Taking Precautions to Ensure Wedding Good Luck

Outdoor omens had greater significance before other nineteenth-century when there weren't motor cars to keep dry in and most people couldn't afford a carriage. As it was usual for the bridal party to walked or ridden on horseback to church, it had been standard to look to the sky for signs of coming good or bad luck. It is a fortunate bride who, in America, Canada, Belgium, Spain and some other European countries, meets a white cat; in England it's a black cat that brings good luck.

A funeral or a pig in the path of a Scottish bridal party, (not many pigs in the centre of Glasgow, so the bride only has to dodge the funerals) was enough to turn it round to make a fresh start. The sad sight of a cripple, suggesting deformed children for the couple, or a monk or nun, symbolising enforced chastity and barrenness, was a bad sign (but what about the Catholic priest who was going to marry them, he wasn't supposed to be married and had taken the vow of chastity, so why wasn't he bad luck? I guess superstitions on sensible, if they were, they wouldn't be superstitions with the!), but the European gipsy bride welcomed the sight of woman of easy virtue — the easier the better — for it promised cheerful abundance. (Now that is sensible attitude!)

It is lucky for a bride to meet a chimney-sweep with blackened face, sootladen brushes and magical associations with the family hearth, heart of the house. (Rather unlikely to happen these days, as the few and far chimney sweeps arrive in vans with vacuum cleaning equipment, the definitely not black otherwise the payable carpets of the houses that they work in would get grubby. Not good for the insurance claims.) It brings to mind a barn dance that we did for a wedding some years ago, where the caller arrived with his face blackened like a chimney sweep. This particular corner also dances in a Morris dance team, where the tradition is to blacken up their faces. (Something to do with when teams danced for money in the days of the great depression, and didn't want to be recognised). Anyway, the bride took it that he was dressed up like a chimney sweep and that he was good luck. He got showered by kisses from the bride, all the bridesmaids and just about every female at the wedding. It certainly was his lucky day.

This meeting now happens with one of the many "traditional sweets for hire" chimney sweeps, but originally was often contrived by the best man, who bribed the sweep, with a shilling and a glass of beer, to kiss the bride. A dark skin has protective connotations also which added to the value of the encounter: a Nigerian law student, Sam Ekpenyon, an air-raid warden during the London bombings of 1941, found that some shelterers thought him so lucky that they would not settle down for the night until he had visited them.

I don't know if they still have traditions chimney sweeps in Scotland, where certainly on the Glasgow side, chimney sweeping practice is somewhat different to the English method. In England the sweep starts at the fireplace and pushes the broom upwards, joining the sweeping rods together as he goes. In Scotland the other way round. The brush is dropped down the chimney from the top with a rope, with a weight attached the brush pulling it down. In cables of all Scottish houses are stepped and wide, and the reason is that the sweep climbed up a ladder the end gable and then walked up to bridge to the chimney.

You might wonder how I know all this, being a lowly violinist. I learned this is the result of a caravanning accident. The accident occurred at the top of the rest and be thankful pass, between lock fine and Loch Lomond. At the top of the past the road clings to the side of the mountain and drops many hundreds of feet into the valley. It was just this point that the caravan was caught by a freak whirlwind, lifting the air and deposited on its roof, overhanging the edge of the road and the crop and still attached the car. The caravan was slowly dragging the car over the cliff edge, so I released the attachment and the caravan tumbled down the mountainside smashing into 1000 pieces. My wife and I newborn child was safe fortunately, but I cut my Achilles tendon on some broken glass, ended up in hospital having it stitched together, then with my leg in plaster for a month.

After the plaster was removed I had to go to the local hospital for physiotherapy. On my first visit, there's another patient lying on a couch painfully lifting an arm and leg in the air and then letting it fall with a grunt. We got into conversation and I asked him what had happened to. It turned out he was a chimney sweep by profession. He said he climbed up onto the roof of a house with his brush and fall and started lowering it down the chimney. "Ah" I said "you fell off the roof". "Not then" he said.

The story transpired that he had dropped the brush down the wrong chimney, not the one he prepared with a sheet stop this the sort going into the room, the chimney of the next house. The lady of the house was in the room when sort billowed into the room followed by a ball and brush. She grabbed the brush in anger and gave it a great yank. The sweep fell off the chimney top, slid down the roof, over the guttering and smashed to the ground, (which is concrete).

You are thinking that's what causes injuries. That's what I thought to, but I was wrong. He was bruised and winded, but hadn't broken any ribs or limbs. Moments later the furious and extremely large and ferocious Scottish lady hurtled out of the door, saw him lying on the floor and started to kick him. It was the kicking that had done the damage.

So it might be lucky for a bride to kiss a chimney sweep, but in Scotland at least, it's not necessary lucky to be that chimney sweep!

To distract malevolent spirits and influences, it was wise to use alternative routes to and from church and there must be no separation of bride and groom on the way, in case it portended real separation later. No cat or dog must run between the pair and in Armenia no person was permitted to pass between the bride's and the bridegroom's processions. (My first violin teacher was not Armenian. A very wonderful, but most unusual man, so I can imagine that they had a whole raft of superstitions relating to weddings out there.)

I'm just beginning to wonder whether we could market our barn dance band is something that frightens away malevolent spirits. There is a constant battle of banter between our bass player and myself, the violinist. He regularly accuses me of making unearthly, banshee type noises on my violin. If we advertise this as a traditional way frightening away malevolent spirits from the wedding couple, could we double our fee?

In Wales and Switzerland the couple walked pressed closely together to prevent demons from casting malignant shadows between them, and kept eyes cast modestly downwards, lest either be tempted to glance at another. Ahead of the Persian procession and before the Chinese bride's sedan chair, a man walked carrying a mirror whose reflection would divert the evil eye from the bride (you just hope that he didn't trip up and smash the mirror, otherwise that would invoke yet another superstition, a Cornishman I think, that break a mirror brings bad luck), and Swedish brides wore bells and sparkling trinkets on their wedding dress to deflect evil, just as gleaming horse brasses protect a team of horses from witchcraft.

There are a whole host of charms against witches and fairies who might be interested in the bridal party. In Sweden the bridegroom sewed sprigs of garlic, thyme and other strongly-scented plants into his clothing, and bridesmaids carried posies of herbs. In south Arabia the bridegroom wears garlic in his turban: and in Palestine the time-honoured prophylactic, salt, is tossed over the heads of the wedding party, just as superstitious crooks toss a pinch of salt over their shoulders after something to stew. Mothers of German brides dropped dill and salt into their daughters' wedding shoes, (do German brides hobble as they walk up the aisle to the altar?), To the protective charm:

Dill cease not from will, salt relax not . . .

and in Russia the doors, windows and chimney of the wedding house, where a witch might enter, were carefully sealed. (Doesn't that lead to the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, which wouldn't be a good start to married life if both bride and groom ended up dead.)

In Syria the bridal procession never passes a cemetery (for obvious reasons) or, more subtly, a baker's shop, lest the bride develop a gluttonous appetite for sweet pastries. Brides once disliked marrying with a grave standing open in the churchyard or on a day when the passing bell was rung at the death of a married woman; no bride entered church through the door used by funeral processions (what about churches with just one door?) It was ill-luck if the church clock struck during the marriage service and prudent bridal parties waited until the quarter before moving briskly inside, to secure the maximum safe period within.

I don't know about clocks striking during wedding service, but I've played with my string quartet at civil wedding ceremony at a venue that was right next to an enthusiasts run steam railway. Just as the groom was about to say "I will", a train came past and hooted its whistle. Everyone erupted into laughter, and that instruction was definitely taken as a good omen. I have no idea whether it was just fortuitous, or whether the best man or someone else had painted to have the train go past and has got the timing perfect.