Handfasting – tying the knot?

Handfasting – tying the knot?


I love handfasting ceremonies – either on their own or as part of a wedding or commitment ceremony. In many ways their history makes them particularly suitable for commitment ceremonies. Traditionally they were performed as an intention to marry, rather than as an actual wedding ceremony. However handfasting is the most likely origin of the phrase “Tying the knot” as referring to getting married.



There are a lot of stories about the history of handfasting but it is difficult to be sure what was started when and by who. Many historians tell us that handfasting is key in a number of Celtic, Pagan and Christian traditions and ceremonies. Handfasting has been used by a range of faith groups and by those who just admire the symbolism for their own relationship. We see that it has been used by the traditional Church. (For example Prince William and Kate had their hands wrapped by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s stole as he said “Those whom God has joined together, let not man put asunder”.) It has been used in lots of other ways by people of all faiths and none.


The term “handfasting” is said to come from the norse words hand-festa. This means “to strike a bargain by joining hands”. An early English meaning is “a contract, specifically a betrothal or marriage contract”. Some people see it as an elaborate handshake! Couples who wanted to make a commitment to marry had a ceremony which declared their intentions to the people in their community. In the ceremony the hands of the couple would be bound together using cloth, material, ropes or cords. Then, for a year and a day they would live together as a couple. If, at the end of that time they wanted to marry then they would. But if they had decided that things had not gone so well then the knots in their handfasting cords would be undone and they would call it a day.


Pagan weddings are part of the ancient beliefs and practices of paganism and handfastings form a key component of them. In fact the wedding is sometimes described as the handfasting. The ceremonies reflect their worship and practices of sacrifice, meditations and their spiritual offerings. The cords used are in different colours to reflect important areas of life and spiritual meanings and other important elements – earth, air, fire and water. And the imbibing of wine is also important in the rituals. Many aspects of these weddings are adapted in non-pagan weddings now.


Handfastings are also seen as key in Celtic traditions. In fact right up until the Marriage Act of 1939, handfastings were legally recognised in Scotland. There is also a Celtic handfasting which was seen as to be “for as long as love shall last” which is sometimes reflected in commitment ceremonies.
Today handfasting can be wonderfully symbolic in any wedding ceremony. In recent weddings I have used ribbons and cord, plaited ribbons, scarves and other ties that have been significant to the couple. They may be draped over the hands and then tied. Or they may be bound or woven together in advance. We have involved family members and friends in the ritual. And it can form a wonderful basis for a “blessing” from a tradition of choice at the end of the ceremony.





If you want to know more about how handfasting could be part of your unique, personal, meaningful ceremony then do get in touch.







If you are thinking about Ceremony music why not read this:


Wedding Celebrant

Wedding Ceremony Music

Wedding Ceremony Music


Whether your ceremony starts with the bride and her father walking down the aisle of a cathedral or the couple arriving into a woodland glade space together to make their vows, you usually have some music playing in the background.

My top tip is don’t get too stressed about it. If you know exactly what you want that is fantastic – and you will listen out for it and remember it. And, you definitely don’t want it to be something that you cringe when you think about other people having listened to it at the start of your day. But lots of couples are so full of emotion at that point that they don’t actually hear what is being played!

Outdoor ceremony Celebrant

This music does usually mark the beginning of the day’s proceedings so remember that it will set the scene for your day – whether it is a formal classical and traditional piece, the theme music from your favourite Disney film, the song that has become “your song”, something romantic, something fun, something slightly geeky – it will set the scene for the promises you are going to make to each other in front of your family and friends.


Celebrant East MidlandsWhat do we need to consider?

If you are getting married in Church there may be some limitations on what music is acceptable so check that out before getting your heart totally set on something. If the Registrar is taking your ceremony they too will have some limitations as they cannot have “religious” music played. Always clear your music list with your Registrar before the ceremony as they have been known to interrupt proceedings to prevent the playing of inappropriate music!

If you are having a Celebrant led ceremony then there are no such restrictions and your Celebrant will focus with you on exactly what you want for your unique ceremony.

What kind of music works?

Music which works for you tends to work. If you are into rock, country, hip hop blues or folk punk or some other specific genre of music then you will tend to know what kind of songs or instrumental pieces will reflect you and what your wedding means to you. But if your musical interest is either broad or minimal then it might be useful to consider music in a small number of groupings.

Three ways I use for categorising “processional” music are classical, popular and contemporary. The popular music tends to cover a variety of well-known music with a wide appeal and include music from film scores. Contemporary music would include music recently written, recorded and performed.
You may not think that you know any classical style music but once you get onto YouTube or Spotify to have a listen you will probably find that you do – even if it was from a John Lewis Christmas ad or the like! Do have a listen to a few pieces of classical music if you are struggling as they can set usually set a particular feel without you wondering if that should have been the piece of music you chose for your first dance. (There are some suggestions below to get you started).

You may have someone playing the music live – an organist or a string trio or your mate’s band. If so make sure you get to hear them before hand and talk to them about how confident they are with the pieces you have chosen. (A long lost bit of video footage had my eyebrows go into my head as the stand-in organist made a horrible mistake as I walked down the aisle. Still, one of those moments I do remember!)

And do listen all the way through to any pieces that you are considering that include lyrics. A local hotel I led a ceremony at recently put together a playlist for a couple, to be played as people were gathering, and it included “Band of Gold” by Freda Payne – all about divorce with all that left being the band of gold! So don’t choose a piece of music by its title and a vague memory of the tune.

We are still not sure – how can we choose?

Sometimes one of the couple will choose the “processional” music to arrive and the other the “recessional” music which is at the end of the ceremony, leaving them as a surprise to the other. But most couples choose the music together. Leave plenty of time!!!

 As a technique for all sorts of bits of wedding planning, I often suggest that each of you write down your top three choices, that you think fit you and your day, on bits of paper then share them with each other. If you have an overlap you are there! If not, try to get an agreed three out of the six and listen to them again, giving yourselves a day or two to mull it over then see if you have an agreed piece. Then if it gets to the day you need to let your venue/officiant know or get your order of ceremony printed, and you still have 2 or three possibilities – draw one of those out of a hat. Some things are meant to be!

If you want a free consultation about how you could have a unique, personal, meaningful ceremony which allows your musical choice free reign, then contact me here.

And if you are looking for readings for your ceremony click on this link for Readings to make your heart go zing!

A few recently used choices of music for the beginning of the ceremony which might get you thinking – contemporary, popular and classical:



Celebrant wedding ceremony music




Celebrant wedding music


Celebrant wedding music