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By Anna Franklin

The modern Pagan marriage ceremony is called a handfasting. During the ritual, the couple have their hands loosely tied with coloured ribbons, which is the origin of the phrase ‘tying the knot’. They drink wine together from a single cup, which is broken afterwards to symbolise that no one else may share what they have known together, even if they part in the future. The happy couple exchange vows which they write themselves, may give each other rings and then jump over broomstick for fertility. The whole service is conducted with a sense of playfulness and joy.

Originally published by Llewellyn 2005

Reissued by Lear Books, now out of print

Republished by Llewellyn 2015

ISBN 978-0738747224

240 pages

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Handfasting by Anna Franklin

Lear Books edition (out of print)

Coming back into print soon

The term ‘handfasting’ originates in the Anglo-Saxon word handfæstung, which meant the shaking of hands to seal a contract. A similar word exists in German and Danish.  Among other things, it was applied to the act of betrothal in both England and Scotland. This betrothal itself was called, in Anglo-Saxon, a beweddung because the future husband was called upon to make a down payment, or wed, against the bride price of his lady. [This is the origin of our term ‘wedding’.] The contract was sealed with a handshake or handfæstung.  

In ancient Ireland, Teltown Marriages were temporary unions entered into at Lughnasa, the festival celebrated at the beginning of August. At Larganeeny [Lag an Aonaigh “the hollow of the fair”) there was an oral tradition, recorded in the nineteenth century, that a form of marriage was held there in Pagan times. A number of young men going into a hollow to the north side of the wall and an equal number of marriageable young women went to the south side of the wall, which was so high as to prevent them from seeing the men. One of the women put her hand through the hole in the gate, and a man took hold of it from the other side, being guided in his choice only by the appearance of the hand. The two who thus joined hands by blind chance were obliged to live together for a year and a day. At the end of that time they appeared together at the Rath [Fort] of Teltown and if they were not satisfied they obtained a deed of separation, and were entitled to go to Larganeeny again to get a new partner. If they were satisfied, a longer term arrangement was entered into.

One of the largest Lammas [i.e. Lughnasa] fairs was held at Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland. The fair lasted eleven days and taking a sexual partner for its duration was a common practice. Such couples were known as ‘Lammas brothers and sisters’. For couples thinking of a slightly longer term commitment this was a traditional time for handfasting. Couples would join hands through a holed stone, such as the ancient Stone of Odin at Stenness, and plight their troth for a year and a day. Many such temporary unions became permanent arrangements. The handfasting ritual was just one of the forms of marriages permitted under the ancient Brehon law. The same law declared how the property would be divided if the couple spilt, and how any children of the marriage would be cared for.

It wasn’t until the middle of the nineteenth century that the registration of marriages was required by the government in Ireland

Continues in book…


Chapter 1 - Introduction

Chapter 2 - The Historical Background

Chapter 3 - Organising Your Handfasting

Chapter 4 -The Rituals

Chapter 5 - Gods and Goddesses of Love

Chapter 6 - Choosing the Moment

Chapter 7 - Handfasting Themes

Chapter 8 - Handfasting Customs

Chapter 9 - What to Wear

Chapter 10 - Handfasting Herb Craft#Chapter 11 - The Handfasting  Feast

Chapter 12 - Spells and Lucky Charms

Chapter 13 - Handparting

Appendix 1 - Poems and Blessings

Appendix 2 - Anniversaries

Appendix 4 - Handfasting Invitations

Appendix 5 - Useful Addresses


“Tying the knot” and “getting hitched”, “joining hands in marriage” are common terms for getting married. They originate in handfasting custom of trying the couple’s hands together.  Some covens just tie the right hands together. A more modern custom is to tie right hand to right hand and left hand to left hand to make an infinity symbol [like a figure eight]. It is considered that as the hands are bound together, so the couple are joined in love, trust and mutual support.

Some covens allow the knots to be untied after the ceremony, while others insist that the couple remain bound for twenty four hours so that they realise the serious nature of the commitment, and just what is entailed in doing everything together. Don’t worry, it can be great fun!