Traditions and rituals associated with thresholds are as inextricably linked
to weddings as champagne to toasts and pledges to love. Throughout time, threshold
rituals have flourished with as many variations as there are brightly colored
What makes thresholds so special? Is it because they encapsulate passage and
change, because they are barrier and entrance at the same time? One can be conjured
simply by drawing a line in the sand ("Don't step over that line!")
or by bringing to mind the threshold of dreams and the threshold of desire.
There is even a special word limen, for the threshold of our senses.
Some early wedding traditions surrounding thresholds seem ludicrous or barbaric
to us now, but they are nonetheless a doorway to the human psyche.
For instance: In some early cultures, it was believed that family demons followed
the bride. To keep those family demons from gaining access into the groom's
home, it was necessary to carry the bride over the threshold for the first time.
After that, the demons could not enter. So, a little weightlifting on the groom's
part avoided a family faux pas of demonic proportions.
There was a time when "Marriage by Capture" was the courtship of the
day. During those days, the reluctant bride was certainly not going to go peacefully
into her abductor's abode. Hence she was dragged, or carried, no doubt kicking
and screaming, across the threshold. Symbolizing the groom's conquest by force,
this definitely presents a different picture from the chivalrous, romantic one
we normally associate with being carried across the threshold.
It was not always the groom that did all of the carrying. In ancient China a
"good luck woman," or dajin, was employed by the bride's family to
look after the bride. After the wedding ceremony, the dajin carried the bride,
dressed all in red, on her back to the sedan chair waiting to convey her to
the groom's house. The bride might be required to step over a saddle to cross
the threshold, since the Chinese words for "saddle" and "tranquility"
sound the same.
In Scotland, before the bride could enter her new home, an oatcake or bannocks
(a biscuit made of barley and oat flour) would be broken above her head and
pieces of the cake were passed around to everyone. Perhaps this symbolized the
compact of peace inherent in breaking bread as well as being a symbol for sharing
the bride and groom's happiness and the sweetness of the day. Ignoring the crumbs
was probably the new brides's first act as a gracious married hostess.
Another approach to threshold crossing is taken in Holland, where a "gate
of honor" is erected in front of the bride's parents' house. It consists
of a long garland of branches put up to form an archway. The branches are made
from pine, beech or oak. This "gate of honor" is an elaborate threshold
erected to signify the transition to the married state...
Authors Note: This 1500 word article includes a sidebar of examples for
creating modern interpretations of threshold crossing, incorporating this ancient
symbol in a meaningful way into our celebrations of marriage.
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