Saturday, May 19, 2018

Shoe rituals and marriage

Another Royal Wedding always brings the pomp and traditions of marriage to public attention. As the crowds gather to watch the latest bonding of two people in matrimony, I wonder how many are aware of the origins of the shoe superstitions that surround marriage.

Shoe symbolism in connection with luck and marriage rituals dates back to antiquity and is found in every culture. These customs and superstitions are still practiced today, although their origins are long lost. Our forebears had serious reservation and much apprehension as to the misfortunes which may await them when embarking on a journey, any journey, including matrimony. To avoid calamity many strange customs were performed.

Divination (or seeing into the future) played a major role (as it does today with horoscopes etc.) with even the most mundane happenings taken as serious omens or indications for the future couple. On the road to the ceremony an old greeting to the bride and groom from people they met was "A happy foot!" The bride was encouraged to kiss passing strangers in order to ward off evil spirits. The only exception was anyone who was barefooted. The strangers were cordially invited to join the bride on the road to the church and refusal was taken as a bad omen. Remnants of the same behaviour may still be seen at Hen Parties.

The best explanation why shoes hold such powerful symbolism is because many believed not only did old shoes retain the spirit of the original owner, it was also possible to gain these characteristics and strengths by wearing them. Following in your father’s footsteps relates to a time when the cost of shoes were so expensive ordinary people could rarely afford them. The common practice was to bequeath shoes to family and friends. Throwing shoes after someone setting out on a journey was thought to bring good luck and reference to this superstition appears in the literature of the 17th century onwards.

"For this thou shalt from all things seek,
Marrow of mirth and laughter,
And wheresoever thou move, good luck,
Shall throw her old shoe after."
Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809 - 1892)

The modern custom of tying old shoes to the bridal carriage or car may be a variation upon this good luck custom. In Transylvania the gesture was thought to increase fertility.

Throwing the shoe was taken to wish the couple a fulfilling life together with procreation being a very important part of that union. In China, the bride’s red shoes were tossed from the roof to ensure happiness for the bridal couple.

In the past and shared with many cultures brides were chattels to be traded and owned. Marriages were frequently arranged to bring two families (or countries) together. Loving relationships often followed the union but would not necessarily predate it. In the case of unexpected pregnancy, the union was hurried along. In Biblical times confirmation of a contract for redemption or change of ownership was denoted by removing a shoe.

In Ruth 4:7, the kinsman of Boaz, “drew off his shoe," to indicate a land deal, described as "this was a testimony in Israel."

Strange as it may seem marriage then was no different and in many countries fathers of the bride gave the groom their daughter’s shoe. This confirms the exchange of chattels and passing the responsibility for her well-being to her new husband. In medieval France the groom may sat with his shoe over his bride’s foot and in other customs the groom ceremonially taps the bride on the head with her shoe to show he was master. A variation was for the bride to kiss the groom's foot.

Shoe rituals are common in many culture and include: placing her wedding shoe at the head of the bed on the husband’s side to symbolise his sexual possession and to encourage fertility. The ancient Inca Indians of Peru, were not considered married until they exchanged sandals. In Northern Italy the old custom was to have everyone try on the bride’s shoe, just like Cinderella. In Hungary the groom drank to his bride out of her wedding slipper. In Finland, the married couple was accompanied to the bridal suite by the whole family. The mother would not let the groom go to his bride until he had given her a pair of shoes. An old custom was for the brides to wear slippers or socks on her wedding night, as it was commonly believed walking with bare feet on the floor may result in being tickled with misfortune. One other rare variant comes from Wales where the bride and groom were presented with a pair of shoes joined together by a chain all cut from a single block of wood. There were two little cavities, one contained a lump of sugar and the other a piece of coal to ensure the couple would never lack sustenance and warmth.

It is traditional for Hindu groom is to wear embroidered shoes called Joota at the wedding. As part of the day’s ritual following the Baraat ceremony female guests of the bride attempt to steal and hide the groom’s shoes as he makes his way to the Mandap (where the wedding ceremony takes place). Efforts are light heartedly thwarted by the groom’s male guests since the groom must have his shoes. Inevitably when the Joota are not found a substantial ransom must be paid. Besides getting money, the bride’s sister’s get ‘Kalecharis’ which are rings made out of gold, while the bride’s cousins get rings made out of silver. The is matrimonial ritual, called the Joota Chupai (or Joota Chori), ends with return of the shoes. The origins of the ceremony are long lost but are practiced by both Hindus and Muslims (in some Asian countries). No one can be sure but Joota Chupai may relate to a time when brides were stolen and a dowry was required to be paid.

The Romans believed evil spirits gathered at doorways and if a new bride stumbled over the threshold it was a bad omen for the marriage. Hence, the bride was carried over the threshold. In 16th century France, a newly married couple was obliged to stand naked out-doors while the groom kissed her big toe of her left foot. Each partner then gave the other the sign of the cross with their heels, then with their hands.

For most the connection between footwear, luck and marriage still continues with the miniature silver shoe on the wedding cake and or tying old boots or shoes to the back of the vehicle in which the newlyweds begin their honey moon. In Latin, ‘conficere’ means to prepare which is a source of the word confetti. In Medieval Italy the custom was to throw sweetmeats (candy) at carnivals but by the 19th century the custom was freely practised in England at weddings and special occasions. Sweets were replaced by paper shapes in symbolic form and colour with shoes and horse shoes included.

Interesting Site
Wedding Shoes Shoe rituals and marriage

Goldman L 1993 Dressing the bride New York: Crown Publishers Inc. 155-163.
Rancier L 1997 The sex chronicles Santa Monica: General Publishing Group

Reviewed 19/05/2018

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