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JILL ELLSWORTH: Happily wed or a feeling of dread? The history of evil lurking in wedding traditions

Wedding rings.
The next time you go to a wedding, you'll have some insight into some of the darker reasons behind today's traditions - 123RF Stock Photo
Generation Y Not writer Jill Ellsworth is a writer and communications specialist who lives in Dominion, N.S.

You’ve seen it all before: the blushing bride in the white dress and veil, flanked by her loyal bridesmaids as she carries her beautiful bouquet down the aisle. At the altar, the groom stands proudly, best man by his side. 

These facets of European-traditional wedding ceremonies are so engrained in our minds that we rarely consider where they all began. Just under the pristine white surface of these joyous celebrations, a sinister thread of history lurks.

Helping the bride or confusing evil spirits? - 123rf stock photo
Helping the bride or confusing evil spirits? - 123rf stock photo

Bridesmaid dresses

In many cultures, bridesmaids stand beside the bride on her special day, ensuring that things stay as calm and organized as possible. Often, it’s a small team of family members and friends whose main duties consist of helping with pre-wedding tasks, running last minute errands and making sure the bride enjoys her day. Not to disregard the importance of these things, but let’s just say their jobs were a little more important in the old days. 

Some sources state that in ancient times, bridesmaids wore the same dress and veil as the bride. The purpose? To confuse jealous suitors, exes, and evil spirits. Yes, you read that correctly - evil spirits. These spirits, drawn by the bride’s purity and beauty, would become confused by the body doubles and end up distracted from their goal of harming the bride. 

Modern groomsmen have it relatively easy. - 123rf stock photo
Modern groomsmen have it relatively easy. - 123rf stock photo

Best man

So, your buddy asks you to be his best man. You shrug and accept, assuming you’ll have little-to-no actual responsibilities aside from a speech or two. Reality check: you have to help the groom kidnap the bride and fight off anyone who tries to kidnap her back. At least…that’s how it used to work. 

Throughout history, the best man would assist the groom in kidnapping his future bride from her village. Then, during the ceremony, he would stand to the right of the groom with his hand on his sword throughout the entire wedding, ready to jump into action at any time. Think, Ned Stark to Robert Baratheon style. Having to write that speech doesn’t seem so bad now, huh?

The veil used to be more than a fashion statement.
The veil used to be more than a fashion statement.

Veil and bouquet

The tradition of a veiled bride dates back to the ancient empires of the Greeks and Romans. The bridal veil was invented by pagans to ward off evil spirits. Similarly, bouquets were originally made of garlic, herbs, and spices to ward off the same dangerous troublemakers. 

Occasionally, some of the spices used to create the bouquet, particularly dill, would be served up at the wedding feast. It was believed that by dining on the bride’s bouquet, wedding guests were helping promote passion between the new couple. 

Once upon a time, a wedding bouquet may have had a different fragrance. - Photos: 123rf
Once upon a time, a wedding bouquet may have had a different fragrance. - Photos: 123rf

So, what’s with the famous bouquet toss? Guests also believed that going home with something belonging to the bride was extremely lucky. This often meant tearing pieces of her dress or even hair to ensure their own good fortune. In order to escape, the bride would throw her bouquet into the crowd in hopes that it would serve as a distraction and keep their greedy hands busy. 

When you become accustomed to something, it can be a bit unnerving to discover the dark history behind it. The next time you go to a wedding, maybe you’ll be keeping an extra eye out for these common, yet strange, wedding traditions.  

Jill Ellsworth is a writer and communications specialist who lives in Dominion, N.S. Her column appears biweekly across the SaltWire Network. She can be reached at jillellsworth94@gmail.com.

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