top of page

The history of Handfasting and Pagan marriages

Many of you may wonder where the expression 'Tying the Knot' originates. Handfasting is an old Pagan custom dating back as far as the ancient Celts. A marriage or joining ceremony would take place between a couple where the cord is wrapped around their hands as they would take their vows, symbolising their love and commitment to each other. The cord is then pulled creating a knot, hence our expression 'tying the knot'!

The origins of handfasting are believed to date back to pre-Christian times in Ireland, Scotland, and other parts of the British Isles. It was a common practice among the Celtic peoples, particularly the Gaelic-speaking people of Ireland and Scotland.

Handfasting was originally a temporary form of marriage, in which a couple would be bound together for a trial period of a year and a day. This period was intended to allow the couple to test their compatibility before entering into a permanent marriage. At the end of the handfasting period, the couple could choose to renew their vows and enter into a permanent marriage, or they could choose to go their separate ways.

Handfasting was also used as a way for couples to publicly declare their commitment to one another in the absence of a legal marriage. In some cases, it was used as a way for couples to circumvent the strict laws governing marriage in medieval times, particularly laws concerning property and inheritance.

Over time, handfasting became associated with the Christian church, and the ceremony was often performed by a priest or other religious figure. The practice continued to evolve over the centuries, and today it is often used as a non-traditional alternative to traditional wedding ceremonies.

The earliest known record of handfasting dates back to the 12th century in Scotland. It is described in the "Life of St. Margaret," a biography of the queen of Scotland who lived in the 11th century. According to the text, Margaret and her husband, King Malcolm III, were married in a handfasting ceremony before their formal wedding.

Historians believe, however, that handfasting was likely practiced long before this time, and that the ceremony may have originated in pre-Christian times. Unfortunately, there are few surviving written records from this period, so much of what we know about handfasting comes from folklore, oral traditions, and later written accounts.

Handfasting Cord Colour Meanings

Red: Love, passion, loyalty

Green: Peace, nature, harmony, abundance and fertility

Blue: Inner peace, tranquility, spiritual connection

Silver: Marriage of heaven and earth, soul and mind, the ethereal, abundance, protection and spiritual connection

During a handfasting ceremony, the couple's hands are bound together with ribbons or cords, symbolising their commitment to one another. The binding can be done in a variety of ways, depending on the couple's preference and the traditions they wish to follow.

The ceremony typically involves the exchange of vows and rings, and may also include other symbolic gestures, such as the lighting of candles or the sharing of a drink. It is often performed outdoors, in a natural setting that reflects the couple's connection to the earth and the natural world.

Handfasting has become increasingly popular in recent years as a non-traditional alternative to traditional wedding ceremonies. It is often chosen by couples who wish to honour their Celtic heritage or who are drawn to the symbolism and ritual of the ceremony. Handfasting can be customised to reflect the beliefs and values of the couple, and can be performed by anyone authorised to perform a wedding ceremony (celebrant).

49 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page