In ancient times, handfasting was considered a legal and binding marriage contract, akin to common-law marriage of today. It was finally made illegal in England in 1753, when marriage was proclaimed valid only if performed by a paid clergyman. In Scotland, however, handfasting was still done and the couple considered legally married without the church’s consent until 1939. This lead to couples eloping across the border from England into Scotland to be married without having to pay an official to preside over the ceremony.
The traditional numbers of knots are 3, 6, or 9. Using 3 knots, 1 each represents the past, present, and future (In ancient folk magic, knots also represented fidelity, wisdom and true love).6 knots could simply be 3 for each person (2 pasts, etc), making 3 groups of 2,while 9 could be represented by 3 groups of 3 (2 pasts bound together, etc). When wrapping the wrists, the cords are woven in a figure-8 pattern, the symbol for infinity (which we all hope is the duration of the union). It is this tradition which gave us the terms ‘tying the knot’ and ‘bonds of matrimony’.
The colour of the handfasting cords is very personal, and should be chosen by the couple themselves. They can be their favorite colours, their wedding colours, or colours that have some symbolic meaning, such as gold for male, silver for female, red for love, black for protection, and white for new beginnings. Other colours may be researched and used for their various meanings as well.
The cords may be worn by the couple until they are ready to retire for the night, the removal of which would then symbolize them having consummated the marriage,or they may be removed soon after the ceremony to make mingling with guests easier. Whichever time is chosen, though, the cords must not be untied when removing them, as the vows are sealed in the knots, and this would spell disaster for the new couple.
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