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The Tradition Of Handfasting

Tuesday, 25 September 2012
Published in Traditions & Rituals

These days, contemporary Celts, neo-pagans and others interested in alternative marriage ceremonies have adopted the tradition of handfasting, which involves binding the hands of the couple with ribbon or cord in public to symbolize marriage vows. The tradition itself, however, is believed to be ancient in origin, deriving from Celtic tribes that were widespread in Europe before Christianity. Since that time, handfasting has been practiced over generations, with many variations.

The term, handfasting, is from late medieval times, deriving from Old Norse: hand-festa, which means to strike a bargain by joining hands. The notion of a handshake comes from the old tradition of hand fasting; and even today, let's shake on it, can represent a vow of sorts. Similarly, handfasting, represents a commitment in context to a more intimate partnership for a limited time or for a lifetime.

The practice was well known in Scotland, and we find early documentation from the middle ages to the early 17th century. Back then, handfasting was used for marriage by mutual consent, without the church. Couples merely needed to exchange vows. Witnesses were not absolutely necessary, though they made it easier to prove the marriage. There was also the practice of marriage by habit without formal vows. This is similar to what we call "common law" marriage today. People simply lived together and became a couple.

The church did not like marriages that took place outside of their institutional structures. Though they recognized clandestine marriages as fact, they regarded common marriages as not "sanctified" and therefore, "sinful". They encouraged such couples to be married again in the church. Back then, as in today, friction existed around the issue of marriage. The 1939 Marriage act of Scotland abolished the formal legitimacy of handfasting, though people continued to use the tradition in marriage ceremonies.

The scholar, A.E. Anton, had a different take on handfasting, writing, "The real medieval practice was that handfasting was a synonym for betrothal, that is, for getting engaged to be married." Handfasting was essentially a promise that the marriage would occur at some later date. It was kind of like getting an engagement ring, without the ring. The promise to be married was in some respects as good as getting married, because the couple would then be permitted (in the eyes of society) to have legitimate sex.

From the late seventeen hundreds and into the beginning of the last century, handfasting had an entirely different meaning, perpetuated by Sir Walter Scott's novel, The Monastery. A handfasting ceremony came to mean that the couple would commit to a marriage for a year and a day. Scott was said to find this information about handfasting in an obscure text that modern scholars have not been able to locate. Since that time, among some people, handfasting has been utilized as a kind of short term commitment, a time in which you can try on marriage and shack up together.

Finally, tradition of handfasting may be more widespread through cultures than many people assume. A few years back I witnessed a wedding which took place in a circle conducted by a Native American Medicine woman who used handfasting. She said it was part of her own tradition. The ceremony took place in nature. Many people prefer to do handfasting commitments is in the warmer times of year, particularly spring and summer, when the ceremony can be held in nature.

Today, the place of handfasting in a ceremony depends a lot upon the couple and who officiates the marriage. What is most appealing to many is that the tradition is simple, beautiful and counter cultural—with a rich tradition outside of religious institutions.

No Tricks, Just a Halloween Treat!

Friday, 30 October 2015
Published in Home Life & Family

Free Halloween Coloring PageIt's that time of year again.  All-hallows-eve approaches and soon street corners and doorsteps will be filled with every manner of goblin and ghoul imaginable.  As you set about your halloween projects of putting the finishing touches on decorations and costumes give the kids a fun coloring activity that reflects LGBT families.  Download this fun and free halloween coloring page from your friends here at RainbowWeddingNetwork.com.  We hope you enjoy coloring as much as we enjoyed creating it!



...And if you'd like to check out our complete 30 page coloring book, click here for all the details: 



The first day of kindergarten is a time of mixed emotions and anxious anticipation for many families and that was certainly true for our family. You see, our 5 year old adopted daughter, Sophie, who was previously named Max, is transgendered. She was anatomically born a male but lives full time as a female. At an early age, our son Max began showing signs of being gender nonconforming. His favorite pastime was dressing up as a princess, playing with Tinkerbell dolls, asking for fingernail polish and lipstick, “blue Chapstick on his eyes”, and playing primarily with girls. As parents we initially thought it was just a phase or at most, that our child may grow up to be a male with feminine qualities or even gay. When Max asked for a Cinderella cake for his 3rd birthday, we forced him to accept a Robot cake. When he begged to wear the sparkly leotard at gymnastics, we said no and made him wear the classic boy gym shorts and T-shirt. When Max transferred from a toddler bed to a twin bed, we redecorated his room in green, beige, and brown colors with Safari animals, rather than the pink Tinkerbell room he asked for.

At the age of 3, Max began verbalizing such statements as “I am a girl inside and out”, “I don’t want to be a girl, I am a girl, “I am a girl forever”, “Please don’t call me Max anymore, call me Sophie because that is a girl's name, “I am your sister, not your brother”, “I am a big girl, not a big boy”, “Can’t you just say I have a girl’s voice every day?”, “I feel dead in boy’s clothes”. Please give all my boy clothes away”, “Can’t I just be a girl and not tell people I have a boy’s pee pee?” and “Rainbows are different, snowflakes are different, cars are different, and I am different, I am a girl!”

Max’s gender comments continued daily and increased in both frequency and intensity. He began to stutter, bite his fingernails, chew his shirts and blankets, wet his pants, have frequent nightmares, and had a phobia about entering his “boys” bedroom, even during the day. Every day was a struggle dressing him for school as he wanted to take off his masculine clothes and put on girls’ underwear and a dress or skirt. Additionally, Max became upset when his preschool teacher made him line up in the boys’ line or put his school work in the boys’ box. At times, he would wake up in the middle of the night and take off his boy pajamas and secretly change into his younger sister’s nightgown or dress.

Due to the emotional breakdown of our child and his increasing gender variance, we sought out professional therapy, consultation, and an evaluation with a prominent Psychiatrist, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and one of the leading national gender experts, a Developmental and Clinical Psychologist. Through much study, exploration, and consultation with these mental health professionals on gender non-conforming children and extensive reading on recent gender research, we determined that although Max was physically born with male anatomy, his brain is that of a girl.

Knowing how to deal with Max’s behavior was confusing for us at the beginning and caused us many tears and sleepless nights. But what we have learned is that most children realize their “true gender” between 3 to 5 years of age, as has been the case with many families we have met who have had similar journeys with their children. We have also learned that our child’s transgendered identity is not a result of our parenting style, family structure, or environmental factors and that there is nothing anyone can do to change a child’s gender identity. This was not just a phase for Max or something that he would outgrow.

We withdrew Max from preschool, gymnastics, and karate and allowed him time to transition full time to Sophie, a female. There was really no transition for Sophie; she was now the person she knew she was born to be. The transition was with her parents, siblings, extended family members, and friends who knew her and our feeling of loss that we no longer had a son.

Since the transition, Sophie now goes to kindergarten full time as a female and has her much wanted Tinkerbell room. All of her stuttering, nail biting, chewing, nightmares, and phobias have stopped entirely. Our goals for Sophie are the same as when we brought her home at 3 weeks old: to be happy, feel good about herself, to find what she is good at, and to know that she is loved. These goals have not changed. We are aware of the uphill journey ahead for our daughter and our entire family, but the alternative of denying who she is puts her at a high risk for depression, anxiety, suicide, sexual acting out, and substance abuse, which are not options for us.

Allowing your child to transition from one gender to another, especially at such a young age, takes tremendous parental courage for the naysayers you will encounter and is a true test of unconditional parental love and support. Just seeing how happy our 5 year old daughter is each day, and how her anxiety issues have either dramatically decreased or stopped all together since her transition, confirms to us that we made the right decision to listen to her pleas and follow her lead.

If you would like to learn more about gender non-conforming or transgendered children some recommended books are “The Transgendered Child” by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper and “Gender Born, Gender Made -Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children” by Dr. Diane Ehrensaft, or national gender educational websites such as www.genderspectrum.org.

A Proud Family
Sacramento, California


Article provided courtesy of:

Abbie E. Goldberg, Associate Professor
Department of Psychology
Clark University
950 Main St.
Worcester MA 01060


Author: Lesbian and gay parents and their children (2010, APA)
Gay dads: Transitions to adoptive fatherhood (2012, NYU Press)

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