How would a Handfasting or Promise Ribbon fit into our ceremony?
Handfasting and Promise Ribbon vows can either replace your wedding vows or be in addition to them. If you would like to incorporate a Handfasting but don’t want to make any vows, during that part of the ceremony, that is also absolutely fine.
These are pictures from four Liverpool Celebrant weddings, all included a handfasting and every single one was completely different - the only things that they had in common was me, and the symbolism of 'tying the knot'.
What do you use?
You may wish to use tartan, festival wristbands, school ties, even pieces of your mum's wedding dress. Or, you may wish to use different coloured cords or ribbons.
Can we have any colour?
Some people choose ribbon, or cord, colours to match their theme; others believe that the colours have specific significance.
Here is a list of some suggested meanings:
Red: passion, strength, lust, fertility
Orange: encouragement, attraction, kindness, plenty
Yellow: charm, confidence, joy, balance
Green: finances, fertility, charity, prosperity, health
Blue: tranquility, patience, devotion, sincerity
Purple: Power, piety, sanctity, sentimentality
Black: strength, wisdom, vision, success
White: purity, concentration, meditation, peace
Grey: neutrality, balance
Pink: unity, honour, truth, romance, happiness
Brown: earth, grounding, talent, telepathy, home
Silver: treasure, values, creativity, inspiration
Gold: energy, wealth, intelligence, longevity
If you would like more information on this, please ask. But keep in mind that it is your day, and that your wishes are paramount. Your colours are your choices. Your colours' meaning to you overrides anyone else's interpretation.
And if you want to simply choose shades that you like, or match the rest of your colour scheme? Well, that’s absolutely fine too!
Who ties the cord?
You may want to include one or more of your guests, or ask your Celebrant to make the binding. Sometimes each partner asks a parent, grandparent or other person, special to him or her, to make a binding. Others ask the couple who have been (happily) married for the longest time to make the binding, for the added symbolism of (happiness and) longevity.
When Do We Untie Our Handfasting Cords?
Generally, you don't. Usually, the ribbons or cords are tied in such a way that you can keep them tied and carefully slip them off. If it is not possible to slip them off, then the knots are left tied and the ribbons or cords are cut on the opposite side from the knots. For display purposes (and symbolically), the bonds are still firmly tied.
Can we keep the Handfasting Cords on?
Yes, of course - although you may want to remove them at some point after the ceremony! If you are exchanging wedding rings, or signing a register or certificate, I suggest that you do that first. This Liverpool Celebrant wedding couple triumphantly raised their hands, to a huge round of applause, as they walked back up the aisle! The bride made the cords and her mum gave her little 'bride' and 'groom' dolls to sew onto the ends.
Do we have to call it a Handfasting?
Not at all! We can call it anything that you like, or if you like the symbolism, but not the name, we don’t have to call anything at all.
Wasn't there a handfasting in Game of Thrones?
Yes, there was! And here it is:
Celebrant: In the sight of the Seven, I hereby seal these two souls, binding them as one for eternity. Look upon one another and say the words...
Robb Stark and Talisa Maegyr in unison: Father. Smith. Warrior. Mother. Maiden. Crone. Stranger. I am his/hers, and s/he is mine, from this day, until the end of my days.
I have adapted the Game of Thrones vows a few times and it has always worked really well. There was a family binding with one couple and their son and (they told me) it was their favourite moment of the wedding - it made wonderful memories for them and their guests.
4 ways to include handfasting vows, or promise ribbons, in your wedding ceremony...
1. Prior to exchange of wedding rings:
In this example, there are no vows made, by the couple, and a guest is invited to make the binding. This can also be a lovely way of symbolising the two families joining together, especially if someone from each family (perhaps a mum?) wraps the cord for their son/daughter and their family. Of course, if you prefer, your Celebrant will seal your vows and tie the knot.
Ladies and gentlemen, [name 1] and [name 2] have chosen to be Handfasted as part of today's ceremony.
Handfasting is a tradition that stretches back to ancient times, and it is where we get the expression "tying the knot".
[name 1] and [name 2], please turn and face each other and join right hand to right hand and left hand to left hand.
Ladies and gentlemen, the joining of the hands in this way makes the symbol for infinity, and signifies [name 1] and [name 2]’s connection to each other, the circle of their ever lasting love.
Now, I am going to ask [guest name] to bind [name 1] and [name 2]’s hands together.
[Guest name] wrap the cords once for [name 1]'s love for [name 2].
Wrap the cords once for [name 2]'s love for [name 1].
Wrap them a third time for the love and good wishes of all those present.
And now tie the knot to bind one to the other.
As this knot is tied, so your lives become bound together, one to the other.
It is not these ribbons that bind you together, it is the promises that you have made to each other and how you choose to keep those promises.
These ribbons may look pretty today, but in time, they would fade, fray, and perhaps even break.
In a few moments, you will exchange your wedding rings. They are made of metal and will serve as a more robust and resilient symbol of your marriage.
So that you are able to exchange your wedding rings freely, I will now slip the ribbons from your hands.
But do not forget the significance of the ribbons.
Take them home, keep them safe, and occasionally hold them and remember the strength of the love that you feel today; not only for, and from, each other, but also for, and from, all of your family and friends gathered here.
And ladies and gentlemen, that is where the expression ‘tying the knot’ comes from!"
2. Binding your vows with love:
In this example you can include as many of your guests as you wish. This works in any setting but it particularly suits an outdoors ceremony.
The picture above shows an example of where guests were each asked to bring a ribbon or cord, 1-1.5 metres in length, to the wedding ceremony.
You could specify a colour palette, or leave it up to your guests. They may wish to plait or embellish their ribbon with charms, or other adornments (as shown below)
At the beginning of the ceremony, your Celebrant asks your guests to hold their ribbon/cord while they listen to you making your declarations.
During the ceremony, the guests are invited to bring their cord/ribbon and lay it over your hands, passing on their love and best wishes.
Your Celebrant will then tie a loose knot before you slip your hands out of the loop.
You can choose to make vows (or not!) or perhaps have some background music playing while your guests are laying their ribbons/cords.
Your Celebrant may say something along the lines of:
“…you are here, today, to celebrate the marriage, of this very special couple. To those of you who have brought along a ribbon or cord, please hold it as we proceed through this part of the ceremony. In a few moments, you will hear [name 1] and [name 2] declaring their love for each other and their hopes for the future. As they make these declarations consider your own hopes, for their future, and as you do, hold your ribbon, or cord, and let your good wishes permeate the threads. Later, I will invite you to bring your ribbon, or cord, and place it on [name 1] and [name 2]’s hands. I will then tie all of the ribbons and cords, binding their union with your love…”
3. A Spiritual Handfasting:
The following example is quite spiritual and just one of many possible styles.
These words incorporate four coloured ribbons, or cords, to represent the four elements: water, earth, fire and water. It would work anywhere but it particularly suits a beach or woodland setting. Again, you may wish to consider asking one, or more, guests to drape the ribbons/cords.
Celebrant: Will you share yourselves freely and generously with each other, making time to be together?
You respond: We will
Celebrant: The first binding is thus made with blue, symbolic of Water, that your love may flow and fill you to your depths (blue cord is draped over your hands)
Will you each seek to ease the other's pain and suffering, sharing laughter and joy?
You respond: We will
Celebrant: The second binding is thus made with green, symbolic of Earth, that your love may be wise and nurturing, and your happiness abundant (green cord is draped over your hands)
Will you strive to keep your romance alive through daily actions and words of encouragement?
You respond: We will
Celebrant: The third binding is thus made with red, symbolic of Fire, that your love may be bright and passionate (red cord is draped over your hands)
Will you both help each other to grow in spirit and wisdom?
You respond: We will
Celebrant: The fourth binding is thus made with white, symbolic of Air, that your love may be as limitless as the sky, and filled with spirit (white cord is draped over your hands and all four cords are tied together)
You are now bound together, your two lives joined by love and trust into one life. But it is not these cords that bind you, it is the vows that you have made to each other.
The success of your relationship is not dependent on how well this knot was tied, the future of your relationship lies in your own hands.
I will now slip these cords from your hands. Take them home, keep them safe and occasionally hold them and remember the strength of the love that you feel today and the hope that you have in your heart. Also remember the love and good wishes that have been expressed by your family and friends, here, on this special day.
4. An Old Testament Handfasting:
Unlike a Civil Ceremony, conducted by Registrars, a Celebrant led ceremony can include religious elements. This can be in any form, including readings from scripture, hymns or prayers. Sometimes couples don’t want a ceremony in a church but would like to include something religious, either for themselves, or to appease their guests.
The following example incorporates a passage from the Old Testament and uses a braided cord, of three strands. Your Celebrant can say the words, or you may wish to ask one of your guests to say them.
This version states husband and wife but, of course, it would be as valid for two husbands, or two wives.
To be married is a wonderful experience and when a couple work together with God, it is one of the most beautiful xperiences that any human can have.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says that: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
When two cords of husband, and wife bound together, they are not easily broken, and when three strands are woven together, these three cords are not quickly broken. If the third cord or strand is God, then three are even better than two. And nothing can break this bond.
It is not these cords that bind you together; it is the vows that you have made to each other and your love of God.
I will now slip these cords from your hands. Take them home, keep them safe and occasionally hold them and remember the strength of the love that you feel today and the hope that you have in your heart.
Also remember the love and good wishes that have been expressed by your family and friends, here, on this special day.
The success of your marriage is not dependent on how well this knot was tied; the future of your marriage lies in your own hands. And never forget that in your third cord is the added strength of God.
For further ideas and information about personalising your ceremony, speak to your Celebrant.
Personalised Handfasting Ribbons, and other made-to-order items,
are available in the Liverpool Celebrant Shop
Hi, I am Lorraine Hull, an award-winning Celebrant, based in Liverpool.
I am most usually asked to conduct ceremonies in North-West England and North Wales but I am happy to travel anywhere within the U.K. or abroad.
At the risk of shouting (and sounding extremely cheesy) "I LOVE MY JOB!".
I really love getting to know the couples and families that ask me to be part of their special celebration, whether that is for a Wedding/Civil Partnership, Renewal/Reaffirmation of Vows, Naming/Welcoming, or Celebration of Life/Funeral
I love hearing, writing and telling love and life stories (and also finding out about hopes and dreams - which are the stories of the future!)
I love to create and conduct unique, meaningful, non-religious ceremonies that are perfect for each couple, individual, and/or family.
I love helping to create and celebrate happy and poignant moments, which form memories that will last a lifetime (that also includes the memories that I get to keep too - what's not to love?)
I believe that ALL people (and animals) should all be treated kindly, fairly and with respect.
We are all unique and we all matter. I think for myself and act for others. I advocate anti-racism, the appreciation and celebration of diversity, justice, equity and equality for ALL through everything that I say and do: Love is Love, Family is Family, Life is Life.
You may also like to know that I am accredited by Humanists UK and a recommended LGBTQ+ Equality Weddings supplier. I hold Public Liability and Professional Indemnity insurance, I adhere to a strict code of conduct and I am committed to developing and sharing best practice with my Independent and Humanist Celebrant colleagues, so that we can all be the best Celebrants that we can possibly be.
To contact me please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 0744 932 3988
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