A Book of Folklore/Chapter 10
BIRTH AND MARRIAGE
I have mentioned elsewhere the strong objection I found was entertained in Yorkshire against having a child baptised in a new font in a new church, the deeply-rooted conviction being that such a child became the perquisite of the devil.
A like prejudice exists against being the first person to cross the threshold of a new house, as it is supposed that ill-luck, probably death, will ensue to him or her who either daringly or unwittingly does so enter a house for the first time. I am not sure that the practice of asking some stranger to cut the first sod, and making of that an honour, is not an ingenious way devised of passing on the ill-luck that would have fallen on one engaged on the undertaking for which the sod has to be cut, to another person ignorant of what it entails. We had in Devonshire an addition made to our churchyard, to which, as on a lower level, descent had to be made by a flight of steps. The utmost repugnance was felt by the villagers to have one of their dear ones be the first laid in it. At last a poor gipsy boy died and was buried in the new ground, and since then the dread has been dispelled.
These superstitious fears of being the first to pass over a new bridge, enter a new house, be baptised in a new font, be laid in a new cemetery, are very widely spread. The bronze valve of the doors of Aachen Cathedral has a crack in it. The story goes that the town could not get the church built without the assistance of the devil, who found sufficient gold for the purpose on condition that he should be given the first who passed into the church when completed. But as the news of the conclusion of the compact got wind, no one would enter. So a trick was devised. A wolf was caught, and on Sunday, when the bells rang for service and a crowd was assembled before the gates, the wolf was let loose and dashed into the sacred building. The devil came down in a whirlwind, laid hold of his prey, but, seeing how he had been balked, dashed the brazen doors together with such violence that one split, and the rent is visible to this day. In commemoration of what had occurred, a brazen wolf was cast and planted by the doors. In 1815 this, which had been carried off to Paris by the French, was returned and replaced.
The builder of the Sachenhäuser bridge at Frankfurt had engaged to get it completed by a certain day; but when two days off from that stipulated he found a couple of arches were still short of being finished, and in his despair called on the devil to assist him. The Evil One undertook to accomplish the work if given the first to traverse the bridge. He was disappointed by the builder driving a cock over. In his fury the devil broke two holes in the bridge that have never since been filled up. In commemoration of the incident, a gilt cock on an iron rod stands on the spot, upon the bridge.
The Devil’s Bridge, near Aberystwyth, is over the Afon Mynach. The bridge has been thrown across a chasm 114 feet above the first fall, and 324 feet above the bottom of the cataract. Tradition tells—
Old Megan Llandunach of Pont-y-Mynach
Had lost her only cow;
Across the ravine the cow was seen,
But to get it she could not tell how.
In this dilemma the Evil One appeared to her cowled as a monk, and offered to cast a bridge across the chasm if she would promise him the first living being that should pass over it when completed. To this she gladly consented.
The bridge was thrown across the ravine, and the Evil One stood beyond bowing and beckoning to the old woman to come over and try it. But she was too clever to do that. She had noticed his left leg whilst he was engaged in the construction, and saw that the knee was behind in place of in front, and for a foot he had a hoof.
In her pocket she fumbled, a crust out tumbled;
She called her little black cur;
The crust over she threw, the dog after it flew,
Says she, ‘The dog is yours, crafty sir!’
Precisely the same story is told of St. Cadoc’s Causeway, in Brittany. All these stories derive from one source, that it was held necessary to offer a sacrifice when either a house or a bridge or any public building was erected. The usual way was to lay the victim under the foundation stone. I have dealt with this subject already, so that I will but touch on it here. In the ballad of the Cout of Keeldar, in the minstrelsy of the Border, it is said,—
And here beside the mountain flood
A mossy castle frowned,
Since first the Pictish race in blood
The haunted pile did found.
In a note Sir Walter Scott alludes to the tradition that the foundation stones of Pictish raths were bathed in human gore.
But we are drifting away from the point specially to be considered—the sacrifice of the first-born, for this is what really the dim superstition amounts to that shrinks from allowing a child of one’s own to be the first to be baptized in a new font or the first to be buried in a new cemetery.
The conviction that the first-born child had to be sacrificed is very ancient. We see it in Genesis, where Abraham takes Isaac to Moriah, and in the subsequent redemption of the first-born by an offering to Jehovah. This was a belief or practice borrowed by the Hebrews from the Canaanitish inhabitants of the land.
The excavations of Tel-el-Hessy have revealed great numbers of infant bones, often in pots, buried under the platform on which rise some rude monoliths, and these were in all probability the first-born children of a family sacrificed to Baal.
In Exod. xiii. 2 is the command: ‘Sanctify unto Me all the first-born, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is Mine.’ The first-born became sacer, not sacred only but destined to be sacrificed, and the first-born child had to be redeemed at a price, whereas the first-born of cattle had to die. ‘The first-born of thy sons shalt thou give unto Me. Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen and with thy sheep’ (Exod. xxii. 29–30). But then came the concession: ‘All the first-born of the sons shalt thou redeem’ (Exod. xxxiv. 20). Among the Canaanites, so far as we know, there was no redemption; and perhaps the concession to the usages of the heathen around, with the way shown by which escape might be had from a barbarous custom, was allowed so as to introduce among the Canaanites a mitigation of a horrible usage. When Jephtha went to fight against the children of Ammon, he vowed to sacrifice the first living being that he met on his return from battle; and as this was his daughter, he was compelled to fulfil his vow by immolating her.
I do not myself think that the sacrifice of the first-born, or the first of any being, or the burial of a human victim under a foundation stone, was of Aryan origin, although Aryans may have adopted such a usage from those of another race whom they overlay. The notion of burying under foundations is very prevalent in India and throughout the East, among the Dravidian and Malay peoples, but to the best of my knowledge is not indigenous among the Hindus.
A superstition I found common in Yorkshire was that, where several children were to be baptized at the same time, it would be fatal to take a girl before a boy—for by so doing the girl would acquire a beard and moustache, and the boy grow up smooth-faced. Whence that notion arose I cannot say. This belief is not confined to Yorkshire, it is found in Durham, and extends as far north as the Orkney Isles.
The first visit made by a baby to another house is an occasion for its receiving an egg, salt, white bread, and in the East Riding of Yorkshire, some matches. These are pinned into the child’s long clothes; and several of my children have received these gifts. With the egg comes the promise of immortality, or else of the child itself becoming a parent; the salt signifies salubrity of mind and body; the white bread a promise of having all things needful during life; and, finally, the matches are to light the child on its way to heaven.
I come now to a matter in connection with the social and moral development of the British people that must be dealt with, although it is one to be touched on as lightly as may be. St. Jerome says that he had met the Attacotti, inhabitants of our isles, who were barbarians, having their wives in common. I do not see that we can reject his testimony, though it concerns, I am convinced, not the Aryan invaders, but the original inhabitants of the isles. And there is something to bear out his statement. We know very little about the Picts, but the consensus of opinion is that they were a pre-Aryan people. And we have the succession recorded of the Pictist kings. From this we learn that the kingship descended through the mothers; that, in fact, a matriarchate existed. This in itself implies polyandry, and among wild tribes this did exist to a large extent. To the present day, in Tibet, a woman belongs to several men. In Ceylon she is the wife of perhaps three brothers; and when one husband visits her, he leaves his staff at the door to show that he is in possession. At the present day, in England, an illegitimate child bears the mother’s name; and although the father may be perfectly well known, he has no rights over his issue, nor over the property of the mother, which passes to her own offspring.
In my neighbourhood there is a high ridge of down, in a half-moon, in the lap of which lie several villages. In my boyhood it was quite possible to distinguish between the villagers of two of these. Those in one were blue-eyed, fair-haired, clear-skinned, upright, truthful, straightforward men, somewhat sluggish in temperament. But the others were dusky, high-cheekboned, with dark hair; tricky, unscrupulous, very energetic and sadly immoral. The railways and excellent roads have tended to fuse the types; but, nevertheless, I could pick the distinct races out without difficulty at the present day. I do not say that the fair and evidently Aryan colonists were as moral as might be desired, but if there were a lapse, there was shame, whereas with the others there was none at all. The first were amenable to discipline and to spiritual influences; the others were quite beyond reach. Only where there was a fusion of blood was there any chance of amendment.
At an early period, where the woman belonged to several men, all rights to property and to succession to authority descended through the mother. There are tribes in which this is still the case.
But there came a great revulsion of feeling. The father at last determined to insist on his paternity, and polyandry practically ceased. In Britain, Christian legislation came in to assist the change; but as we shall see presently, where that did not exist, a most curious system was adopted to establish paternity.
In Tyrol, at the present day, so as not to break up an allodial farm, where there be, say, five brothers, on the death of the father lots are cast as to which of the brothers is to marry and continue the family. The lot does not always fall on the eldest; but however it falls, it is submissively obeyed. In a farm one may see the brothers working as common operatives, under the direction of the married brother. None of them think of marrying—their lot is to remain on the allodial land and work for it.
But this points back to a prior condition of affairs, where the woman was the wife of all the brothers, as is the condition now in Ceylon. Christianity has stepped in and altered that; and now these simple, honest, pure-minded men work on humbly and lovingly under the direction of their brother and sister-in-law.
And now we come to the method adopted among a wild people to establish paternity in place of matriarchy, and that was the couvade.
Mr. Tylor has dealt with this, and has shown how that among an uncultured people the idea exists that the health of the child is inseparably bound up with that of the parents. But he has not shown—what I think is the most important point of all—why the nursing of the baby and the going to bed was transferred to the father from the mother. I will quote just a few examples, and then explain my theory.
About eighteen hundred years ago Strabo informed his readers that among the Iberians, in Northern Spain, the women, ‘after the birth of a child, tend their husbands, putting them to bed instead of going themselves,’ and this practice still continues among the modern Basques. ‘In Biscay,’ says Michel, ‘in valleys whose population recalls the usages of society in its infancy, the women rise immediately after childbirth and attend to the duties of the household, while the husband goes to bed, taking the baby with him, and thus receives the neighbours’ compliments.’ The same usage has been found also in Navarre, as well as on the French side of the Pyrenees. The Tiboreni of Pontus, to the south of the Black Sea, once practised the couvade. Among them, when the child was born, the father took to his bed with his head tied up and lay groaning, whilst the mother tended him with soup and bread, and prepared his taths. In the old French Lai of Aucassin and Nicolette, in its present form of the latter half of the thirteenth century, Aucassin arrives at the palace of the King of Torelore and finds him ‘au lit et en couche,’ whereupon he takes a stick to his majesty, turns him out of bed, and makes him promise to abolish this absurd custom in his realm. The couvade prevailed also in Corsica. It is not in Europe alone that the couvade existed. It is found still in Borneo; in a tribe subjected to the Chinese Empire; in Africa; and among the peoples of America, in Brazil, and among the Caribs.
‘The peoples,’ says Mr. Tylor, ‘who have kept it up in Asia and Europe seem to have been not the great progressive, spreading, conquering, civilising nations of the Aryan, Semite, and Chinese stocks. It cannot be ascribed even to the Tartars, for the Lapps, Finns, and Hungarians appear to know nothing of it. It would rather seem to have belonged to that ruder population, or series of populations, whose fate it has been to be driven by the great races out of fruitful lands to take refuge in mountains and deserts.’
In primitive society the women were the property of the men, and one woman was often enough the property of several men, or else the women of a tribe belonged to the entire tribe, and no child could say who was his father. Indeed, the woman could not identify the father of her child. Consequently there was a stage in society in which the children were related to their mother only. M‘Lennan says of the Australian aborigines: ‘It is not in quarrels uncommon to find children of the same father arrayed against one another, or, indeed, against the father himself, for by their peculiar law the father can never be a relative to his own children.’ This can arise only out of a still earlier stage of society, when the women were the common property of the tribe, so that the fathers of the children were not known. The institution of the couvade marks a revolt against this horrible condition of affairs, and indicates a moral change, when the father was resolved to insist on his own parentage and property in the child. It was, in a word, the rebellion against promiscuity and the beginning of the family.
But how was the father to assert his paternity? Only by pretending to be confined of the babe, showing by every possible exhibition of debility, and exhaustion, and by solicitude in eating and drinking only such things as could not hurt the child, as if he were actually suckling it. That was the curious method adopted to escape to a higher social stage. If among the Semitic and Aryan peoples there is found no trace of the couvade, it is because these peoples never did emerge from a social state in which the family did not exist, in which the patriarchate was not recognised, and recognised as the great social basis.
I will now take up another point. It may be noticed how that in most of our nursery tales relating to the adventures of several brothers it is always the youngest who comes out topmost.
The typical story is The White Cat. A king sends his three sons forth, promising to bestow the kingdom on him who shall present him with the smallest dog. This the youngest produces; then he subjects them to a fresh trial—he will confer the crown on him who can procure lawn so fine as to be drawn through a needle’s eye. Again the third son succeeds. The last trial is—succession to the throne is to be accorded to him who brings back the most beautiful princess. Again, and finally, the youngest triumphs, as he produces the White Cat transformed into a most miraculously beautiful damsel.
Generally, in the similar stories, the elder brothers are jealous and seek to rob the youngest of his prize and attempt to murder him.
There are corresponding stories in Grimm’s Kinder Märchen. In the ‘Water of Life’ the old king is sick, and the sons go in quest of this water, and only the youngest finds it. On the way home the brothers rob him of it—but in the end all turns out well.
Here is in brief a modern Greek household tale. A king had three sons and a mirror, by looking into which an enemy might be seen meditating mischief. In a high gale the magic mirror was carried away and could not be found; accordingly the three princes set out to endeavour to recover it. At a point in the road there diverged three ways. Each laid his ring at this place, and all agreed to meet there at the termination of a given time. The eldest went one way, squandered his money in riotous living, and was so reduced that he had to become an ox-driver. The second did likewise, and to obtain a livelihood herded swine. The third went on till he came to the cottage of an old woman who took him in, and who had a beautiful daughter. As he saw that she was a knowing old person, he told her what his quest was, and she informed him that the mirror hung in an apple tree in the garden of a drake. If he would obtain it he must remove the mirror without letting fall an apple. However, in his efforts to obtain what he desired, he disturbed one of the fruit, which fell, whereupon the mirror cried out, ‘I am being stolen!’ The prince had the utmost difficulty in escaping with his life. He returned to the old woman, who told him he must abide a twelvemonth before making a second attempt. In the meantime he fell in love with the daughter. His second venture being successful, he rode homewards, taking his bride behind him on his horse. Arrived at the spot where the rings had been deposited, he learned what had befallen his brothers, so he paid their debts, freed them, and brought them away with him. They became envious, and when he was asleep flung him into a river. Happily he managed to escape, and going into the town apprenticed himself to a gold embroiderer and became skilful in the art. Meanwhile the brothers had gone to the king, their father, given him the mirror, and the elder resolved on marrying the lady. The youngest contrived to send her a letter, bidding her obtain her wedding trousseau only from him. Accordingly, when she was being provided with wedding garments she rejected all, and declared she would wear no other gown than one she had procured for herself. She then sent the commission to her bridegroom, and when a superb dress arrived embroidered with gold in a manner never seen before, the king ordered the craftsman to be brought before him. That done, he recognised his youngest son. The whole story now came out; he had the two elder executed, and conferred the kingdom on the one who deserved it.
Similar stories abound in Albania, in Wallachia, and among the Serbs. There are several German variants; and forms of the story are found in Lithuania, also among the Scottish Highlands. Among the classic Greeks one can see the idea of the pre-eminence in luck of the youngest son in Hesiod’s story of Chronos and Zeus. In the Biblical narrative of Joseph and his brethren, these latter are envious of him, throw him into a pit, and then sell him as a slave; and he comes out as second in the kingdom after Pharaoh, and they go crouching to him for bread; but in this case the resemblance is accidental only. It does not arise out of an institution as do the others. That institution is the making of the youngest son heir to his father’s lands and place. This remains customary throughout much of Germany, even where the Code Napoléon is in force, as in Baden. The elder sons are bought off, go to America, or enter into trade, whereas the youngest succeeds to the farm, the byre, and whatever pertains to the farm. That this is of practical advantage I have had shown me in Germany. The lusty young men can best shift for themselves if given a small sum to start upon; and when the bauer is old and unable to execute all the work on the land, his youngest son is in the full vigour of life. What is usually done is tor the bauer to value his estate, and he does it pretty arbitrarily, and divides its value into portions, according as he has sons and daughters. Then he gives to such as want to go and establish homes for themselves the sum he has allotted, and makes them sign an acquittance that they made no further claim on the farm. That the elder children are usually served shabbily, and entertain a jealousy of the youngest, is what might be anticipated, and this reflects itself in such stories as those to which I have referred.
Belief in changelings was very prevalent in former times throughout Northern Europe. If a mother was brought to bed of a puny mis-shapen little creature, very unlike its brothers and sisters, with some peculiarity about it, she was sure to suppose that it was not her own child, but one substituted for it by the Little Underground Folk. In the Western Isles, to the present day, idiots are believed to be changelings. The only redress open to the parents is to place the imp on the beach, below high-water mark, when the tide is out and pay no heed to its screams. Rather than allow her child to be drowned by the rising waters, the elfin mother will make her appearance, carry it away, and restore the child that has been stolen.
Another way, when a mother is convinced that there is a changeling in the cradle in place of her own child, is to heat a poker red hot and ram it down the infant’s throat. If it be a fairy brat, the mother will come in at the moment and snatch it away. Again, another mode of testing what the squalling, unsightly imp is, is to throw it on the fire. It is far from improbable that there have been many cases of getting rid of babies that did no credit to their mothers by this means—she fully persuaded that the creature she treated in this barbarous manner was actually not her own.
A fine child at Caerlaverock, in Nithsdale, was observed on the second day after its birth, and before it had been baptised, to have become fractious, deformed, and ill-favoured. His yelling every night deprived the whole family of rest; it bit at its mother’s breasts, and would lie still neither in the cradle nor in the arms. The mother being one day obliged to go from home, left it in the charge of the servant girl. The poor lass was sitting bemoaning herself: ‘Were it nae for thy girning face, I would knock the big, winnow the corn, and grun the meal.’ ‘Lowse the cradle-band,’ said the child, ‘and tent the neighbours, and I’ll work yere work.’ Up he started—the wind arose, the corn was chopped, the outlyers were foddered, the hand-mill moved round, as by instinct, and the knocking-mill did its work with amazing rapidity. The lass and the child then rested and diverted themselves till, on the approach of the mistress, it was restored to the cradle and renewed its cries. The girl took the mother aside and related to her what had happened. ‘What’ll we do with the wee deil?’ asked the mother. ‘I’ll work it a pirn,’ replied the lass. At midnight the chimney-top was covered up, and every chink and cranny stopped. The fire was blown till it was glowing hot, and the maid speedily undressed the child and tossed him on to the burning coals. He shrieked and yelled in the most dreadful manner; and in an instant the Fairies were heard moaning on every side, and rattling at the windows, door and chimney. ‘In the name of God, bring back the bairn,’ cried the lass. The window flew up, the real child was laid on the mother’s lap, and the wee deil flew up the chimney laughing.
In this—and there are scores of other stories of the same character—one can hardly doubt that the conclusion is fictitious, and was added to soften the account of a real murder of a babe that was objectionable in appearance, manner, and habits.
That the Small People, who have been called brownies, pixies, elves, kobolds, but which really were a race of people living in the north of Europe, did occasionally steal the children of the Aryan settlers, is possible enough. The gipsies are accused of doing the same thing nowadays; and the Jews were similarly accused in the Middle Ages.
I will pass on now to some marriage customs. In the North, Skimmington, or Riding the Stang, is illustrated by Rowlandson in Dr. Syntax’s Tour in Search of Consolation.
A procession is formed of youths and maidens, beating drums, rattling canisters filled with pebbles, blowing trumpets, and bearing stags’ horns and cow horns on the top of poles, with sheets or petticoats flying below. This procession attends a man and his wife seated back to back on an ass.
‘Such a strange show I ne’er have seen,’
Syntax exclaim’d, ‘What can it mean?
Patrick, you may perchance explain
The hist’ry of this noisy train.’
‘Please you,’ Pat answered, ‘I can tell
This frolic-bus’ness mighty well:
For there’s no place I ever saw
Where this is not the parish law.’
Patrick goes on to explain that it is the punishment inflicted on a hen-pecked husband, on one where the grey mare is the better horse. But this is not the original and more general signification, as the horns carried on the rods indicate. It expressed the popular feeling when the recognised code of honour was broken. It attended marriages where scandal attached to the union. Mr. Henderson says: ‘The riding of the stang has been practised from time immemorial in the towns and villages of the North of England, and is still resorted to on occasions of notorious scandal. A boy or young man is selected, placed on a ladder or pole, and carried shoulder-height round the town, the people who accompany him having armed themselves with every homely instrument whence noise can be extracted—poker and tongs, kettles and frying-pans, old tin pots, and so forth. Amid the discordant sounds thus produced, and the yells, cheers, and derisive laughter of the mob, the procession moves to the house of his whose misdeeds evoked it. At his door the rider recites in doggerel verse the cause of the disturbance, beginning—
‘Hey derry! Hey derry! Hey derry dan!
It’s neither for my cause nor your cause I ride the stang,
‘The indictment is, of course, made as ludicrous as possible, and intermixed with coarse jests and mockery.’
Not many years ago the bride of a medical man in Yorkshire, thinking that her husband was too warmly attached to a servant maid who had been some time in his service, ran away to her father’s house. Popular feeling was on her side, and the stang was ridden for some nights before the surgeon’s door. The end was that he had to dismiss the servant, whereupon the wife returned to him.
In France the Charivari is much of the same character. In Devonshire it takes a different form, and always occurs on the wedding night of a couple who have caused some talk—but not by any means always justly. It is called the Stag Hunt, and notice is given of its coming off a few days before. I copied one of these:—
That on Saturday evening next, at 8 o’clock p. m., The Red Hunter will assemble his hounds at the Cross, and there will be a famous Stag Hunt.
On such an occasion a man personates the stag, having horns attached to his head and a bladder full of blood under his chin. The huntsman wears a scarlet coat and blows a horn, and the pack is made up of yelping, barking boys. The hunt goes on up and down the road with incredible noise, till at last the stag is brought to bay on the door-step of the newly-married pair, when the huntsman stands astride over the fallen stag, blows a furious blast, and proceeds to slit the bladder with his knife and pour the blood over the stone and threshold.
This has happened in my own immediate neighbourhood at least seven times in the last twenty years.
It is supposed to be the expression of outraged moral opinion; but it has degenerated into a performance on the occasion of any marriage; and young people, if they can possibly afford it, manage to flee the village for a couple of days or more—not always successfully, for the performance, if they be at all unpopular, is organised to salute them on their return.
In Devonshire, as a bride leaves the church an old woman presents her with a little bag containing hazel nuts. These have the same signification as rice, and betoken fruitfulness—the rice is undoubtedly a late substitution for hazel nuts. And now we have confetti of paper as substitute for rice, itself a substitute for nuts. Catullus tells us that among the ancient Romans newly-married people were given nuts. Among the Germans ‘to go a-nutting’ is a euphemism for love-making; and the saying goes that a year in which are plenty of nuts will also be one in which many children will be born.
The hazel nut would seem to have been a symbol of life. In a Celtic grave opened near Tuttlingen, in Würtemberg, in 1846, was found a body in a coffin made of a scooped-out tree with iron sword and bow, and a pile of fifteen hazel nuts. Another had in its hand a cherry stone, and between its feet thirty-two nuts.
On the wedding day the Romans cast nuts. Catullus refers to this usage. So does Virgil—
Sparge, marite, nuces; tibi descrit Hesperus Oetam.—Bucol, viii. v. 30.
Wright, in his Collection of Mediæval Latin Stories, has this: ‘I have seen in many places, when women get married, and are leaving the church and returning home, that corn is thrown in their faces with cries of “Abundantia! Abundantia!” that in French is Plente, plente; and yet very often before the year is out they have remained poor and beggars, and deficient in abundance of all good things.’
In the Jura, acorns are scattered in place of nuts or corn.
The casting of the old shoe signifies the surrender of authority by the father to the husband of his daughter. In some French provinces, when the bride is about to go to church, all her old shoes have been hidden away. In Roussillon it is always the nearest relative to the bridegroom who puts on her shoes, and these are new. The meaning comes out clearer in Berry, where all the assistants try to put the bride’s shoes on, but fail, and it is only the bridegroom who succeeds. It was also a custom in Germany for the old shoes to be left behind, and new shoes given by the bridegroom to be assumed. A harsher way in Germany was for him to tread hard on the bride’s foot, to show that he would be master.
In Scandinavia, if a man desired to adopt a son he slaughtered an ox, had the hide taken off from the right leg, and a shoe made out of it. This shoe the man first drew on, and then passed it on to his adopted son, who also put his foot into it. This indicated that he has passed under the authority of the father. When in the Psalm the expression occurs, ‘Over Edom have I cast out My shoe,’ the meaning is that Jehovah extended His authority over Edom. And when we say that a man has stepped into his father’s shoes, we mean that the authority, position, and consequence of the parent has been transferred to his son.
When Ruth’s kinsman refused to marry her, and resigned all authority and rights over her, ‘as it was the custom in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, a man plucked off his shoe and delivered it to his neighbour’ (Ruth iv. 7, 8).
In Yorkshire, in some parts it is the custom to pour a kettleful of boiling water over the doorstep just after the bride has left her old home; and they say that before it dries up another marriage is sure to be agreed on. But I have seen in Devonshire the doorstep well scrubbed with water and soap directly the bride has left; and this was to wash away the impress of her foot, and show that the old home was to be no more a home to her, as she had chosen another.
Another symbolical act indicative of a change of life is the placing of a bench or stool at the church door, over which the bride and bridegroom are constrained to leap.
I have several times in Yorkshire seen at a wedding a race for a ribbon. Properly speaking, it should be the bride’s garter which is claimed. She stands at the winning-post, and the lads race to see who can reach her first and get the ribbon and a kiss. But the ribbon is a substitute for the garter, provided by the bridegroom; the usage dates back to a remote and particularly barbarous antiquity. The girl belonged to her tribe, and the bridegroom could not obtain her as his wife without resistance from the youths of the tribe, and buying them off. In France and in Flanders it existed, and exists still. It was even forbidden by a Council held at Milan as late as 1586. In France the girl who married out of her village, on leaving its confines, flung back at the pursuing youths a ball of wool containing a piece of silver money, and whilst they struggled and fought for its possession she made her escape. At the present day a ribbon is extended across her path, and she pays a fee to have it lowered and let her go her way. Formerly the struggle to obtain the bride’s garter took place directly after the nuptial benediction, and Brand, in his Popular Antiquities, gives an account of it. But the bride usually gave it away herself, and it was cut into small pieces.
Mr. Henderson gives an account of some wild proceedings that take place at a wedding in the North of England. He says, ‘I am informed by the Rev. J. Barmby that a wedding in the Dales of Yorkshire is indeed a thing to see; that nothing can be imagined comparable to it in wildness and obstreperous mirth. The bride and bridegroom may possibly be a little subdued, but their friends are like men bereft of reason. They career round the bridal party like Arabs of the desert, galloping over ground on which, in cooler moments, they would hesitate even to walk a horse—shouting all the time, and firing volleys from the guns they carry with them…. In the higher parts of Northumberland, as well as on the other side of the Border, the scene is, if possible, still more wild.’
The custom of firing guns when accompanying the bride is very widely distributed, and I have seen the same in the Pyrenees and in Bavaria.
This is a relic of a very early usage, when the bride was carried away by a lover; and very often among savage tribes the attempt at bride-capture was made when she was being about to be given away to one of her own stock.