A hand-fasting is an old Pagan custom, dating back to the time of the ancient Celts. A hand-fasting was originally more like an engagement period, where two people would declare a binding union between themselves for a year and a day. The original hand-fasting was a trial marriage. It gave the couple the chance to see if they could survive marriage to each other. After a year goes by (a hand-fasting was once believed to last a year and a day), the couple could either split as if they had never been married or could decide to enter permanently into marriage.
Today, Wiccans and Pagans have embraced hand-fasting as a part of their wedding ceremony. A hand-fasting can either be a legal marriage (depending on state law), or a commitment for “as long as love shall last.” A hand-fasting ceremony can be tailor made to suit the couple.
A hand-fasting is a component of a wedding ceremony which entails gently wrapping cords around the bride and groom’s clasped hands and tying a knot, symbolically binding the couple together in their declaration of unity.
Today’s modern day hand=fasting ceremony is a revival – of sorts – of the hand=fastings of history. The act of hand-fasting was originally an element to a formal betrothal ceremony (the precursor to today’s engagement) perhaps going as far back as ancient Celtic Scotland, up to the 16th century reformation-era. During the formal betrothal ceremony, in which a couple promises to one another their agreement in future marriage, there was a formal handshake to seal the deal. This was called the hand-fæstIng, meaning, a pledge by the giving of the hand, according to A.E. Anton. The betrothals eventually became so formal that it was an event in and of itself, which eventually lead up to the wedding ceremony. Oh, the drama!
And now for the magical part: take into consideration the strength of intent. Fast forward to modern neo-Paganism and their adaptations of sacred ancient (and not-so-ancient) rituals. Modern day Wiccans and Pagans recognize the power of magic which is essentially focused intent. One of the main reasons for this hand-fasting renaissance, if you will, is because today’s magical community can identify with the symbolism of an elaborate handshake agreement. To illustrate the imagery and importance of the handshake, the knotting of cords around the hands was eventually incorporated, possibly by today’s neo-Pagans. Magical cord knotting presents an outstanding visual in illustrating intent. The hand-fasting ritual has been, almost effortlessly, adapted and incorporated into our modern Pagan wedding rituals as the main ceremonial element in addition to – or instead of – the ring exchange. Modern Pagans revived the literal tying of the knot.