6 Creepy Wedding Superstitions From History
All weddings are a combination of old tradition, superstition, and new ideas. But in addition to all the sweet, ancient folklore, like "something borrowed, something blue," there's often a strange, sinister edge. Weddings have always been thought to be strongly symbolic ceremonies, and that's attracted some peculiar beliefs over the centuries — and some particularly creepy wedding superstitions. And many modern wedding rituals have emerged from cultural superstitions designed to welcome good luck and ward off evil, and though they're very long distant from those origins today, they still have a creepy echo in the background.
These days, brides and grooms make their own rituals and luck, and people often hold onto folk beliefs about, say, crossing the threshold first as a way of honoring history. But it wasn't very long ago that wedding superstitions, from the innocent (throwing shoes at the happy couple) to the more worrisome (warding off the supernatural in case demons come for the wedding party), were very real. And they've still got real power in some circles. Don't let your old-fashioned grandmother hear you say that you're intending on wearing green to make an eco-friendly statement, or plan to leave the chapel first. You might get some unexpected lecturing.
1. Being Pelted With Shoes For Good Luck
The origins of throwing rice or confetti at couples as they emerge from the church appears to date back to the Roman era, where a barley-cake was often broken or crumbled over the head of the bride to grant her fertility and prosperity. But in Tudor times, according to a compendium of folklore beliefs, it was common for brides and grooms to be showered with something much less charming than colorful paper when they departed from the church. As they made their way into married life, they were followed by a storm of old shoes. This is likely where the idea of tying shoes to the bumper of the wedding car came from, but the original tradition must have been both odd and, for the horses drawing the carriage itself, frankly terrifying.
2. Keeping Away Trolls Using Appalling-Smelling Brides
A lot of wedding superstitions in ancient cultures revolved around inviting good luck and banishing bad — and supernatural agents of bad luck, from ghosts to fairies, were all considered to be potential threats to the couple's happiness. The 1903 Encyclopedia Of Superstition, Folklore, & The Occult Sciences Of The World contains a lot of bizarre ideas about folkloric traditions, but their wedding section is particularly full of demon-banishing ideas.
Ancient Swedish tradition, the authors note, may have dictated that brides "sewed garlic, rosemary and cloves into their wedding garments" because the smell would keep away trolls who were interested in stealing women. And they argue that the idea of rice-throwing itself may have evolved from the barley-cake tradition of Rome into a way to "keep" the souls of the wedded couple, which, like birds, might escape and be taken by demons.
3. Don't Wear Green, Or Else
A collection of folklore from the British Isles published in 1947 explains that ancient Irish and Scottish tradition forbade the bride from wearing green anywhere on her body. This was less of a problem in the 1940s, when the fashion for white wedding dresses became firmly established, but more of an issue in previous centuries, as brides would often simply wear their best dress to the ceremony; white was often off-limits to anybody but the very, very rich.
Green, however, was seen as dangerous. "The color green is the fairies' color," the folklorists explained, "and they would resent the wearing of it by humans at a wedding and destroy the wearer." These were not cute little glittery fairies; they were powerful beings who were believed to steal babies from their cribs and cause illness and death, so this wasn't a warning to be underestimated.
4. Walking Down The Aisle On Fresh Animal Skins
According to an 1851 record, a region of England had one of the oddest decorating traditions on record for wedding ceremonies. "It was customary," the record says, "to strew the path of the church with emblems of the bridegroom's calling; carpenters walk on shavings; butchers on the skins of slaughtered sheep... blacksmiths with old iron, rusty nails, etc". It was meant to be good luck, but sounds kind of hellish.
And while that tradition died out, the book notes, a butcher's wedding in 1902 apparently had a "guard of honour" outside the church where "other butchers greeted the couple by 'ringing the bells' on marrow-bones and cleavers". Now that sets a certain tone.
5. Ignoring Your 20th Anniversary So You Didn't Die
The Victorians loved romance, sentimentality, weddings and all kinds of celebration, and many of their wedding ideas are still popular today; Queen Victoria's white, opulent wedding dress is a case in point. But there were still strong threads of tradition running through their happy events. According to historians, the 20th wedding anniversary wasn't celebrated at all in the houses of Victorians, because of an old Scottish belief that acknowledging that particular year would mean both husband and wife would die within the year. For no apparent reason. These days, it's the china anniversary, but back then it passed with absolutely no comment at all.
6. The Order Of The Wedding Is The Order Of Death
American folklore is rich with tradition and creepiness, and weddings are no exception. Folklorists collected years of superstitions from North Carolina in 1964, and found that there was a prevailing idea across the state and beyond that the procedures of a wedding did more than just get you married: they also foretold your death.
Rain on a wedding day meant the groom would die first, snow on the bride meant she'd be a widow, and whoever left the altar first, exited the church first, stepped over the threshold of their new home first, or sat down at the wedding reception table first was believed to be the "first to die." One can only imagine couples attempting to do everything in perfect synchrony to stop relatives tutting and planning their funeral outfits.