Over the Threshold
an Excerpt

Traditions and rituals associated with thresholds are as inextricably linked to weddings as champagne to toasts and pledges to love. Throughout time, threshold rituals have flourished with as many variations as there are brightly colored bridesmaids' dresses.

What makes thresholds so special? Is it because they encapsulate passage and change, because they are barrier and entrance at the same time? One can be conjured simply by drawing a line in the sand ("Don't step over that line!") or by bringing to mind the threshold of dreams and the threshold of desire. There is even a special word limen, for the threshold of our senses.

Some early wedding traditions surrounding thresholds seem ludicrous or barbaric to us now, but they are nonetheless a doorway to the human psyche.

For instance: In some early cultures, it was believed that family demons followed the bride. To keep those family demons from gaining access into the groom's home, it was necessary to carry the bride over the threshold for the first time. After that, the demons could not enter. So, a little weightlifting on the groom's part avoided a family faux pas of demonic proportions.

There was a time when "Marriage by Capture" was the courtship of the day. During those days, the reluctant bride was certainly not going to go peacefully into her abductor's abode. Hence she was dragged, or carried, no doubt kicking and screaming, across the threshold. Symbolizing the groom's conquest by force, this definitely presents a different picture from the chivalrous, romantic one we normally associate with being carried across the threshold.

It was not always the groom that did all of the carrying. In ancient China a "good luck woman," or dajin, was employed by the bride's family to look after the bride. After the wedding ceremony, the dajin carried the bride, dressed all in red, on her back to the sedan chair waiting to convey her to the groom's house. The bride might be required to step over a saddle to cross the threshold, since the Chinese words for "saddle" and "tranquility" sound the same.

In Scotland, before the bride could enter her new home, an oatcake or bannocks (a biscuit made of barley and oat flour) would be broken above her head and pieces of the cake were passed around to everyone. Perhaps this symbolized the compact of peace inherent in breaking bread as well as being a symbol for sharing the bride and groom's happiness and the sweetness of the day. Ignoring the crumbs was probably the new brides's first act as a gracious married hostess.

Another approach to threshold crossing is taken in Holland, where a "gate of honor" is erected in front of the bride's parents' house. It consists of a long garland of branches put up to form an archway. The branches are made from pine, beech or oak. This "gate of honor" is an elaborate threshold erected to signify the transition to the married state...


Authors Note: This 1500 word article includes a sidebar of examples for creating modern interpretations of threshold crossing, incorporating this ancient symbol in a meaningful way into our celebrations of marriage.

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