A Basic Handfasting Definition and Outline
Handfasting or Handbinding is a ritual in which two people join hands before witnesses and agree to be united in marriage either permanently or for a set period of time. The agreement symbolically bound by the officiant using a cord or ribbon (or several cords or ribbons) to bind the hands of the couple to one another, either symbolically or literally. This handbinding ritual constitute the whole of the wedding ceremony but it is most often a part of a larger ceremony consisting of many other smaller rites.
The handfasting rite is a magical rite that binds the couple together for the time specified in the rite (a year and a day or some other time frame, forever, as long as love lasts, as long as we both live, etc.). It is more than a legal union. To be unbound, another magical rite must be performed. A simple divorce may not do.
Generally, it goes something like this.
1. Everyone enters. The guests may enter first and be seated or stand in a circle. The couple usually enters last and stands in the center of the circle or at the front of the room near an altar. Rarely, the couple enters first.
Processional dancing, music, chanting and singing may be involved.
2. The space is sanctified and the participants may be blessed. Gods and Ancestors may be evoked. The guests are welcomed.
There may be other activities including music, readings, blessings and prayers or not.
3. The couple joins hands before the officiant. The officiant (or another representative, such as a family member) may speak briefly or at length about handfasting and marriage, outlining the terms of the agreement, calling down blessings of the Gods, etc. and making very clear that the couple understands that this agreement is magically binding (and may be legally binding if a license is signed). Or not. And/or, the couple may speak or the guests may sing or chant blessings.
4. The couple's joined hands are bound using a cord or ribbon. They may be literally bound, or the cord may be wrapped around their hands or simply draped over their hands. Usually the officiant does this. Sometimes a family member will do this. In some rituals there are several cords of different colors representing different things. In this case, each cord may be assigned to a different friend or family member.
5. The couple speaks their vows out loud. They may have memorized them or the officiant may prompt them (if this is you and you plan to memorize, give a copy to the officiant so if your nerves get to you s/he can prompt you). Their hands are usually already bound as the vows or spoken or may be bound while they are speaking. Sometimes they are bound immediately after.
6. The officiant will then usually say a blessing and declare the union while the hands are still bound. The hands may then be unbound or they may remain bound throughout the rest of the festivities.
7. Rings may or may not be exchanged. They may be exchanged immediately before the handbinding or the officiant may unbind the hands after the vows to allow the rings to be exchanged.
8. There may be more small rites before the end of the ceremony including a symbolic feast, sharing of a cup, candle lighting, blessings of the family, readings, music, etc. Or not.
9. The energy is released. The Gods and ancestors are invited to leave or stay and the guests are thanked and invited to join the couple in feasting or not.
Some Handfasting and Pagan Wedding Ritual Scripts from the Web.