This gorgeous and ancient practice is a great addition to your wedding day,
so, if you want to tie the knot, read on!
Those of you with eagle eyes may have already spotted that I have used the words handfasting and handtying. Are they the same thing? Well, no, not really. So, what’s the difference and does it matter? Image: Christopher Terry
What is a Handfasting Ceremony? A handfasting ceremony is an ancient and spiritual way of joining two people in marriage and still forms an important part of Pagan and Wiccan weddings today. The handfasting ceremony includes a number of elements - including the part where the couple’s hands are tied: the handtying. Traditionally, the couple would keep the knot tied for a year and a day, and then decide to remain married or not! If they decided to go their separate ways, they could simply untie the knot in the presence of an officiant: The ultimate in quickie divorces*! * Disclaimer: This form of divorce is not legally binding!
So how is a Handtying Ceremony different? The handtying ceremony is the part of a full handfasting ceremony where the couple's hands are tied used as a stand-alone element. Because this handtying part is stand-alone, it's a great inclusion to a wedding ceremony and adapted to a couple's own choices and tastes. The handtying can be as elaborate or as simple as you like, but it’s usually conducted without any reference to spirituality (although it still can have a spiritual element if you would like).
What do you need for a handtying?
A handtying ceremony is really quite simple to incorporate into your wedding with a little bit of planning, preparation and practice! Here are some things that you will need to get you started
A person to conduct the handtying As you might have guessed, a handtying is not something you can do yourselves, as your hands will (quite literally) be tied. Most often a celebrant, like me will be the best person to get involved here as they will have conducted handtying ceremonies many times before, they won't get themselves (or you!) tied up in knots and they'll will be skilled in creating a handtying that fits you perfectly.
The next thing you need is one or more handfasting cords or ribbons. The optimal length for cords is about 1.5m but a little over or under is just fine. This is where you imagination can run wild, but here are some ideas of materials that work well.
Ribbons – either just simple single strands, or more usually some plaited ribbons like in the image on the left, so they have a bit more weight to them (and they can look very pretty too!).
Image: Pink Photographics
Haberdashers’ cords – these are the cords that are most usually used to make curtain tie-backs. These are great to use here because they are already of the right ‘weight’ for the job. The only draw-back is that you don’t usually have the variation of colours available that you do with ribbon.
Other materials can be used, and you can really get imaginative with your celebrant here. I have used some great alternatives to traditional ribbon or cords like strips of lace from a mother’s wedding dress (this is a great way to incorporate ‘something old’, and to add extra meaning to the cords), a macrame cord crated especially for the couple by Made in kNotts (see top image - this fitted their barn-style boho wedding perfectly), strips of family tartan (this is perfect for a couple with Scottish or Irish roots). The options are really only limited by your imagination!
What about colours? The colours you choose can have a personal meaning to you as a couple or family (you can even just choose your favourite colours), or simply fit with your wedding colour scheme. Every handtying is different and so you can use colour to personalise and incorporate the cords into your own story. I even conducted a handtying for a couple who met when their children were learning karate together. Romance blossomed and karate was an important bond for this blended family. The cords they chose were the colours of the highest belts they achieved: white, green, blue, brown and black, and they looked amazing when formed into a beautiful infinity knot.
You can also use colours based on their meaning in handfasting tradition. This can be a lovely way of adding good wishes and hopes for the couple into their ceremony and tying these good wishes into their knot. I’ve outlined some of the meanings here:
Red: For courage, willpower, passion, and determination.
Dark Blue: For safety in travels, long life, strength, wisdom, and truth
Light Blue: For understanding, good health, devotion, and justice.
White: For peace, sincerity, innocence, wholeness, and enlightenment.
Green: For good health, prosperity, luck, beauty, peace, home, and children.
Yellow: For wisdom, harmony, attraction, communication, learning, and charm.
Brown: For stability of home, talent, and nurturing.
Pink: For romance, partnership, honour, unity, truth, healing, and happiness.
Orange: For good luck, encouragement, stimulation, optimism, success, and kindness.
Black: For protection, meditation, pure love, spirituality, and success.
Gold: For unity, prosperity, confidence, creativity, perfection, richness, and long life.
Silver: For creativity, protection, and emotional stability.
Are there set words to say during a handtying? Because the handtying ceremony is personalised there aren’t any rules about what must be said. This means that you can adapt the whole thing to you and what you want to say to each other and your guests.
Can I get my children involved? Yes, you absolutely can! In fact, you can involve anyone you like. The best and easiest way to do this, is for them to come to lay a cord over your joined hands, one at a time. They can choose whichever colour they would like, or even make the cords themselves. They don’t have to say anything as they lay the cords, or they can give you each a hug, or they could even give you a blessing or a good wish for your marriage. It’s whatever suits you all, and fits with you as a couple or family.
What do the couple need to do during a handtying?
Handtying is great way for a couple to do something a bit more fun, symbolic and meaningful as part of their wedding ceremony, without having to learn anything tricky or do any more speaking in front of everyone! All you have to do is hold hands! This can be done however you would normally hold hands, or, for a bit of extra symbolism, you can hold each other’s hands - pulse point to pulse point.
Your celebrant then wraps the cords (gently!) around your joined hands to form the knot and, as if by magic, you pull the ends of the cord (while slipping out your joined hands) to reveal that you have tied the knot! Cue thunderous applause! If this sounds complicated, don’t worry, that’s what I’m there for. You can’t go wrong.
Image: Pink Photographics
Is there a special handtying knot? You can choose how elaborate you want your knot to be, and if you’re going to keep your cords tied as a keepsake, then you might want a knot that looks beautiful when tied. The knot I use most is the infinity knot. Not only does it symbolise a love without end, but it looks stunning when tied. The fact that this is a nice and straightforward one to tie has absolutely nothing to do with it!
When does the handfasting take place within the ceremony?
Your celebrant can help you decide this – as there is no hard or fast (pun intended) timing. I sometimes perform the tying and then the couple say their vows to each other while they are still tied together and then we literally 'seal' the vows with the knot. Other times, for a great high energy way of ending the ceremony, I perform the handtying just before the newly-weds head down the aisle together with their exit music playing and their guests clapping and cheering. Really, every handtying will be a bit different depending on the couple and the content of the ceremony as a whole, so you can be as creative as you like!
Is handtying a legally binding ceremony? No, it isn’t (which is why it’s so flexible!). The easiest way to have a handtying – or handfasting – within your wedding ceremony is to have a very small legal ceremony separately. This can be done very cheaply at a register office with just you both and two adult witnesses. This then frees you and your celebrant completely to create a beautiful, bespoke ceremony just for you, with all your friends and family there to hear you say your vows, watch you exchange your rings, and see you perform your stunning handtying.
Is a handtying something you’d like to include in your wedding ceremony?
Why not get in touch and find out more about all the fabulous possibilities.