* If you are looking for the Fisherman's Knot Ceremony, click here.
I have found that many people use the terms "handfasting" and "knot ceremony" interchangeably. Although they both use cords or ribbons, they are a bit different. The Knot Ceremony is a unity ritual that captures similar symbolism to the Sand Ceremony or Unity Candle. A Handfasting, by contrast, typically includes vows and the cords are draped and looped rather than knotted. During the wedding, the Knot Ceremony takes place after the vows and ring exchange while the Handfasting either comes immediately before the vow exchange or replaces it altogether. Either way, the cords are usually removed before the couple conclude their ceremony with a kiss. That could get tricky otherwise, could it not?
There are a lot of different versions of this ritual. I have used one that invoked blessings based upon the symbolic attributes of the cardinal directions: north, south, east, and west. I have used one that explicitly referenced the colors of the cords and the virtues those colors represent (see sample below). Some versions use one cord, while others use up to four. The couple is free to partner with their officiant and decide which version is most meaningful to them.
According to the BBC Scotland article Tying the Knot: Handfasting Through the Ages, "...the custom of handfasting is often assumed to have its origins in ancient, pre-Christian times, although there is little concrete evidence of this. More is known about the custom as it existed in the Middle Ages. In medieval times, handfasting represented the betrothal (or engagement to be married) of the intended couple, not the actual marriage itself." Today, couples in the United States choose to include this ritual within their wedding ceremony for a number of reasons ~ most commonly to either honor a Celtic heritage or in deference to neo-pagan spiritual beliefs.
I did not write the sample handfasting below. I have found so many closely similar versions of the ceremony on-line with no authorship attributed, that unfortunately I have no idea who originally wrote the wording. I am not sure anyone knows at this point what the very first version was. I am therefore unable to give credit where credit is due and apologize to the original author, whoever he or she may be.
(Names), know that since your lives have crossed in this life, you have formed eternal and sacred bonds. As you seek to enter this state of matrimony you should strive to make real the ideals that to you, give meaning to this ceremony and to the institution of marriage. With full awareness, know that within this circle you are not only declaring your intent to be hand fasted before your friends and family, but you speak that intent also to your creative higher powers. The promises made today and the ties that are bound here greatly strengthen your union and will cross the years and lives of each soul’s growth. Do you still seek to enter this ceremony? ~ Yes.
(Names), I bid you look into one another’s eyes.
As I drape this cord of white, symbolic of serenity and devotion I ask, Will you honor and respect one another, and seek to never break that honor? ~ We will
[First cord is draped over the hands]
And so the first binding is made.
As I drape this cord of green, symbolic of luck and love I ask, Will you share each other's pain and seek to ease it? ~ We will.
[Second cord is draped over the hands]
And so the binding is made
As I drape this cord of purple, symbolic of healing and health I ask, Will you share the burdens of each so that your spirits may grow in this union? ~ We will.
[Third cord is draped over the hands]
And so the binding is made.
As I drape this cord of red, symbolic of strength and passion I ask, Will you share each other's laughter, and look for the brightness in life and the positive in each other? ~ We will.
[Fourth cord is draped over the hands]
And so the binding is made.
[Tie cords together]
(Names), as your hands are bound together now, so your lives and spirits are joined in a union of love and trust. Above you are the stars and below you is the earth. Like the stars you love should be a constant source of light, and like the earth, a firm foundation from which to grow.