The Wedding Blackening
There still exists within the
islands a pre-wedding tradition simply referred to as "the
The Blackening is a fairly rough
ceremony in which the groom-to-be is waylaid by his friends. He
is stripped (winter and summer!), bound and "blackened"
using a messy mixture that usually contains treacle, flour and feathers.
The unfortunate groom is then paraded around on the back of a truck,
while his comrades make as much noise as possible by blowing whistles,
shouting, beating sticks, banging drums and generally creating a
din with anything they can lay their hands on.
The parade through the streets can
last a few hours and it is not uncommon for the party to end up
in the sea.
The sight of a blackening in full
swing is usually something that causes visitors to raise a quizzical
eyebrow. The tradition described in recent years by the Sheriff
as an "accepted breach of the peace."
As to the origin of the Blackening
- that I cannot say with any degree of certainty. An interesting
idea is that the current Blackening ceremonies may be a corrupted
variation of the old feet/hair washing traditions, the purpose of
the Blackening being to ensure the groom is dirty before the washing
takes place. The washing element has perhaps been forgotten over
the centuries - unless, of course, we can count the unfortunate
groom's dip in the cold sea water. However, now the aim is simply
to get the groom as messy and drunk as possible.
The general din created during the
Blackening may also have some connection to the tradition of noise-making
common not only during the Wedding March but at other Orkney festival
times. In these cases the noise was thought to keep the trows
or fairy-folk at
bay, otherwise they might attempt to spirit away the bride or groom.
In the realms of pure speculation
but could the Blackening itself be symbolic of such a fairy abduction?
It is highly unusual for a groom to go to his Blackening willingly.
Off course, at the end of the day,
one is also left wondering whether the noise generated is simply
another way of humiliating the groom and ensuring as many people
as possible see him in his sorry state.