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Handfasting -v- Handtying?

Handfasting or Handtying, what is the difference?


As a celebrant, I often get asked whether I do ‘Handfasting Ceremonies’. My answer is always the same: “Yes and no…it all depends on what you mean by ‘Handfasting’…let’s sit down and have a chat about that!”


Usually, by the end of our chat, we have agreed that yes, what I do is, in fact, exactly what the couple had in mind, and we move on to talking about ribbon colours and other things to do with their ceremony. If, on the rare occasion, it turns out that I can’t help them, then I can point them in the direction of others who can, which is the lovely thing about being a celebrant – we are a wonderful group of people with a wide range of talents to suit all types of couples.


So…why did we need that chat in the first place, and what is the difference between a ‘Handfasting’ and a ‘Handtying’ ceremony?


Let’s start at the beginning!


What is Handfasting?

The Pagan custom of Handfasting dates back to ancient Celtic times, and in its simplest form, it is the tying of a couple’s hands to demonstrate their commitment to each other.

This basic ‘knot tying’ (original handfasting) ceremony has evolved over the years, as various ritualistic elements, from many different spiritual and social groups added to it, so that what we often see today is a more spiritual ‘Handfasting’. It is a full ceremony, involving spirituality, many rituals, and is carried out in an outdoor spiritual setting.

The setting is usually in some kind of ‘natural spiritual’ setting e.g. a forest, and the rituals are all grounded in Pagan traditions.

The couple who chooses the full ‘Handfasting’ ceremony, will be spiritual and deeply connected to nature; they will be drawn to the space where they wish to hold their ceremony and it will have a magical or spiritual meaning to them.


The ceremony itself will have many elements to it, including invoking the elements, blessing and making sacred the space, the Handtying and exchange of vows and rings. You may choose to have other rituals, such as Jumping the Broom, eating celebratory cake, drinking from the Loving Cup or warming of an Oath Stone included in your ceremony.


The entire ceremony is carried out with intent by the celebrant, who will draw on their own spiritual energy throughout.


What is Handtying?

Quite simply, it is the act of tying the hands to demonstrate a couple’s commitment in love. Within the wedding or blessing ceremony, it can be done with or without spirituality being involved (unlike the full spiritual Handfasting cermony, which has to include spirituality).


It is, of course, just one of the many rituals that are used within the full spiritual Handfasting ceremony, but it is the ‘original’, if you like, and the one that most couples do mean when they come to me and ask, “Do you do handfasting as part of your ceremonies?” What they usually want, when they ask me this question, is a Handtying – what they DON’T want, is me invoking the elements and casting a sacred circle in a forest somewhere on Dartmoor.


Handtying is the oldest known, original, ‘tying the knot’, laying of chords or ribbons upon the couple’s joined hands. These are then bound and tied to symbolize their union of love. Of course, you may choose to include other rituals from the fuller Handfasting ceremony alongside the Handtying. You may wish, for example, to jump the broom at the end of your ceremony, or drink from the Loving Cup after the Handtying.


What we are seeing much more often today, is modern couples choosing some of the various rituals from the fuller ‘Handfasting’ and using these to create their own beautiful ceremony. Which of course is wonderful!


How can I help you?

Right at the start, I said that I often get asked whether I do Handfasting Ceremonies, and my answer was always the same: Yes and no! I hope that this blog has helped explain my rather unhelpful sounding answer!


Yes, I do Handfasting – in its original meaning, when it meant to strike a bargain by the joining of hands – but, and here’s the thing, remember how I said that this evolved over time, as spiritual and social groups added their own rituals to it? People then began to differentiate between this new and evolved ceremony, which still included the tying of hands together, but had a more spiritual element to it which could not be left out.

As an independent celebrant, I do not include the more spiritual elements within my ceremonies, such as invocations of deities and casting sacred circles, so would not be able to perform these as part of your ceremony. I am, however, fully trained in, and LOVE, Handtying and other unity ritual elements of ceremonies and would be more than happy to work with you to create a beautiful, significant, and personal ceremony with any (or ALL…why not!) these in.


Whatever you choose, the important thing to remember is that you and your celebrant will create a unique and thoroughly personalised ceremony that you will remember for many years to come. There is no right or wrong way to do this, there is only Your Day, Your Way!






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