Saturday, 20 September 2014

Holding The Rings

It's the wedding day today. My friend Brian is marrying the love of his life, Tanya. They are the most terrific couple and I see a great life ahead for them. My role in all of this today is to be the best man. When Brian asked me to be the best man last winter, I shook my head and wondered at why he would do something this foolish. I had just gone through a rapid decline over the last year and could not imagine that I would be doing as well as I am today. He, however, could imagine it, and gave me one of the most amazing gifts one man can give to another, the chance to stand beside him in on of the most important days of his life.

I've wondered over the years about the term "best man". Isn't the best man the one who gets the girl? Am I not the "second best man"? Of course these kinds of thoughts drive me to research; it's just the way my mind works. I have to know. So I opened up Google and away I went.

The term "best man" arises from our ancient days, back even before the birth of Christ and the theft of power over marriage by the Catholic Church. It would seem in those days, in the world of small, isolated villages, rather like rural Saskatchewan, there were few decent brides to be had within local populations, the best and prettiest of girls often being taken up by the local lords with others shipped off by fathers trading pretty daughters for political or economic gain. So often a young man would have to seek a bride abroad.

Of course the same problem occurred in other villages, where eligible brides were a valuable good in trade, women at that time being the possessions of the man of the house. If a young man had nothing valuable to offer in return, he had little hope of a decent date. So, in this circumstance, the young man would gather together a group of his best buddies, the strong and healthy swordsmen in his village, and they would go on a bride raid.

In a situation where you are stealing a bride, you don't want some weak, lillied skimp by your side. You want the best man you can find, the man who will beat back the defending family, sword in hand, ready to fight for you, ready to best the foe. Hence you wanted your "best man".

Once you got your unwilling bride back to the village, you wanted someone to keep your prize at the alter, so you got your Mother or Sister to stand beside her while marriage vows were invoked and expressed. By your side, you wanted a man who could protect you in case your young bride's family should show up unannounced to reclaim the property in question, your soon-to-be wife. Weapons were kept discreetly out of sight, in most cases beneath the alter or behind a convenient screen, except for the best man who was generally encourage to wear his sword at the ready.

Then there was the whole ring thing. You didn't want to hand that over to just anybody. In many cases your wedding ring was the only piece of gold you could afford. You really wanted someone you could trust to handle that while you stickhandled the rest of the whole wedding. You needed someone beside you that you trusted, the best man you could find in the village.

So today I get to be the best man. The world has changed a lot in the last couple of thousand years. Yet these terms, and a great many other old traditions, stay with us in the marriage ceremony. I suppose it is a good thing that my role is largely ceremonial, as I can neither wield a sword nor protect the groom. I can, however, hold the rings.

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