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WEDDINGS OF NEW YORK

Creative Civil Wedding Ceremonies: traditional, contemporary or unique
Conducted by New York Certified Marriage Officiants*

*all officiants certified by New York City Marriage Bureau: cityclerknyc.org

Celtic Handfasting

Where did we get the phrase TYING THE KNOT?
It may refer to a Roman tradition of tying/untying the knots on a bride's sash. But it can also refer to the tradition of Handfasting.

"This Celtic tradition comes from the Medieval Period, when it is said that a couple who wished to wed had a trial period of a year and a day, during which time their hands were literally tied together in front of witnesses. If they still liked each other after the trial period, they could go ahead and become legally bound to one another. Later on in Scotland and Northern England, handfasting was the word for engagement or betrothal that was symbolized by a small ceremony with the binding of hands in front of witnesses. The cords would be removed and saved, and the couple's wedding might be blessed by the Church at a later date.

In the British Isles, Handfasting was the old ritual of civil marriage and it remained legal in Scotland all the way up to 1939. Today's brides and grooms choose handfasting as a ritual to use during their modern, legal marriage ceremony. The couple can incorporate handfasting ceremony elements such as drinking from the same goblet or cutting a lock of each other's hair and placing it in a box. The ultimate symbol is when the celebrant gently ties the couple's hands together with a piece of cord, symbolizing their devotion to one another as well as their unity and oneness throughout eternity. weddinggazette.com

Some more complex handfasting ceremonies are conducted by Wiccan/Neo-Pagan officiants, and include the drawing of a circle, and other rituals. Other handfasting ceremonies can be performed by any officiant. This is a complete handfasting ceremony. You may also have a modified ceremony, with a simple blessing and the gentle tying (and untying) of hands.
 
Here is a good history of "modern" handfasting, from the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Here is a history discussing the symbols of the joining of hands in an infinity symbol. And here is an adapted Handfasting ceremony, which can be formed at any wedding. It can also be modified to simply include the wrapping of the cords and a short blessing.
 
[Note: you may also be interested in a Medieval Ceremony, adapted for a civil service]
 
HANDFASTING CEREMONY

CELEBRANT:
Know now before you go further, that since your lives have crossed in this life you have formed ties between each other.

As you seek to enter this state of matrimony you should strive to make real the ideals which give meaning to both this ceremony and the institution of marriage.

The promises made today and the ties that are bound here greatly strengthen your union; they will cross the years and lives of each of you, in the days and times to come.

Do you still seek to enter this ceremony?

COUPLE: Yes, We Seek to Enter.

CELEBRANT:
In the tradition that each of the cardinal directions; East, South, West and North, offers strength and knowledge,  we will turn each direction as we ask a blessing for this couple.

Blessed be this union with the gifts of the East.
Communication of the heart, mind, and body.
Fresh beginnings with the rising of each Sun.
The knowledge of the growth found in the sharing of silences.

Blessed be this union with the gifts of the South.
Warmth of hearth and home.
The heat of the heart's passion.
The light created by both, to lighten the darkest of times.

Blessed be this union with the gifts of the West.
The deep commitments of the lake.
The swift excitement of the river,
The refreshing cleansing of the rain.
The all encompassing passion of the sea.

Blessed be this union with the gifts of the North.
Firm foundation on which to build.
Fertility of the fields to enrich your lives.
A stable home to which you may always return.

Each of these blessings from the four cardinal directions emphasizes those things which will help you build a happy and successful union.

Yet they are only tools. Tools which you must use together in order to create what you seek in this union.

I bid you look into each others eyes.

[Groom's Name], Will you cause her pain?

GROOM: I May

CELEBRANT: Is that your intent?

GROOM: No

CELEBRANT: [Bride's Name], Will you cause him pain?

BRIDE: I may

CELEBRANT: Is that your intent?

BRIDE: No

CELEBRANT: To Both
Will you share each other's pain and seek to ease it?

COUPLE: We will

CELEBRANT:
And so the binding is made. Join your hands
First cord is draped across the bride and groom's hands

[Bride's Name], Will you share his laughter?

BRIDE: Yes

CELEBRANT:
[Groom's Name], Will you share her laughter?

GROOM: Yes

CELEBRANT:
Will both of you look for the brightness in life and the positive in each other?

COUPLE: We will

CELEBRANT:
And so the binding is made.
Second cord is draped across the couples hands

[Bride's Name], Will you burden him?

BRIDE: I may

CELEBRANT: Is that your intent?

BRIDE: No

CELEBRANT:
[Groom's Name], Will you burden her?

GROOM: I may

CELEBRANT: Is that your intent?

GROOM: No

CELEBRANT: To Both
Will you share the burdens of each so that your spirits may grow in this union?

COUPLE: Yes

CELEBRANT:
And so the binding is made.
*Drape third cord across the couples hands*

CELEBRANT:
[Bride's Name], will you share his dreams?

BRIDE Yes

CELEBRANT:
[Groom's Name], will you share her dreams?

GROOM: Yes

CELEBRANT: To Both
Will you dream together to create new realities and hopes?

COUPLE: We will.

CELEBRANT:
And so the binding is made.

Drape fourth cord across the couples hands

CELEBRANT:
[Groom's Name], will you cause her anger?

GROOM: I may

CELEBRANT: Is that your intent?

GROOM: No

CELEBRANT:
[Bride's Name], will you cause him anger?

BRIDE: I may

CELEBRANT: Is that your intent?

BRIDE: No

CELEBRANT: To Both
Will you take the heat of anger and use it to temper the strength of this union?

COUPLE: We Will

CELEBRANT: And so the binding is made.
*Drape fifth cord across the couples hands*

CELEBRANT: [Bride's Name], Will you honor him?

BRIDE: I will

CELEBRANT: [Groom's Name], Will you honor her?

GROOM: I will

CELEBRANT: To Both
Will you seek to never give cause to break that honor?

COUPLE: We shall never do so

CELEBRANT: And so the binding is made.
Drape sixth cord across the couples hands

Tie cords together while saying:
The knots of this binding are not formed by these cords but instead by your vows. Either of you may drop the cords, for as always, you hold in your own hands the making and the breaking of this union.

Once cords are tied together the couple may turn to face the wedding guests. The cords are then gently removed and given to the couple to keep


Thanks to ultimatewedding.com for this version of the Handfasting Ceremony. Other versions are available, and may be adjusted to each couple.