All About Handfasting
Hand-fasting is a symbol used in Celtic and other cultures to express marriage. It is non-religion-specific, meaning it is not pagan or Christian. It is just human. The symbol can be used by anybody, since it expresses part of the reality of matrimony. As we use it in the Celtic Catholic Church, during the ceremony, the couple join hands and their hands are loosely tied by a rope. I have seen this done several times in the Episcopal Church using the end of the priest's stole. The handfasting lasts only for a few seconds, really, while the couple exchange their vows. We also use some other symbolic actions which may appear pagan but which are not. The couple exchange some symbolic objects: *the husband gives the wife wheat "to provide for our home" *the wife gives the husband some woven cloth "to provide for our home" *the husband gives a dagger, "for the defense of our home" *the wife gives a Bible, "for the defense of our home." At the end of it all, they turn to leave and are confronted with a broom which has been put in their path. They have to get over it somehow (we leave the details up to them -- they can walk over it together or he can carry her over it.) This is a symbol that what marriage is about is who sweeps the floor, etc. It is not just pretty dresses and romance. You will see this particular symbolic action in Celtic and African cultures. It has no pagan connotations, really, just practical ones.
Saint Colman of Lindisfarne Celtic Catholic Church Riverside, California
A paper on Historical Handfasting by Sharon Krossa on a medieval Scotland site.