Symbolism in your Ceremony

Part 1 Hand-fasting Ceremony

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

Within this article I’m going to share my own experience of a ritual which couples are asking for more frequently than ever,  the “Hand-fasting ceremony”. You may have witnessed a formulaic and dull wedding  – basically one which is the same as everyone else’s. The couple may have added their own prayer or  may even have written some of their own vows, but really? Did it really feel like their ceremony?

A celebrant can make your wedding ceremony “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, or hand-binding, pre-dates modern Christian weddings in our society. The hand-fasting was the centre of the ceremony. In the pagan tradition, a “handfasting ceremony” is the entire ceremony within which the hands are bound in some way.

Historically, a village elder, senior member of the household or spiritual leader tied 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 some sort of “hand-binding” 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 or ribbons which they create or find or their celebrant makes or sources for them. 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. I’ve learned much about traditional hand-fasting ceremonies from my colleague – now friend – Georgina Syrett Armstrong-Smith. Georgina inspired me to use the “pagan” hoop and wand hand-fasting method at a wedding ceremony I created.

Handfasting Hoop and Wand Style

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!

Handfasting hoop and broom foe celtic wedding traditions

This is from a wedding in the Preseli Hills. Like Amanda & Iwan, they had the hoop and wand but with about 200 guests!

Many guests 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 raised Amanda and Iwan’s hands whilst still 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.

Wedding Celebrant in Wales

This is a 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. My skill comes in weaving it into your ceremony, having your “congregation” (or, “tribe”, or, “chorus”?) feel involved, and – as with everything else – making it personal to you. Watch this space for more wedding symbolism in the future!

Guests tie their ribbons on at a Bristol wedding

Guests tie their ribbons as they wish Saffy and James love and luck for the future


Handfasting in County Durham

Another completed handfasting hoop with all the guests’ ribbons.