Strange Matrimonial Rituals

Strange Matrimonial Rituals

The romantic act of a groom carrying his bride over the threshold of her new home, still popular in many European countries, was a general custom in the United States during the 19th century. The new husband, proudly and with fanfare, would carry his wife through the doorway of the newly built cabin in which they would begin their lives together.

The custom had its origins in ancient Rome as a result of the Roman's belief in good and bad spirits. Everyone knew that any new house harbored two spirits, one good and one evil, that waited inside for the newly married couple to enter. The evil spirit was intensely jealous of human happiness and hoped to guarantee some misery by tripping the bride as she entered. That certainly would have dampened her good spirits, because tripping was a very harmful omen.

Any Roman would have had a terrible time sleeping at night if he or she were not also protected by a good spirit. It comes as no surprise that the bad spirit was always present on the person's left (sinister) side, and the good spirit, overflowing with virtue and "rectitude," occupied the right. The Romans had to be aware of which spirit was where; if a nervous bride stepped into the new house on her left foot, the evil spirit not only could trip her but could then enter the house any time it wished and make her life miserable. Ever—mindful of the left—sided spirit and to avoid such a mishap as tripping or stumbling, every Roman husband carried his new bride over the threshold. This completely bewildered the evil one, who could never again enter their home. Fortunately for the husband, brides were generally teenaged, lightweight, and easy to carry into the house without mishap.

This scenario could doubtless be rolled back much further in human history. Primitive man of the Stone Age probably dragged or carried his newly captured mate into his cave. This practice of abduction resurfaced among the Goths in northern Europe about a.d. 200. Although the men married women of their own community, capturing brides—to—be from another village was necessary whenever eligible women were in short supply.

Any young girl away from the safety of her home was fair game. With the help of a good companion (the "best man") the prospective groom would sweep the girl off her feet, and carry her, screaming and kicking, to his village. Following a hastily performed wedding ceremony, the groom would carry his bride over the threshold of their home. His best man continued to serve as a guard throughout the ceremony and remained outside their home in case the bride's family should attempt to steal her back. His usefulness waned as her compliance grew and as her family came to appreciate having one less person to share their meager food and space.

A bride will almost always wear a veil that is quite transparent so her beauty shows through. The custom has several possible origins. For example, it may be a relic of the canopy held over the couple's head in many ancient ceremonies. Such a canopy is still used today in Jewish weddings; it is supposed to protect the bride from the "evil eye" of anybody who might wish her ill, such as a jilted suitor.

The veil probably had its origin in the Muslim practice of purdah, which forbade a man to see his fiancee's face until the actual wedding. In accordance with the custom all unmarried women were secluded and kept entirely covered. After the ceremony the groom lifted the veil in anticipation of viewing a most beautiful sight for the first time; his bride's face. Thin screams of horror have been known to shoot from a groom's mouth when he beheld the face of his bride for the first time. This was a manner in which a desperate father married off a homely offspring. Naturally a most impressive dowry had to go with it.

The wearing of a veil had a definite purpose in the past and has continued as an important custom. When the bride glides toward the altar to take her wedding vows, her white veil is prominent; she will seem undressed without it.

From the book: 
Petrified Lightning