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  Orcadian Wedding Traditions

The Wedding Day Arrives....

On the day of the marriage, ceremonies began before noon, with guests arriving at the bride's house.

The marriage itself might take place there, but more often there was a Wedding Walk - a formal march to the church that was preceded by a fiddler,or, in more recent years, a piper.

The Wedding Walk

Before leaving on the March, the fiddler was presented with a dish known as "the hot-tail pudding of a pig" and expected to consume it all. This rather strange custom probably stems from simple practicality - the fatty foodstuff slowed down the rate at which the fiddler got drunk, thus ensuring he was fit to play for longer.

Orkney Wedding Feast

On the Wedding Walk, the bridegroom led the best-maid, while the bride walked with the best-man. Behind them, arranged into couples, came the rest of the wedding party, with children and unaccompanied guests taking up the rear.

At the very end of the procession came the "tail sweepers" - a couple who were required to drag a heather besom behind them.

On the return journey, after the wedding ceremony, the leaders of the walk switched partners - the groom taking his new bride on his arm, while the best-man escorted the best-maid.

It was vital that at some point on the Wedding Walk, the procession crossed running water twice and that guns were fired (or loud noises made using tins and pans) to scare away the trows.

But the precautions against supernatural interference did not end there.

Wedding precautions

One of the earliest customs of which there is any record is the watching of the wedding house.

This task was usually undertaken by two strong young men, who were charged with standing guard outside the house. They had to ensure that no "evil person" walked round the building in an anticlockwise direction ("against the sun" - only an evil or supernatural creature would do anything against the sun). If this were to happen, great harm or sorrow might come to the bride. If, for some strange reason, this person was carrying fish, it was feared the bride would be robbed of milk for her future children.

On the night before the wedding, it was also essential that the best-man stay with the groom at all times, while the bride's maid remained with the bride.

This was a vital precaution, ensuring the couple could not be spirited away by malicious trows or fairies. The guards were expected to maintain their vigilance until the first sunrise after the marriage. Only then was it thought that the danger of abduction passed.

The Hansel-wife

Waiting to greet the returning wedding party was one of the oldest, well-liked and most respected women in the community. This woman would act as the hansel-wife, offering bread and cheese (hansel) to the members of the party.

In the midst of this commotion, another of the gathered women would slip from the house carrying the bridescake - a cake made from oatmeal, butter and caraway seed. The woman would then either throw or break the cake over the bride's head.

All present would then scramble for a piece of the cake, which was known to contain a ring and a thimble. Once again, the finder of the ring would be sure to marry soon, while the finder of the thimble had little prospect of wedlock.

The cake was often branded with a rough circle or ring on one side and within this was a cross - this was known as "sainin' " the cake and was once again a common precaution taken against the influence of sorcery and magic.

In addition, pieces of the cake were sometimes taken home and placed under the finder's pillow "to dream on"

Divination of the hansel-bern

In the more distant past, the hansel-wife was expected to carry with her a "hansel-bern" - generally the youngest child in the area.

The hansel wife would place this child into the bride's arms while everyone watched anxiously to see which foot it would raise first.

If the left foot was first, boys would predominate among the bride's children. If it was the right foot, girls would be more numerous.

The Wedding Feast

Section Contents
Customs and First Steps
Fit Washin' Night
Saltwater and freshwater
Kissing Meat
Biddin' da Folk
The Blackening
The Wedding Day Arrives...
The Wedding Feast
The Wedding Cogs
After the Wedding

See Also
Wedding Traditions and the Odin Stone
Marriage Divination
Fairy Folk
The Trows
Courtship, love and marriage in Viking Scandinavia

As is mentioned in the main text, a bride was regarded as extremely vulnerable to the wiles of the "peedie-folk" from the time of her marriage to the first sunrise after the ceremony.

It was therefore not uncommon for a bridegroom to keep his left arm around his bride with his left hand over her heart until the danger from Orkney's supernatural beings had passed.

According to one Orkney story, a man had the misfortune of having his new bride replaced by a sea-woman.

However in typical Orcadian fashion, he made the best of a bad situation and went on to sire a large family.

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