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An example of a handfasting knot where each wedding guest has tied a ribbon around the clasped hands of the couple.

Handfasting is a traditional European ceremony of (temporary or permanent) betrothal or wedding.

Contents

Etymology

The term is derived from the verb to handfast, used in Middle to Early Modern English for the making of a contract of marriage. The term is originally from Old Norse hand-festa "to strike a bargain by joining hands."

History

The Council of Trent changed Roman Catholic marriage laws to require the presence of a priest. This change did not extend to the regions affected by the Protestant Reformation, and in Scotland, marriage by consent remained in effect.

By the 18th century, the Kirk of Scotland no longer recognized marriages formed by mutual consent and subsequent sexual intercourse, even though the Scottish civil authorities did.[1] To minimize any resulting legal actions, the ceremony was to be performed in public.[2] This situation persisted until 1939, when Scottish marriage laws were reformed by the 1939 Marriage Act and handfasting was no longer recognized.[3]

In the 18th century, well after the term handfasting had passed out of usage, there arose a popular myth that it referred to a sort of "trial marriage." A. E. Anton, in Handfasting' in Scotland (1958), finds that the first reference to such a "trial marriage" is by Thomas Pennant in his 1790 Tour in Scotland. This report had been taken at face value throughout the 19th century, and was perpetuated in Walter Scott's 1820 novel The Monastery.

Modern usage

Neopagan handfasting ceremony.

In the present day, some Neopagans practice this ritual. The marriage vows taken may be for "a year and a day," a lifetime, "for all of eternity" or "for as long as love shall last." Whether the ceremony is legal, or a private spiritual commitment, is up to the couple. Depending on the state where the handfasting is performed, and whether or not the officiant is a legally recognized minister, the ceremony itself may be legally binding, or couples may choose to make it legal by also having a civil ceremony. Modern handfastings are performed for same-gender or opposite-gender couples, as well as for multiple partners in the case of polyamorous relationships. Currently, handfasting is a legal Pagan wedding ceremony in Scotland, but not in England, Wales or Ireland.

As with many Neopagan rituals, some groups may use historically attested forms of the ceremony, striving to be as traditional as possible, while others may use only the basic idea of handfasting and largely create a new ceremony.

As many different traditions of Neopaganism use some variation on the handfasting ceremony, there is no universal ritual form that is followed, and the elements included are generally up to the couple being handfasted. In cases where the couple belong to a specific religious or cultural tradition, there may be a specific form of the ritual used by all or most members of that particular tradition. The couple may conduct the ceremony themselves or may have an officiant perform the ceremony. In some traditions, the couple may jump over a broom at the end of the ceremony. Some may instead leap over a small fire together. Today, some couples opt for a handfasting ceremony in place of, or incorporated into, their public wedding. As summer is the traditional time for handfastings, they are often held outdoors.

As with more conventional marriage ceremonies, couples often exchange rings during a handfasting, symbolizing their commitment to each other. Many couples choose rings that reflect their spiritual and cultural traditions, while others choose plainer, more conventional wedding rings.

Outside Neopaganism

Handfasting during a civil ceremony in Ukraine. The cloth is a ceremonial rushnyk decorated with traditional Ukrainian embroidery.

Traditional pre-Christian elements are often adopted into modern Christian and secular wedding ceremonies in many parts of Europe (syncretism), and a handfasting-style ceremony is also practiced outside of the Neopagan subculture.

Literature

In addition to Sir Walter Scott's The Monestery, a hand-fast marriage is mentioned in William Shakespeare's Cymbeline (act I, scene vi).

Criticism

Handfasting has come under fire, not only from conservative Christians, but from ex-Wiccans, who cite the many legal loopholes in the concept which permit abuses. [4]

References

  1. ^ Andrews, William (1899). Bygone Church Life in Scotland. Hull Press. pp. 210–212. http://books.google.com/books?id=tvYOAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false.  
  2. ^ Macfarlane, Leslie J. (1994). "William Elphinstone's Library Revisited". in MacDonald, Alasdair A.; Lynch, Michael et al. The Renaissance in Scotland: Studies in Literature, Religion, History, and Culture. Leiden: E. J. Brill. pp. 75. ISBN 90-04-10097-4. http://books.google.com/books?id=Yl71m3YBVGwC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false.  
  3. ^ Rackwitz, Martin (2007). Travels to Terra Incognita: The Scottish Highlands and Hebrides in Early Modern Travellers' Accounts c. 1600 to 1900. Waxmann Verlag GmbH. pp. 497 note 199. ISBN 978-3-8309-1699-4. http://books.google.com/books?id=GZWpQi7vY0QC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false.  
  4. ^ Brad Hicks, Wicca Lies: Handfasting. Dec. 14th, 2004, page retrieved 2009-12-31.

Sources

  • Anton, A. E. "'Handfasting' in Scotland." The Scottish Historical Review 37, no. 124 (October 1958): 89–102.

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

'HANDFASTING (A.S.' handfcestnung, pledging one's hand), primarily the 0. Eng. synonym for betrothal, and later a peculiar form of temporary marriage at one time common in Scotland, the only necessary ceremony being the verbal pledge of the couple while holding hands. The pair thus handfasted were, in accordance with Scotch law, entitled to live together for a year and a day. If then they so wished, the temporary marriage could be made permanent; if not, they could go their several ways without reproach, the child, if any, being supported by the party who objected to further cohabitation.


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