The Handfasting Ritual
Kitte Kaat Knight
is an ancient commitment ceremony. It is the predecessor to the modern wedding ceremony. The ritual itself usually includes a binding together of the hands of the couple with a ritual cord of some kind, hence the name, which means hand fastening. It is also the origin of the slang phrase to tie the knot. Handfasting is a symbolic ceremony to honor a couples desire for commitment to each other; to acknowledge that their lives and their fates are now bound together.
Handfasting ceremonies are typically performed in front of friends and family, but there are no taboos about a couple performing the ceremony with no other witnesses besides the priest or priestess and the Gods and Goddesses of their belief system. It is the symbolism that is most significant. With the ritual goes the commitment made to one another, but unlike wedding vows, you do not make promises to one another. You simply acknowledge that your paths are bound together and are the same from this point forward. You realize this is the truth and you accept it with great elation.
Handfasting ceremonies can be simple or elaborate. Traditionally the couple would be dressed in their best party clothes, as they would for any special occasion. In the days when handfasting was common, new clothing was a luxury item; having something made for that day, that would never be worn again, is a very recent modern tradition. In more recent historical times, the bride would get a lovely gown made for her wedding, but it was also worn on other special occasions that arose until she could no longer wear it. The bride wearing white is also a new idea.
There are no rules about what to wear to ones own handfasting. Modern handfasting garb can be anything the couple desires to wear, from plain, simple attire to flowing robes. Head gear can be a wreath or garland around the head to a flowing veil.
Usually, but not always, the handfasting involves a cleansing ritual to create a sacred space, and an invocation of the four elements/directions. The directions are invited to witness and protect the couple as they make their way into the world as one. There is a priest or priestess who performs the ceremony by lightly binding the hands of the couple together and speaking to them and the witnesses of the meaning of the ceremony. The couple then speak words of love and commitment to each other.
Afterwards, the couple jump over a sword and broom while holding hands. The sword is symbolic of cutting ties with the old life, before they were together, and the broom represents of the remnants being swept away.
Some of the ancient ceremony are still used in traditional modern weddings, such as the sharing of cake and wine, while more modern elements such as the
exchange of rings have found their way into the modern celebrations of ancient ritual.
The handfasting ceremony is not recognized as legally binding per se. Different states have different laws about marriage, but most of them center
around having a legally sanctioned person perform the ceremony and sign the
official marriage license, regardless of whether the ceremony was a traditional handfasting, or a wedding in a church or chapel.
The most popular day for handfasting ceremonies with Wiccans and Pagans is Beltane in May. Beltane celebrates the height of Spring and the flowering of life, a fitting holiday for a couple to declare they begin their journey together. For the gothic community, the most popular day is Samhain, or the more popularly celebrated Halloween.