While the Handfasting ritual incorporated in modern wedding ceremonies as a form of spiritual joining owing its popularity to the movie Braveheart, handfasting has a long history in Scotland where it was traditionally a form of betrothal (consent in the future tense).Having made promises in the future tense, once the relationship was consummated the couple were deemed to be married whether or not they had been through a wedding ceremony conducted by a clergyman.

Handfasting and legal marriage in Scotland
The term, handfasting derives from the Old Norse hand-festa, meaning to strike a bargain by shaking hands. Thus, the mere act of joining hands in front of witnesses was deemed to be a marriage by declaration and, until the law changed in 1939 three types of irregular marriage existed in Scotland. These were cases where the couple, in effect, agreed to be married without an official ceremony.
  • a mutual agreement in front of a witness
  • a promise of marriage followed by sexual relations, and
  • marriage by "cohabitation with habit and repute" - if a man and woman behaved and lived as if a married couple

The first two were no longer recognised after 1 January 1940, when the 1939 reforming Act took effect, but marriage 'by cohabitation with habit and repute' was legally recognised until 2006

Regardless of the legal situation, from 1753 the attitude of the Kirk (Church of Scotland) to marriages created by future tense consents followed by consummation changed. Though the Kirk recognised such marriages as fact, they regarded them as  “sinful” and therefore encouraged such couples to be married again in the church.

Handfasting Scottish Style

The church did not like marriages that took place outside of their institutional structures.  Though they recognized clandestine marriages as fact, they regarded common marriages as not “sanctified” and therefore, “sinful”.  They encouraged such couples to be married again in the church. - See more at:

Handfasting with a tartan band

Simply put, handfasting, Scottish style, involves the couple's hands being bound together by the ban', This can be a length of cloth, in clan tartan, made up of two tartans, representing the clans of bride and groom, or tartan ribbon, other ribbons, and/or cords, either on their own or plaited together.

And, as there is no authorised form of the ritual, together we will create the words and the method of tying to reflect your individual wishes. In common with other elements of traditional Scottish weddings, the handfasting ritual is a ceremony of  complete equality between the couple.

Incorporating a handfasting in your marriage, civil partnership declaration ceremony, or commitment ceremony can be a beautiful addition to the ceremony and a way to acknowledge family ties as well as your personal commitment to one another, both by the words and by including family members in the ritual.

It might be worth noting that one of the things that make some people reluctant to consider handfasting is the widespread, but incorrect, belief that historically a handfasting was a trial marriage. That was never the case, but we can thank  a combination of  misreporting in the 18th century and romantic fiction (Sir Walter Scott's novel, The Monastery)  for spreading this rumour together with the internet and many celebrants for perpetuating it!


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