In Kate Elliot's Cold Magic, set in an alternate-history Earth, there are two kinds of marriage; the long-term sort we think of when we hear the term, and a temporary marriage called a "Flower marriage" which lasts for a year (Maybe a year and a day? My memory is faulty).

The concept seems familiar to me, I swear I've encountered other fiction with a similar idea, but what I'm really wondering about is whether this is based on an actual practice from some culture in history.

So is this something she (or maybe someone else) came up with, or is it based on something "real?"

  • I remember year-long marriages from The Memory of Earth (1992) by Orson Scott Card. Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 19:42
  • Some other limited-time marriages in speculative fiction: Anne McCaffrey's Killashandra describes a ceremony with flower necklaces that announce a couple to be handfasted for a year and a day. Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love describe limited-time marriage contracts.
    – Pixel
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 20:36
  • I thought the "flower-marriage" was a way to legitimate prostitution in certain cultures.
    – SteveED
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 23:16

3 Answers 3


Nikah mut'ah (نكاح المتعة‎) is a fixed term marriage in Shia Islam, which the term of the marriage is set in the marriage contract.


Also, some NeoPagan groups use a version of Handfasting that allows the couple to pledge themselves to each other for a limited period of time. There are no hard and fast rules, and while it may be based on some traditions from pre-Norman times in the British Isles, the current practice dates from the NeoPagan revivals of the early 19th and mid 20th centuries.


  • As I've heard it, the Handfasting is tradition in many pre-christian European countries, but I freely admit most of my knowledge comes from modern-day neopagans.
    – Jeff
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 12:59
  • Everybody in New Religious Movements attempts to bring a sense of antiquity to their rituals. It's pretty normal. There are some fun marriage practices with better proof from the British isles like 'Broomstick' marriages (hopping over a broomstick in the doorway of the house was a legal marriage) or running away to the Scottish border town of Gretna Green to be married at the smiths anvil. There are elements of handfasting that suggest antiquity, but the modern handfasting ceremonies are syncretic, not wholly ancient, not wholly modern.
    – ccyn
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 15:49

Handfasting is an old Irish Tradition, dating back to pre-Christian times, although many pagan religions adopt this as well as other religions (there are types of handfasting in Judaic religions) Handfasting is a marriage (or engagement, basically) for a year and a day, after a year and a day you either renew it for another year and a day or choose to do a permanent marriage of handfasting that lasts til the love ends. Then there are handpartings, a type of divorce.


I'm pretty sure I've seen term marrigaes in a number of source in the SF literature, but the only source that comes to mind right now is Fred Pohl's The Space Merchants (1952) and The Merchant's War (1984).

In these novels the institution only mentioned in passing and is portrayed as largely exploitative (but then just about everything in the books reads that way).

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