Symbolism in Marriage

But whatever so symbolically incorporating the bride and groom into a new group is symbolised today with the encircling reefs, the ring, the shared wedding cake. Lucky charms, amulets, horseshoe (remembering to make sure it is the right way up if you are superstitious and Cornish), the bride garter are all related to the same ritual.

Before the Victorian period, superstitious wedding customs and quite extreme, but by the late Asian century society was plunged into extreme propriety and this affected weddings and wedding rituals. Rituals were no longer lusty as they used to be, oh no that would never do. What remains are just pale images of what went before. It's really quite sad in many ways. Other social changes affected marriage, the movement of agricultural workers to towns and cities in the Industrial Revolution brought an end to the traditional week-long wedding feasts, (though they are still common in the British Asian community. I'm not sure that I would have the stamina!)

The first and Second World War is also destroyed the old social orders and the film industry brought American values and behaviours to Britain, as did the American GIs that came to the UK towards the end of the Second World War. Weddings became commercialised with periodicals such as Brides Magazine and Modern Bride, which appeared in the end of the Second World War and have since mushroomed into a huge range of wedding related publications. These changed and standardised concepts of marriage as much as they brought couples fresh ideas about how others considered marriage. Increasing commercialisation of marriage has mostly been unsympathetic to folklore, unless they can be turned to commercial advantage such as wedding dresses, flowers, wedding cakes, wedding rings, guards of honour, and of course, live wedding music in the form of a string quartet, a jazz band, the ceilidh in the evening of the function band. Yes I'm in the wedding business I admit, and musicians perform for payment. But then so does your doctor get paid when he's or she is doing the best for you when you are ill. It isn't about whether a service is paid for not, but whether it is provided in the right spirit, the string quartet giving its best performance and with sympathetic consideration to what is happening at the wedding ceremony or the drinks reception. The barn dance band at the evening reception fully joining into the spirit of the event, enjoying the event along with the guests and doing it to bring sunshine and happiness to the bride and groom on this very important day of theirs, and wherever possible incorporating tradition. Perhaps tradition in the dancers, perhaps tradition in the folk tunes that are being played, because tradition is important in any ceremony.

So many of the ancient traditions do still appear in weddings, throwing bouquets, secret wedding destinations, all subtly changed to fit the modern world, and even the trial marriage of old fits with contemporary ideas of whether sex before marriage living together is permissible or not.

And as the so much difference between computer dating or meeting new people at a disco and a parade of potential brides that was still being held in St Petersburg hundred and 50 years ago or the 18th-century adverts in the Boston newspaper advertising for brides.


William Shakespeare's plays are full of love potion as are the even older Greek tragedies of classical Greece. Philtres and love potions or about gaining and hanging on to the love of your hearts desire. Elizabethan days, love potions were the stock in trade of witches, not just in this country but throughout Europe and the East. With the burning of witches, particularly in Spain during the Inquisition, (an incredible period of cruelty and ignorance that lasted 700 years, officially beginning in 1231 with the appointment of the first Inquisitors of Heretical Depravity by the Pope, and continuing unabated to the last execution in 1826.)

So these people, making love matches with a love potions must have been a very hazardous pastime. I'm very thankful that the modern love potion of romantic music played by a string quartet, or the bringing of bride, groom and family and friends together at a barn dance doesn't bring the risks of execution by burning or torture. Though I suppose if the string quartet or ceilidh band played badly, it is always possible that the old torture machines of the Spanish Inquisition could be brought into action once again, and it was a jazz band, then if they were playing some of the truly modern jazz, that would be akin to the torture meted out by the inquisitors. When on holiday in southern Spain recently, we went to a museum of the Spanish Inquisition, with all sorts of gruesome spiked torture machines designed to get confessions from the victims before killing them anyway. One of them was called the fiddle, and looked something like a violin made out of a plank and rather larger, that clamped the victims arms and neck in an uncomfortable (to say the least), position. When I told our bass player about this, he said this couldn't have been anywhere near as painful as the torture that I inflicted at every ceilidh by my fiddle playing! We love being rude to each other. 


Magic and love potions are more not just Shakespearean. They were standard products of Elizabethan and Stuart witches. This sort of hocus-pocus was standard throughout Eastern and Western Europe in those days, but when in the 17th and 18th centuries witchcraft became less common, the traditions continued amongst the gypsies who travel to all corners of Europe, whose folklore is still richly endowed with love spells, and their power is still significant in parts of southern Europe. (We are talking here about the true gypsies, not hippies new age travellers, though many of the folklore traditions are carried on by such groups in new and modified forms.) And perhaps not surprisingly considering the mix of nationalities



, Love magic has a stronghold in the southern states of America.

One example of a gypsy love spell specifies that at the moon's first-quarter, a figurine moulded from the hair, saliva, blood and nail pairings of the beloved must be burnt as a crossroads, (presumably without being run over by the traffic), by the woman who wants to win his love. You might think it's bad enough getting saliva, blood and all that stuff together with all the spit and yuck into a figure, but that's not the end of it. Now she must then urinate on the spot, repeating the man's name and stating "I love you. When your image shall have perished you will follow me as a dog a pitch". After this little ditty, a victim will come to enjoy no peace except at her side. Well, there must be easier ways!

A figurine image named after a victim is a forever magic and injury to the figurine is injury to the victim himself. Implanting blood, sweat or saliva into a person induces love, also the story goes, just as the destruction of those things destroys the love. Going back to the USA, in Oklahoma it is a tradition that a man wins a woman's love by putting a drop of his blood on a candy fur to eat, (yuck) and a woman controls man by similarly treating his whiskey with menstrual blood, or by pressing a piece of beef, (the Americans love their stake), beneath her arm for 2 days, marinating it in whiskey and then splashing it on his coat. (Doesn't the smell give it away?)

So in traditional folklore and magic sweat, saliva and urine are considered to be powerful aphrodisiacs and methods of control. Closer to home, Bonnie Scotland, it was said the 2 sweets stuck together with sweat would give a manpower over any woman he desired. How they became stuck together with sweat is another question. Perhaps that was a good excuse made by a teenage youth when he left some sweets in his trouser pockets got told off by his wee mammy.

In Norfolk, in the 1920s there is a report from farm and saying that a man desiring the girls love had but to prick an orange all over with a needle and to sleep with it under his arm. Less obnoxious in the American idea of keeping some raw beef under an arm for a couple of days. But perhaps more revoltingly, the next day he had to encourage the girl to eat the fruit, without explaining why. If you manage that, he could be sure that she would return his love. Perhaps there's something in that, as if she was immune to the smell of his armpit she was probably immune to his overall BO,, quite happily go out with. On a more scientific note, the orange would be well soaked with his pheromones, and if they were the ones that turned wrong, then it could be logical that she became attracted to him. Do I not remember reading somewhere that Napoleon Bonaparte sent a letter ahead when he was returning from a campaign saying "don't wash until I get home, Josephine." It has been argued that this was his susceptibility to her pheromones. He must have liked such things because I think he was supposed to be a week away from home the time.

So whilst this might seem a bit crazy to our way of thinking, and a strange way to get someone to marry you, the evidence for such things is diverse. For example in the Scottish ballad 'Fause Sir John ande May Colvin', one verse says

Frae below his arm, he's pulled a charm,

And stuck it in her sleeve,

and he has made her gang wi' him

without her parents leave. 

There is of course a great tradition in parts of Ireland that tinkers use charms both for good and bad. In Hungarian folklore one or more pleasant charms that can be used to get a man's love use the yellow roots of the orchid, but specifically harvested on Midsummer's day, dried and mixed with menstrual blood and added to the food of one's desired.