Throughout marriage folklore history, there has been a continual underlying theme regarding the concealment of the bride, and her safe delivery to her groom at the altar.
It is often challenging to determine where such folklore originates, and why it was deemed that the bride required concealment in the first instance. However, given that the bride was perceptively under threat from the forces of evil, it is surprising how many folklore traditions have become a main stay of the modern ceremony.
In fact, marriage folklore literally underpins the entire modern ceremony, from the entrance of the bride, to the recessional. So how has this manifested in the secular ceremonies of today?
The Tradition of the Bridesmaids
Bridesmaids, according to marriage folklore, were simply decoys. Their primary task was to confuse the evil spirits, tricking them into believing that they were the ‘real bride’. In years gone by, they would even dress in a similar fashion (to the bride), although this latter tradition seems to have all but vanished.
The evil spirits, confused by the procession, would (theoretically) pick-off the bridesmaids, thus leaving the bride to safely reach the altar.
The Bridal Veil
Once again, the bridal veil was designed to conceal the identity of the bride. The theory was, that if the bridesmaids were unable to successfully confuse the evil spirits, then it would require the wearing of a veil to provide adequate concealment.
The real bride was safely hidden behind her veil, which was worn over her face until she reached the altar, at which point she would traditionally take her place together with her groom, wearing the veil over her face for the entire ceremony.
Even though many brides today wear bridal veils, they often wear them ‘back’ during the entrance. This is largely because the draconian belief in evil spirits has been surpassed by the importance of wedding photography.
However, if a bride does choose to wear a veil over her face (for the processional), there are several moments at which she may decide to remove it.
The first is when her father (or parents) ‘give her away’. A bride may decide to invite her parents to draw-back her veil, thus revealing the bride to the groom.
The second moment is when the groom has taken hold of the bride’s hand (after her parents have given her away), and has brought her into the ‘marriage position’. The groom may draw-back the bride’s veil, just prior to the commencement of the ceremony.
The third moment is just before the the bride and groom share their first kiss. This is generally after the declaration, when they have been announced as husband and wife.
The father of the bride
The father of the bride acted as a quasi ‘3rd line of defence’ in the ‘evil spirits’ scenario. The theory was that if the bridesmaids and veil were unsuccessful in confusing the evil spirits, then it was up to the father of the bride who, with his left arm hooked around the bride s right arm, would ‘draw his sword’ and ward-off the baddies.
The other important point here, is that the father of the bride would (as all gentlemen would), draw his sword with his right hand. It was not traditional to draw a sword with the left hand.
The Tradition of the Bridal Bouquet
In years gone by, sanitation was often an issue. In fact, it’s only in relatively recent times that we have access to fresh running water, and even more recently, fresh hot water.
As a result, the bride and her bridesmaids would carry a fresh bunch of flowers, designed to compensate for any lack of sanitation, thus enticing the awaiting groom.
As we meander along the pathway of the modern secular marriage ceremony, it is perplexing how (or why) many of the old folklore traditions are still practiced today.