Handfasting is an ancient celtic marriage ritual and is thought to be where the expression ‘tying the knot’ came from. This is one of the most popular symbolic gestures, or rituals, in humanist wedding ceremonies. It even featured in popular movies and drama series including Braveheart, Game of Thrones and Outlander.

The history behind it

In ancient times, a handfasting signified a couple’s intent to marry and their commitment to one another. Later, it even became legally binding. Of course, nowadays, handfasting is ceremonial rather than having any legal merit.

How it’s done

It involves the wrapping of cord, ribbon or cloth around your hands as a visual demonstration of your union in marriage. The knot or knots that are then created symbolise the binding of your union. There are various methods of handfasting to choose from. Depending on the method chosen, you can have one length of material or numerous.

montage of handfasting ceremonies produced by cinemate films

When it’s usually performed

Handfasting is typically performed while exchanging your vows, either your personal promises to one another, or your legal declarations. You can even have your hands clasped over your rings while your hands are bound – essentially setting your vows into your rings.

How to personalise it

The words recited as the handfasting ceremony takes place can be personal to you, and whatever materials you use will be personal to you. Traditionally the clan tartans would have been used, but here are some other things you could consider.


We recommend that each length of material is at least 1.5 metres long, ideally 2 metres.

Involving other people

It can just involve the two of you and your celebrant, but it can also be a lovely way of involving family members, children or friends too, whether just presenting the materials you’ve chosen to use, or actually tying the knots.


You can display your knotted material in your home – in a box frame for example.

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