Thursday, March 30, 2006

Handfasting: What is it?

Driving down the road the other day, I came across a sign with a pretty Celtic design pointing the way to a couple's handfasting. Knowing it was wedding related, but not knowing much more than that, I decided to do some research.

Historically, in Medieval Scotland, handfasting was the term used for what today we would consider a betrothal. It was a ceremony is which a marriage contract was agreed upon (dowries and such) and the couple would exchange promises of marriage during which the handfasting would occur. The actual marriage was performed at a later date.

Over the years, it became rumored that it was sometimes used as a trial marriage period. Supposedly, in one particular town, unmarried men and women would be handfasted on the Sabbat Lunghnasadh (which was the start of the harvest season) and would stay handfasted until the follow year when they could choose to leave the union. The handfasting consisted of binding a hand of the perspective mates with loose ropes and knots (which is where they saying "tying the knot" came from). However, this seems to be the invention of Sir Walter Scott, in his novel, The Monastery, where a character refered to handfasting as a marriage lasting a year and a day. But according to Sharon Krossa, in her article "Historical Handfasting", she believed Sir Walter Scott may have gleaned this from another source like Pennant's Tour in Scotland and "thought it would be a neat thing to include in his novel, along with ghosts and other fanciful things."

Today, many Neopagans and Wiccans still practice this ritual though based more on the fictional handfasting. It can be a trial marriage, however it can also be a legal marriage ceremony. Handfastings can be performed for hetero or homosexual couples. Today, many couples incorporate this old tradition of ropes and knots into their ceremonies, giving them a chance to literally "tie the knot."

Sources: Wikipedia, the Free Internet Encyclopedia
"Historical Handfasting" by Sharon L. Krossa, copyright 2001

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