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What is Handfasting?

I think it’s fascinating to find out the etymology of the words we use regularly. As a Pagan, I’d heard of a handfasting. I’d been told these celebrations were a traditional way of two people getting married without a lifetime commitment. I understood it to be a way to try marriage out before you fully commit. After a year and a day, a couple could separate with no ill feelings or marry and stay together.


A stretched out arm with leaves, flowers and twigs wrapped around the wrist.

The term hand-fasting in essence means ‘to shake on it’. It’s a promise that you will live together and love each other until 366 days have passed. Hopefully, the love you created will see you through for longer.


There’s no exact date that handfasting exists from though it recognised from Celtic and Old Norse and Medieval times. It was very common to be hand-fasted in the Middle Ages. Hand-fasting was also known as Troth Plight- Troth (truth) Plight (to pledge) - to pledge your interest or to be engaged. The word Betrothed- a promise to marry- i.e. to be engaged, also comes from this term.


As the Church became more prominent in society after it was expected that people married in a church. Therefore, if someone was handfasted, they were expected to ‘officially’ marry in Church shortly afterwards. After some more time, marriage became the more popular and expected in society and hand-fasting fell out of favour.


Now, hand-fasting is a popular addition to independent ceremonies and is used in a variety of ways. I do love the spiritual aspect of the ceremony but it’s not for everyone.


A simple handfasting with a beautifully braided cord made up of different coloured ribbons or ropes that have been blessed by family and friends, is a gorgeous way to celebrate your relationship. I also like to include any children from the couple in the ceremony here.



What do you think about including a Handfasting in your ceremony?


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