Sacred Cords: the ancient ritual of joining hands

 

Some of the oldest rituals transcend time because, when words can no longer express our deepest needs, we turn to the art of storytelling by imagery. This allows deeply significant symbolism to embed into our psyche. It’s akin to dropping an archetypal-rich anchor deep into an artesian basin to draw up ancestral wisdom and bring it to the light of consciousness.

 

Loz and Katie’s Handfasting Ceremony by the waterfall

 

 

The consecrated cord features as a beautiful, time-old ritual in many of the wedding ceremonies I’m blessed to officiate. It is known as a handfasting, and is a respected Pagan custom.

 

It doesn’t matter how many times I partake in offering this ritual, I am in awe of its sacredness. Each and every time I wrap those cords, mindfully, and with love, around a couple’s wrists, it is like the first time.

Marion and Dave’s wedding altar in a wildflower meadow

 

The ancient Celts bound hands together not as a wedding ritual, but to mark the start of an engagement. This union was for ‘a year and a day’. In many ways, it was a trial marriage to see if they could endure their connection (and hopefully thrive!). Upon straddling this dedicated stretch of days and nights, they could either decide to part ways or commit to a long-term relationship.

 

As an independent celebrant, I offer handfastings to either augment the ritual of giving rings or as a stand-alone commitment for as long as love shall last.

Officiating Tom and Andri’s Handfasting at Shap Wells

 

On a practical level, there are as many variations of how to make and tie a handfasting cord as there are couples. Traditionally, though, it is based on three cords: one symbolises the Universe (God/Goddess/All That Is), another symbolises the groom, and the other the bride. Or, as the case may be, one of the grooms or one of the brides. It is not gender specific, but based on each person in the couple.

My preference is to tie the cord around the couple’s wrists, and then ask them to make their vows. In my practice as a Heart-led Celebrant, I offer the Four Sacred Vows for them to enter into as part of their declaration of loving commitment.

In silence, I tie the cord in a figure of eight to symbolise eternity.
It can, however, be tied in a circle.

 

Mike and Petra’s handfasting ceremony at a stone circle in Yorkshire

 

As with so many aspects of ritual creation and ceremonial rites of passage, the symbolism of what we use and how we do it, is always taken into account. Therefore, the colour, type of cord, the length, and even how many individual cords are used, will come down to what is meaningful to the couple. For example, when I’m making the cord, I do it based on the original meaning of three cords.

One of my lovely couples employed seven cords in their handfasting ritual: one cord for each of the seven families who were attending. They were chosen by each family with love and care.

Another couple, farmers, chose old-fashioned baling twine for their cord.

One of my grooms had a naval background, so he chose a mariner’s knot. Regardless of what is used, it always needs to be meaningful to the couple. It is, after all, their love story.

Which hand or wrist is used is also something to be considered. Unless the couple has expressed a desire for something else, I traditionally use left wrist to left wrist, as the ancients believed the vein of love (Vena Amoris) ran from the ring finger to the heart.
No matter what colour, number of cords, beliefs of the couple, or way the knot is tied, the wrapping of hands together is a declaration of their oneness.

In its simplest form, a handfasting is a rather magical handshake. The knotting is beautiful, and its imagery is a feast for the eyes and a balm for the soul. It simply says: We are two coming together as one.

As a celebrant, setting the intention before any ceremony is a vital part of my work. The creating of a cord for a couple, as well as the ritual itself, is a mindful act of care and reverence for the couple’s love.

The cords I weave are made on the basis of a measurement of three, considered to be magical in this ancient ritual. It is crafted from natural materials, and the colours are usually based on what is meaningful to my couple or their wedding colours. If they haven’t specified a preference, I may suggest colours based on their symbolism.

 

Wendy and Ken’s Handfasting Ceremony was in their Lake District home.

 

The energetic intention behind the wrapping of a sacred cord is to bring protection, and is a co-creative ritual between the couple and myself. They are there as participants in a magical and metaphysical ritual of manifesting their desired union.
Oftentimes when I’m weaving the cord, I’ll sing or hum and invoke a Higher Energy to infuse an intention of love and joy between the couple. It is a form of blessing. A consecration.

It was an honour to officiate Katie and Ryan’s Handfasting Ceremony at the beautiful Askham Hall. Photography credit: Mike Capstick www.edenvalleyphotography.co.uk

 

 

 

I hold the deepest respect for this ancient ritual, and perform it with all the reverence it deserves. For me, it is not a time for making a joke or approaching it as some sort of parlour game. Silence during the wrapping is also paramount. These are sacred cords, based on an ancient tradition, and I respect and admire their place in modern ceremonies.

Mike and Sara’s Handfasting Ceremony at New Dungeon Ghyll

 

About me:

Hi, I’m Veronika Robinson, an independent celebrant (not a humanist, though I’m happy to do a humanist service) and celebrant trainer in rural Cumbria. The ceremony I create for you is based on your beliefs. This means I am not constrained by any belief system or motivated by my own.

 

I’ve officiated all manner of ceremonies, and am as comfortable leading your guests with a religious prayer, as I am with a pagan ritual, angel blessing, or any other expression of deeply held beliefs. Whether you’re looking for a traditional ceremony or something wildly unique, or anywhere in between, I have the skills and experience to meet your wishes.

Determining the nature and feel of a ceremony isn’t as simple as: religious or not religious. Most people have their own hybrid philosophy of life, death, love and living, and as your celebrant I seamlessly weave your beliefs into a ceremony that is enriching, healing and affirming. I am able to do this because I listen clearly and carefully. At all times, my job is to craft a ceremony which belongs to you.

I’ve been an independent celebrant since 1995, and have officiated all manner of ceremonies internationally. My intention is to create, write and officiate deeply meaningful, personalised and beautiful ceremonies for every person I am honoured to serve. I officiate weddings, handfastings, vow renewals, funerals, memorials, naming ceremonies (babies, children, adults who’ve changed their name by deed poll, or transgender), blessingways, parting of the ways (divorce healing), new home/business blessing, fertility invocation, and sagesse ceremonies.

Being a Heart-led celebrant, for me, is a vocation which is founded upon high-level care, compassion, empathy, responsibility and awareness. I am passionate about bringing mindful and holistic celebrancy to the mainstream, and do so through my business Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training where I offer private training to students. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant-training

It is my honour to be the current president of the Association of Independent Celebrants. www.independentcelebrants.co.uk

Ceremonies, when crafted with skill and love, have the ability to be deeply healing. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant
Please feel free to contact me for an obligation-free chat to see if I’m the right celebrant for your desired ceremony. I work throughout Cumbria, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Scottish Borders, and overseas. (* Ceremonies more than 30 miles from Carlisle are subject to a mileage fee of 45p a mile after the first 30 miles.)  www.veronikarobinson.com

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