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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Term: handfasting


Handfasting: The pre-Christian, Roman wedding ceremony also practiced in Celtic lands. As the name implies, it included tying the hands together and is the source of the expression “tying the knot” as a description of a wedding. In the sixteenth century, one English cleric noted its use as separate from the Christian marriage. Today the term is used by Wiccans and Witches for a wedding ceremony. In some traditions, a handfasting endures for a limited time, often a year and a day. Hence, a probationary marriage during which a couple would cohabit as husband and wife. After the probationary period the couple could decide if they wished to continue in a permanent marriage or part.

According to Handfasting and Wedding Rituals by Raven Kaldera & Tannin Schwartzstein (Llewellyn Publications), a handfasting was generally no more complex than the couple joining hands (thus making “fast” their hands) and declaring themselves united, sealing it with a kiss. They add that the handfasting gesture made a figure-eight with the hands, right to right and left to left, symbolizing that all parts of themselves were joined.


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