Traditions, Symbols and Superstitions

· The Claddagh Ring
· The Lotus Blossom
· The Fleur de Lis
· The Ankh


· The Horseshoe
· Wedding Superstitions



The Claddagh Ring

Misty fables surrounds one of Ireland's unique treasures, "The Claddagh", a symbol of Love, Friendship and Loyalty.
Some 400 years ago in a fishing village called Claddagh overlooking Galway Bay, close to the city of the Tribes, lived a Master Goldsmith

 named Richard Joyce . It was he who crafted this now famous design

that has become part of the IRISH heritage.
The Claddagh Ring belongs to a widespread group of finger rings called Fede or "Faith rings" which date from Roman times. They are distinguished by having the bezel cut or cast in the form of two clasped hands, symbolising faith, trust or "plighted troth". Fede rings were popular in the Middle Ages throughout Europe, and there are examples from this time in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin. The "Claddagh" ring is a particularly distinctive ring; two hands clasp a heart surmounted by a crown.
The ring, when worn on the right hand with the crown turned inward tells that your heart is yet unoccupied; worn with the crown turned outwards reveals love is being considered. Worn on the left hand the crown turned outward shows all, your heart is truly spoken for.
W. Dillon in his publication on "The Claddagh Ring" in the Galway Archaeological Society Journal, Vol. IV, 1905-6, defines the limits over which the ring is worn as roughly from the Aran Islands on the West, and through all Connemara and Joyce Country to Galway, and then eastward and southward for not more than 12 miles at most. The whole district is the one served by fisherfolk of the Claddagh village just outside the city of Galway, but became known as the Claddagh ring probably because of the proximity to the city of the large Claddagh fishing community using the ring alone.
Huge numbers of Claddagh rings were left with a Mr. Kirwan following the Great Famine 1846/7 which finally had to be consigned to the melting pot as there was nobody to redeem or purchase them, hence the difficulty in ascertaining their origin.
Dillon describes some early rings, one with a mitre-like crown, rings made from coins, an analogous ring from Brittany, a "Munster" ring, also Spanish rings with some similarities. He tells us that the Claddagh ring was the only ring ever made in Ireland worn by Queen Victoria and later by Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII. Their rings were made by Dillons of Galway, established in 1750, to whom the Royal Patent was granted and the tradition has been carried on at Dillons to this day. Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco in 1962 were presented with gifts embodying the Claddagh ring motif set in Connemara marble.
In 1984 when Galway celebrated its Quincentennial as a Mayoral City, the people of Galway presented a specially commissioned 18 carat gold Claddagh ring to President Ronald Reagan.
The earliest examples of Claddagh rings that can be dated are stamped with RI, the mark of Richard Joyce, a goldsmith working in Galway circa 1689-1737, of the Joyce Tribe, one of the renowned "Fourteen Tribes of Galway" City. According to Dr. Kurt Ticker in "The Claddagh Ring - A West of Ireland Folklore Custom" (1980) interest in Claddagh rings became dormant after Richard Joyce ended his manufacturing career in the 1730s, and it was revived a generation or more later, probably by George Robinson (Dillon in fact had attributed the earliest ring to Robinson). From then on a number of Galway goldsmiths and jewellers of Galway made Claddagh rings. Their early manufacture was by cuttle-bone mould casting, then the cire perdue or "lost wax" process up to the 1840s, when manufacture became commercialised.
The Origins of the Claddagh Ring even yet remains a matter for conjecture, both popular stories of its origins attribute it to the Joyce family of Galway City. The two stories are as follows.

The first story says that a Margaret Joyce married Domingo de Rona, a wealthy Spanish merchant who traded with Galway. They proceeded to Spain, where he died,leaving her a considerable fortune. Returning to Galway she used her fortune to build bridges from Galway to Sligo, and re-married Oliver Og French, Major of Galway 1596/7. She was rewarded for her good works and charity by an eagle who dropped the original Claddagh ring into her lap.

The second story says that a Richard Joyce of Galway was captured by Algerian corsairs, sold to a Moorish goldsmith who trained him in the craft. In 1689 he was released from slavery as a result of a demand from King William III. The Moor offered him his only daughter in marriage and half his wealth, if he would remain in Algiers, but Joyce declined and returned home. He brought with him the idea of the Claddagh ring. The earliest Claddagh rings to be traced bear his mark and the initial letters of his name, RI (Richard Joyce).

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The Fleur de Lis

The fleur-de-lis (also spelled fleur-de-lys; plural fleurs-de-lis or -lys; an archaic spelling is fleur-de-luce) is used in heraldry, where it is particularly associated with the French monarchy (see King of France). The fleur-de-lis remains an unofficial symbol of France (along with the bees and the Napoleonic eagle), but has not been used as an official symbol by the various French republics; the fleur-de-lis is often referred to as the French lily. It is also used by various Scout organizations worldwide as part of their logo. In Christianity it is the emblem of Blessed Virgin Mary.

The name translates into English as "lily flower", and the symbol is in fact a stylised Iris pseudacorus L. It was adopted in the 11th century by King Philip I of France . His grandson Louis VII was the first to adopt the Azure semé-de-lys Or (a blue shield with a tight pattern of small golden fleur-de-lis) as his badge, and this came to be so closely associated with his country that it is now known as "France Ancient". Three gold flowers on a blue background ("France Modern") dates to 1376 and Charles V of France.
The French monarchy first adopted the fleur-de-lis as a baptismal symbol of purity on the conversion of the Frankish King Clovis I to the Christian religion in 493. To further enhance its mystique, a legend eventually sprang up that a vial of oil descended from heaven to anoint and sanctify Clovis as King. The thus "anointed" Kings of France later maintained that their authority was directly from God, without the mediation of either the Emperor or the Pope. Other legends claim that the lily itself appeared at the baptismal ceremony as a gift of blessing from an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is often associated with the lily.
In English heraldry, the fleur-de-lis is always separated from lily, which represents a natural lily flower. On the other hand, heralds of many other countries do not differentiate between fleur-de-lis and natural lily flower. Some historians of heraldry have discussed whether the fleur-de-lis might have originated as a stylised bee, or a stylised frog (as the legend of Saint Remi states). Other explanations include the shape having developed from the image of a dove, an ornate spearhead or a sceptre. Whatever its origin, it is an ancient design which has been found in various cultures, usually as an emblem associated with royalty. On the other hand, the majority of heralds agree the fleur-de-lis originates from a stylized flower. As a curiosity, the Florentine fleur-de-lis always poses the stamens between the petals. This charge is often called as Florentine lily (see Florence) to separate if from the conventional fleur-de-lis.
Through this connection to Clovis, the fleur-de-lis symbolised the Merovingian dynasty and then became a symbol of the entire Christian Frankish Kingdoms. The fleur-de-lis was also the symbol of the house of Kotromanic, a ruling house in Christian Bosnia (13th century until mid 15th century).
By the 13th and 14th centuries, the three petals of the lily of France were being described by writers as symbols of faith, wisdom and chivalry. As in Ireland, they also came to be seen as symbols of the Holy Trinity. By the 14th century, the fleur-de-lis had become so closely associated with the rule of France that the English king Edward III quartered his coat of arms with France Ancient in order to emphasise his claim on the French crown. This quartering was changed to France Modern in the early 1400s. The fleur-de-lis was not removed until 1801, when George III gave up his formal claim to the French throne.
Fleurs-de-lis feature prominently in the Crown Jewels of both Scotland and England, and have been heraldic devices of those monarchies for centuries, such as the Prince of Wales. The tressure flory-counterflory has been a prominent part of the design of the Scottish royal arms and flag since James I of Scotland.
The treasured fleur-de-luce he claims
To wreathe his shield, since royal James
-Sir Walter Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel
In English heraldry, the fleur-de-lis is the cadency mark of difference of the sixth son. Fleurs-de-lis are also used in the Papal Crowns and Coat of Arms.
In building and architecture, the fleur-de-lis is often placed on top of iron fence posts, as a pointed defence against intruders.
France Modern remained the French royal standard, and with a white background was the French national flag until the French Revolution, when it was replaced by the tri-colour flag of modern-day France. The fleur-de-lis was restored to the French flag in 1814, but replaced once again after the revolution against Charles X of France in 1830. In a very strange turn of events, where a flag actually influenced the course of history, after the end of the French Second Empire, Henri, Comte de Chambord, was offered the Throne as King of France, but he would agree only on condition that the French give up the Tricolor and restore the royal standard with the fleur-de-lis; however, his condition was rejected and France became a republic.
The "France modern" fleur-de-lis pattern was also on the coat of arms of the old French province of Île-de-France (as for instance as a badge on the uniforms of the local gendarmerie legion).
In 1948, a new flag of Quebec was introduced that incorporated the fleur-de-lis. Prior to this, the Union Jack had flown over Quebec's legislature.
The fleur-de-lis is also a popular symbol of New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, used in much New Orleans art and architecture, as well as the city's official flag. A black fleur-de-lis is also the logo of the New Orleans Saints football team.
The fleur-de-lis is also a symbol of the city of St. Louis, Missouri, USA. The flag of the city marks the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers' convergence with a fleur-de-lis, representing St. Louis. This shared iconography among Quebec, St. Louis, and New Orleans relates to the fact that all three share a history of French heritage and/or French colonialism.
Other notable places that use the symbol informally or as part of their heraldic arms are: Quebec; Canada; Spain (ruled by the Bourbons); Augsburg, Germany; Florence, Italy (whose lis-sporting currency fiorino influenced the Dutch gulden and Hungarian forint); Laško, Slovenia; the Fuggers medieval banking family; the House of Lancaster; Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina (who call it Lillium Bosniacum); New Orleans, Louisiana; Detroit, Michigan; Louisville, Kentucky; Odense, Denmark; Wiesbaden, Germany; Lille, France and St. Louis, Missouri.
The fleur-de-lis is the major element in the logo of most Scouting organizations. In that usage, it is considered to represent the outdoors, which is a major theme in Scouting. The symbol is also often used on a compass rose to mark the north direction. Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the scouting movement, explained that the scouts adopted the fleur-de-lis symbol from its use in the compass rose because it "points in the right direction (and upwards) turning neither to the right nor left, since these lead backward again".
The fleur-de-lis is used in modern Israel as a religious and a scout symbol located in the middle or on top of the Star of David, in Christian/Islamic symbolism, the Star of Bethlehem. The fleur-de-lis is also used on top of the Crown and combined with the Menorah.
The fleur-de-lis is used in modern Israel as the insignia for the IDF Miltiary Intelligence.
The fleur-de-lis is the symbol of the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps, based out of Madison, Wisconsin.
In Finland, the fleur-de-lis forms a part of city arms of Turku (Azure, a Mary monogram Or surmounted with four fleurs-de-lis Argent). The arms of municipal community Liljendahl is per chevron Argent and Azure, a fleur-de-lis countercharged; an example of canting arms.
In Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code, the fleur-de-lis makes an important message as the symbol for the Priory of Sion.

Symbolism in religion and art
Fleur-de-lis and lily symbolism are closely linked, with lis meaning lily in French. An ancient legend tells how the lily sprang from the tears shed by Eve as she left the Garden of Eden, just as the lily of the valley (a botanically unrelated flower) was said to have grown from the tears of Mary, the mother of Jesus at the foot of the Cross. As a symbol of purity it was accordingly readily adopted by the Church to associate the Virgin Mary's sanctity with events of special significance.
The three petals of the fleur-de-lis "explain" its association with the Holy Trinity. As a Trinity symbol it symbolizes the Resurrection. It also became a favorite symbol in the Assumption of Mary. The lily is often used in the Annunciation. Usually it is depicted with a Madonna lily, which is traditionally associated with Purity.
Michel Pastoureau, a French historian, says that until the end of the 12th century Jesus Christ was sometimes represented amidst stylised lilies or fleurons. Gradually, such imagery came to include Marian symbolism, and became associated with the Song of Solomon's "lily among thorns" ("lilium inter spinas"), as well as with other scripture and religious literature in which the lily is presented as a symbol of purity, virginity and chastity. In iconography, the fleur-de-lis became an attribute of the Virgin Mary: for example, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa shows the Madonna in fleur-de-lis robes.

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The Lotus Blossum

The Blue Waterlily (Nymphaea caerulea), also known as the Egyptian Blue Lotus or Blue Lotus, is a blue water-lily in the genus Nymphaea that grows upon the Nile, amongst other locations.
The leaves are broadly rounded, 25-40 cm across, with a notch at the leaf stem. The flowers are 10-15 cm diameter, open in the morning, rising to the surface of the water, then close and sink at dusk. It has sky-blue petals, smoothly changing to a pale yellow in the centre of the flower.
It was considered extremely significant in Egyptian mythology, since it rose and fell with the sun. Consequently, due to its colourings, it was identified, in some beliefs, as having been the original container, in a similar manner to an egg, of Atum, and in similar beliefs Ra, both solar deities. As such, its properties form the origin of the lotus variant of the Ogdoad cosmogeny.
The flowers are rumored to contain aporphine, a drug that purported to have divinatory properties, and nuciferine, an antispasmodic. The Lotus's narcotic effect is central to an episode in Homer's Odyssey, when Ulysses and his crew arrive at an island populated by "lotus eaters" and the sailors, made indolent by the plant, do not wish to leave. It is also the flower that lent its name to Alfred, Lord Tennyson's (fl. 1850) poem, The Lotos-Eaters, based on the Odyssey.
The lotus flower appeared in legends originating both from India and from ancient Egypt, playing an important part in religious traditions.
The lotus flower played a prominent role in the version of the Egyptian creation story that originated in Heliopolis. Before the universe came into being, there was an infinite ocean of inert water which constituted the primeval being named Nun. Out of Nun emerged a lotus flower, together with a single mound of dry land. The lotus blossoms opened, and out stepped the self-created sun god, Atum, as a child.
A slightly different version of the creation story originated in Hermopolis. In that version, the sun god who formed himself from the chaos of Nun emerged from the lotus petals as Ra. The lotus is a flower which opens and closes each day. His history went on to say that the petals of the lotus blossom enfolded him when he returned to it each night.
The lotus flower has been featured extensively throughout the art of ancient Egypt. In various works of art, you may see it held in the hand of a god or human, serving as a border to outline a section of the artwork, unfolding to reveal various gods or humans, and many other depictions.
In the Near East (Mesopotamia), the lotus was the flower of Lilith, the Sumero-Babylonian goddess that Jews claimed was Adam's first wife.

For thousands of years the Lotus flower has symbolized spiritual enlightenment. From ancient times, the lotus regularly appears as a symbol of purity, peace, transcendence, enlightenment, rebirth, beauty, and fertility. The purpose of the essence of the flower is believed to accelerate spiritual evolvement and enhance healing on every level within the system. The Lotus in Eastern Culture bears a similar symbolism to the Rose in Christianity. In Buddhism and Hinduism many of the deities are pictured sitting upon a lotus or holding a lotus blossom, the symbol of enlightenment. Buddha was said to sleep on a lotus six months of the year, and Shambala (Buddhist heaven) is sometimes represented as a field of flowering sacred lotuses. Christ is known as the Rose of Sharon. Rose of Sharon blooms in arid desert conditions just as the lotus rises and blooms in all its magnificence from the muddy depths of the rivers.

The idea of enlightenment is symbolized by the life cycle of the sacred lotus plant because it begins its life humbly in the mud of ponds but soon grows and sends stems and flowers well above the surface of the water (up to 50cm), thus showing the path of spiritual enfoldment. It also has unusual flowering habits; its flowers 'wake up' (open) at dawn and go to sleep (close) at about 2pm. Some lotuses are even known to open up at night and close during the day, ignoring the normal sunlight hours favoured by the majority of flowering plants, and effectively transcending normal time cycles.

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The Ankh

The ankh (pronounced 'ahnk', symbol ?) was the Egyptian hieroglyphic character that stood for the word 'nk, which means life. Egyptian gods are sometimes depicted carrying it by the loop, or bearing one in each hand crossed over their breast. Latinists interpreted the symbol as a crux ansata, "cross with a handle". In ancient Egypt, the Ankh (the actual Hieroglyphic sign) was a symbol of life, but today it is an enduring icon that remains with us even today as a Christian cross. It is one of the most potent symbols represented in Egyptian art, often forming a part of decorative motifs.
The ankh seems at least to be an evolved form of, or associated with, the Egyptian glyph for magical protection, sa. What it was intended to represent remains a mystery to Egyptologists, and the original meaning is still unknown, although there are many educated theories. One suggests that it combines the male and female symbols of Osiris (the cross) and Isis (the oval) and therefore signifies the union of heaven and earth. As a hieroglyph, it likely encompassed a range of meanings depending on its associated hieroglyphs but all of these expressions centered around the concept of life or life force.
For example, Sir Alan Gardiner thought that it showed a sandal strap with the loop at the top forming the strap, but if so, the symbolism is obscure and so his theory found little real favor early on. However, this interpretation received some acceptance among modern writers. It would seem that the ancient Egyptians called that part of the sandal 'nkh (exact pronunciation unknown). Because this word was composed of the same consonants as the word "life", the sign to represent that particular part of the sandal, was also used to write the word "life". Another theory holds that the ankh was symbolic of the sunrise, with the loop representing the Sun rising above the horizon, which is represented by the crossbar. The vertical section below the crossbar would then be the path of the sun
Wolfhart Westendorf felt it was associated with the tyet emblem, or the "knot of Isis". He thought both were ties for ceremonial girdles. Winfried Barta connected the ankh with the royal cartouche in which the king's name was written, while others have even identified it as a penis sheath. The presence of a design resembling a pubic triangle on one ankh from the New kingdom. Period seems to allow for the idea that the sign may be a specifically sexual symbol. In fact, guides in Egypt today like to tell tourists that the circle at the top represents the female sexual organ, while the stump at the bottom the male organ and the crossed line, the children of the union. However, while this interpretation may have a long tradition, there is no scholarly research that would suggest such an exact meaning.
The ankh, on some temple walls in Upper Egypt, could also symbolize water in rituals of purification. Here, the king would stand between two gods, one of whom was usually Thoth, as they poured over him a stream of libations represented by ankhs.
The ancient gods of Egypt are often depicted as carrying ankh signs. We find Anqet, Ptah, Satet, Sobek, Tefnut, Osiris, Ra, Isis, Hathor, Anibus and many other gods often holding the ankh sign, along with a scepter, and in various tomb and temple reliefs, placing it in front of the king's face to symbolize the breath of eternal life. During the Amarna period, the ankh sign was depicted being offered to Akhenaten and Nefertiti by the hands at the end of the rays descending from the sun disk, Aten. Therefore, the ankh sign is not only a symbol of worldly life, but of life in the netherworld. Therefore, we also find the dead being referred to as ankhu, and a term for a sarcophagus was neb-ankh, meaning possessor of life.
It is interesting that the ankh word was used for mirrors from at least the Middle Kingdom onward, and that indeed, many mirrors were shaped in the form of an ankh sign. Life and death mirror each other, and in any number of ancient religions, mirrors were used for purposes of divination. The ankh sign in ancient Egypt seems to have transcended illiteracy, being comprehensible to even those who could not read. Hence, we even find it as a craftsman's mark on pottery vessels.
As the Christian era eclipsed Egypt's Pharaonic religion, the sign was adapted by the Coptic church as their unique form of a cross, known as the crux ansata.

In Egyptian art
The ankh appears frequently in Egyptian tomb paintings and other art; it often appears at the fingertips of a god or goddess in images that represent the deities of the afterlife conferring the gift of life on the dead person's mummy. The ankh symbol was often carried by Egyptians as an amulet, either alone, or in connection with two other hieroglyphs that mean "strength" and "health." Mirrors were often made in the shape of an ankh. Sometimes, in art, the Ankh was shown being touched by a god onto a person, which usually symbolized conception.

The ankh and the cross
The long-standing importance of the Ankh, and its deep symbolism to the dynastic Egyptians, led to it being gradually adopted by the very early Christian church in Egypt (which eventually became the Coptic Church). This is highly significant, as it is almost certainly the genesis of the cross, as the central thematic symbol of the Christian religion. It was non-anthropormorphic, not even animal-like. The gods had all been animal faced-human figures. Anknaton's benevolent sun was the only other symbol that was so esoteric. The cross implied all the "god ideas" that are very infinite in nature. As monotheism is at the core of Christian belief, the ankh seemed a good choice to symbolize the belief in one all-powerful God. Over time, the idea that his son had died on a kind of cross, made it seem all the more appropriate. To other Christians, outside of the ankh's influence, the image the Roman cross of execution was 'shameful" in the manner that a hanging noose would be, or headsman's ax. The association in Egypt of the ankh cross, with both God the Father, and Jesus the Son, felt right. Elsewhere, the main Christian symbol at the time had been a stylised alpha, resembling a fish, and therefore known as Ichthys, the Greek word for fish. However, the new "more positive" symbol of a cross eventually spread throughout the Christianized Empire. The distinct circular or "gothic arch-like" upper part of the Ankh was kept well into mediaeval times. The Ankh symbol was often used as a Christian talisman.

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The Horseshoe

Horseshoes are considered a good luck charm in many cultures. A common tradition is that if a horseshoe is hung on a door with the two ends pointing up then good luck will occur. However, if the two ends point downwards then bad luck will occur. Traditions do differ on this point, though. In some cultures, the horseshoe is hung points down (so the luck pours onto you); in others, it is hung points up (so the luck doesn't fall out); still in others it doesn't matter so long as the horseshoe has been used (not new), was found (not purchased), and can be touched. In all traditions, luck is contained in the shoe and can pour out through the ends.
In some traditions, any good or bad luck achieved will only occur to the owner of the horseshoe, not the person who hangs it up. Therefore, if the horseshoe was stolen, borrowed or even just found then the owner, not the person who found or stole the horseshoe will get any good or bad luck. Other traditions require that the horseshoe be found to be effective.
One reputed origin of the tradition of lucky horseshoes is the story of Saint Dunstan and the Devil. Dunstan, who would became the Archbishop of Canterbury in AD 959, was a blacksmith by trade. The story relates that he once nailed a horseshoe to the Devil's hoof when he was asked to reshod the Devil's horse. This caused the Devil great pain, and Dunstan only agreed to remove the shoe and release the Devil after the Devil promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is hung over the door.
Another theory concerning the placing of horseshoes above doorways is to ward off Faeries (the Celtic kind); the theory being that Faeries are repelled by iron and as horseshoes were an easily available source of iron, they could be nailed above a door to prevent any unwanted, otherworldly guests. One can see how the custom, as people began to forget the stories concerning the Fair Folk, eventually morphed into a simple good luck charm. It is also possible that the Romans, when arriving in Celtic countries, came across horseshoes nailed above doors and simply borrowed the concept of horseshoes as good luck charms, failing to understand the background of the Celtic custom, and made their use more widespread.
Horseshoes were also considered lucky because they were made by blacksmiths, which is also considered a very lucky trade. Because they worked with elemental fire and magical iron, they were thought to have special powers. It was believed that a blacksmith could heal the sick and if a couple was married by a blacksmith, their marriage would be a happy one. Their work with horses also brought them much power and prestige, not just because they made the lucky horseshoe but also because they were the keepers of the Horseman's Word (the basis for the movie, The Horse Whisperer.) At one time, the Irish believed that the element of Iron had magical properties and was capable of bringing good luck. This reverence also extended to those who worked with it; it was also believed that blacksmiths possessed secret knowledge that they could use to cure illnesses and cast out evil spirits.
Horseshoes were originally made from iron, which may also account for the superstitions that are associated with this object. Iron was considered magical because it was able to withstand fire and was much stronger than other metals. The superstitions for iron are thought to originate in prehistoric times. It was used as a charm to ward off evil spirits.
Another aspect of the horseshoe that added to it's good luck was the fact that it was commonly held in place by seven iron nails. Since ancient times, the number seven was considered very important. Life was divided into seven ages; a rainbow has seven colors; astrology once held that seven planets made up the universe; there are seven deadly sins; a seventh child was thought to have special powers; there are seven days in a week; the moon changes from one phase to another every seven days; and a long-held belief states that the body goes through a radical change every seven years.

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Wedding Superstitions and Beliefs

The wedding ceremony in modern western traditions tends to have more in common from one nation to another than there are differences. Even most of the prevelant customs such as the bride's white dress, rings, wedding cake, flowers and attendants as well as the feast and pranks played on the couple as they make their final exit are pretty much universal.
But where did these customs and traditions come from? Every one knows a bride wears a veil, but do you know why? Where did the tradition come from of carrying the bride over the threshold? And why do brides carry flowers? Here we have some of the more common wedding traditions - where they came from and how they started. Many of the traditions have several explanations but these are the most common. Some date back many hundreds of years so their origins are not fully known but most have their roots in ancient superstitious or pagan beliefs.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Irish believed that if the sun shone on the bride, it would bring good luck to the couple. It was also lucky to hear a cuckoo on the wedding morning or to see three magpies. After the wedding ceremony, it was important that a man and not a woman be the first to wish joy to the new bride. Some other Irish superstitions and customs are:
It's good luck to have your birthstone in your engagement ring, even if that stone is otherwise thought to be an unlucky gem.
The earrings you wear on your wedding day will bring you luck & happiness ever after.
It's lucky to tear your wedding dress accidentally on your wedding day.
It's good luck if a happily married woman puts the veil on you, but bad luck to put it on yourself.
It's lucky to be awakened by birds singing on your wedding morning.
If you look at the sun when you leave for your wedding, your children will be beautiful.
It's also lucky for rainfall on your wedding day, as this means both abundance for crops, and thus signals fertility, and in other beliefs, it means all the tears for your wedding have already been cried.

The custom of the bride tossing the bouquet to the unmarried guests dates from the 14th century and probably originated in France. The woman who catches the flowers is supposedly the next to marry. The same is supposedly true when the bride tosses her garter to the unmarried men.


The full wording of this popular bridal attire rhyme, which dates back to the Victorian times is 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a silver sixpence in your shoe'.
Something old refers to wearing something that represents a link with the bride's family and her old life. Usually, the bride wears a piece of family jewelry or maybe her mother's or grandmother's wedding dress.
Wearing something new represents good fortune and success in the bride's new life. The bride's wedding dress is usually chosen, if purchased new, but it can be any other new item of the bride's wedding attire.
Wearing something borrowed, which has already been worn by a happy bride at her wedding, is meant to bring good luck to the marriage. Something borrowed could be an item of bridal clothing, a handkerchief or an item of jewellery.
Wearing something blue dates back to biblical times when the colour blue was considered to represent purity and fidelity. Over time this has evolved from wearing a blue clothing to wearing a blue band around the bottom of the bride's dress and to modern times where the bride wears a blue or blue-trimmed garter.
...And a silver sixpence in your shoe
Placing a silver sixpence in the bride's left shoe is a symbol of wealth. This is not just to bring the bride financial wealth but also a wealth of happiness and joy throughout her married life. An Irish 5 pence coin can be worn in place of the sixpence in the shoe but stock up now, the Euro-Dollar will not be as poetic.

The bride's white gown has become so traditional that many cannot imagine anything else but this is relatively recent development in the Celtic lands. Anne of Brittany made the white wedding dress popular in 1499. In the 19th century colored bridal dresses were quite common at country weddings. Before that, a woman just wore her best dress. In biblical days, blue (not white) represented purity, and the bride and groom would wear a blue band around the bottom of their wedding attire. Most of us are aware of the rule that the groom should not see the bride in her wedding gown before the big day. But in Ireland, the bride can't see herself in it either. By seeing her entire reflection while in full regalia it is believed that part of her will stay in her old life. If either breaks the rules, the wedding is delayed for a year.

The origin of the wedding veil is unclear but it is thought that it predates the wedding dress by centuries. One tradition comes from the days when a groom would throw a blanket over the head of the woman of his choice when he captured her and carted her off. Another is that during the times of arranged marriages, the bride's face was covered until the groom was committed to her at the ceremony so he could not refuse to marry her if he didn't like her looks. Therefore, the father of the bride gave the bride away to the groom, who then lifted the veil to see her for the first time. It is also thought that the veil was worn to protect the bride from evil spirits that would be floating around on her wedding day.
These various origins have all evolved into the tradition that the veil covers the bride's face throughout the ceremony until the minister pronounces the couple man and wife and the groom then lifts the veil to kiss his new wife.

Another ancient practice in some parts of Ireland is that of firing rifles and other weaponry into the air as the couple pass to salute the bride; of course over the past centuries this has occasionally been observed with devastating results. Honking the horns of the cars in the procession from the church replaces the firing of guns.

There seems to be two explanations for this tradition where the groom carries his bride over the threshold when entering their home as a married couple for the first time. The first is to protect the bride from evil spirits that were thought to be lying in wait under the threshold. The second explanation relates to Roman times when it was believed that if the bride stumbled when entering the newlywed's home for the first time, it would bring bad luck and harm to their marriage. So carrying the bride across the threshold would prevent this from happening, though no reference can be found of what happens if the groom stumbles or falls while carrying the bride.

A bride's engagement ring and wedding ring are traditionally worn on the third finger of the left hand. Although the origin of this tradition can not be precisely pinpointed there are two strongly held beliefs. The first, dates back to the 17th century where during a Christian wedding the priest arrived at the forth finger (counting the thumb) after touching the three fingers on the left hand ' the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost'.
The second belief, referring to an Egyptian belief that the ring finger follows the vena amoris, the vein of love that runs directly to the heart, means that wearing the rings on this finger is closest to the heart.

In centuries past, an Irish bride returned home by a different path with her new husband than she took to the church or wedding with her father. This may have begun as an attempt to avoid pranks (which often involved kidnapping), but also symbolizes that she travels a new road in life as well.

Banns of marriage were required in areas under British rule, including Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The banns consisted of an announcement in church for three Sundays prior to the wedding. This prevented people from marrying in haste and also gave any who might object time to learn of the match. Giving three months notice to the registrar is still a legal requirement in Ireland.

During the marriage ceremony, the bride stands on the left and the groom on the right. The first marriages were by capture, i.e., the groom would kidnap the woman, and take her away from her tribe with the help of a warrior friend, his best man, who would help him fight off other men who wanted this woman, and also help him prevent her family from finding them. The groom would put himself and his bride into hiding, the honeymoon, and by the time the bride's family found them, the bride would already be pregnant. When the groom fought off other warriors who also wanted his bride, he would hold onto her with his left hand, while fighting them off with his sword in his right hand.

The bridal party has many origins, one of which comes from the Anglo Saxon days. When the groom was about to capture his bride, he needed the help of his friends, the "bridesmen" or "brideknights". They would make sure the bride got to the church and to the groom's house afterwards. The bride also had women to help her, the "bridesmaids" or "brideswomen".

In some places and times it seems to mean betrothal and in others genuine marriage. Many interpret it as a trial marriage or a step beyond betrothal but not nearly as permanent as marriage. It is often repeated that this handfasting for a year and a day would normally lead to regular permanent and valid marriage but if either parties chose to leave, the relationship was null. Even if children had been brought forth these children were considered lawful offspring of both parents. Handfasting, it is claimed is a holdover from pre-Christian Celtic marriage laws. Today handfasting is now the familiar part of the ceremony where the person officiating the ceremony asks "Who gives this woman to be wed?" and then takes her hand from her father or whoever is giving away the bride and clasps it to the hand of the groom. In olden days the priest or minister would wrap the clasped hands in the end of his stole to symbolize the trinity of marriage; man and woman joined by God. With God's grace in time another trinity would be manifest; mother, father and child. The Celts have always been good at seeing things in threes. This symbolic binding together in marriage evolved into a the practice of wrapping the clasped hands with a cord or an embroidered cloth, usually made especially for that purpose.

At the evening celebrations, the bride and groom traditionally dance first on their own to a waltz. However, as ballroom dancing is not so popular these days, the newlyweds usually dance to a favourite romantic song. During the playing of this song, it is traditional for the groom to dance with his new mother-in-law and then with his mother, while the bride dances with her new father-in-law and then with her father. The best man also joins in dancing with the chief bridesmaid and the ushers with the other bridesmaids when the bride and groom first change. After the first dance, all the guests are invited to join the newlyweds on the dance floor.

The right of every women to propose on 29th February each leap year, goes back many hundreds of years to when the leap year day had no recognition in English law (the day was 'lept over' and ignored, hence the term 'leap year'). It was considered, therefore, that as the day had no legal status, it was reasonable to assume that traditions also had no status. Consequently, women who were concerned about being 'left on the shelf' took advantage of this anomoly and proposed to the man they wished to marry.
It was also thought that since the leap year day corrected the discrepancy between the calendar year of 365 days and the time taken for the Earth to complete one orbit of the sun (365 days and 6 hours), it was an opportunity for women to correct a tradition that was one-sided and unjust.
For those wishing to take advantage of this ancient tradition, you will have to wait until Tuesday 29th February in the year 2000!

The origin of throwing confetti over newly weds predated Christ since it originates from the ancient Pagan rite of showering the happy couple with grain to wish upon them a 'fruitful' union. Pagans believed that the fertility of the seeds would be transferred to the couple on whom they fell. The throwing of rice has the same symbolic meaning.
The word confetti has the same root as the word 'confectionery' in Italian and was used to describe 'sweetmeats' that is, grain and nuts coated in sugar that were thrown over newly weds for the same Pagan reason. In recent years, small pieces of coloured paper have replaced sweetmeats, grain and nuts as an inexpensive substitute but the use of the word confetti has remained.
Despite the longevity of this tradition, it is on the verge of extinction because many register offices and churches no longer allow it because of the mess.

The term "honeymoon" is though to originate from the times when a man captured his bride. The couple would hide from the bride's parents before marrying. The couple would remain in hiding for a further cycle of the moon after the wedding. During this period they drank honey wine.
In Scotland the custom was for a woman with milk in her breasts to prepare the marital bed to encourage fertility in the newlyweds.
In Ireland a laying hen was tied to the bed on the first honeymoon night in the hope that some of its fertility would be passed on to the couple. Eating a double yolked egg was also thought to bring fertility.


Cutting the wedding cake is now part of the ritual celebrations at the reception. The couple make the first cut together to symbolise their shared future.
Cakes have been associated with weddings throughout history. The Romans shared a cake during the wedding ceremony itself. This was not the rich fruit-cake we enjoy today. It was a plain confection made from wheat flour, salt and water. The Fijians and Some Native American tribes still incorporate cake in the wedding ceremonies.
In Britain early cakes were flat and round and contained fruit and nuts which symbolise fertility.
In the past the custom was to throw many small cakes over the bride in a similar way in which we throw confetti today. A modification of this custom was to crumble cake over the brides head and in some versions to break the cake over the Bride's head. In Scotland Oat Cakes were used for this purpose. This was done to promote fertility.
In Yorkshire a plate holding wedding cake was thrown out of the window as the bride returned to her parental home after the wedding. If the plate broke she would enjoy a happy future with her husband but if the plate remained intact her future would be grim.
Another old English custom was to place a ring in the wedding cake. The guest who found the ring in their the piece of cake would be ensured happiness for the next year.
The shape of the modern three tiered iced cake is believed to have been inspired by the spire of Saint Bride's Church in the City of London. It is said that unmarried guests who place a piece of wedding cake under their pillow before sleeping will increase there prospects of finding a partner and bridesmaids who do likewise will dream of their future husbands.
The top tier of the cake is often kept by couples for the christening of their first child.

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