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History of Handfasting or hand-festa

Their are two theories as to the origins of this term;-
a) Originally a loan from Old Norse hand-festa "to strike a bargain by joining hands".
b) "Handfasting" was the word used by the ancient Celts to describe their traditional trial-marriage ceremony, during which couples were literally bound together. The handfasting was a temporary agreement, that expired after a year and a day. However, it could be made permanent after that time, or continued for another year and a day, if both spouses agreed.

Either way, handfasting was suppressed following the Synod of Whitby in 664, when Celtic Christianity was abandoned for the Catholic Church. At The Council of Trent, 1545-1563, Roman Catholic marriage laws were changed in order for any marriage to require the presence of a priest.
This change did not extend to the regions affected by the Protestant Reformation, and in Scotland, marriage by consent remained in effect.
By the 18th century, the Kirk of Scotland no longer recognized marriages formed by mutual consent and subsequent sexual intercourse, even though the Scottish civil authorities did. This situation persisted until 1940, when Scottish marriage laws were reformed.

In the 18th century, well after the term handfasting had passed out of usage, there arose a popular myth that it referred to a sort of "trial marriage". A.E. Anton, in Handfasting' in Scotland (1958) finds that the first reference to such a "trial marriage" is by Thomas Pennant in his 1790 Tour in Scotland. This report had been taken at face value throughout the 19th century, and was perpetuated.
In 1820, Sir Walter Scott used the term to refer to a fictional sacred ritual that bound the couple in a form of temporary marriage for a year and a day. He wrote of it in his book "The Monastery:"
"When we are handfasted, as we term it, we are man and wife for a year and a day; that space gone by, each may choose another mate, or, at their pleasure, may call the priest to marry them for life; and this we call handfasting."

During the 1995 movie, Braveheart, Mel Gibson, in the role of William Wallace, was handfasted with his girlfriend Murron. Handfasting has since grown in popularity among Cowans (non-Pagans), particularly those whose distant ancestors lived in ancient Celtic lands.

Modern usage, A Neopagan handfasting

In the present day, some Neopagans practice this ritual. The marriage vows taken may be for "a year and a day", a lifetime, "for all of eternity" or "for as long as love shall last", sometimes called "till the end of love". Whether the ceremony is legal, or a private spiritual commitment, is up to the couple. Depending on the state where the handfasting is performed, and whether or not the officiate is a legally recognized minister, the ceremony itself may be legally binding, or couples may choose to make it legal by also having a civil ceremony.

Modern handfastings are performed for heterosexual or homosexual couples, as well as for larger groups in the case of polyamorous relationships. Currently, handfasting is a legal Pagan wedding ceremony in Scotland, but not in England, Wales or Ireland.
In 2000, William Mackie, a bishop of Celtic Church in Scotland, a small faith group that has attempted to recreate Celtic Christianity and promote the legalization of handfasting ceremonies said: "I plan to lobby MSPs to get it reinstated in its entirety: a lot of people make a mistake and, as long as there are no children involved, the one year opt-out would save a lot of hassle."

As with many Neopagan rituals, some groups may use historically attested forms of the ceremony, striving to be as traditional as possible, while others may use only the basic idea of handfasting and largely create a new ceremony.

As many different traditions of Neopaganism use some variation on the handfasting ceremony, there is no universal ritual form that is followed, and the elements included are generally up to the couple being handfasted. In cases where the couple belong to a specific religious or cultural tradition, there may be a specific form of the ritual used by all or most members of that particular tradition. The couple may conduct the ceremony themselves or may have an officiant perform the ceremony. In some traditions, the couple may jump over a broom at the end of the ceremony. Some may instead leap over a small fire together. Today, some couples opt for a handfasting ceremony in place of, or incorporated into, their public wedding. As summer is the traditional time for handfastings, they are often held outdoors.

A corresponding divorce ceremony called a handparting is sometimes practiced, though this is also a modern innovation. In a wiccan handparting, the couple may jump backwards over the broom before parting hands.

As with more conventional marriage ceremonies, couples often exchange rings during a handfasting, symbolizing their commitment to each other. Many couples choose rings that reflect their spiritual and cultural traditions, while others choose plainer, more conventional wedding rings. These are sometimes referred to as a Claddagh ring. In Oliver Stone's movie, The Doors, Jim Morrison and one of his girl friends, Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, are seen exchanging marriage vows and rings at a Celtic Pagan handfasting ceremony in June 1970.

I feel this covers the basics of Handfasting, with the principles, beliefs and symbolism.

If approved by the TMA eds, I shall post up some pictures of an actual Handfasting, as carried out on the Ring-Stone.

Chance Posted by Chance
27th July 2008ce
Edited 11th November 2015ce

Comments (1)

Interesting. megadread Posted by megadread
4th July 2010ce
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