Skip to content


Your cart is empty

Article: Handfasting


Definition and Historical Origins of Handfasting

  • Handfasting is a traditional practice associated with Celtic and Anglo-Saxon peoples.
  • It can refer to an unofficiated wedding, a betrothal, or a temporary marriage commitment.
  • The term 'handfasting' comes from the shaking or joining of hands to make a pledge.
  • The practice was common in Tudor England and 17th-century Scotland.
  • Handfasting has been revived in Neopaganism.
  • Handfasting in England referred to engagement or a ceremony prior to a church wedding.
  • It was a legally binding contract and could only be dissolved by death.
  • The couple would declare their acceptance of each other as spouse during the ceremony.
  • Handfasting took place in various locations, including the bride's home, taverns, and even on horseback.
  • Church courts recognized two forms of handfasting: 'sponsalia per verba de praesenti' and 'sponsalia per verba de futuro.'
  • Handfasting remained an acceptable way of marrying throughout the Middle Ages but declined in the early modern period.
  • Changes in English law required the presence of an officiating priest or magistrate for a marriage to be legal.
  • The 1753 Marriage Act effectively ended the handfasting custom in England.
  • In 1539, a French lady-in-waiting was married by handfasting to Lord Seton in Scotland.
  • The Scottish Hebrides, particularly the Isle of Skye, had records of handfast or left-handed marriages in the late 1600s.
  • According to Gaelic scholar Martin Martin, it was a custom for a man to keep a woman as his wife for a year before deciding to marry her.
  • If the man loved her, he would marry her and legitimize their children; otherwise, he would return her to her parents.
  • Handfasting was a common practice in Scotland during this period.
  • Handfasting was practiced in Skye, culminating in the Battle of Coire Na Creiche.
  • Lord Ochiltrees Committee formed the Statutes of Iona in 1609 and the Regulations for the Chiefs in 1616, which prohibited marriages contracted for several years.
  • The Kirk of Scotland no longer recognized marriages formed by mutual consent and subsequent sexual intercourse in the 18th century.
  • Scottish marriage laws were reformed in 1939, and handfasting was no longer recognized.
  • Handfasting has been used in Celtic neopaganism and Wicca for wedding ceremonies since the late 1960s.

Handfasting in Different Cultures

  • Handfasting is not exclusive to Celtic culture.
  • Similar rituals exist in other cultures, such as Norse and Germanic traditions.
  • Handfasting has gained popularity in modern Pagan and Wiccan communities.
  • It is seen as a way to honor nature and connect with spiritual beliefs.
  • Handfasting ceremonies can be personalized to reflect the couple's cultural backgrounds.

Handfasting Rituals and Symbolism

  • Handfasting involves the binding of the couple's hands with ribbons or cords.
  • The couple's hands are joined together to symbolize unity and commitment.
  • The length of the handfasting ceremony can vary, from a year and a day to a lifetime.
  • The couple may exchange vows and make promises to each other during the ceremony.
  • Handfasting can include other symbolic elements, such as jumping the broom or exchanging rings.

Modern Interpretations of Handfasting

  • Handfasting has gained popularity as an alternative to traditional weddings.
  • It is seen as a more inclusive and personal way to celebrate love and commitment.
  • Some couples choose to incorporate elements of handfasting into their mainstream wedding ceremonies.
  • Handfasting can be performed by ordained ministers or celebrants who specialize in Pagan or Wiccan ceremonies.
  • The ceremony can be adapted to suit the couple's beliefs and preferences.

Legal Recognition of Handfasting

  • Handfasting is not legally recognized as a marriage in most jurisdictions.
  • However, in some countries, such as Scotland, it can be recognized as a legal form of marriage.
  • Couples who choose handfasting may also opt for a separate legal marriage ceremony.
  • It is important for couples to research and understand the legal implications of handfasting in their specific jurisdiction.
  • Handfasting is primarily a symbolic ceremony, emphasizing the couple's commitment rather than legal status.

Handfasting Data Sources

Reference URL
Knowledge Graph

Read more

Hair jewellery

Hairwork during the Victorian Period Hairwork flourished as a trade and private craft in mourning jewelry. Hairwork included lockets, rings, and bracelets with frames of loved ones' hair in braids,...

Read more


Definition, Purpose, and Regulation of Guilds Guilds were associations of artisans and merchants who oversaw the practice of their craft/trade in a specific area. They were often granted letters pa...

Read more