Hand fasting is an ancient Celtic custom, especially common in Ireland and Scotland, in which a man and woman came together at the start of their marriage relationship. Their hands, or more accurately, their wrists, were literally tied together. This practice gave way to the expression “tying the knot” which has come to mean getting married or engaged.
The hand-fasting ritual recognized just one of many forms of marriages permitted under the ancient Irish (Brehon) law. The man and woman who came together for the hand fasting agreed to stay together for a specific period of time, usually a year-and-a-day. At the end of the year the couple faced a choice. They could enter into a longer-term “permanent” marriage contract, renew their agreement for another year, or go their separate ways.
There is much debate as to the actual method of performing the ceremony, though all sources tend to agree that there was much celebrating and feasting afterwards.
Celtic Wedding Vow
By Morgan Llywelyn
“You cannot possess me for I belong to myself
But while we both wish it, I give you that which is mine to give
You cannon command me, for I am a free person
But I shall serve you in those ways you require
and the honeycomb will taste sweeter coming from my hand
“I pledge to you that yours will be the name I cry aloud in the night
and the eyes into which I smile in the morning
I pledge to you the first bite of my meat and the first drink from my cup
I pledge to you my living and my dying, each equally in your care
I shall be a shield for your back and you for mine
I shall not slander you, nor you me
I shall honor you above all others, and when we quarrel we shall do so in private and
tell no strangers our grievances
“This is my wedding vow to you.
This is the marriage of equals.”
Irish Vow of Unity
From the Irish Wedding Book
“We swear by peace and love to stand, Heart to heart and hand to hand.
Mark, O Spirit, and hear us now, confirming this our Sacred Vow.”