The path to the wedding was fraught with dangers. Superstition had it that seeing pigs, lizards or funerals was a sign of bad luck. It was also unlucky for the bride to catch sight of herself in a mirror once her journey to the wedding had begun, although it was lucky if she looked in a mirror before she set off. Rain was also regarded as a bad omen and an ancient saying states, ‘Happy is the bride the sun shines on, Blessed is the corpse the rain falls on.’ Country brides feared the sound of a cock crowing after dawn on their wedding morning.
Fortunately for the bride, there were other lucky signs – meeting a chimney sweep, for instance, which possibly relates to the idea that soot and ashes are symbols of fertility, as well as seeing black cats, doves, lambs, spiders, toads, clergymen, doctors and blind men.
There are just as many superstitions associated with the journey from the wedding. The custom of throwing confetti over the newly married bride and groom began in pagan times when grain,
especially corn, was thrown for fertility. The word ‘confetti’ comes from the Italian for sweets and in Italy the couple are showered with sweets as they leave the church.
In some places it was the custom for the bride and groom to negotiate an obstacle. Guests would hold out sticks or flower ropes which the couple had to jump over. Sometimes a stone or wooden bench was placed across the church door during the wedding. In Northumberland this was called a ‘petting’ stone and two young men would lift the bride across. The groom would then follow and give each of the young men a coin. The convention was for the bride to hesitate and show some reluctance. This was all part of the fun, and also meant that the new bride showed the correct level of modesty and was not too eager to leap into her new life. If she was overly reluctant it was said she had ‘taken a pet’ and this expression is still used in the north of England to describe a bad mood.