‘Tying the knot’ comes from the ancient Celtic tradition of handfasting. When Ireland was ruled under Brehon law (7th to 17th century) handfasting was the official ceremony of marriage. During the ceremony the couple’s hands were bound together, hence the phrase ‘tying the knot’.
The handfasting ceremony was the couple’s first pledge of their commitment to each other (we know it as engagement). However, the couple initially committed only to a temporary trial marriage. This latest one year and a day. If the couple were not getting along they would agree to just go their separate ways, but if they were happy together then they would proceed with the marriage.
During the ceremony of handfasting, the man and woman grasped hands together with wrists crossed over. Right hand to right hand and left hand to left hand. This replicates the symbol of infinity, i.e. the infinity of their love. A rope was draped and tied in a knot over the couple’s wrists and hands and then they pledged their vows to each other.
In Ireland the custom of handfasting started to die out following English occupation and with the introduction of the English Common Law. Handfasting is now seeing a revival, but as part of the wedding ceremony rather than the engagement. Handfasting usually takes place towards the end of the ceremony. While in ancient times a piece of rope or cord would have been used, now up to 13 colourful ribbons are often used. Each colour ribbon symbolises a different element of the couples’ future lives together and their commitment to one another, their personalities and the bond between the couple. One by one chosen family and friends tie a ribbon around the couples’ wrists and hands. At the end of the handfasting ceremony the chief bridesmaid unties the knots.
In Handfasting, the different colour ribbon symbolises:
- Red -> passion, strength, lust, fertility
- Orange -> encouragement, attraction, kindness, plenty
- Yellow-> charm, confidence, joy, balance
- Green-> finances, fertility, charity, prosperity, health
- Blue -> tranquility, patience, devotion, sincerity
- Purple-> Power, piety, sanctity, sentimentality
- Black-> strength, wisdom, vision, success
- White -> purity, concentration, meditation, peace
- Gray -> neutrality, canceling, balance
- Pink-> unity, honor, truth, romance, happiness
- Brown-> earth, grounding, talent, telepathy, home
- Silver-> treasure, values, creativity, inspiration
- Gold-> energy, wealth, intelligence, longevity