Old Russian Wedding Ceremony
Shortly before a tenth- to fifteenth-century wedding, it was common to arrange a ritual bath. The charmed bath water was carefully saved and given to the husband to drink after the wedding. Then there was a maidens' party. The wreath (kokoshnik) was removed from from the bride and her hair was braided for the last time. At the beginning of the wedding was the traditional bitter lamentations for the bride's maiden life in the parental home and her ill-will towards the groom and his family.
On the wedding day were several rites: transferring the bride to the groom, the hair winding (okruchivanie), the church wedding (venchanie), the reception of the young bride in the husband's house, and the wedding bed (podklet). The first rite began with preparations in the middle chamber, an area situated between the chambers of the bride and groom. The bride entered first, with a round loaf and money symbolizing wishes for the future family's wealth and prosperity carried before her. Then the bride was transferred to the groom.
The second rite had the matchmakers or the wife of the prefect braid the bride's hair into two tresses, a symbol of wedlock, after which a kika or povoinik with bridal veil was placed. Then producing rituals were completed, consisting of placing several items on and around the couple, such as hops for happiness, fur coats for a rich life, straw mattresses with the seams unsewn for easy birth, and other items.
Then the party went to church for the third rite. The groom and bride each received a single burning candle and exchanged rings. After the ring exchange, the priest placed wreaths on their heads, blessed them, and prayed very loudly to the east. Then there was the church blessing of the marriage and a wish to have many children and grandchildren.
The fourth rite was the reception of the bride into the husband's home and nuptial chamber. Then there is the well known custom of removing the husband's shoes after the wedding. Receiving the bride into the husband's home included giving gifts to the new couple, and to the bride from the groom. Many gifts were symbolic, especially needles and whips. The last rite, after the wedding feast, concluded the day with the young couple being led to the nuptial chamber.
Various methods were entailed to drive unclean spirits away from the wedding. The first one involved terrifying the unclean one by firing a gun at the time of the blessing of the bride and groom. When the wedding party starts for the altar, nails are driven into the wall, pins and needles are thrust into the bride's dress, or the best man cracks his whip. The second method was to lead the spirits astray by not calling the bride and groom by name for a long period of time, or to change the young people's clothes. Sometimes another girl would be arrayed in the bride's attire as a pretended bride.
The third method was to conceal the couple from the spirits. This was accomplished by covering the head of the bride with a large kerchief from betrothal until the wedding, closing doors and windows at various moments during the wedding ceremony, or surrounding the procession with outriders. Another method was to abstain from food, sex, touching things, or unlucky days for betrothal and marriage.
In addition to the producing ceremonies for the couple, there were other ceremonies that secured the fertility among the cattle. The bed for the newly married couple was often made in the cattle shed, or the first sexual act of the woman would exert a magical influence on the fertility of the cattle. Yet other ceremonies secured fertility, wealth, and happiness for all those who took part in the wedding festivities: the sprinkling with water in which the bride washed herself, and so on. Ceremonies that secured the bond between the couple included the mingling of wine from the couple's glasses, their sharing of food and drink, the representation of a pair of doves on the wedding loaf, or the tying together of the bride and groom with a handkerchief. Three other groups of ceremonies associated with weddings include the bride's separation from the cult of the spirits of her own home, uniting the bride to the cult of the spirits of her husband's family, and the ceremonies of propitiation.
Collected and edited by Michael Terletski