Complete Handfasting Ceremony How To Guide + Sample Script

outdoor handfasting ceremony with traditional green braided cords
photo by Epic Love Photography, as seen in this coastal cliffside elopement in Ireland

If you’re looking for a unique way to tie the knot (literally!), then a handfasting ceremony may be right up your alley. As weddings become more personal and unique, ceremonies are following suit — from symbolic tree-planting rituals to meaningful unity ceremonies. And there’s one ancient custom that modern couples can’t get enough of: a hand binding ceremony.

Although this ceremony dates back thousands of years, it’s a symbolic (and super romantic) ritual that goes hand in hand with modern weddings. So if you want to give your wedding a unique and meaningful twist, read on for our complete handfasting ceremony guide — including a sample script to borrow for your “I do’s”!

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The Essentials You Need to Know

a couple performing a handfasting ceremony in a stone Scottish church using Celtic braided cords
photo by Nigel John, as seen in this ethereal vintage wedding in the Scottish Highlands

So, what exactly is a handfasting ceremony? Is it legally binding? Who makes it official? To help you decide if this symbolic ceremony is right for you, we’re breaking down all the must-know FAQs about handfasting (also known as hand binding) rituals down below. Keep scrolling for our complete guide (plus a script to help you create your own handfasting ceremony)!

What is a handfasting ceremony?

a couple performing a bohemian Pagan inspired hand binding ceremony using simple green and yellow cords
photo by Paige Monet Photography

A handfasting ceremony is a symbolic ritual that involves binding a couple’s hands together with a cord to symbolize the joining of their lives. It’s a literal way to “tie the knot” — and a unique alternative to modern wedding ceremonies.

With roots in Norse and Scottish culture, this ancient ceremony is believed to date back over 2,000 years (though the origins are a bit murky). It was a popular ritual for couples from the Middle Ages up through Tudor England, where it was seen as a legally binding commitment similar to modern marriage vows.

Recently, hand binding ceremonies have seen a renaissance with modern couples who are looking for a symbolic and unconventional way to showcase their love. And we couldn’t be more obsessed! Not only is it a super meaningful ceremony, but it also gives you a sweet memento to cherish after the big day.

Fun fact: The term “handfasting ceremony” likely came from the Old Norse word handfesta, which means “to strike a bargain by joining hands.” In Old Modern English, the verb handfast also meant to make a contract — although today it has more romantic connotations.

couple and their officiant performing a formal outdoor handfasting ceremony with simple red and white cords
hand binding ceremony photo by Hey Honey Photography | planning by Cambria Events

While a handfasting ceremony used to be a legally binding ritual in places like Scotland and Ireland, these days it does not create a legal marriage. Even if you perform a hand binding ceremony at your wedding, you’ll still need to sign a marriage license to officially tie the knot.

Instead, think of a handfasting ceremony as a symbolic act that you can combine with other wedding rituals, like traditional vows or a modern unity ceremony. And since it’s not a legal ritual, you have the freedom to fully customize this ceremony to reflect your unique love story. Which brings us to our next FAQ….

Why are handfasting ceremonies becoming so common nowadays?

couple performing a bohemian Pagan inspired handfasting ceremony with colorful ribbons and lace cords
photo by Dallas & Sabrina Photography

With more and more couples breaking tradition and planning unique and personalized weddings, handfasting rituals have become a way to customize a ceremony beyond just the vows. Similar to the growing trend of unity ceremonies, a handfasting ritual is your chance to put a one-of-a-kind twist on a traditional wedding ceremony. And with such romantic symbolism behind the ritual, it’s a no-brainer for modern couples who want a wedding that feels like them.

Fun Fact: Another reason for the comeback in handfasting ceremonies? A little show called Game of Thrones. In season one, Rob Stark and his wife Talisa tie the knot with a simple handfasting ceremony, and we’ve been on board ever since!

a couple watering a tree as a unique unity ritual

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How to Know If This Type of Union Is Right For You

Scottish handfasting ceremony using traditional Celtic braided cords
handfasting ceremony cords: EmbracingCords on Etsy

If you’re looking for a meaningful and personalized alternative to a traditional wedding ceremony, a handfasting ritual is about as romantic as it gets. Not only will it add a unique touch to your wedding day, but you can also customize it to reflect your one-of-a-kind love story — perfect for hopeless romantics and couples who love to break conventions.

And because handfasting ceremonies have roots in Scotland and Ireland, it’s also a fun idea for people with Scottish or Irish heritage, as well as for couples who are saying “I do” across the pond.

Who can perform a handfasting ceremony?

a woman performing a Pagan inspired outdoor handfasting ceremony with simple green, yellow, and brown cords
hand binding ceremony photo by Paige Monet Photography

Since a handfasting ceremony is not a legally binding ritual, anyone can perform this ceremony on your wedding day. While most couples have their officiant perform the handfasting as a continuation of the wedding ceremony, you can also ask a family member or close friend (or even multiple people!) to take part.

This is a great way to include more of your loved ones on the big day and make your wedding ceremony even more personal. Just be sure to give them a script beforehand to help the handfasting ceremony go smoothly!

At what point during the wedding ceremony does the handfasting take place?

a couple performing a hand binding ceremony using bright colorful ribbons while surrounded by flowers in a rainbow of colors
photo by Lena Mirisola Photography from this lush wildflower wedding

During a wedding, a handfasting ceremony typically takes place before the couple exchanges their rings and says “I do.” However, some couples choose to incorporate their vows into the hand binding ritual (more on this down below) or conclude their wedding ceremony with a handfasting to seal the deal.

Don’t want to stray too far from tradition on the big day? You can also perform a handfasting ceremony any time before, during, or after your wedding day. Some ancient hand binding ceremonies were even performed during an engagement rather than a wedding. Talk about a fun way to spice up your engagement party!

GWS Pro Tip: For couples who have already tied the knot, we also love the idea of performing a handfasting ceremony during your vow renewal as a way to symbolize your ongoing bond and commitment. Cue the tears!

Do you share vows during a handfasting ceremony or does the officiant do all the talking?

Scottish handfasting ceremony cords with blue ribbon accents
photo by Jessica Charles | handfasting ceremony cord: Ceotha on Etsy

A handfasting ceremony typically involves a short speech from the officiant, followed by personalized vows from the couple — although this isn’t your only option! Some couples choose to play a song or recite a poem rather than read vows, while others perform the hand binding ceremony ritual without any officiant at all. It’s your wedding day, so do what feels right to you and your partner!

P.S. We’ve included a full handfasting ceremony script down below to help you create a ceremony that matches your unique style.

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How to Perform a Handfasting Ceremony

a couple completing a handfasting ceremony using colorful red, green, and white braided cords with Celtic knot patterns
handfasting ceremony cords: EmbracingCords on Etsy

While there are no hard and fast rules for how to perform a handfasting ceremony, there is a typical structure that this ritual follows. Here’s a simple step-by-step guide for how to perform a traditional hand binding ceremony during your wedding!

  1. Explain the ceremony: Before a handfasting ceremony, it’s common to give a quick explanation about what the ritual means. You or your officiant can briefly explain the history and symbolism of the ceremony, as well as its significance to you and your partner.
  2. Join hands: Begin the handfasting ceremony by joining your hands together — this could be one hand each or both hands linked together. Whatever feels most natural and meaningful!
  3. Loop the handfasting cords: Next, the officiant (or whoever is performing the ceremony) will loop the handfasting cords around your linked hands to bind them together. During this part of the ceremony, you can read your vows, recite a poem, or play a meaningful song.
  4. Tie the knot: Once the handfasting ceremony is complete, you and your partner will either keep your hands bound together for the remainder of your wedding ceremony, or remove your hands and pull the cord tight — aka, tie the knot!

While this is the most common way to perform a handfasting ceremony, there’s technically no “right” or “wrong” structure for this ritual. The beauty of a hand binding ceremony is how customizable it is, so feel free to mix things up and create a ritual that reflects your love story!

What To Do With The Handfasting Cords After The Wedding Ceremony

unique handfasting ceremony keepsake sign featuring a braided cords and text that says "a cord of three strands is not easily broken" with the couple's new last name and marriage date at the bottom
handfasting ceremony keepsake sign: TheShedInteriors on Etsy

After the wedding ceremony, your handfasting cords become a physical representation of your bond and commitment. Because of this, many couples choose to display their ribbons on a table during the reception or on the back of their chairs at the sweetheart table.

After the wedding, you can also frame your handfasting ceremony cords and hang them in your home, or display them in a shadow box with your wedding photos and other mementos. Talk about a meaningful wedding keepsake!

outdoor ceremony with boho rug accents and wildflower arrangements

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Sample Handfasting Ceremony Script

a woman performing a handfasting ceremony script for a formal outdoor wedding
hand binding ceremony photo by Hey Honey Photography | planning: Cambria Events

No matter how you choose to perform your handfasting ceremony, we suggest including some sort of explanation about the ritual to keep your guests in the loop (pun intended). Here’s a sample handfasting script that you or your officiant can use for your ceremony.

“Today, we are celebrating [Name] and [Name]’s eternal bond with an ancient handfasting ceremony. This ritual has been performed for thousands of years as a way to bind two people together forever. It represents the joining of your lives, your families, and your hearts, and symbolizes your commitment to love, honor, and support each other through all of life’s joys and challenges. Please join hands.

This cord symbolizes the ties that bind you together — your love, your partnership, and your shared future. As these cords are bound around your hands, may you be reminded that your lives are now intertwined.

[At this point in the handfasting ceremony, you and your partner can perform your vows, have your officiant recite a poem, or play a meaningful song.]

You may now remove your hands and pull the cords together to solidify your forever bond. Congratulations, you’ve officially tied the knot!”

We suggest using this script as a jumping-off point for your handfasting ceremony. Feel free to add, delete, and make it your own!

Fun Fact: Remember that Game of Thrones wedding scene we mentioned? In that handfasting ceremony, the officiant said: “I hereby seal these two souls, binding them as one for eternity.” GOT fans, we give you permission to borrow that script for your ceremony, too!

Other Common FAQs

unique Scottish hand binding ceremony cords with Celtic love knot designs
handfasting ceremony cords: Ceotha on Etsy

Still not sure if a handfasting ceremony is right for you? Don’t worry — we’re going even more in-depth down below to help you make the right decision for your big day. From the best materials to use for your handfasting cords, to even more history about this ancient ceremony, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about the symbolic tradition. Let’s get into it!

How long should you expect this portion of the wedding to take?

an officiant performing a handfasting ceremony in a Scottish chapel using braided cords with traditional Celtic knots
photo by Nigel John from this ethereal vintage wedding in the Scottish Highlands

Depending on the structure of your wedding ceremony, a handfasting ritual can be as long or as short as you’d like — from a quick five minutes to a lengthier fifteen (or more). Ultimately, this will come down to whether or not you’re incorporating vows, poems, or other rituals into your ceremony. As we showed in the script above, even a super simple handfasting ceremony can make a big impact…it’s all about your personal preferences.

What types of materials should you use for your handfasting ceremony cords?

gold and white cotton handfasting ceremony cords with a traditional Celtic knot pattern
handfasting ceremony cords: EmbracingCords on Etsy

While most handfasting ceremony cords are made with braided rope, you can use just about anything to perform this ancient ritual. Here are a few options to consider for your big day:

  • Braided rope: This is the most traditional material when it comes to handfasting ceremony cords, and for good reason. Made with natural cotton, these cords go with all wedding styles and color palettes, and they can also be customized with different Celtic knots and patterns. We also love how strong and sturdy these cords are — hello, symbolism!
  • Ribbons: With so many color and size options, ribbons are another one of the best materials for a handfasting ceremony. Choose ribbons that reflect your wedding color palette, or opt for colors that carry a special significance (such as red to represent passion). You can even combine two or more colors to symbolize the joining of your two families.
  • Lace: With such dreamy bridal vibes, lace is a gorgeous material to incorporate into your handfasting ceremony cords. Make it extra personal with a piece of lace that matches your gown, or a strip of lace from your mother or grandmother’s wedding dress.
  • Tartan cloth: For couples with Scottish heritage, embrace tradition by using a tartan cloth in your clan colors as your handfasting ceremony cords. Better yet, match it to your kilt (if you choose to wear one for the ceremony) or your wedding colors!
  • Personalized materials: Since your handfasting ceremony is all about you and your partner, why not get creative with unique materials that are personal to you? This could be anything from custom embroidered ribbons to your fur baby’s dog leash!

Want to personalize your hand binding ceremony even more? Many couples add charms, flowers, or even crystals to their handfasting cords to give them a custom and wedding-ready touch. You can also combine different materials together to create braided cords or use a different cord for each of your vows. The options — and the symbolism — are endless!

GWS Pro Tip: While there’s no one-size-fits-all material for a handfasting ceremony, most cords are around 3-6 feet in length — long enough to loop around your hands a few times and tie a sturdy knot.

After the handfasting ceremony is complete, how long do you stay tied together?

unique Scottish handfasting ceremony cords with whimsical Celtic knot designs and floral embroidery details
handfasting ceremony cords: Ceotha on Etsy

Once the handfasting ceremony is complete, you can choose to stay tied together for as long as you’d like. While some couples remove the handfasting cords immediately to “tie the knot,” others stay bound together for the rest of the wedding ceremony. In medieval times, couples would keep their hands tied for up to 24 hours after the ceremony — although this might hinder your dance moves at the after-party!

How long does a handfasting marriage last?

couple displaying braided green and yellow hand binding ceremony cords made with Irish wool
handfasting ceremony cords: EmbracingUnion on Etsy

In ancient Scotland, a handfasting ceremony was believed to last one year — kind of like a trial marriage. At the end of that year, the couple could choose to make it official with a wedding, or part ways forever.

These days, a handfasting marriage lasts as long as your official marriage (if you’re combining the hand binding ceremony with a traditional wedding ceremony, that is). If there’s no official marriage license involved, then it lasts as long as you want it to…so hopefully forever!

Put Together Your Dream Wedding With Our Most Loved Resources

couple performing a traditional Scottish hand binding ceremony using braided cords with Celtic knot patterns
hand binding photo by Raini Rowell | handfasting ceremony cord: Ceotha on Etsy

Whether or not you’re incorporating a hand binding ceremony into your big day, we have the best resources to bring your dream wedding to life. Starting with our ultimate wedding planning guide — including a complete step-by-step wedding checklist!

First on the list? Your wedding attire. Don’t miss our complete online wedding gown guide, as well as this list of the best suits for the groom. We also rounded up crowd-pleasing options for your wedding party, including gorgeous bridesmaid gowns and dapper groomsmen suits.

Need help planning your other wedding events, too? We’ve got you covered. Celebrate in style with our rehearsal dinner guide and our wedding after-party guide. And for the ladies, we’ve also found some unique ideas for your bridal shower and bachelorette party!

What’s next on your wedding to-do list? Let us know in the comments below!