What is a Hand Tying ceremony?

Unity rituals are a great way to add an extra layer of meaning to your wedding ceremony along with exchanging rings and vows. From lighting candles to layering colours of sand, there’s a wedding ceremony ritual to fit your style. One of the most popular options is the Hand tying ceremony

Couples hold hands whilst ribbons are wrapped around their wrists.

Hand tying is an ancient Celtic ritual. Tying your hands together symbolizes the binding of your two lives. Although most often included in Wiccan or Pagan ceremonies, it has now become more mainstream and pops up in both religious and secular ceremonies. 

The hand tying ceremony has its roots in ancient Celtic tradition, dating back as far back as 7000 B.C. When two people chose to be married, they were brought together to have a braided cord or ribbon tied around their hands in the presence of a priest. The ceremony was a public declaration of intent to marry. It signalled to potential suitors that the woman was intended to her betrothed and not to be harassed. This act merely acknowledged the pair’s engagement, which typically ran the length of a year and a day. If at the end of that time no child had been born and the couple didn’t want to continue, the betrothal lapsed. Therefore, both would then be free to choose another suitor and bride. 

Outdoor hand tying

Today, you can incorporate the tradition into your wedding ceremony or have it as the main event itself. It is a symbolic ceremony to honour your desire for commitment to each other. It acknowledges that your lives and your destinies are now bound together. Hand tying has become popular in modern-day ceremonies due to the ‘tying the knot’ symbolism (you may have seen it on Game of Thrones!) In addition to the binding of your hands, vows and rings are also typically exchanged. The ceremony has become better known again in recent decades because it has been adopted by modern couples. The full modern ‘Hand Fasting’ ceremony will often include welcoming the elements (calling in the quarters), the sharing of cake and ale and culminating in jumping together over a besom broom, another borrowing from ancient custom.

If you are having a celebrant-led wedding service, your Celebrant will usually perform the ceremony.

You can have a Hand tying ceremony when you make the decision to live together or when you get engaged. Celebrating an anniversary or a renewing of vows are also perfect occasions. Again, a Celebrant will be happy to perform a Hand tying ceremony at any celebration event.

You can hold each others wrists, left to left or right to right. You might wish to cross hands, taking your partner’s right hand in your right hand and their left hand in your left hand. Another option is to stand next to one another, joining one of your right hands with the other’s left and being bound at the wrists. There are many variations of hand positions and knots which your celebrant will be happy to explore with you.

Typically, the officiant creates the knot, but you may choose to have members of your family tie the cord. You may want to have your parents or children add ribbons or cords. Each choosing a different colour and saying why they chose that colour. They can help the celebrant tie the knot, which is really fun.

Use a variety of cords and ribbons for hand tying

First work out what your values are. Think about a particular set of principals or people or places that you most wish to embody in your marriage or symbolically represent on the day and then go from there. It could be the your heritage, so flags or family crest colours may be best. It could be that you wish to represent your children, or other members of your family. Birthstones or birth month flowers would work well. Or you could ask each person for their favourite colour. Sometimes it’s the sports team you each support. A wonderful way for you to add meaning to your handfasting cord is to base it on the values around which your marriage is to be built.

Natural and organic hand tying cords and symbols for hand tying ceremony

Once you have identified what’s most important and what you really want to represent and honour, then find the colours that represent that. Wedding colour schemes or the colours of your wedding flowers are a popular choice as well. Traditional family tartan design can be the basis of a lovely cord. You can choose to buy a readymade cord or make your own. Your can weave or plait your ribbons or cords together. Some couples choose to use cloth from sentimental items of clothing such as lace from a family heirloom or a grandfather’s tie. You can also add charms to the end of the cords. Horseshoes, seashells, crystals or beads work well. For an organic option, think about having a natural garland. You can use vines or flowers woven together by your florist to serve as your handfasting cord. See my blog on Hand tying colours for some examples.

It used to be the medieval tradition for you to be tied together until midnight. Of course, you can take your cord off during the ceremony by tying the knot or wear it throughout the day (though that might make navigating the reception a little difficult). Just remember, when you do remove it, try to slip it off with the tie intact and bring it home as a keepsake. You can frame your cords or ribbons, or keep them in a memory box or ornate bag as a reminder of your vows.

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As a member of The Association of Independent Celebrants and fully trained by the International College of Professional Celebrants, I create and deliver beautiful, bespoke and heartfelt ceremonies of your choice to mark life’s key milestones. From weddings, vow renewals and naming ceremonies to unity rituals and funerals. I am calm, kind, inclusive and caring. I will go out of my way to help make sure your special day runs smoothly and is everything you could wish it to be. I can help you write your personalised wedding vows, your commitments to your child or your own eulogy. I am happy to work indoors or outdoors, large and lavish or small and intimate, fun and quirky or romantic and traditional, religious or non-religious.


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