Fairytale Weddings – Grim Roots

I love delving into rituals and traditions from around the world, and do so fairly often in this column. Today I thought it would be fun to look at some of our most well-known customs that have, uh, let’s say – ‘uncomfortable’ origins.

It’s almost universal for fathers to ‘give away the bride,’ and I love putting my own modern spin on this by reframing it as ‘supporting’ the bride and/or ‘presenting’ the bride. The origin of this tradition is pretty clear, very literal. A daughter was the father’s property, and his to give. But there are a few other theories that make it even more disturbing. One is classic that seems to weave into many wedding traditions – having to do with evil spirits.  It is thought that the bride needed to be ushered to the ceremony because she couldn’t see through her veil, and (get this) the veil was over her face to protect her from unseen demons. Other stories say the veil was to hide her face from her groom, until it was too late for him to back out. Ugh! This reflects the long history of women valued only for the looks or child-bearing. Good and bad luck, spirits and myths, all were dominant themes in ancient times, and to some extent still today.

As most of our western wedding traditions, having bridesmaids also harkens back to early Roman times, when the bride’s maiden friends would line up to form somewhat of a protective shield while walking her to the groom’s village. These girlfriends were dressed similarly, and expected to intervene if any vengeful ex-lovers tried to hurt the bride or steal her dowry. The bride did not have different clothing, but instead wore the same dress as all of her bridesmaids, to make her blend in and all the more difficult to distinguish for potential kidnappers.

And speaking of kidnapping, the best man’s role comes from his duty to make sure the bride either didn’t escape or get kidnapped. Apparently kidnapping women was more common than I realized. But sometimes the best man himself was charged with a kidnapping to bring a woman to be married. This is told clearly in well-known Roman myth, the story of The Rape of the Sabine Women, where the men of Rome kidnapped young women from other cities and brought them to be married to Roman men. It’s interesting to note that the original meaning of ‘rape,’ may have been ‘abduction’ as opposed to sexual violence, but I’d bet anything that sexual assault was part of the deal. Those poor women! Until 1753 English brides could be kidnapped until the Marriage Act was passed.

Mock-kidnapping are still part of wedding traditions in parts of Eastern Europe. Ha, ha. What a fun tradition, right? It is, but only if you do not look too deeply. And unfortunately, real kidnaping is still a practice in many places. Have we come much further? Recently the kidnapping of girls by Boco Haram made headlines world-wide, but probably only because of the sheer numbers of very young girls taken. It takes a lot to get people’s attention.

Less traumatic is the origin of the ring bearer carrying that pillow. The pillow symbolizes the promises of your sweet marriage dreams coming true. Using a small child to carry it represents innocence, the future and new beginnings. That’s a relief.

Pope Innocent III introduced the period of waiting between betrothal and marriage in 1214, and engaged couples started displaying their commitment with a ring – and so began the tradition of the engagement ring.   Archduke Maximilian of Austria was the first to put a diamond on it, in 1477. The engagement ring is worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because it was once thought that the vein in that finger led directly to the heart. Not all women wear it there however, in traditional Indian practice its worn on the right hand, because the left is considered unclean. Also in many Northern and Eastern European countries such as Denmark, Norway, Russia, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Bulgaria, it is more common to wear the wedding ring on the fourth finger of the right hand. In Brazil, the engaged couple each wear plain bands as engagement rings on their right hands, and then, upon taking their vows, switch their rings to the left hand. I love this!! Couples in Germany and the Netherlands often do the exact opposite: sporting engagement rings on the left hand and wedding rings on the right.

Traditions vary and the roots of some of our most well-known customs have surprising beginnings. Understanding them doesn’t have to turn you away from using them. In the end, we chose the customs that we love the most and interpret them for a modern era.

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your wonderful photography


This entry was posted in Wedding Ceremonies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives