HandFasting Ceremonies in the Scottish Tradition

As a Seanachaidh or Tradition Bearer of the Highlands, one of the customs that I do my best to keep alive is Handfasting.
It is a tradition of wedding found in many places and cultures, perhaps rarely nowadays, but I keep alive a Scottish style of it to benefit both native Scots and ex-pats from Canada and the USA who are returning to the homeland to be married, Scottish style.

Tying of the Hands Handfasting Wedding Ceremony Handfasting 
Ceremony at Ard an Aiseig

Why Couples Come To Me For Their Wedding Ceremony

~ The most important thing that I offer is a ceremony that you and your guests are engaged in and has meaning: This comes from long training, 17 years experience in holding ceremony, and wedding ceremonies for ten of those years.

~ I tailor make the marriage ceremony around you, the couple, over many weeks of preparation. This allows you to bring in ideas not normally catered for within religious or civil ceremonies, and to leave out that which is not relevant to you.

~ I am one of the few people in Scotland (and the UK) who offer a handfasting ceremony that draws from Scottish tradition (and not from questionable internet sources! See history below.)

~ The ceremony is spiritual / emotional and is religious only if you want that. I have performed ceremonies for Pagans, Catholics, the non-religious and 'mixed' marriages.

~ I can offer the above because I am not allied with a church or state body. I work easily alongside a civil registrar for marriages which require legal registration with the state.

jumping the besom
"We would like to say that we really cannot thank you enough for making our day so wonderful. The ceremony you created for us was absolutely perfect. Your words perfectly reflected our relationship and commitment to each other. So many people have commented about how personal and poignant the ceremony was. Your role as MC also went beyond anything we had imagined. Thank you so much for all your hard work and for making our day so special. It was certainly a day that we and all of our guests will remember forever!
I have attached a photo, taken by a family member, which I believe perfectly captures our moment of jumping into our new life together!" Alice and Al, Baideanoch, June 2015

The ceremony circle, 
England large ceremony, 
Antrim Rowan and Michael, Scottish 

Outdoor Ceremonies, England, Ireland, Scotland - Always in a circle / oval

"Dear Scot, you recently conducted my sister's hand fasting ceremony, Geraldine and Duan Bruce on the 13th September [2013] at Colzium House. To be honest I /we did not know what to expect, I am not religious, but I am spiritual and a very proud scot. I want to say that it was fantastic, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and my sons stated they too would have a Scottish hand fasting, which makes me proud. I have raved to many about the day and passed your website to them also. So to all who are doubtful and not too sure, trust me this is a beautiful and delightful, heartfelt and historical and makes you a proud Scot on your wedding day. Thanks, Joanne Mulholland"

Quick links to: What's in a ceremony? What it's not History of Handfasting Renewal of Vows Legalities Non-UK Citizens Naming Ceremonies

So What's Involved In A Hand Fasting Ceremony?

A besom Jumping the Besom at a wedding. Archibald Photography
www.archibaldphotography.co.uk Handfasting at a wedding. Copyright. Jumping the 

While every ceremony is uniquely created around you, it might be similar to the following. The ceremony is conducted by either myself or both myself and my wife Samantha, if you have asked for male and female celebrants. We welcome the guests and stand or seat them in a circle (always in a circle or oval, never rows). We welcome you, the Bride and Groom, into the circle of your people. I speak some words of introduction about marriage, your families, the choice of day or choice of ceremony location in Scotland, if these are special to you, perhaps some old Gàidhlig poetry or prose on the theme of marriage (and translate it). Then we begin. The guests are invited to 'set a ground' of ceremony, perhaps through calling in the Four Elements, Earth, Air Fire and Water. The assembled company might contribute words of their own through readings. We ask who will support you in your marriage - like guardians. You give your verbal declarations to each other, your vows, written by you, explaining why you want to marry; what you are asking for from the relationship; what you appreciate in the other. I call for the Bann to handfast you by, introduce its symbolism, then tie the knot. You might also exchange rings. Perhaps you would share a drink from the Cuach - the communal whisky drinking cup (quaich). As the ceremony ends, I call for the Besom (An Sguab), so that you may jump it and begin your life together. Perhaps the groom will take Brides Cross over the threshold and into the home. A family member welcomes you once you have jumped the Besom, or perhaps Samantha, as a married woman. You leave the circle and walk around the outside of your people, then are welcomed back into their circle, having taken your first steps as a couple, sweeping out th old and in the new. The details are of course, special to you, and indeed, the above is not a set format, but rather a typical structure that we, together, create to your desires. A ceremony lasts about 45 minutes (from guests-in to Bride and Groom out).

While I do come with a pallette of colours drawn from the Scottish traditions, I am keen to make couples a part of creating their own ceremony and as such will ask you many questions as I write the ceremony so that you can accommodate those little things that would make it more your own. That said, I don't accept every request to perform a handfasting marriage ceremony that I get, so it is important for those wishing to engage our services to fully read this page and understand what I do and what handfasting is NOT. I perform about 15 ceremonies a year and no more.

What This Ceremony Is Not

Handfasting is not a form of entertainment, re-enactment or a simple "Celtic Blessing" on the end of a church wedding.
It is a wedding ceremony in itself.
As such, it does not come after any other faith-based marriage ceremony (including Humanist). I only perform a Handfasting ceremony on its own or in conjunction with a civil marriage service.
(If you are having a civil service, the page on Civil and Handfasting combined should also be read.)

Ceremony, Atholl Palace Hotel Alec and Kirsten, listening to Tales at Urquhart Castle

Ceremony at Atholl Palace Hotel, 2008 . . . Listening to Tales, Urquhart Castle, 2009

The Story Of HandFasting In My Tradition

Handfasting at a weddingHand-Fasting probably draws from Scandanavian Christian and pre-Christian practices introduced to Scotland before 1000 AD. It was still popular in the 15-1600s. It was a form of Betrothal. Some historians have interpreted this as a trial marriage of a year and a day. It may have been so in some places in the Scottish Borders. In a HandFasting, the hands were bound by The Bann, rather than by rings. Under older Canon Law, public figures, other than priests, would sometimes perform the wedding: Blacksmiths, Seanachaidhean (like myself), Clann Chiefs and so on, although it was the vows before the family that made their marriage legal, not the celebrant. The law changed in the 1600s allowing only church ministers to perform marriage, but the practice of binding the hands had become popular and so some Scottish Churches were still using hand-fasting as part of weddings up until the early 20th Century.
For a detailed, properly researched historical account of Handfasting see MedievalScotland.org

Handfasting at the
Hermitage Jenny and Matt Aranha
jumping the besom Handfasting, decked in
plaids. Copyright.

Hand Fasting at the beautiful Hermitage, Dunkeld, in spring . . Jumping the Besom . . A Renewal of Vows, Jeana and Glen, USA, in clan plaids

"Hi Scot, Paul and I just wanted to say a big thank you for the lovely handfasting you performed for us. Everyone has commented on how intimate and beautiful the ceremony was -and the wording was perfect. Many thanks, Tina" Paul and Tina Strong Jan 2011, Edinburgh.

Handfasting today

In more modern times, the binding of the hands has been used more often as part of the actual marriage ceremony, rather than the betrothal, indeed it is found in a number of traditions around the world. Many couples choose a HandFasting Ceremony because it allows them to express who they are as a couple. Sometimes a couple's spirituality is not represented by the major religions, or they are daunted by the stress of modern wedding forms, or the lack of spirituality in a civil marriage isn't enough. They are usually seeking a return to the connection between the couple, through a ceremony that is meaningful to them. You may have seen a handfasting ceremony in Braveheart and been touched by it.

I have been making marriage ceremonies for so long now I have repeat clients, which is not as bad as it sounds! I am very honoured to be making ceremony for the children of couples I married, or to be hosting a renewal of vows for couples that I married first time around.

New for 2014! Hand woven wedding banns. See them on the Favours and Accessories page.

Handfasting at
Tulloch Castle

Renewal of Vows

As an extension of the marriage vow, many couples like to reaffirm their commitment to their relationship. This requires ceremony, of course! Such a ceremony is not greatly different from a wedding and can include many of those elements. As in some ways, a renewal is a bit like wiping the slate clean and being married again for the first time. I have performed a renewal ceremony for those of a Catholic faith also.

renewal of 
vows ceremony renewal of vows ceremony
Above, a surprise Renewal of Vows ceremony for Amy (she looks surprised, yes?) arranged by her husband of 10 years, Ed, in a beautiful woodland location on the bonny banks of Loch Lomond, October 2006.

"Scot - Thank you so much for such a unique & beautiful way to celebrate our 10 yrs of marriage & 19 years together. For once in my life I was speechless, which anyone who knows me can tell you is a rarity. You told the story of our lives together with such feeling it is something we will always cherish. The gifts we used in our ceremony were beautiful as well, thank you & your wife for taking the time to craft them for our special day. We will be tying the Ban' on our bedpost, sweeping out our home regularly with the Besom & drinking from the Cuach every year as advised. We will remember this for the rest of our lives. I cannot express our gratitude enough. Don't be surprised when we come back & celebrate our 20 yrs together with you as well. Amy & Ed Rusewicz"
For more renewal photos see Photo and Audio page

Naming Ceremony

Yes, we do!
The principles that form a Handfasting, can equally host a naming ceremony
Handfasting at Carisdale Castle Naming
Alex & Gareth married by me, Carbisddale, then Naming Ceremony a year later for their first child Betha.

Visit the Fees / Exchange page to see the options for all ceremonies.

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