Sunday, October 4, 2009


Given the recent and very impressive, festive nuptials of Stephanie and Austin I was once again reminded how other cultures celebrate this most important rite of passage. There was and is no doubt that Steph and Austin were motivated to make their bond permanent because of a mutual deep and enduring love and respect that encompasses many different planes and aspects. I have never seen a happier couple and was very moved by the whole experience. I thank them for allowing me to be part of their lives…

Notwithstanding the current controversy over who can legally and otherwise be married (or divorced), it would appear that most folks in our domain agree (and as defined that, “the purpose of marriage is to spiritually, emotionally and physically unite a man and a women together, as husband and wife, in a covenantal relationship between themselves and their Creator.”

In Anthropology we seemingly can’t ever be satisfied with something as complex/simple as that and we look at marriage more pragmatically and in an more astringent light - as the vehicle that controls sexual activity and/or reproduction, and as a primary means of forging and building socioeconomic alliances between social groups. Supply and demand even enters the picture with the bride many times nothing more than a commodity with many anthropologists stating that marriage was literally the purchase of a bride for breeding purposes. So much for love…

The modern word “wedding” comes from the Anglo Saxon word wedd and/or auld Scots word wad. Both appropriately meant "to pledge” and signified that the groom would pledge to marry the bride for the prearranged and agreed price that invariably included money or goods usually paid to the bride’s parents. This was all tied up with other transfers of wealth (dowry and dower), but we’re not going there today.

Much to my faux disappointment we certainly can’t give the Anglo Saxons, Scots or the Vikings credit for this concept. It started well before these cultures started to evolve. It certainly appears that what anthropologists refer to as "bride or progeny price" has been a common practice for thousands of years emerging in many different cultures and societies around the world as concepts of kinship and Family likewise evolved. Indeed some contemporary cultures that include Asian countries like China, and Thailand still engage this practice. Islamic marriage laws require the mandatory mahr to be paid (or promised) by the groom to the bride. The dowry system is still alive and well in India.

When I was studying Anthropology at Ole Miss most African cultures were noted to have practiced bride price – some even to this day though some recent resistance has been noted. To these so called primitive societies the socio economic implications were critical and demanded compensation for the loss of a daughter. While there was little uniformity the ultimate goal in some of these tribal cultures was alliance or to ultimately keep Family wealth and resources in that Family hence the reason why the preferred relationship in so many cultures was first cousins (cross or parallel).

In the earliest time of civilization there was no well defined system of kinship though perhaps just the realization of blood relationships which then evolved into that higher plane. It was a slow and laborious process which was affected by ultimate socio economic and security considerations.

The wedding was always a rite of passage that all societies held in high regard. Our Scandinavian Brothers and Sisters (OK, the Vikings) always set the marriage day on a Friday, or Frigg's Day, as a tribute to Frigga - wife to Odin and goddess of marriage and married women (See Frigga in inset above). Yes, Friday was named in her honor.

From the early days of Christianity in the Celtic world, rituals tended to blend the pagan with the Christian. Many of those celebrations continue to this day. An example of this was the handfasting ceremony, a commitment ceremony held when a priest or a proper civil authority wasn’t available. Two great Friends of mine ceremonially handfasted at the Glasgow, Kentucky Scottish Festival and Highland Games last year and then tied the knot this year. These ceremonies were often accompanied by such rites as broom jumping (harbinger of fertility). Many of those practices were adopted by African slaves as we have seen in Harriette Cole's Jumping the Broom: The African-American Wedding Planner. Interestingly, there is evidence offered by Professor
Willie Ruff, an African-American ethno-musicologist at Yale University who has concluded that the first foreign tongue spoken by slaves in America wasn’t English but Scottish Gaelic taught to them by Gaelic speakers who left Scotland’s Western Isles because of religious persecution. Another example of a celebration borrowed from another culture. In our western society we have borrowed many, OK most.

I have also heard of the unkempt Scots practice where the brides Mother meets the Bride at the door following the wedding ceremony and then breaks a currant bun over her daughter's head for good fortune. Now, we are assured that while Stephanie did follow the tradition of wearing something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, she did not have a current bun broken over her head.

Like our society and some of the backward conventions (even laws) that used to accompany this most noble institution, we have evolved to a more enlightened plane that recognizes the value and worth of both participants allowing them to achieve their full potential. This partnership allows both individuals to maintain their own identity while bringing to the marriage commitment that otherwise elusive ethereal spark.

As sermonized today by The Very Reverend Kevin Martin, Dean of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, Texas that however primitive our ancient past or limits imposed by politically inspired controlling perspectives and laws in our more modern societies, today’s successful marriage is based on mutual respect and love without a “controlling” partner who would skew that relationship. That harmony has to be achieved by voluntary mutual consent. Yea, it certainly appears that Stephanie and Austin have it right and represent the best of our evolution and the modern ideal. A new dawn breaks.


Ned Buxton

PS - Jackie Spratt’s Wedding and Groom’s cakes were the best I have ever tasted. They were a big hit, well appreciated and one of the highlights of this celebration. NB

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