Book 8, part 2. The Rites of Love (2006)
I shall cite a typical rite from pre-revolutionary Russia with a view to examining it from the standpoint of social degradation in relation to love.
Courting rituals in Perm. Weddings for the people of Perm involve a whole complex of preliminary operations. First, a father has to seek permission from the local authorities and from the parish priest before setting about courting a bride for his son. This kind of procedure invariably takes place without the participation of the groom, evidently according to ancient custom, and is limited to just the opinion of relatives and close friends called in to give advice. And these are the ones who will decide the fate of their closest relative’s future well-being.
It happens that the groom first meets his intended only after the matchmaker has already reached an agreement with the bride’s father, and sometimes not until the day of the wedding. Rarely does a young Permian have a chance to court his future bride on his own. The groom’s father seeks out, on his son’s behalf, a bride with a fair-sized dowry, a maiden of character and respectable moral standing.
Once the final decision had been made as to which girl is to be targeted, the courting itself begins, known as the kora- siom. This task is always entrusted to the family elder or, in his absence, to the godfather or one of the older relations, or to someone who has had experience in such matters.
It is further explained how and what the go-betweens should say But it seems to me the whole process is utterly absurd, since the primary principle is violated right from the start.
As we can see, there is not even a hint of the young people’s love in carrying out this rite. Sad, too, is the fact that with this abusive attitude toward the energy of Love, they are implicating God.
In preparation for the groom’s departure to bring back his bride, the groom’s mother (or matron of the house) places on the tablecloth a loaf of bread intended for the blessing of the groom, along with salt, beer and braga, and lights the candles in front of the icons. The groom prays and bows low at his mother’s and father’s feet, seeking their blessing. After reciting Jesus’ prayer, he takes up a position at the table as all the wedding guests approach, reciting the same prayer. One after another they reach out with both hands to present the groom with the gifts and goodies they have brought: a cooked shoulder or cut of raw pork, always with bread, and each one chants: ‘Accept these precious gifts, young prince”, followed by the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ” and so forth. At this the groom replies to each one individually: ‘Amen to your prayer”, before accepting (also with both hands) the gifts of food, placing each one first on his head and then on the table, and honours each wedding guest
with beer and braga (on rare occasions, wine) as he recites Jesus’ prayer and intones: “Drink this to your health, (name of guest).” This naturally meets with a response from each wedding guest the groom addresses with the words ‘!A.men to your prayer”. Taking the glass from the groom, he bows to the groom and intones: “May the Lord grant you long life, great happiness, good living,4 may He grant you to attain happiness, cattle, a full stomach, and bread and salt,5 obtain a young princess, accompany the princess to the church as her swain, retain a standing position beneath the golden crowns and maintain the law of God!” And then the guest takes a drink.
And here is some more intriguing information.
Permian women rarely preserve their virginity, but their grooms pay no special attention to this and do not avoid such women, but rather accept them eagerly, even those who are pregnant, anticipating the speedy arrival of another worker in the family. It is said that the fathers in some families, considering their daughters to be blameless, will resent any attempt at matchmaking, will swear and even chase away the go-betweens, sometimes even beating them, saying: “What, you’re telling me my daughter ispen- naT — that is, guilty (from the wordpenya, meaning guilt).
So we end up not with a continuer of the family line, conceived in love, but a worker for the household.
There are, in fact, many characteristic features of wedding rites which portray our ancestors as wild barbarians. I should point out, however, that none of the rites we know of are traditionally Slavic, even though they’re sometimes called ‘traditional’ in the literature on the subject. They stem from a period when the really traditional, wise rites were prohibited by the Church, with nothing rational offered in their place. So, for example:
Removing of boots. It happened (and in some places still happens), according to a native Russian custom, that a newlywed woman is supposed to remove her husband’s footwear. In ancient times this custom generally signified meekness, a servile attitude, even humiliation, since who would take off another’s boots if she were not fully subordinate to the wearer of the boots? History teaches us that this custom existed at the time of Vladimir’s reign, along with the fact that the prince of Polotsk’s daughter was unwilling to remove her husband’s footwear.
The same custom existed in Germany during Martin Luther’s time: on their wedding night the young wife would take off her husband’s boots and place them at the head of the bed as a sign of the husband’s domination over the wife, the man over the (enslaved) woman.
Olearius and von Herberstein observed from their stays in Moscow that even princes’ and noblemen’s weddings included the rituals of footwear removal along with three strokes of the whip (the whip was then placed, together with baked goods, in a special box). This rite was continued in Lithuania before the Jagiellonian dynasty9 and is still preserved in peasant culture.
As we can see, the taking off of boots and honouring the bride’s slave status is mistakenly passed off as a traditional Russian rite. But before the princes came along, Russia had no slavery at all. Hence this rite is not traditional for our people, but a transient custom not accepted by the people at large.
But there is one situation which strikes me as even more stupid, cruel and immoral — a situation typical of wedding rites among many peoples as late as the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.
Directly the last food dish is placed on the table — i.e., the roast — the best man wraps up the dish, along with the bread and salt, in a tablecloth and takes it to a bed in the hayloft, to which the young couple are led immediately afterward. Whereupon the father of the bride, in handing over his newlywed daughter to her husband, stands in the doorway of the hayloft and offers her seemly advice 8 about marriage life. After the young couple have reached the bed, the wife of the master of ceremonies, wearing two coats at once (one in the normal fashion, the other turned inside out), showers them with grains, coins and hops, and feeds the young couple on their bed.
The next morning all the wedding guests show up at the hayloft and quickly remove the blanket so as to determine by well-known signs whether the newlywed girl has been chaste at the time of her marriage.
This part of the rite may be considered the most sinister and perverted, even if the newlyweds were in love with each other. In the sight of all the guests, the young people, having eaten and drunk their fill, were supposed to go to their room to consummate their marriage without fail, accompanied and encouraged by the lustful — one might even say, perverted — stares of the guests.
In the first place, after all the ups and downs of the prenuptial preparations, not to mention the wedding itself, the free-flowing libations of alcohol and the generous intake of food, it is best to hold off sexual intimacy for a period of time, so as to avoid the conceiving of a child in such a condition.
Secondly, why should newlyweds enter into intimate relations the same day and, on top of that, be called to account for their actions in front of the guests? What if the bride happens to be having her period on that day? All-in-all, it is something resembling the imposed mating of animals, or even worse.
Nobody in their right mind would think of bringing a bitch to a male dog — or a cow to a bull, or a ewe to a ram — when the female is not in heat. But the attitude here is: you’d better get on with it, or you’ll be put to shame.
The following story was told me by a seventy-year-old man upon learning that I was investigating various rites:
I was living in the country when I got married. They fixed me up with the one I loved. She was oh so quiet, and kind. Her name was Ksiusha. She was nineteen then, I was twenty. We had been looking at each other for about six months, and were probably in love.
On the first night of our wedding, when everything was winding down, the two of us were sent to bed in a separate room. They placed a guard at the door, and the following morning they were supposed to hold up the sheet for all to see: was the blood of virginity there or not? The moment of decision for Ksiusha and me came. Maybe it was wedding jitters, or maybe something I ate, but I got the feeling nothing was going to happen between Ksiusha and me. She did this and that, and began awkwardly showing me her breasts, then she kissed me, and later got undressed completely.
Only there was no proper reaction in me to her caresses and undressing, and I got more and more embarrassed. I sat down on the bed, and turned my face to the wall. I felt Ksiusha’s cheek press against my back, I could feel her trembling and her tears running down my spine. I too began weeping for sorrow. There we were both sitting on the bed, crying our hearts out. After that I told her:
“Don’t worry, Ksiusha, I’ll declare to everyone that it’s my fault.”
And she replied:
“Don’t — they’ll only make fun of you.”
Before the dawn came, she did the piercing herself with her finger, and the blood came out. In the morning they showed off the sheet to the great amusement of the guests who were once more imbibing in an effort to counteract the effects of their hangover. They summoned us in their
half-drunk state, joking around and calling out Gor’ko, gor’ko!u before taking their next glass.
Ksiusha and I lived together for six months in the country, then moved to the city and divorced. Turned out I couldn’t get anything to happen all those six months. I married again, and now I have four kids — three sons and a daughter — and grandchildren too. But that horrendous wedding I’ll never forget my whole life long. And I still remember Ksiusha to this day