate. Some knots were purely for practical use and other knots were created for decorative use. Some knots were used to signify meaning. One knot that arose during this time period that was heavily laden with meaning was the True Lover’s Knot.
The true lover’s knot is a simple and clear knot, implying its forthright goal. It is made up of two overhand knots, linked together, much like the “true-lovers” are in their hearts. A deep-water sailor would tie the knot loosely, and send it to his intended back home. Upon receiving it, the woman could:
- Untie it. – Meaning the sailor shouldn’t show his face around the next time he was in port.
- Send it back leaving it loose the way she received it. – Meaning the sailor would be welcomed home, but he better be on his best behavior.
- Tighten the knot before returning it. – Meaning the sailor should hurry his way to the homestead.
By the tying of a fisherman’s knot; a true lovers knot, for it is the strongest there is; you are symbolizing your bond will not break, and will become ever stronger under pressure.
These two cords represent your life paths; each of you as individuals and the unique and special gifts you bring to your marriage. As you fasten your pieces together, these actions represent the present; this moment when you join your two lives into one common purpose. The completed knot represents your future, secure in the knowledge your relationship will continue to be strong despite the inevitable challenges and changes life brings. Although the fisherman’s knot is one of the simplest to tie, it is also one of the sturdiest. As stress is applied, the knot becomes ever stronger.
It is the goal of marriage to achieve a blending of hearts and lives, but like the spaces between these cords formed by the knot, let there also be spaces in your new life together, so each may encourage and nurture the individual growth of the other.
During the ceremony, each of you will tie your individual knot then pull on the rope to see it strengthen under pressure while still allowing the individual cords to be seen ~ just as your support of one another as beautiful and blessed individuals strengthens your union. You will then pull on the rope together.
As you hold one another in mutual concern and shared respect, may you continue holding each other tightly in your hearts and form a strong bond, now and forever. Let this knot indicate the strength of your love and be a symbol of your unity from this day forward.
NOTE to Couple:
Because the tying of the knot is the responsibility of the bride and groom, It does require some practice, so if you’re going to include it in your wedding, make time to rehearse. You have to learn how to tie a fisherman’s knot to make this a successful moment in your wedding ceremony. YouTube may be a great place to learn this.
I’ve found a short video on YouTube that shows how this is done and here’s a link to it: