Handfasting: A New and Ancient Kind of Marriage

Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to be institutionalized?

There is no doubt that the traditional marriage is in trouble. According to the previous census, “About 50% of first marriages for men under age 45 may end in divorce, and between 44 and 52% of women’s first marriages may end in divorce for these age groups.” (Over the past decade the percentage has decreased, but that may be due to the economy: people can’t afford to get divorced.) According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2005 unmarried households became the majority of all U.S. households.

Originally, marriage was strictly for economic, political, and practical reasons: they indicated possession and bloodlines for inheritance. The introduction of romance and love as the focus of marriage seems to have developed only at the end of the 11th century. Today it appears that the model of love and marriage has changed from “one spouse forever” to “serial monogamy,” moving from one partner to another, one at a time.

Is there something that might work better?

There is an ancient European tradition known as Handfasting. It was outlawed in the mid-16th century by the Council of Trent which required a priest at any sort of matrimonial union, but has been recovered and is being practiced again today.

Handfasting is a joining of a couple signified not by exchanging of vows (although vows may be exchanged) or rings (although rings may be given), but through the holding of hands or even having the hands bound together with a cord or ribbon and a simple agreement. Originally, the agreement was that they would stay together as a couple for “a year and a day” (a phrase still used on many legal documents). At the end of that period they could handfast again for the same period. This can be repeated (What a great opportunity to have a ritual where you invite your friends and family to share your joy!) every year or extended to “for as long as love lasts,” “for a lifetime,” or even “for eternity,” recognizing that our spirits can continue through multiple incarnations.

Living as a couple with an agreement such as a handfasting is different from simply living together. There is a commitment, and it becomes necessary to work out issues rather than take the easy way out and leave. It allows a couple to determine whether they really can accept their partner who snores or wastes money or has bad breath. They obligate each other to work out their issues for a period. They don’t merely live together, they become a couple.

At the end of the period of the handfasting, they can choose to go their separate ways without the financial and legal issues of divorce. Some may see this as an “easy way out,” but others say it recognizes the realities of today.

With each year, the couple has to choose to retake their vows. This can increase communications and intimacy. They may or may not wish to intertwine their finances. They may or may not choose to also have a government-approved marriage.

The key to the value of handfasting is that it is not about “having” to do anything. It is not about “having” to stay together with your spouse. It is not about “having” to stay together for the kids. It is not about “having” to stay together for finances. Instead, it is about choosing to stay together. It is about choosing to stay together for love, for children, for financial security or any other reason. It is a different way of looking at being with a partner.

Handfasting is not for everyone, but the census reports show that traditional marriage is for fewer people every year. By dedicating yourself to a partnership for a limited time through a handfasting, and then choosing to re-endorse that partnership, the result for many can be more freedom, more cooperation, more understanding, more intimacy, and more love. And isn’t that what this should be all about?

Donald Michael Kraig graduated from UCLA with a degree in philosophy, and has become a certified hypnotherapist and Master NLP practitioner. His book, Modern Magick, is the most popular step-by-step course in real magick ever published.

What’s ahead for your love life? Try a psychic reading. Call 1.800.573.4830 or choose your psychic now.

9 thoughts on “Handfasting: A New and Ancient Kind of Marriage

  1. willowcat

    I’m so glad you are discussing alternative to traditional marriage! So many of us have “been there, done that” and know that it doesn’t work. Yet we are constantly subjected to articles flogging us with guilt about our well earned skepticism. Kudos to you – hand fasting is time honored and recognizes the inevitable changes the human heart goes through.

    Reply
  2. Gina Rose ext.9500Gina Rose ext.9500

    Hail and Well Met Morgana,
    Thank you for your input….yes you are correct….couples need to check on their state insurance provisions to see what is allowed and what is not. It varies from state to state. ( But where there is a will, there usually is a way….he he! )

    Blessed Be )O(
    Gina Rose ext.9500

    Reply
  3. Jacqueline

    Hello,
    I enjoyed your article, I have been told by my guides for sometime now that the old ways are coming back, this is in all areas of life, whether you believe in marriage, living together, handfasting or non at all, I respect what you choose and where you are in life, as I personally feel everyone should respect everyone for there choices.

    Blessings and Big Hugs!
    Jacqueline x9472

    Reply
  4. morganamorgana

    First and foremost I love this article! The ancients had a much more enlightened vision of relationships and hence if a couple did NOT choose to stay together at the end of the year and a day…they moved on without bitterness or drama. A handfasting ritual is usually performed by a Wiccan High Priest or Priestess. Though the ritual is easily adapted to ANY faith. If the ritual is performed by an Ordained officiant…it can be used as a legal marriage ceremony. For couples that do NOT want an official marriage but perhaps would like the insurance benefits I highly recommend researching your states “registered domestic partnership” insurance provisions. A registered partnership is usually a matter of a recording at city or state level and then insurance benefits are “usually” available.
    This beautiful ritual deserves it’s re-discovery…and as Gina Rose stated…Wicca is the fastest growing faith! We are slowly getting there!
    I personally make the cord for my couples, preferring nine strands of colors and fabrics symbolic to the couple and their commitment to one another, braided with intention to assist and bless the union!
    Brightest Blessings )O(
    Morgana

    Reply
  5. misskrystalmisskrystal

    I have noticed something a little interesting-actually it is amazing-I can’t believe how divided this country is on cohabitation-I have learned this is a very personal thing-and we must respect a person’s value system on their belief on marriage. If you believe in marriage, that is quite fine-and if you are a big believer in living together, first, that is fine, too. This is something I became very neutral on. We all have our personal reasons. I truly feel if a union is meant to be, somehow, some way, both of you will end up on the same page, eventually, with all of this. It’s amazing how it all can work out if we are just patient. It’s really important to be true to your core values on all of this. Thanks for such a nice post. Miss Krystal

    Reply
  6. Gina Rose ext.9500Gina Rose ext.9500

    You should know though, the only drawback to this ritual is obtaining insurance…..many companies do not recognize handfasting rituals as being the same as a “legal ” marriage on paper. But since Wicca is the fastest growing religion in the USA today, and has actually doubled in the last 10 years, insurance companies will probably change their requirements over the next decade. So, if you are interested in handfasting, and are concerned about insurance requirements,…I would suggest that you to check into the insurance details first…..

    Blessed Be )O(
    Gina Rose ext.9500

    Reply
  7. Gina Rose ext.9500Gina Rose ext.9500

    Here is the usual way the Scots did it, which is very beautiful & elegant to watch by the way.( If you are of Celtic heritage, you might wish to research your family historical clan tartan…..every clan has it’s own pattern of tartan.)

    Sashing of the Bride and Presentation to the Groom
    The sashing of the bride is the moment when the bride is welcomed into the groom’s family and clan. by pinning a sash in the groom’s clan tartan on her. The presentation by the bride’s family sword to the groom is likewise is a very special moment. This is when the groom is welcomed into his wife’s family and charged with the responsibility of defending her and her honour. . Alternatives to the presentation of a sword is a presentation of a plaid (if the groom is wearing his own clan kilt), with a ceremonial pinning of the plaid to his shoulder, a kilt in the bride’s clan tartan, or a tartan tie.

    OR….you can simply use ( from the grooms side of the family) tartan cloth, twisted into a cord or ribbon, if you prefer a dressed down & easier method.

    Blessed Be )O(
    Gina Rose ext.9500

    Reply
  8. Gina Rose ext.9500Gina Rose ext.9500

    Hi,
    Handfasting is an ancient Wiccan ritual ceremony….There are various Celtic and Pagan handfasting rituals too.

    Handfasting, an explanation: Handfasting is the Wiccan word for the marriage ceremony. The difference between a handfasting and the Christian wedding ceremony, is this. In the Christian Ceremony, couples are joined “till death do us part”, even if they find out later on that they aren’t meant for one another later on.
    The Wiccan handfasting joins a couple “for as long as love shall last”. When the couple wishes to part, be it for lack of love, or if they outgrow tolerance for one another, they are free to part their ways.

    I actually endorse it, as it keeps both parties appreciative of each other and they tend not to take each other for granted.
    And if it doesn’t last, it’s cheap to part company…both parties leave with what they came to the table with in the beginning.

    Blessed Be )O(
    Gina Rose ext.9500

    Reply

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