Tying the Knot: Modern Handfasting Ceremonies

The oldest symbol of unity, the handfasting ceremony is a deeply spiritual representation of the lifelong bond between a man and woman. © Ork de Rooij | Flickr

Universally viewed as a means for conveying love, the affectionate gesture of holding hands communicates comfort, support, empathy, and intimacy. From the Mayans of South America to the Hindu Vedic community of the Middle East to the Celtic culture of Scotland, the tying of the hands is one of the oldest matrimonial traditions. The modern expressions, "tying the knot," "bonds of matrimony" and "hand in marriage" all hail from these ancient traditions of twisting the bride's and groom's clothing together or wrapping their wrists with braided cords, grasses or vines.

Despite its primeval origins, the knot tying ceremony continues to be a central part of weddings, especially among Scottish, Greek Orthodox, Wiccan and, most recently, same-sex couples since the versatility of the ritual is easily adaptable to ceremonies of any faith. The Latino community has practiced a similar custom during the Lazo ceremony when a long, elaborately embellished cord is wrapped around the shoulders of the bride and groom. As a result, there are countless variations on the practice.

The symbolic unity ritual usually involves fastening a couple's hands together with cording, ribbon, twine or a silk sash while handfasting prayers are recited and vows are exchanged. Couples can opt to use a single string or braid three strings together to represent the intertwining of the two individual lives into one. Generally four to six feet in length, the threads can consist of any color or material and may contain specific gemstones or charms to bless the marriage.

Numerous online wedding vendors sell ready-made and custom versions.

After the ceremony, couples typically display their unity cords in their home as a reminder of their lifelong commitment. You can preserve the sacred cord in a keepsake box, drape it inside a shadowbox with other wedding memorabilia or affix it to a board in an infinity symbol.

Fastening the Marriage Knot

Traditionally, the marriage knot is secured at the end of the ceremony to symbolize the couple's final pledge to blend their lives together. Although it is perfectly acceptable to simply wind the strands around your wrists, these five knotting techniques are commonly used in handfasting rituals:

  • Fisherman's Knot
    Also known as a true lovers knot, the fisherman’s knot forms one of the most durable bonds. The binding consists of two interlocking, overhand knots that create a symmetrical figure eight. The simple knot strengthens under pressure and becomes sturdier when it gets wet.
  • God’s Knot
    The God's Knot consists of three cords to represent the spiritual union of a husband and wife and their covenant relationship with God. During the ceremony, the couple works together to braid the three cords, purple for the groom, white for the bride, and gold for God.
  • Infinity Knot
    Wiccan couples form the infinity symbol by crossing their arms and joining their hands, creating a figure eight. The officiant then wraps the ribbon around the couple's hands three times. While most couples choose to release the binding before the ceremony ends, some opt to wear it throughout the reception until they are able to consummate the marriage.
  • Mystic Knot
    Among feng shui practitioners, the infinity-shaped mystic knot is believed to bless a marriage with good luck, harmony, and longevity. Considered an auspicious object, the ribbon is wrapped around the couple's hands six times creating a seamless, neverending binding to symbolize the endless cycles of birth and rebirth.

  • Trinity Knot
    The triquetra is most commonly seen in Irish wedding ceremonies. Historians estimate that the ancient Celtic symbol dates back to 600 AD. Among pagan followers, the three points represent the mother, maiden, and crone, while Christians use the well-known symbol to signify the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A popular Celtic tradition, you can also find cords already braided into intricate knots representing theTree of Life, a heart, a clover or any other lucky charm you desire.