Handfasting...and handparting by our Hellenic Witch Starlitenergies
The oldest symbol of unity, the handfasting ceremony is a deeply spiritual representation of the lifelong bond between lovers.
From the Mayans of South America to the Hindu Vedic community of the Middle east to the Celtic culture of Scotland, tying of the hands is one of the oldest matrimonial traditions. The modern expressions, “tying the knot”, “bonds of matrimony” and “hand in marriage” all hail from these ancient traditions of twisting the bride’s and groom’s clothing together or wrapping their wrists with braided cords, grasses or vines.
Despite its primeval origins, the knot tying ceremony continues to be a central part of weddings, especially among Scottish, Greek Orthodox, Wiccan/Pagan, and most recently, same-sex couples since the versatility of the ritual is easily adapted to ceremonies of any faith.
Although there are countless variations on the practice, the symbolic act typically involves fastening a couple’s hands together with cording, ribbon, twine, or a silk sash while prayers are recited and vows are exchanged. Couples can opt to use a single string or braid three strings together to represent the intertwining of the two individual lives into one. Generally four to six feet in length, the threads can consist of any colour or material and may contain specific gemstones or charms to bless the marriage.
Traditionally, the marriage knot is secured at the end of the ceremony to symbolise the couple’s final pledge to blend their lives together. There seems to be five common knots used in a handfasting ritual.
Fisherman’s knot – forms one of the most durable bonds. The binding consists of two interlocking, overhand knots that create a symmetrical figure of eight. The simple knot strengthens under pressure and becomes sturdier when it gets wet.
God’s knot – the God’s knot consists of three cords to represent the spiritual union of a husband and wife and their covenant relationship with God. During the ceremony, the couple work together to braid the three cords – purple for the groom, white for the bride and gold for God.
Infinity knot – According to gaiashandfasting.com, Wiccan couples form the infinity symbol by crossing their arms and joining their hands, creating a figure of eight. The official then wraps a ribbon around the couple’s hands three times. While most couples choose to release the binding before the ceremony ends, some opt to wear it throughout the reception until they are able to consummate the marriage.
Mystic knot – Among feng shui practitioners, the infinity-shaped mystic knot is believed to bless a marriage with good luck, harmony and longevity. Considered an auspicious object, the ribbon is wrapped around the couple’s hands six times creating a seamless, never-ending binding to symbolise the endless cycles of birth and rebirth.
Trinity knot – The triquetra is most commonly seen in Irish wedding ceremonies. Historians estimate that the ancient Celtic symbol dates back to 600 AD. Among pagan followers, the three points represent the mother, maiden and crone, while Christians use the well known symbol to signify the father, son and the holy spirit.
In ancient Greece brides-to-be spent the night before the wedding away from their husband-to-be, it’s a time of looking backwards as well as forwards. Remember the childhood items that were dedicated to Artemis at the bear festival? These are burned in sacrifice recognising the protection of Artemis during childhood and preparing the girl for sexual intercourse and pregnancy.
It’s also thought that the bride-to-be spends the night bedded with a boy, in magical anticipation of childbirth. Healthy himself, with two healthy living parents, the boy represents the hoped-for outcome. It is the magic of the contact and simulation (they don’t actually engage in anything) which makes the difference.
Evidence from Athens shows that marriage had two parts: the engue (pledge), which was a pubic contract between the two families, and the ekdosis, the transfer of the bride from her parents’ house to that of her new husband. The engue dealt primarily with financial matters, such as the specifics of the bride’s dowry, and could take place even before the girl reached puberty.
The traditional time for the ekdosis ceremony was in the month of Gamelion (January/February), the month of the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera. The first element of the ceremony was the progameia, a sacrifice at which the bride cut off a lock of her hair and dedicated it to Artemis. The programeia was followed by a ritual bath in water drawn from a sacred spring. The bride would then be dressed in a white dress with a crown. She would also carry pomegranate or other seeded fruit to represent fertility. A feast in the bride’s house followed; the bride remained veiled and sat apart from the men and her husband to be with the women. At this point she was blessed by her family and the finals of the dowry were accepted by the husband and his family. The father of the bride also offered sacrifices at the family altar, rigorously announcing that he was giving his daughter away.
At nightfall, the groom fetched the bride in a nuptial cart and transported her to his house. The groom sat between the bride and his groomsman, usually his best friend! A torchlight procession and wedding hymns accompanied them. At the groom’s house he would sweep the bride off her feet as if to abduct her and carry her over the threshold. At the groom’s home, the bride was met by her mother-in-law, and was taken to the hearth, given a piece of sesame and honey cake along with fruit such as dates and quinces and led to the hearth. Some was thrown into the fire and a blessing was said to Hestia as acceptance by all as a member of the household. Although the bride didn’t actually become a member of the family until she gave birth to her first child. The couple was then showered with nuts and dried fruit and given a basket of bread, symbolising wealth and fertility. At the height of this ceremony, the bride removed her veil and was led to the wedding chamber by her new husband, presumably to consummate the marriage. Hymns were sung outside the door. On the following day, gifts were sent to the newlyweds, and the two families gathered together. The bride’s possessions would later be brought to her new home.
It seems that a handparting ideally needs the couple of have come to the decision that the relationship is over but also that they want to remain friends and part peacefully. Although not 100% necessary this seems to be the ideal. This is a ceremony where the symbolic ties of marriage which were tied at handfasting are cut and the relationship is ended, the cords are often burnt in sacrifice during the ceremony.
It appears to be a ceremony where the couples can share the lessons they have learnt from their time together. One particular ceremony I found took place on a bridge over water at the end of the ceremony the couple parted ways and went in opposite directions away from each other and their martial home and did not look back this can be done within a circle where the couple part at different sides of the circle. There also seems to be time for silence and like ritual mourning. This isn’t a happy time, and the feast that follows so many of the “celebrations” is often water and crackers rather then cake and wine.
There are no religious prohibitions against divorce on the Hellenic path or in ancient Greece as far as I can tell. A separation can be initiated by either partner. But if th woman was seeking it she would need permission from her father or male guardian. In ancient times the dowry and any land was returned to her family (father or closest male relative) and in Athens, responsibility for her welfare reverted to her guardian but she would have been shunned by the community. Women seldom sort divorce but the men did, and it wasn’t known as divorce or handparting it was known as dismissing and would be done in a very public way. The ex husband would usually retain custody of any children. There are no traditional rituals that I can find in relation to divorce. However I have spoken to another Hellenic witch who suggested that in they may have prayed to Zeus and Hera before parting ways as it was frowned upon. They would have dismantled any altars and burnt offerings of bread and fruit and nuts to appease Hera and Hestia (goddesses of hearth, home and marriage) who would have been pretty annoyed. Once the dowry was returned to her family, they would seek to marry her off again as soon as possible… women were treated pretty badly in Ancient Greece – good job I’m a modern Hellenic witch then eh?! J