In every corner of the world, there exist some strange wedding traditions that may seem completely insane to an outsider, but to the community in which the bride the groom were born and raised, they signify a level of officiality and approval for the wedlock. These wedding customs have often been passes down through generations and provide a local flavor to weddings in times where every other aspect of the process is heavily influenced by pop culture. The Scottish pre-wedding tradition of “Blackening the bride and groom” is one such intriguing custom which may appear totally disgusting to many but holds a deep significance to the local population who has kept this tradition alive.
A Strange Scottish pre-wedding tradition
Like older cultures, Scotland too has a rich history and a vast pool of customs dating back to Celtic times that make their weddings so unique and interesting. Even though the usual Scottish staples like tartan wedding dress, kilts and bagpipes may be copies the world over, local customs like Blackening would be a little harder to stomach by someone who isn’t brought up in the culture. The pre-wedding tradition of the “Blackening of the bride or groom” has an uncertain history though the Scottish marriage ritual is one of the most fun albeit mucky traditions of the region.
Shared by the whole community, the older custom sits in dire contrast to the alcohol and sex-themed hen nights and bachelor parties an allows everyone from a tight knit community to acknowledge the wedding of a couple and allows them to bestow some very important bits of wisdom that every married couple should know before they wed through a very heavy and loaded metaphor.
What happens during the Blackening of the Bride/Groom?
Most people who have witnesses a blackening have described it as a ‘ritual hazing’ though most bride and grooms that endure the process are already aware of what’s in stock for them. Depending on the region, either the bride or the groom or both, are taken captive by their friends, relative, co-workers and whoever else wishes to join in on the fun, tied to chair and covered in disgusting and foul substances like feathers, smelly sauces, rotten eggs, spoiled curry, curdled milk, boot polish, treacle, tar, soot, flour, cocoa powder or anything black and grungy.
Sometimes the bride and groom are sat in a bathtub atop a lorry or just paraded around the town in their sorry state as their friends, relatives and other well wishers follow them around making as much noise as possible banging drums, beating sticks, shouting, blowing whistles and creating as loud a din as they possibly can. The couple is paraded through the streets of their town for hours on end and sometimes people even come out their homes to “contribute” to the blackening with their own helpings of soot, feathers and what have you. Sometimes the couple is tied to a tree though it is most common for the procession to end up in the sea which adds to the seeming horror and humiliation of the ritual for the soon-to-be married couple.
Of course, the ritual takes places quite a few days in advance of the actual wedding for the couple to wash the gunk off and be presentable for their big day. Though brides are forced to grin and bear it, grooms often end up having a lot of fun and prefer to bare their torsos to show off the anointing they got!
Celtic origins of the tradition
Blackening or Reschtach, as a ritual has existed for quite a long time though no one knows the exact beginnings of the disgusting ritual. Many believe that Blackening is a corruption of the old pre-wedding traditions of feet and hair washing though the general noise-making aspect of the ritual would suggest that the ceremony has something to do with warding off evil spirits, bad luck and faeries. The most probable explanation for the origin of blackening can perhaps be found in the medieval era when Celtics rules the area and given their belief in the wicked power of faeries, the ritual could perhaps be symbolic of faerie abduction itself.
What does the ritual signify?
As a ritual that is limited to very ancient parts of rural Scotland, Blackening is one of the lesser known Scottish pre-wedding traditions though it is still followed with some enthusiasm in the towns and villages that still observe it. As a ritual, Blackenings symbolize the survival of Celtic traditions through the centuries of Christianization and even the survival of bits of the old tribal culture despite the wider acceptance that modern wedding practices have. In a world where brides and grooms are reluctant to follow local tradition and look to make their weddings appear more modern and individualized, ceremonies like Blackening remind us of the cultural roots of the institution of marriage.
Does it serve any practical purpose?
As brutal and psychologically scarring as the pre-wedding ceremony of Blackening of the bride and groom may appear, Scots believe that this kind of hazing and humiliation knocks the rosy notions of marriage out of a couple’s mind and better prepares them for facing the harsh realities of married life. The ritual is supposed to signify that a couple who can last through this jarring trial with humility can face any challenge that life may through their way later on.
A good lesson in humility, Blackenings are also supposed to teach a couple that nothing could be worse than this and that their future life would appear to be very pleasant in compared to gunk-covered memories of the pre-wedding ceremony. On a deeper level, the ceremony also helps brings couples together- since they are covered in disgusting, smelly stuff and no one else would want to get close to them, they are brought closer together and can understand what the other is going through much better than anyone else thus cementing their bond.
Of course, the ritual also does a bang up job of rubbing the shine off of some of the more hardened and self-centered bridezillas who learn a valuable lesson in humility through the process.
Is the tradition still alive?
As primitive as the pre-wedding ceremony of Blackening the Bride and Groom might appear, it is still widely followed across the heart of Scotland. In the region surrounding Aberdeenshire, it’s generally the bride who is blackening though in the region surrounding the Orkney Isles, the groom gets treated to the tasteful anointing.