Symbolism in your Ceremony

Let’s talk about symbolism in your wedding! Starting with the hand-fasting ceremony, an old ritual which I love to adapt for a modern wedding.

Part 1 Hand-fasting

“Normally I find weddings boring but what you did was fantastic – it really felt it belonged to me”.

Weddings can often seem formulaic and dull – basically the same as everyone else’s. You may have added your own prayer or and you may even have written some of your own vows, but really? Does it really feel like your ceremony?

A celebrant can make it “your” ceremony!  By simply by writing a ceremony around you, and your feelings for each other. And adding symbolism can give a whole new dimension to the day.

Is symbolism a “new” idea?  In some ways, it is. But the symbolism and rituals used in such ceremonies are as old as humanity. The great part is, there are no rules and with my help, you can do whatever you want. Let’s take hand-fasting as an example.

What is hand-fasting?

Hand-fasting pre-dates modern Christian weddings in our society. The hand-fasting ceremony was the ceremony!

A village elder, senior member of the household or spiritual leader would tie the couple’s hands in sight of everyone.  This would show to the community that the couple were now married (or, in some cases, betrothed).

There are all sorts of traditions about ways of tying hands and their meanings. I do have one friend who had the pagan traditional ceremony seven years running, as each time they only married for a year and a day. Once tied, their hands had to remain so for 24 hours. You really get to know every aspect of your spouse in this case (think going to the loo!). After seven years, they had the legal ceremony and reserve future hand-fasting for renewing their vows.

I often use this within a celebrant ceremony, and the joy of it is in its symbolism and adaptability.

What’s the procedure?

Most couples have a simple tie which they or their celebrant makes or sources for them. Alternatively, the couple  find their own ties. Using material from the dress is a great idea, or clothing like scarves and ties which belonged to someone significant in the couple’s lives. These can be simply draped over the couple’s hands whilst some lovely words are spoken, then tied simply. Alternatively, there are ways of literally “tying the knot” dramatically with the hand ties, explaining their significance as we go.

I’ve learned much about traditional hand-fasting ceremonies from my colleague – now friend – Georgina SyrettArmstrong-Smith. Georgina inspired me to use the “pagan” hoop and wand hand-fasting method at a wedding ceremony I created. (See the picture, right).

This was at Fforest in West Wales and towards the end of the ceremony I produced the hoop and wand and Amanda and Iwan sealed their vows by having their hands tied with red and white ribbons (traditional male/female colours). This “sealed” their hands within the structure, but then guests were invited to tie ribbons on as well. We had thought to only include about a dozen “VIP” guests here in case it got tedious, but soon everyone wanted to join in, and I handed out spare ribbons! Many tied their ribbons whilst shedding a few tears, exchanging kisses with bride and groom at the same time. People left their seats to take photos and the atmosphere was electric. In time, peace was restored, and I lifted the bride and groom’s hands within the hoop, wand and ribbons to “bless” them, explaining how important each other’s hands will be for help and support over the years. They took their hands out of the structure to make their exit, but I noticed its presence in many of the photographs later, and it’s something they’ll keep forever.

Pictured left is the simpler form of hand-fasting. In this case the bride had made her own, simple ties. Beautiful and very personal!

Hand-fasting is just one of the many rituals I can show you. The skill comes in weaving it into your ceremony, having your “congregation” feel involved, and – as with everything else – making it personal to you. Watch this space for more wedding symbolism in the future!