Have you ever wondered about the tradition of handfasting in Scottish weddings? Recently Andrew photographed a symbolic handfasting at an Edinburgh wedding reception, so I’ve been looking into this tradition to find out a bit more.

The handfasting tradition may (or may not) be as old as the Scottish hills! It seems likely to have come from pre-Christian Scandinavian rituals and has evolved from there. Originally handfasting meant a simple joining of hands by a handshake, but later ceremonies involved binding the hands together with a cord or sash – tying the knot.

For some time between 1000AD and the 1600s, handfasting could be used either as marriage, or as the promise to marry at some later date – betrothal. After a change in the law in the 1600s allowing only church ministers to perform marriage ceremonies, handfasting became a symbolic part of weddings.

The Myth of Handfasting.

In the late 18th century, rumour and popular belief was that handfasting was a form of trial marriage lasting one year and one day, after which couples could stay together or part. There seems little evidence for this, and any written evidence seems to indicate that it was used a 100 years prior to the 18th century – possible not the most reliable account of handfasting! This myth has also appeared in several novels written at the time, including The Monastery by Sir Walter Scott.

Is Handfasting Legally Binding?

Yes! Sorry for that awful pun, but Scotland has been in the unique position of being able to offer a legal marriage by handfasting since 2004, as long as it is carried out by an official celebrant from Pagan Federation of Scotland. It’s not always the type of ceremony people think it is, as Pagan ceremonies are highly spiritual occasions. Many couples decide to include a symbolic handfasting as part of their legal wedding ceremony with a civil registrar, or have a symbolic handfasting after the main ceremony.

Whether it’s for you or not, I hope you find this useful! Andrew will be happy to chat about any ritual, symbolic or otherwise, that you plan to include in your wedding photographs.


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