While conflicting stories exist about its origins, the BBC Scotland website cites that the handfasting custom dates back to medieval times. Back then it represented engagement, not marriage. It evolved from a simple handshake (hence the name) to more elaborate events.
Until 1939, handfastings that were performed in place of church weddings were even legally recognized as marriages in Scotland. While not binding in today's world without observing the proper legalities, modified handfasting ceremonies have become part of modern marriages, especially among Wiccans.
Adaptation. While modern handfasting has evolved from the original intricate handshake agreement, Pagans especially identify with the power and magic of the initial symbolism. After all, strength of intent is one of the foundations of their belief system. Now, handfasting includes knotting a cord around the hands of the bride and groom.
Ritual. A High Priest or High Priestess will know how to perform a handfasting ritual. You can write your own vows or have a Pagan clergy person assist.
While actual ritual details vary, one way is for the priest or priestess to first cast the circle (create a sacred space), and then bless the rings, if the couple exchanges any. The priest or priestess will then read the vows, light a unity candle, and bless the marriage. The couple then exchanges rings.
Lastly, the priest or priestess will loop a cord loosely around the bride's and groom's wrists and tie a knot. After the priest or priestess recites what the ribbon symbolizes, the cord will be removed with the knot intact.
Parts of this ritual may be modified to suit individual preferences.
Is handfasting only for Pagans? No, any couple can make the handfasting ritual part of the wedding ceremony, regardless of faith or belief system. While Pagans resurrected the custom, it dates back to the Christian period.