Tying the Knot

We all know the expression: ‘tying the knot’ – it simply means getting married. But where does this phrase come from? There are many different stories, in different communities throughout the world. It is certainly one of the oldest wedding traditions we know. Here are a few of these origin stories, and some ritual ideas involving literally tying the knot for your wedding ceremony.

A cord or a cloth may be used.

Some research indicates this originated in the Roman Empire when the bride wore a garment that was tied with knots. The groom had to untie the knots to consummate their marriage. This custom then grew into the tying of hands together for the ceremony, similar to how we think of it now. The consummation of the marriage was extremely important because the expectations for marriage (even not so long ago) was two-fold: a wife was to provide services, that is work, such as cooking, cleaning, farming, and many other tasks, and was to bear children. Marriage was not about love way back when! Not at all.

Another story has it that sailors and soldiers, gone from home, would send a piece of rope to their sweethearts when they wanted to get married. If the rope was returned with a knot, it meant yes. This is a bit more romantic.

In the Hindu tradition the bride and groom each tie a necklace of flowers around one another, so they, too are tying the knot, and the Hawaiian lei tradition is similar.

Most popular today is the Celtic version, the ancient ‘handfasting’ ceremony that comes from the pre-Christian era.This is the one I usually reference. One narrative has it that couples would commit to a trial marriage for one year and one day, with a handfasting ceremony. Then, if they wished to remain together they could marry. It’s a nice story and if true, would have been very empowering for the bride and groom, giving them a chance to get to know one another before committing to a lifetime together.

Today the handfasting is used as a marriage ritual and there is no right or wrong way to do it. I have performed this many times and in as many different ways. You can use a cloth or cord and your officiant can wrap or tie it, or you may choose a special person, perhaps parents, or a friend, to do the honors. The coupe joins hands, sometimes crossing their wrists making the sign of infinity, and the cloth is wrapped around their hands, if a cord is used, it can be tied in a knot. This can be done during the exchange of vows, or just as a ritual unto itself. There is a special blessing that can be said or any reading or poem could used, if it expresses your intent.

Another way to ‘tie the knot’ is to have the couple takes two cords and tie them together using the fisherman’s knot. They then pull it from each end to show the strength of their union. This is tricky, though – please do practice it!

Tying or wrapping the cloth.

There are many different kinds of knots, if you’re using actual cord, and the type of knot you chose could be meaningful for you. ‘The Fisherman’s Knot’, known as true lovers knot because it is one of the strongest knots. ‘God’s Knot’ – consists of three cords representing the trinity. The ‘Infinity Knot’ forms the symbol of infinity and is popular with Wiccan couples. The ‘Mystic Knot’ is part of feng shui practice and is shaped like the mystic knot – and believed to bless the marriage with good luck, harmony and longevity.

So if you are planning on tying the knot, perhaps you’ll want to tie a knot for your ceremony!

Thank you Garth Woods for the photos from Harmony Gardens.

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    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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