May 16, 2018


Weddings and superstitions...
Writer, William Gilmer, delves into the history of
some well known traditions just in time for the "June Brides" out there.
I have some exciting news to share this month! In August, I will be marrying Dena, my best friend and favorite person in the world. In an effort to steady the shaker bottle of anxiety churning in my stomach, I decided to research the history of some well-known wedding traditions. My anxiety ramped into overdrive as I slowly learned the dark truths behind these customs. It turns out there is a whole host of evil spirits just waiting to ruin our big day.

The thing about evil spirits is that, well, they’re evil, and will do whatever they can to spoil a good time. I certainly wasn’t going to stand by and let some disembodied jerks ruin our big day, so I looked at what people had done in the past to thwart these supernatural wedding crashers. My hope was to incorporate some safe guards into the ceremony without worrying my soon-to-be wife about the peril she might be in. The first possible solution involved the bridesmaids.

You wouldn’t guess it by today’s standards, but the bride and her bridesmaids used to wear the same color and style of dress. The idea was that if the bride shows up to the wedding with a group of people that look like her, the spirits wouldn’t be able to figure out who the actual bride is. It seemed like the answer to my problem, but as I started thinking, I couldn’t remember ever seeing a wedding where the bride and the bridesmaids were all dressed the same. It turns out that we can thank Queen Victoria for unintentionally putting a stop to this tradition. 
White didn’t always dominate the wedding color wheel, in fact, white used to be the color of mourning in medieval Europe among many other places. For weddings, brides of the past generally just wore their favorite dress. That is, until the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840. The Queen decided that she wanted to wear white, and commissioned a beautiful gown that changed wedding garb forever after. She wasn’t about to thumb her nose at the spirits though, her bridesmaids wore white as well. It was quickly decided that white represented purity, and therefore was the perfect color for the bride to wear, but inappropriate for the bridesmaids. This effectively ended the tradition as people modeled their weddings after those of the Royals. I asked Dena what she thought about having matching dresses for her and the bridesmaids. It was in that moment I learned that the human face is capable of expressions that put spoken words to shame. Not a sound was needed to let me know that she would not be wearing the same color as her bridesmaids. Thankfully, traditional wedding fashion had another option for disguising the bride, the veil.

The veil is a truly ancient tradition, dating all the way back to the biblical Genesis.   One explanations of why the bride is “given away” during a wedding is because the veil was said to make it so difficult to see she needed to be escorted down the aisle to avoid bumping into anything. The meaning of the veil has changed throughout the centuries and varies from culture to culture. It has been used as a symbol of purity and rebirth, as a form of insurance in arranged marriages where a participant may not be overjoyed by the aesthetics of the other, and, most importantly to me, as protection from evil spirits.    
The thinking behind this one is that the spirit, if it knew the bride, would not be able to recognize her at the wedding, or, if it was a more general variety of spirit that was just out to ruin a happy day, the veil made it so the spirit wouldn’t be able to see the bride laughing or smiling, actions that tend to irritate the nasty spirits of the world. When I asked Dena if she was going to wear a veil, her response was less than enthusiastic. “We’re getting married at midday, outside, in August. It’s going to be hot enough without adding a veil to the mix.” 

Later that night she walked in on me drilling holes into soup cans. At first her expression was one of confusion, but I watched it changed to curious disapproval as I explained that if she insisted on not match her bridesmaids, or wearing a veil, then this was our last option. Traditional Irish/Celtic folklore says that spirits cannot stand the sound of metal hitting together, this theory also shows up in many other cultures where bells and gongs are used to cleanse a space of negative influences. Tradition also claims that the sound of the cans will drown out the voices of the newlyweds, preventing the spirits from learning where the honeymoon will take place.

“Well something tells me the limo company isn’t going to like that very much. What if a can bounces up and scratches the paint? Besides, if any spirit shows up I’m just going to put it in a headlock and give it a swirly in the holy water, problem solved.”

Sometimes all it takes is a different perspective to find a solution. Weddings are foolish places for evil spirits anyway, any book on superstition will tell you that love is your best weapon against evil.
EDITORS NOTE: On behalf of myself (Amanda), Angelika, Kiyomi, and Craig, we here at Enchanted Conversation would like to congratulate William and Dena on their upcoming wedding, and we wish you two a very happy ever-after!

William Gilmer is a writer and poet living in Michigan where Fall never lasts long enough. Over two dozen of his pieces have been published both online and in print. Keep an eye out for his monthly articles in Enchanted Conversation Magazine, and if there isn’t enough going on in your feed, follow him on Twitter @willwritethings

Cover Art: The Marriage of Oberon and Titania by Thomas Stothard, 1806

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AMOffenwanger said...

Well, congratulations!! I knew about the bridesmaids thing, but not about the reasoning behind the veil. And as for the tin cans tied to the car's bumper, again I didn't know it was for the nasty spirits.
Here's one more option: have a Polterabend - Yes, the word is related to Poltergeist - "poltern" means to rumble, crash, bang about. A Poltergeist is a spirit who makes noises; a Polterabend is the evening for the wedding where everyone noisily smashes porcelain on your doorstep to drive away the nasties. It's also a way to get rid of that set of ugly teacups you never liked, anyway.

AMOffenwanger said...

Meant to say "evening *before* the wedding.

Guy S. Ricketts said...

Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials, William and Dena!
Great article on the wedding rituals as well. Fortunately, I hear all the evil spirits are vacationing somewhere cool on your special day, so have no further worries!

Michelle Biberston said...

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! Is there an alternate way to follow your writing besides Twitter (I can only handle one media outlet and I chose the book over the bird).