A handfasting is an old Pagan custom, dating back to the time of the ancient Celts. A handfasting was originally more like an engagement period, where two people would declare a binding union between themselves for a year and a day. The original handfasting was a trial marriage. It gave the couple the chance to see if they could survive marriage to each other. After a year goes by (a handfasting was once believed to last a year and a day), the couple could either split as if they had never been married or could decide to enter permanently into marriage.
Today, Wiccans and Pagans have embraced handfasting as a part of their wedding ceremony. A handfasting can either be a legal marriage (depending on state law), or a commitment for "as long as love shall last." A handfasting ceremony can be tailor made to suit the couple. In recent years, the handfasting ceremony has become so popular that couples of varied faiths are choosing to be married in this way.
There are many variations of the traditional handfasting. After the bride and groom both declare their intent to enter into this union, the hands of the couple are clasped and fastened together with a cord or cords just before, just after, or during their vows are made to one another. The wrapping of the cord forms an infinity symbol. The handfasting knot that is tied is a symbolic representation of oneness between the couple. In a show of unity, they become bound to each other.
Each Wiccan and Pagan path has different decrees concerning the color, length, type and of number of cords used to handfast the couple. One custom may have the couple facing each other, binding both pairs of hands of the bride and groom. Another custom is to have only the right hands, and another one of each right and left. There are many variations of the handfasting rite. It all depends on the bride, groom, and the High Priest/ess whom they chose to preside over their wedding ceremony.
The handfasting ceremony is as legal as a ring ceremony, provided that your handfasting officiant has all the credentials appropriate for her or his municipality (local government) and follows the same legal guidelines as would any other wedding officiant.
The handfasting ritual is a beautiful, magickal rite of passage. Many non-Pagan and non-Wiccan couples are adopting this old custom, much like when couples borrow from other traditions to craft their own ceremony to match their distinctive personalities.
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