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  • Writer's pictureKristina McDonald

Handfasting: Symbolic Rituals You Can Include in Your Ceremony

Humanist weddings are unique and personal by nature, regardless of the elements you choose to include. Many people choose to incorporate symbolic rituals into their ceremonies, which can add meaning and significance to the proceedings. Each ritual has a history and meaning attached, which may fall in with your vision of your ceremony, or align with your values or relationship.

Of course, any and all symbolic rituals can be adapted, to suit your ceremony style and work them into the script in a seamless way! Your celebrant will be able to help you decide how to incorporate symbolic rituals into your wedding ceremony.

What is Handfasting?

Handfasting is a beautiful way to symbolise the joining of your hands and hearts in marriage. The tradition dates back to the ancient Celts, who used handfasting as a way to signify an engagement. The couple would tie their hands together to represent their bond, and live as a partnership for a year and a day, as a trial marriage to ensure they were compatible as a couple.

After this period, they could decide to “officially” marry and remain bound together, or dissolve the union and break the bond. It was believed that, as long as the handfasting cord remained tied, the marriage would survive.


Colours, Embellishments and Strands of the Cords

Traditionally, handfasting cords were woven together to symbolise the joining of the couple. Materials would have included leather, wool, or hemp. Now, we can choose from all kinds of materials; silk or satin, jute, hessian, tartan, whatever takes your fancy!

There are variants on the styles and braiding patterns of handfasting cords, and you can find cords with three, six, or even thirteen separate strands! Of course, some couples may choose to simply use a single strand, to symbolise the unity of their marriage.

Additional embellishments, such as beads, shells, charms, jewellery or other meaningful items can also be woven into the cords, or attached at the ends. If you weave your handfasting cord yourself you can add whatever you like to your strands! Equally, professional cord makers may have options for embellishments that you can choose from.

Cords come in different colours, which also hold symbolic meanings:

  • Red - love, strength, fertility, courage, health, vigour, passion

  • Orange - encouragement, adaptability, stimulation, attraction, plenty, kindness.

  • Yellow - attraction, charm, confidence, balance, harmony

  • Green - fertility, luck, prosperity, nurturing, beauty, health, love

  • Dark Blue -a safe journey, longevity & strength

  • Light Blue - tranquillity, understanding, patience, health

  • Purple - healing, health, strength, power, progress

  • Black - strength, empowerment, wisdom/vision, success, pure love

  • White - spiritual purity, truth, peace, serenity and devotion

  • Gray - balance, neutrality,

  • Pink - love, unity, honour, truth, romance, happiness

  • Brown - healing, skills & talent, nurturing, home & hearth, the earth.

  • Silver - creativity, inspiration & vision, and protection.

  • Gold - unity, longevity, prosperity, strength

Modern Handfasting

Today, handfasting is a popular way to demonstrate both the physical and symbolic joining of a couple in marriage. It is also where the saying, “tying the knot” comes from! The joining of hands and the knot that is tied during a handfasting ceremony symbolise the unity and connection of the couple; they are symbolically bound together in love and togetherness.

On a personal note, my husband and I had a handfasting ceremony at our wedding, and it was just lovely! We chose a handmade cord from here, and the vendor sent us a keepsake organza bag to store it in afterwards. There are lots of colour options, and we chose a cord with colours that symbolised the things that we wanted to bring to our marriage. Of course, you can choose colours that match your wedding theme, but we loved the extra personal touch of choosing the values we felt were most important to us.


There are various ways to carry out a handfasting ceremony, all of them beautiful! Your celebrant can help you work out what would work best for you. Handfasting is a perfect way to represent your love and unity as a couple, and symbolise your promises to each other for the future.

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