Handfasting

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Handfasting is a traditional European ceremony of (temporary or permanent) betrothal or wedding.

Contents

Etymology

The term is derived from the verb to handfast, used in Middle to Early Modern English for the making of a contract of marriage.[citation needed] The term is originally from Old Norse hand-festa "to strike a bargain by joining hands."[citation needed]. Or a translation from German,"haende fest halten" that is to hold hands firmly and fixedly.

History

The Council of Trent changed Roman Catholic marriage laws to require the presence of a priest. This change did not extend to the regions affected by the Protestant Reformation, and in Scotland, marriage by consent remained in effect.

By the 18th century, the Kirk of Scotland no longer recognized marriages formed by mutual consent and subsequent sexual intercourse, even though the Scottish civil authorities did.[1] To minimize any resulting legal actions, the ceremony was to be performed in public.[2] This situation persisted until 1939, when Scottish marriage laws were reformed by the 1939 Marriage Act and handfasting was no longer recognized.[3]

In the 18th century, well after the term handfasting had passed out of usage, there arose a popular myth that it referred to a sort of "trial marriage." A. E. Anton, in Handfasting in Scotland (1958), finds that the first reference to such a "trial marriage" is by Thomas Pennant in his 1790 Tour in Scotland. This report had been taken at face value throughout the 19th century, and was perpetuated in Walter Scott's 1820 novel The Monastery.

Modern usage

In the present day, some Neopagans practice this ritual. The marriage vows taken may be for "a year and a day," a lifetime, "for all of eternity" or "for as long as love shall last." Whether the ceremony is legal, or a private spiritual commitment, is up to the couple. Depending on the state where the handfasting is performed, and whether or not the officiant is a legally recognized minister, the ceremony itself may be legally binding, or couples may choose to make it legal by also having a civil ceremony. Modern handfastings are performed for same-gender or opposite-gender couples, as well as for multiple partners in the case of polyamorous relationships. As with many Neopagan rituals, some groups may use historically attested forms of the ceremony, striving to be as traditional as possible, while others may use only the basic idea of handfasting and largely create a new ceremony.[4]

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