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