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how to create a handfasting ceremony

Quotation MarkThere are many rituals that have lasted centuries that symbolise a couples love and commitment. The handfasting ceremony dates back to the time of the ancient Celts. It was used to acknowledge the beginning of a trial period of a year and a day during which time a couple were literally bound together - hand fasted. It was however a temporary agreement which could be made permanent after the trial period if both parties agreed.

Nowadays, the handfasting ceremony is only used symbolically, as marriage according to the law in Australia is a lifetime commitment. The bride and groom’s hands are joined together, usually holding hands so the wrists and pulses are touching, with a ribbon or symbolic material looped over the bride and groom’s wrists and tied by the celebrant or a friend.  Some, like the sample ceremony below, loop the ribbon six times.

Ensure that the ribbon is the right length - I would recommend a rehearsal so that everyone is familiar with the ritual before the ceremony day.

The words spoken usually express that the couple are bound by their love and commitment for one another and like the cord, which has two individual ends, they are two individuals. Yet, in essence, they are one.

The bride and groom usually remain joined by the looped ribbon until after the marriage vows are exchanged - not for a year and a day! The final tie being done loosely so the ribbon/s can be removed easily while still remaining tied.

 

examples of a handfasting ceremony

 

Ensure the celebrant is standing so all the guests can see the ceremony. You may also ask the celebrant to explain the ritual and its history before starting. People love to know what is going on.

You can use just one long cord or ribbon that is looped over the joined hands at each asking or you can use a separate cord or ribbon for each question, and then tie them all as one when the asking is complete. Make sure there is plenty of time to really allow the couple to hear the questions that are being asked of them.

There is usually a question to start a handfasting ritual such as:

Jane and Matthew, do you come here voluntarily to enter this marriage ceremony? (Yes, we do)

Jane and Matthew, would you please hold hands.

Jane and Matthew, will you honour and respect one another? (We will)
The first cord is draped over the couples' hands.

Will you support and assist each other in times of pain and sorrow? (We will)
Second cord is draped over the couple's hands.

Will you be present in the difficult and challenging times so that you may grow strong in this union? (We will) Third cord is draped over the couples' hands.

Will you share each others laughter and joy, and look for the brightness and fun in life, and the positive in each other? (We will).
Fourth cord is draped over the couples' hands.

Is it your intention to bring peace and harmony into your every day ways of communicating? (We will)
Fifth cord is draped over the couples' hands.

And when you falter, will you have the courage and commitment to remember these promises and take a step back towards one another with an open heart? (We will).
Sixth cord is draped over the couples' hands.

 

other question ideas

 

Are you willing now and always to make this commitment to each other? We are.
Will you stand side by side for the rest of your days together? We will.
Will you bring fun, laughter, joy and happiness to your relationship? We will.
And as the years pass and your hands become aged and wrinkled, will you reach out and be there for each other?We will.

And now as your hands are bound together, I ask you to declare your vows to each other.

At this point the legal vows can be incorporated.


john and kelly’s handfasting ceremony


Darcy, can you bring forward the handfasting ribbon. Thank you.

John and Kelly since you have met you have had many adventures and your friendship has really blossomed. As you have planned and prepared for this marriage you have become aware of your values and expectations. You have clarified your intentions which will give meaning to both this ceremony and to the marriage itself. Your intentions are that you wish the very best for each other; that you will be kind and considerate to each other; respect each other as the best of friends; that you will grow old together, sharing and caring for each other through whatever may come. You know however, that there will be times when you falter. With this understanding we make clear your intentions to all present.

With open hearts you are declaring your intentions here today with your family and friends as witnesses and symbolizing your commitment to each other and these ideals by this ritual of handfasting.

This ceremony, in ways unseen, will greatly strengthen your union. Recall your words and intentions often and let them guide you and support you throughout your years together.

Do you wish to enter this ceremony? Yes, we do.

I ask that you face one another and look into each others eyes.

John, will you bring suffering into the relationship? I may.
Is that your intent? No.

Kelly, will you bring suffering into the relationship? I may.
Is that your intent? No.

Kelly and John, will you make peace your first priority and, at those times when you forget, be brave and take the first step forward to healing? Yes.

And so the binding is made. (The first cord is placed over the couple’s joined hands).

Kelly, will you share John’s laughter and joy? Yes.
John, will you share Kelly’s laughter and joy? Yes.
Kelly and John, will you look for the brightness and joy in life and the positive in each other? Yes.

And so the binding is made. (The cord is looped over the couple’s hands).

Kelly, will you trouble John? I may.
Is that your intent? No.
John, will you trouble Kelly? I may.
Is that your intent? No.

(Sentiments like the ones above will make the guests laugh momentarily until they realise that this is the truth of what happens and how important it is for Kelly and John to acknowledge this).

Kelly and John, will you be present in the challenges so that you may grow strong in this union? Yes.

And so the binding is made. (The cord is looped again over the couples hands).

And so on…
Eg: Will you dream together…
Willl you cause anger…
Will you honour …
Will you always respect and give gratitude to the other...

Each time looping the ribbon around the couple’s hands.

At the end knot the ends together while saying: ‘Your union is symbolised by the tying of these ribbons. Your union is formed by your friendship and your commitment to the vows you have made, and will be enriched by the way you live your every day lives together. You hold in your own hands and hearts the making or breaking of this union. While we are now going to remove the ribbons the knot will remain tied symbolising two lives becoming one.

The ribbon is tied (leave enough space to take the ribbons off) and then gently removed from their joined wrists.

helen and david’s hand fasting ceremony using coloured ribbons


Helen and David have chosen to symbolise their love and commitment using the ritual of hand fasting. In ancient Celtic times hand fasting, which involves binding the bride and groom’s hands together with coloured ribbons, was one of the earlier forms of the wedding ceremony.

Helen and Dave, please join hands (as in a hand shake yet holding the wrists). For the hand fasting ceremony today  Helen and Dave have chosen coloured ribbons to represent the qualities they are bringing into their marriage relationship and their dedication to these important values. (These are based on colour symbology of the chakras). As each one is named Dave's sister, Mary will place the ribbon over Helen and Dave’s joined hands.
  • Red - for strength and courage, good health, prosperity, and longevity
  • Orange – for open hearts, sensitivity and understanding
  • Yellow – for enthusiasm, spontaneity and equality
  • Green – for compassion, affection and caring
  • Light Blue – for sincerity, easy self expression and honest communication
  • Purple – for clear vision and wisdom, for peace and harmony in all ways
  • Gold - for unity – divine blessing and presence in your lives
As Mary is binding Dave and Helen’s hands together, I will share the following blessing

(by Wendy Haynes).

We give thanks for the sacredness of this moment.
Above you are the heavens and below you is the earth.
Like the heavens, may your love be unending and be a source of wonder and delight.
Like the earth, may your love be a firm foundation from which to grow and nurture your marriage.
May your marriage be blessed with love, peace and happiness.

In Celtic tradition these cords were sometimes kept in place on the couples hands for sveral days after the ceremony. You can imagine the challenge this presented the couple - literally tied to one another 24/7! However, it was used to test and encourage them to fully cooperate and work together as a team. Today, Dave and Helen will be spared this part of the tradition (the ribbons are lifted off gently) while honouring the intention – that they will continue to work together as a team and uphold one another through all that life brings them.

These ribbons will be placed in a special box with the knot in place as a delightful reminder of the vows they have made.

closing thoughts


There are so many variations on the handfasting ceremony.

To personalise the ceremony explore what you would like to promise to each other and what values you would like to uphold. These answers can then be turned around to create the questions.

Enjoy your celebration, laugh and smile and have fun!
Wendy Haynes
all content is copyright 2009 www.wendyhaynes.com

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