We’re entering the most mysterious time of year. Halloween? Vernal equinox? Walpurgisnacht? No, nope, and nada.
It’s June — the most popular month for weddings. Weddings contain more occult rituals than any other custom in modern life.
Nearly everything surrounding the wedding ceremony — from the procession of bridesmaids to the exchanging of rings — is rooted in the supernatural.
The role of the bridesmaid began in ancient Rome as a way of distracting evil spirits from the happy bride. Roman brides themselves started wearing veils to hide from wicked forces. But only the bride can wear white, which the ancient Greeks considered the color of joy. Greek brides even painted their bodies white the night before the ceremony, a custom also found among traditional cultures in Southern Africa.
Using the age-old system of “sympathetic magic,” English brides are supposed to wear an object belonging to an older, happily married woman in order to inherit her luck. (“Something old, something new, something borrowed…”)
The marriage ceremony teems with mythical symbolism. In ancient Egypt, a circle was considered a symbol of eternity; this morphed into the wedding ring to represent an unending union. “The ring,” wrote occult scholar Manly P. Hall in The Secret Teachings of All Ages, “has long been regarded as the symbol of attainment, perfection, and immortality — the last because the circlet of precious metal had neither beginning nor end.” The ring also derives from a coiled serpent biting its tail, representing a union of transcendent and worldly purpose. The earliest use of wedding rings appears in ancient Hebrew ceremonies, though the practice is also found in Greek and Roman culture.
Today, the cake is one of the most ornate (and expensive) parts of the ceremony. In East European folklore, however, the cake is not eaten — but worn. Symbolizing life and physical sustenance, bread or cakes are sewn into the clothing of Polish brides or sometimes worn on armbands. According to old Scottish tradition, a bridesmaid can dream about her future husband by passing a bit of wedding cake through the bride’s ring, placing it in her left stocking, and then under her pillow.
The evocative practice of stomping on a wine glass in the Jewish wedding ceremony is often explained as recalling the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.; it is a recollection of bitterness in the midst of joy. But this practice has diverse roots. Ancient Hindus had a similar rite and believed that shattering a hollow container frightened off wicked spirits. What’s more, the breakage represented the virility of the male and the “submission” of the woman.
Among some traditionalists, throwing rice remains part of the festivities. This custom began in Vedic and Chinese cultures, where rice is a symbol of prosperity and fertility. Rice was thrown to placate or distract demons and spirits and wish plenty on the couple. (Ancient Romans threw nuts and fruit — ouch.)
Even after the wedding, newlyweds must be careful. The bridegroom carries his wife over the threshold, which the Romans believed was swarming with mischievous spirits; his act of chivalry foils lurkers in the doorframe.
Of all wedding rituals, my personal favorite — and one of the most historically rich — is “jumping the broom.” Today, the African American expression “jumping the broom” means getting hitched, and some couples continue this customary rite as a reflection of joy and tradition. The practice is rooted in an old African custom in which newlyweds literally jump over a broom to prove that one of them is not an evil double. In folklore found in Western and Central Africa, as well as in the European Middle Ages, evil witches or wicked spirits are considered obsessive-compulsive in nature. A malevolent spirit would have to stop to count all the broom’s bristles, thus exposing a sinister entity disguised as the bride or groom. This lore extends to vampires — if you’re chased by one of the undead, you can throw a handful of pebbles or a knotted string on the ground; the wicked creature must stop to count the projectiles or undo the knots.
Finally, what, besides nice weather, is behind the longtime custom of scheduling weddings in June? Is it a sinister act intended to foil vacation plans and timeshares? Well, even the month of betrothal is rooted in the mythical past. “Prosperity to the man and happiness to the maid when married in June,” went an ancient Roman proverb.
As the sixth month of the year, June possesses numerological significance. Ancient Greeks believed the hexad — a set of six points — represented marriage because it is formed by the pairing of two three-pointed triangles: one masculine, the other feminine.This is reflected in the Star of David.
Most significantly, June is named for Juno, the wife of Jupiter and the guardian of womanhood and marriage. When you marry in her namesake month, the Romans taught, Juno watches over you with joy.
So, go ahead, nesters — gobble up those early summer weekends. The goddess smiles on it.