Courting, Marriage, and Something Like It

Many reminisce with sorrow that “No one courts anymore,” and while I tend to agree with the sentiment that many people rush into a physical and even emotional relationship without knowing much of anything about the other, even so far as to be married within a month of meeting, I also think there’s a lot to be said for an even older tradition that some Neo-Pagan beliefs are beginning to revive, though many of them don’t even understand the truth of its original purpose. Hand fasting (the joining of hands) is not simply a pagan marriage ritual, but is a relationship arrangement equivalent to a trial marriage. When a couple feels that they know one another well enough to proceed, rather than getting married (which most religions agree is meant to be a permanent arrangement with few exceptions), the couple in question come together in something quite equivalent to a marriage ceremony, though the implications and symbolism are far more intellectually moving than those of a marriage.

The couple says their vows, not including “Til death do us part,” of course. They wrap a ribbon loosely around the other’s left wrist, symbolizing that neither is in a position of dominance over the other (to have one’s dominant hand bound would signify being the passive party), and each person hold the end of the ribbon that binds their own wrist, symbolizing that it is entirely their own choice to be a part of this union, and that they may annul the arrangement at any time.

Traditionally, most hand fasted arrangements would last for one year, within which time the couple would dwell together as though married, and at the end of that year, they would be expected to make the arrangement permanent, if all went well. Remember that, like true marriage, this is a concept that exists within spiritual contexts, and as such, would not be taken lightly as an excuse to live with someone and then move on.

The history of Christian marriage holds some nasty concepts that, though their purpose is forgotten, their shadows still remain today without causing so much as a blink of an eye, especially for a society that boast equality between the sexes. While legally, within the United States, most legal implications of marriage and divorce have been laid to rest, many of these aspects still exist elsewhere, continually perpetuating female oppression and control over the masses.

The father giving away the bride harkens back to days when marriage was more of an economical process than a union of love by any means. The arrangement of a dowry was to ensure that the young woman is not a burdon upon her new home, while a brideprice was the amount of money a suitor or suitor’s family would pay for the purchase of said bride.

Some sources state that the word marriage comes from the Latin maritare, meaning a union under the Goddess Aphrodite-Mari (Mari being a name for equivalent Goddesses in cultures in the east). The Goddess’s patronage oversaw many aspects of marriage, and the prospect of her constant invocation made it something the founders of the early church greatly opposed. St Ambrose is even remembered as having said that marriage was a crime against God, since it encourages sexual union, which causes a change to the state of virginity that were created and born in. Syrian churches even ruled that no one would be allowed to follow Christianity accept for celibate men, because, since women were the bringers of sexual thoughts, they must be as filthy as the sexual acts themselves. There was no Christian equivalent to the sacrament of marriage until around the 16th century, at which time many rules and particulars were places upon the couple.

In the re-writing of the pagan marriage laws to form the Christian ones, the church was primarily concerned with the transfer of the woman’s property to the man, and with subduing and controlling the threat of the feminine. Early church doctrine encouraged spousal discipline. One Friar Cherubino wrote a doctrine of marriage stating:

Scold her sharply, bully and terrify her. And if this still doesn’t work, take up a stick and beat her soundly, for it is better to punish the body and correct the soul than to damage the soul and spare the body. Then readily beat her, not in rage but in charity and concern for her soul

The famous term “Rule of Thumb” is a reference to an old English mandate that a man was allowed to beat his wife with a rod only as thick as his own thumb, which seams like little protection in the end.


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