Wedding Traditions: Why Bridesmaids, Veils, and Bells? Evil Spirits.

By Karen Harris

A happy couple gets pelted with rice as they leave the church after their wedding. Source: (

Wedding ceremonies are steeped in tradition, and let's face it, some of them are rather odd. A quick look into the origins of many of today's wedding traditions will show a common thread, and it's not love: These traditions originated as a way to ward off evil spirits who seemed literally hellbent on ruining the wedding day and stirring up bad luck in the newlyweds' marriage. Let's look at some of these wedding traditions to see how the people of the past devised ways to thwart the spirits. 

Brides of yesterday tried to confuse the evil spirits with matching dresses. Source: (

Bridesmaids in Matching Dresses

You may think that the purpose of having bridesmaids at a wedding is for the bride's friends and relatives to stand by her side during her big day and show their support for her, but you'd be wrong. In the past, the purpose of bridesmaids was to have several women all wearing wedding dresses to confuse the evil spirits. If any woman attending a wedding pulled that today, they'd be in for a bridal beatdown, but back then, it was hoped that one of the bridesmaids would get hit with the bad luck whammy, leaving the bride unscathed and ready for a long and happy marriage.

A thin layer of sheer fabric was a bride's best protection against the evil eye. Source: (

The Wedding Veil

Being cursed by the "evil eye" was a real concern for ancient Greeks and Romans. Jealous and spiteful people, as well as evil spirits, may cast an evil eye towards a bride on her wedding day. To make sure the power of the evil eye didn't touch her, brides wore fabric veils. As an added bonus, they were also useful to brides entering an arranged marriage, particularly young ladies of questionable attractiveness. They could hide their homeliness behind the veil until the wedding was over.

Bridal bouquets weren't always made of sweet smelling roses and gardenias. Source: (

The Bridal Bouquet

Brides of today walk down the aisle carrying beautiful bouquets of fragrant flowers, but that wasn't always the case. Bride in ancient Greece carried bouquets of pungent spices, plants, and herbs. The stinkier, the better. The mixture of strong-smelling herbs, so they thought, kept the evil spirits away so they would not have the opportunity to curse the new couple with their bad luck.

Evil spirits could hitch a ride on the bride's shoes. Source: (

Carrying the Bride Over the Threshold

The romantic, albeit archaic, tradition of carrying the bride over the threshold when the newly married couple arrives at their house has nothing to do with the groom's eagerness to show the bride to the bedroom. It has to do---you guessed it---with evil spirits. The threshold of a house was, according to many ancient cultures, a popular gathering place for evil spirits. These spirits, it seems, hoped to hitch a ride into the house when a person crossed the threshold. They would even cling to the sole of a person's feet in their attempt to gain entry. To make sure that the bride was safe from the evil spirits and that she would not unwittingly carry them into her new home, the groom carried the bride across the threshold. 

The noise from wedding bells scared away the evil spirits. Source: (

Ringing the Wedding Bells

Many times, after a church wedding, the church's bells are rung to announce to the world that the happy couple has been wed. Even in non-church weddings, bells are a common wedding motif. In medieval times, people believed that the sound of church bells scared off evil spirits that lurked around churches hoping to spread evil.

Guests could feed the evil spirits with rice to keep them distracted. Source: (

The Shower of Rice

Today, when the newly married couple exits the church on their wedding day, they're greeted by a shower of rice (or birdseed, if you are environmentally conscious). The rice has a double significance. First, it is a symbol of fertility, so tossing rice on the newlyweds is a way of encouraging them to go forth and multiply. Second, the rice literally feeds the evil spirits so that they don't have to feed on the good vibes of the happy couple. It was thought that the evil spirits who have crashed the wedding, like mortal wedding crashers, could be diverted from their malevolent mission with free food.

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Karen Harris


Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.