All About Literally Tying the Knot

Most people have heard the expression ‘tying the knot,’ but may not be familiar with the origins of this phrase. Also known as Handfasting, tying the knot is one of the oldest wedding rituals we know. There are many variations and stories about this symbolic act. Here are a few of them:

The ancient Celtic custom called Handfasting, or sometimes Celtic Knot, dates back to pre-Christian times, and was how couples became engaged. It was not originally a marriage ritual, but has evolved into one. The Handfasting ritual has come into the modern wedding world through our fascination with Celtic traditions, and it’s a great way to honor that heritage. It resurfaced most recently in Neo-pagan and Wiccan ceremonies, and now it is quite mainstream!

Ribbons used for the handfasting

But for some it never went away. It has been performed for hundreds of years, even at royal weddings. Prince William and Kate Middleton were handfasted in their wedding ceremony. The minister wrapped the cloth and used the traditional words: ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’

BBC image of Kate & William tying the knot.

There are other similar rituals involving tying of knots. There is the God’s Knot, the Love Knot or True Lover’s Knot, and the Sailors Knot or Fisherman’s Knot.

The God Knot, also called the Cord of Three Strands, is a Christian ritual that symbolizes the bride, the groom, and God, illustrating that it takes all three for a marriage relationship. A white cord presents the bride, purple represents the groom and gold represents God. A metal ring has the three strands attached, the groom holds the ring and the bride braids them together symbolizing the union.

The Love Knot or True Lover’s Knot relates to many stories and legends in which knots symbolize the connection between two people in love. Two ropes are used, with two interlocking knots that are then tied together. The couple then pulls from each end and the knot tightens, showing the strength of their union.

The "God's Knot"

The Fishermans’ Knot is basically the same thing. You might want to call it that in your wedding if you have a connection to the sea and fishing, but calling it a Lover’s Knot seems like a more appropriate name.

The knot is said to be the easiest knot to tie yet the hardest knot to come undone and in fact it is said to only get tighter over time and with pressure. One of the stories associated with it is that in the early 19th century sailors used rope to create knots – some of them being very elaborate.  The knots were used for work, or just decorative and some knots contained meaning and symbolism. A sailor would loosely tie this knot and give it to his girl, if she tightened the knot it meant that she would be waiting for his return and that their hearts were intertwined. The knot is formed by two over hand knots linked together – representing the hearts of true lovers.

Today we can interpret these rituals in many ways, with various materials, words and meaning.

Another variations of tying the knot.

You may use a cloth, ribbons, or rope to do the ritual. I officiated for a groom who made his own long, beautiful knotted rope for the ritual.

The couple can cross their wrists and hold hands, making the sign of infinity, just hold hands, or only tie one single hand to the others. Most often the officiant wraps the cloth around their joined hands, but you can also ask a guest to do it as a special honor.

A couple I married came from two different Irish clans. They were joined together using long pieces of their family tartans – and their mothers brought the cloth forward, and wrapped their wrists as part of the ritual, joining not only the their children but the families. It was quite wonderful!

What words are said? Of all things this can vary the most.  There are specific pagan blessings, sometimes people use the “Blessing of the Hands,” a well-known and beloved wedding reading, but anything that resonates for the couple will work. I have done it many ways and with many different words. Sometimes I combine it with the ‘asking,’ or Declaration of Intent, you know, the part where they reply with their ‘I do.’ Sometimes I talk about not wrapping the cloth too tightly, because we don’t give up our individuality in marriage, but we become stronger when we are united. That is the exact opposite of the tightening of the knot. With the Love Knot – you do want it tight – so, again, it all depends.

If you choose to be Handfasted for your wedding you are choosing a rich and ancient tradition that can be infused with contemporary meaning.

Using a scarf to do the job!

Ribbon and Rope photos by Lisa Rhinehart Photography

God’s Knot photo by:  Kiwi Photography

Lois tying the knot by: Garth Woods

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