This article first appeared in Tournaments Illuminated #113.

A Russian Wedding

By Paul W. Goldschmidt (artwork by Jennifer D. Miller)

Table of Contents

Introduction -- Courtship -- Dowry -- Formal Acceptance -- Inspection -- Church Variant -- Bride's Bath and Maiden's Party -- Members of Wedding -- Setting Up the Bed -- Pre-Wedding Feast -- Groom Goes to Bride's House -- Hair-Winding -- Crowning -- Feast and Gifts -- Whip -- Bedding -- Second and Third Day -- Adapting the Ceremony -- Conclusion -- Notes -- Bibliography

So a daughter grows, learns the fear of God, and increases her dowry.
-- "How to Raise Daughters and to Give Them Away in Marriage With Dowries" in the Domostroi

In this article, I shall try to outline the procedures of a medieval Russian wedding to provide the framework for members of the Society who would like to reenact one. After doing so, I will make some suggestions about how to go about making it work in the SCA. The description I provide is heavily based upon M. G. Rabinovich's account of a three-day sixteenth century ceremony for high nobility. This account (and several others I will cite) are only available in Russian and are therefore inaccessible to the general populace. However, there are a number of good books in English as well, and these are listed in the bibliography at the back.

The Russian wedding ceremony itself changed little from the introduction of Christianity (in 988) to the eighteenth century according to historian Eve Levin.(2) The reason for this stability is that the Orthodox Church treasured keeping its rituals exactly as they had been. The stability of Orthodox rites makes the documentation of the actual ceremony easier. At the same time, however, many of the ceremonies surrounding the wedding itself have changed dramatically. It is those practices that I will give the greatest attention to.

Courtship [Svatovstvo]

A thirteenth century birchbark document from Novgorod contains the following missive: "From Mikita to Uliianitsa. Marry me. I want you and you want me. And as witness to this Ignat...."(3) However, this record was quite unusual. The more popular way of getting married, as in most of Medieval Europe, required the negotiation of parents with parents, and the young people played little or no part. They rarely even saw each other prior to the wedding itself. As a popular seventeenth century saying went: "A maiden seen is copper, but the unseen girl is gold."(4) The rather romantic notion that two lovers would elope was strongly ruled out by these customs. Sixteenth century traveller Sigmund von Herberstein recorded:

A man who sues for the hand of someone's daughter is despised. It is the father who chooses the suitor, saying to him: 'I approve of you and your activities and therefore offer you my daughter in marriage.' The young man replies: 'I will speak to my friends about it.' If both sides think well of it, negotiations are concluded and the wedding-day named.(5)

According to Rabinovich, however, the wedding match was usually arranged by the boy's mother (or a close friend of his parents). (6) This svakha was "his mother or some other ancient woman of his kin or acquaintance." (7) As for marriage, a certain amount of time was supposed to elapse between marriage and engagement (although there was great flexibility and the two ceremonies could be simultaneous). (8)

While in practice the young people had very little input in the decision to marry or not, it is interesting that they were granted the right to do so in theory. According to eleventh century law, if a woman did not consent to the marriage and was married against her will, the parents could be fined.(9) However, consent could be coerced and little attempt was made to protect the young couple's right to decide. The ceremony itself provided little opportunity for the couple to voice consent or dissent. By custom, simply being present at the ceremony was an act of consent.(10)

It is difficult for us today to appreciate this situation. Our bias is to believe that the system was oppressive. However, we ignore the fact that marriage was not viewed by the people as a matter of choice. No man or woman expected that from marriage. In the medieval Russian mind, marriage was just another part of a life which was pre-ordained by fate.

The Dowry [Posag or pridannoe]

While it was the mothers who arranged the matching of bride and groom, it was the fathers who worked out the financial arrangements of the dowry.(11) While the Church remained silent on the issue of dowries, they were very important to the people themselves because they gave the woman an independent means of support. In Russia, a woman kept full control over her dowry.(12) This situation allowed her tremendous autonomy, as these dowries were far from pittances.

The dowry usually consisted of one-quarter of her father's worth. Usually, half of this amount was kept in currency and the other half in valuables (e.g., gold, silver, pearl, dishes, clothes, horses, carriages, servants, etc.). If the woman had no brothers, the dowry might even include land.(13) The oral agreement of the dowry between the fathers ended the period of "courtship."

Formal Acceptance [Sgovor]

The next step of the betrothal was the "acceptance." On a pre-arranged day, the groom-to-be came to his betroth's home "in a clean shirt" in the company of his father or older brother. they were met by the girl's father who sat them down in the hearth, on the house's best benches (the bride-to-be, however, stayed out of sight). The contractual documents, outlining the intent to wed and the specifics of the dowry were presented and signed. No priest was present at this event (although if both parties were illiterate, a clerk might be present). The sgovor had no religious meaning, but was merely a business transaction. After the signing, gifts were exchanged and the girl's father presented the house's icon for the guests to kiss. The party then moved into the back room -- an inner waiting room where the women, being usually segregated from the men, were gathered (except the future bride herself who was not allowed to be present) -- to meet the fiancee's mother and to congratulate her. She kissed the fiance and her ladies in turn followed her example. The ritual completed, the guests departed.(14)

Inspection [Smotriny]

A few days later, the boy's mother came to the bride's home for the "inspection" to ascertain the character and chastity of the girl. Upon passing her approval, the boy's mother gave the fiancee a ring. Later, she might also send the girl a cross, some fruit, and some headwear for the servants.(15)

The Church Variant of Courtship

There is another sequence of events suggested in historical documents. The Church did not approve of having betrothals take place outside of the Church and demanded that the sgovor and the exchanging of rings take place in a Church and be sanctified by a priest. As Levin explains, betrothals were often treated as granting official permission to fornicate. The Church felt, for its part, that if couples were going to have sex before marriage then it might as well make the betrothals as binding as the marriage itself: "The church held that a vow before God and witnesses should be upheld; a formal promise to marry was binding upon both parties."(16)

The Bride's Bath [Bania] and the Maiden's Party [Devichnik]

Many of the pre-crowning ceremonies centered around the bride. One of these ceremonies was the washing of the bride, which was used for casting a spell over her future husband, so that he would love her forever:

Shortly before the wedding, it was common to arrange a ritual bath [bania]. The preservation of the pre-Christian customs associated with 'charmed water' in tenth to fifteenth-century wedding rituals is explained by the desire of the bride to win the love and affection of her future spouse by means of magical rituals. After the bride's ritual ablution, the 'charmed water' was carefully saved and given to the husband to drink after the wedding.(17)

Although the Church was strongly opposed to this practice (due to its pagan roots), there are indications that it survived into the sixteenth century.

Another pre-wedding custom was the "maiden's party" -- a sort of medieval bachelorette party -- where the women gathered with the bride the night before the wedding. At this time it was traditional to remove the girl's headcovering [kokoshnik] and comb out her hair. Her single tress (the symbol of maidenhood in medieval Russia) was braided for the last time.(18)

Members of the Wedding Party and Costuming

At this point, we should note the various members of the wedding party. On the three days of the actual wedding ceremony, the bride and the groom were treated like royalty and addressed as such, being known respectively as the "young princess" and the "young prince." They were given suitable retainers for the roles. On the "prince's" side, there was a "captain" [tysiatskii], the groom's mother [svakha], a best man [druzhka], and a chamberlain [spal'nik]. On the "princess's" side, there was her mother [svakha], a "bridesmaid" (who could be a man) [also called a druzhka] and a chambermaid [postel'nichii].(19) Traditionally, there were also two priests, to match the duality of all the other members, who stood side-by-side facing their charges during the church service and officiated the events in the bride's or the groom's home respectively.(20)

Russian brides in the sixteenth century wore red and not white. The traditional women's outfit (in late period at least) was a red sarafan with gold trim and a golden maiden's crown. The bride was also veiled the whole day -- an act done as much for keeping her concealed from the groom as for its more explicit ancient purpose of protecting her from evil.(21) Even in their bed on the first night together, she continued to wear her veil and was not allowed to speak. It was best, noted Fletcher if the groom did not see her face until the second day and did not speak to her until the end of the third day. The bride who obeyed these rules won deep respect from her new husband.(22)

Aside from these directions about bridal costuming, little is known about what the others wore (except that the groom should wear a "clean shirt"). One has to assume that most people wore their standard (good) clothes for the occasion.

Setting Up the Bed

First thing in the morning on the first day of the wedding, the bride's parents sent the conjugal bed over to the groom's house with a number of servants, led by the bridesmaid (who carried an icon) in front. The Domostroi instructed that she was to be met at the door by the best man.(23) The bed was placed in its intended space and was blessed by the priest. An icon was placed in the room, as well as furniture (including one bedside table for the couple's clothes and another specifically for their crosses). The bride's servants (led by the chambermaid) cleaned the room, washing everything thoroughly. After they were done, the groom's chamberlain and his servants inspected the job and then went off to look after the pre-wedding feast preparations.(24)

Pre-Wedding "Feast"

The trip to the church occurred in the afternoon and was proceeded by a small feast, actually two feasts held separately -- one at the groom's house (for his guests) and one at the bride's (for hers). While everyone ate, the servants at the groom's house prepared the horses. As the feasting started to wind down, the best man asked the groom's father for permission for the party to depart and went to the groom's mother (or matchmaker) to announce that the "young prince" was ready to go to his bride.(25)

The best man, by himself, went to the bride's home. As mentioned above, a separate (but similar) feast was taking place at the bride's home, but whereas the groom had taken part in his feast and held a place of honor at the head table, the bride was not allowed to even be present at hers as she had to prepare for the day's events. As soon as the best man arrived at the house, he entered the feast hall. He bowed individually to each of the people present (and they in turn bowed to him and each other). After completing this task, the best man announced that the groom was ready and then returned home.(26)

Upon the return of the best man, the groom's mother set out to the bride's home where she went directly to the room where the bride was preparing. She blessed her and might even have helped her dress. After the bride had been dressed, she and her servants entered the feast hall, where both of her parents and the priest blessed her. The priest then departed to prepare the ceremony and the bridesmaid was sent to invite the groom and his family to the bride's home.(27)

The Groom Goes to the Bride's Home

The bridesmaid gave the invitation to the captain who reported to the groom's father, asking him to bless his son. The father put a cross around the son's neck and his mother gave her son his ring (as you may recall, she already gave the bride her ring during the inspection).(28) The groom's party could now set out for the bride's house. Not all of the guests were required to come along and some of them stayed at home to continue feasting. The party which did set out was constituted in the following order: candlebearers, the priest with a cross, the best man, other members of the procession (in order of age) and followed up at the end by the groom and his captain (who stayed on the groom's right-hand side).(29)

The party was met at the bride's home by the bridesmaid. The groom and his captain were obliged to kneel in all four directions upon entering the house, as a sign of respect. Until the bride was ready, the party remained in an antechamber.(30)

The "Hair Winding" [Okruchivanie]

Meanwhile, the bride (coming from one of the back rooms) entered a "middle" room between where she was and where the groom was. Although it is not stated explicitly, apparently the guests were allowed to have already situated themselves in this middle room. The bride entered with a round loaf of bread (called a karavai[31]) and cheese. Servants also carried in money. Altogether, these items were intended to symbolize wealth and prosperity.(32) The groom came in after she had been seated and sat next to her. On her other side sat a male relative of the bride, preferably a younger brother.(33)

The last ritual before the crowning -- the "hair winding" --took place at this time. The groom's mother asked the bride's parents for permission for the "combing." While the groom's hair was also combed, the ceremony was intended mostly to undo the bride's single tress and rebraid her hair into two braids (the symbol of marriage). During the braiding, the bridesmaid busied herself by slicing the karavai and the cheese. She offered it (in the name of the bride) to the groom and to each of the guests.(34) According to Fletcher, the consumption of a single loaf by everyone was intended to signify the joining of all into oneness.(35) When the braiding was finished, the couple was showered with money and hops by the groom's mother.(36)

Crowning [Venchanie]

The bridesmaid asked the bride's father to bless the couple again and then the groom took the bride by the hand and led her to the sleigh (or carriage) which had been covered with rich material -- giving us an early parallel to the modern habit of decorating the couple's car. The bride sat in the chief place and around her sat the best man and the bridesmaid. The groom, captain, and guests traveled separately to the church. The bride's parents stayed at home. The sleigh passengers, when they arrived at the church, did not walk on the naked ground, but on a long length of damask cloth running from the foot of the sleigh into the church. Interestingly enough, the Domostroi advises using two shorter bolts, which can be picked up and placed in front of one another as they are walked upon, thereby saving the cost of purchasing a large amount of fabric. Finally, when they reach the inside of the church and the altar, the couple stands on a much finer material (like gold silk).(37)

Details on the ceremony itself are rather scarce. Levin provides some more details:

There were blessings for the health of the couple and the community, hopes for the birth of children, and praise for God, Jesus Christ, and the Mother of God for care and sustenance. One of the featured readings from Genesis recalled the creation of Adam and Eve, and a second, from Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, explained the duties of husband and wife to each other. The Gospel reading, from John, recounted Jesus' miracle at Cana, the ecclesiastical justification of the institution of marriage.(38)

The groom stood at the right hand of the priest and the bride at the left. Each one received a single burning candle which they carried for the entire service.(39) They exchanged rings and were "crowned" with wreaths placed upon their heads.(40) In general, every statement in an Orthodox service was made at least three times (usually with a responsive from the chorus), leading to a very long service, during which everyone stood. According to the Russian Orthodox, it is impious to sit in church.

Fletcher says that, at the end of the church service, the bride fell to the feet of the groom and (as a sign of subservience) knocked her head against his shoe. He, in turn, threw his cloak or outer garment around her as a sign that he would protect her.(41) While Fletcher's account may not be completely reliable, it is in character with other marriage practices, as we shall see below.

The Feast [Pir] and Gifts [Podarki]

The fabric was again laid on the ground for the couple as they left the church and returned to the bride's home. This time, the bride's mother showered the couple with money and hops and the bride's father kissed the groom. Everyone entered the feast hall and the feasting began. Everyone took part in this feast, except the couple. The groom was allowed to "nibble" on bread and cheese and drink wine, but the bride did not even have that privilege. For the others, however, there was plenty to eat. The traditional first remove was roast swan, which the groom was supposed to carve, serving the bride's parents first and then the other guests. He continued to work as head server until at least the third remove, when he was spelled by the captain, the best man, and some friends.(42)

Either during the feast, or just prior to it, gifts were given. Of these, von Herberstein makes the curious observation:

The bridegroom takes careful note of the source of each present. After the wedding he looks over the presents to see what he intends to keep, sending it to market for valuation. He returns all the others to where they came from with a word of thanks. But what he has kept he pays for within the year according to the valuation, or cancels the obligation with other gifts.(43)

While such behavior may be documentably period, it would probably be considered rude at SCA weddings!

The Whip [Derzhava]

The most notorious gift given was the whip which the father of the bride gave to the groom. According to tradition, the father struck his daughter with it and said, "By these blows you, daughter, know the power of your father. Now this power goes into other hands. Instead of me, your husband will teach you with this lash."(44) By some accounts, the groom was also supposed to strike her as a sign of his dominance. If he was feeling more benevolent, however, he might place it in his tunic sash instead "to express the hope that he will never encounter a use for it."(45)

At the end of the feast, the best man arose, thanked the bride's parents, and invited them (and the guests) to the groom's house for a feast the following night. The groom -- to show his respect -- bowed to the bride's parents while the announcement was made. With this formality completed, the feast ended and the couple was bedded.(46)

The Bedding

The major members of the wedding then left the bride's house. The groom rode a horse, while the bride rode in the carriage. The others came by unspecified means. The best man and the bridesmaid, along with both sets of parents and the matchmakers (if applicable) came in and arranged the bedroom.(47) The couple changed into their night clothes (It is unclear if they did this changing in each other's presence or with their own helpers alone), climbed into bed, and were fed (thereby finally getting the opportunity to eat!). The captain fed his "prince" and the groom's mother fed the "princess." The couple were not allowed to feed themselves. After the couple had finished eating, the bride's parents blessed the groom's parents and everyone departed for home. All of the fires were put out except for the bridal candle, which was required to burn all night.(48)

Second and Third Days

As mentioned before, the medieval Russian wedding ceremony was three days in length. On the second day, the couple was bathed (separately) and placed back in bed, where they received audiences and gifts.(49) As the best man had promised, the second evening's feast took place at the groom's home and it was the bride's family's turn to make a big entrance.(50) Once again, the groom served the guests. On the third day, the washing and audience receiving was repeated. However, people seemed to have grown a bit weary of all the reveling and the third feast (which took place at the bride's house) consisted of simpler fare. While details are not available, Rabinovich suggests that it might well have consisted of only a repast of fruit and cheese.(51) With the completion of the third feast, the couple was (finally!) married.

Adapting the Ceremony

Obviously, to make the ceremony work in the SCA it must be reduced as much as possible to one day. The following are some ideas for molding the events of the wedding to a typical (weekend-long) SCA event, which could be in turn built around the wedding.

As it is the general tradition in the SCA to announce wedding plans long in advance, the stages of the betrothal would best be handled prior to the actual wedding event. Perhaps various haggling scenes from the courtship and the dowry negotiations could be enacted at feasts or courts prior to the event, partly for their entertainment value and partly to advertise the event itself.

Some changes would have to be made, of course. It is unclear how far one could take the prohibition of the couple from seeing each other at the courtship stage. Perhaps, such activities could occur at events where the couple (or at least the bride) were not present. It also seems unnecessary (if not distasteful) to seriously reenact the "inspection," although once again it could be played up in a court setting. Few characters would be needed beyond the immediate "family" of the couple at this point.

A rather large cast of characters, however, is needed to make the ceremony work on the actual day of the event, providing ample opportunity to involve many different people. Someone needs to play the role of the bride's and the groom's parents. The groom needs a captain, a best man, and a chamberlain, and the bride must have a bridesmaid and a chambermaid. In period, the best man (and the bridesmaid) were in charge of the operation of the wedding to make sure that everyone did what they were supposed to do when they were supposed to do it. It would therefore make logical sense to make them the "Weddingcrats" of the event (or make the Autocrat[s] into the best man or bridesmaid).

Of course, one priest or two are also needed. I would warn against following Orthodox practice too literally, as reciting Orthodox liturgy without ordination is offensive to most Orthodox believers (and to many non-believers as well). It would be best in general if the "priests" filled merely a symbolic role and the reenactment focused on the more secular aspects of the ceremony.

A suggested schedule might be:

And in between one could find room for fighting, dancing, and other popular amusements.

To simulate the separate feasts for lunch for the guests of the bride and the guests of the groom, without the need to use two separate feast halls, a single hall could be divided in half, with one half representing each manor. In that way, various cast members could travel from one "hall" to the other. This first "feast" should be rather light, as there is no indication that the period one was anything fancy.

Following this "feast," it would seem logical to give people a chance to break, fight a quick tourney (is there such a thing?), and so on, rather than making the wedding a continuous ceremony as it would have been in the sixteenth century. Instead, reassembling people in the late afternoon for the hairwinding, the karavai, and the cheese, would make the most sense. Assuming that the site does not have numerous rooms, it would probably be best to hold the ceremony itself at the same place as the hair winding, although the carriage and the cloth walk rituals provide tempting possibilities for reenactment.

As for the ceremony itself, it does not seem worth while reenacting a complete Orthodox wedding as they are excruciatingly long and unwieldy to the non-Orthodox (particularly because of the long period of standing). However, it would probably be possible to include an exchange of rings, a crowning, and (perhaps) mutual drinking from a goblet (although not if it suggested communion). Reenacting much more than these rites and it would probably be necessary to take the ceremony off-site and/or to warn people of what was about the take place.(52)

Gift giving seems to be such a minor part of SCA weddings that it is not worth worrying about, beyond the idea that gifts could be formally presented during the feast (whether the couple would want to include the whip ritual is a matter of personal taste). It is probably not possible to serve roast swan as the first remove of the feast, but many other appropriate Russian dishes can be found for the occasion. Certainly, it would be colorful and amusing to have the groom be the head server for the first couple removes. Finally, the rising of the best man to thank the bride's parents could well serve as a signal that the feast was over, allowing time for dancing and clearing the hall.

As for the bedding, I leave the matter to future autocrats to work out. I have seen it done tastefully and I have seen it done distastefully. In general, it has always been amusing (our modern sensibilities are easily embarrassed by such frankly sexual rituals which were common in period). However, at the same time, one must consider the site. It is doubtful that a Methodist Church or a Boy Scout Camp would take well to the activity and the whole thing is better kept off the roster of official events at the very least.

On Sunday morning, a light repast of fruit and cheese could symbolize the third day's feast. It might also be nice to have the "prince" and "princess" receive visitors in their "court."


No one should have to follow these ceremonies exactly and it is rather unlikely that medieval couples did either. My account is not the only one and many other conflicting accounts exist. Some historical figures like Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevskii had more cosmopolitan rituals and did not get married like this at all.(53) The account here is only an example. I hope that it (and my attempt to make it possible to reenact) will inspire people to think about holding some variation on these wedding practices. In the bibliography which follows, I have attempted to provide a number of sources which will give you more background information on meanings and alternative practices.


(1) Domostroi (Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1990), p. 135.

(2) Eve Levin, Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700 (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), p. 94.

(3) Cited by Levin, p. 100.

(4) Dorothy Atkinson, "Society and the Sexes in the Russian Past," Women in Russia, Dorothy Atkinson, Alexander Dallin, and Gail Warshofsky Lapidus, eds. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1977), p. 17. As she goes on to note (on p. 18), this custom often led to abuses: "Such practices as secretly substituting a less favored daughter or son at the last minute, or concealing mental or physical defects, were common."

(5) Sigmund von Herberstein, Description of Moscow and Moscovy, translated by J. B. C. Grundy (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1557/1966), p. 39. Von Herberstein was a German diplomat who made two trips in the early sixteenth century (1517-18 and 1527-7) to Russia and recorded daily life there, including a wedding he witnessed.

(6) M. G. Rabinovich, "Svad'ba v russkom gorode v XVI v.," in Russkii narodnyi svadebnyi obriad: Issledovaniia i materialy, K. V. Christov and T. A. Bernshtam, eds. (Leningrad: Nauka, 1978), p. 12.

(7) Giles Fletcher, "Of the Russe Commonwealth," Rude & Barbarous Kingdom, Lloyd E. Barry and Ribert O. Crummey, eds. (Madison WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968), p. 229. Although the term, svakha, in later periods came to refer to an outsider who arranged wedding matches, the professional matchmaker did not appear until the eighteenth century, according to Rabinovich (p. 12).

(8) Rabinovich, p. 12.

(9) Atkinson, p. 6.

(10) Levin, p. 98.

(11) Rabinovich, p. 12.

(12) Orest Levitskii, "O semeinykh otnosheniiakh v iugozapadnoi rusi v XVI-XVII vekakh," Russkaia starina. Vol 29 (1880): 11: 554. This statement is confirmed by Shashkov, p. 708.

(13) Ibid, pp. 553-4.

(14) Rabinovich, p. 13.

(15) Ibid, p. 14. N. L. Pushkareva ("The Woman in the Ancient Russian Family [Tenth to Fifteenth Centuries]," Russian Traditional Culture, Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, ed. [Armonk NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1992], p. 112) argues that the smotriny did not occur until right before the bedding of the couple on the first night of the wedding. She also notes that the custom came from the Church and is not indigenous to the Russians, as folk tradition would never have tolerated such a humiliating ritual.

(16) Levin, pp. 89-90.

(17) Pushkareva, p. 110.

(18) Ibid.

(19) M. M. Gromyko ("Traditional Norms of Behavior and Forms of Interaction of Nineteenth-century Russian Peasants," in Russian Traditional Culture, p. 230) notes that the druzhka was usually male in both cases and in later times became more of a wedding consultant than a witness: "Not only did he guide the performance of all the elements of the wedding ritual over several days and himself play the leading role, but he also possessed in the eyes of the peasants of his community a kind of supernatural power, allowing him to work magic and protect the bride and the groom, and afterwards the newlyweds against possible attacks of evil forces (in particular, the workings of sorcerers)."

(20) Rabinovich, p. 20.

(21) W. Stscherbakiwskyj, "The Early Ukrainian Social Order as Reflected in Ukrainian Wedding Customs," Slavonic and East European Review 31: 77 (June 1953): 333.

(22) Fletcher, p. 231.

(23) Rabinovich, p. 15.

(24) Ibid, p. 16.

(25) Ibid.

(26) Ibid, p. 17.

(27) Ibid, p. 18.

(28) Folk traditional holds that the son must receive his mother's blessing, being very explicit about the dangers of not receiving it (see Joanna Hubbs, Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture [Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1988], p. 84).

(29) Rabinovich, p. 18.

(30) Ibid.

(31) I have been unable to find a recipe for the karavai. Stscherbakiwskyj, pp. 331-2, states that it is to be baked by young married women who must ritually cleanse themselves before baking it. It is very important that the loaf involve sevens (a number representing the seven known planets). Therefore, water is brought from seven wells, flour from seven sacks (which were ground in seven different mills and kept for seven years), seven kopas (one kopa = 60) of eggs from seven hens, salt from seven wains, butter from seven pots, and so on.

(32) Pushkareva, p. 111.

(33) Rabinovich, p. 19.

(34) Ibid, p. 20.

(35) Fletcher, p. 231.

(36) Rabinovich, p. 20. It remains unclear whether the groom was allowed to look at the face of the bride during this time. Most accounts agree that the groom could not see the face of the bride on the wedding say and she was therefore veiled. However, it does not seem possible to braid someone's hair while they are veiled so it must have been removed.

(37) Rabinovich, p. 21.

(38) Levin, p. 94.

(39) It is crucially important that the flames are kept burning as they symbolize the future soul of the family, according to N. I. Ostroumov, Svadebnye obychai v drevnei rusi (Tula: Tipografiia I. D. Fortunatova, 1905), p. 57.

(40) Pushkareva, p. 111.

(41) Fletcher, p. 230.

(42) Rabinovich, p. 21.

(43) Von Herberstein, pp. 39-40.

(44) S. S. Shashkov, "Istoriia russkoi zhenshchiny," Sobranie sochenii S. S. Shashkova (Saint Petersburg: Tipografiia I. N. Skorokhodova, 1898), p. 762.

(45) Ibid, p. 763. To many historians, this single act epitomized the theme of the marriage -- the dependence and subservience of the bride to the groom. However, the whip may have held other meanings in earlier periods. Pushkareva (p. 112), for instance, argues that the whip blows were intended in pagan times to stimulate fertility.

(46) Rabinovich, p. 22.

(47) Ibid.

(48) Ibid, p. 23.

(49) Ibid, p. 24.

(50) Ibid, p. 25.

(51) Ibid, p. 26.

(52) I am no expert on the Society's policy towards religion, but my experience with being a religious persona (who has conducted weddings in the SCA) suggests that it is better to err on the end of caution in matters connected with religious beliefs.

(53) Rabinovich, p. 30.


Bobroff, Anne, "Russian Working Women: Sexuality in the Bonding Patterns and the Politics of Daily Life." In Powers of Desire. Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983.
Great detail on wedding songs, an important aspect of weddings not discussed here, although much of it is post-period.

Hubbs, Joanna. Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1988.
Not entirely reputable discussion of matriarchical themes in Russian culture. Good source for pagan marriage rituals.

Levin, Eve. Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.
Very well documented discussion of marriage philosophy and laws. Gives great detail on rules of divorce and remarriage (good source on differences of common law and church weddings). Talks about age limits for marriage, for example, and the significance of the crowns.

Russian Traditional Culture. Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, ed. Armonk NY: ME Sharpe, 1992.
This collection of translated articles is particularly interested. The Balonev article has a good section on wedding charms and spells (see pages 73-74, especially). The Pushkareva article is a wonderful source on marriage rites and, in particular, the role of women in period.

Stscherbakiwskyj, W. "The Early Ukrainian Social Order as Reflected in Ukrainian Wedding Customs." Slavonic and East European Review. 31: 77 (June 1953): 325-351.

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