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Carl Büchsel, Protestant Pastor, Describes Rural Courtship and Marriage (1865)

In this passage from his multi-volume memoirs, Reminiscences of a Rural Clergyman (1865-), the popular Protestant pastor and theologian Carl Büchsel (1803-1889) describes courtship, wedding customs, and the persistence of popular superstition in rural areas. The author clearly opposes marriages between Christians and Jews and also cautions against – though does not condemn – marriage across social boundaries. Even greater prudence, he feels, is required if a practicing Christian and a secularized partner are to wed and begin a new household.

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No other occasion offers more free play for superstition than a wedding. Weddings are not supposed to take place on Fridays because on this day no happy matrimonial union can come about. If, on the eve of the wedding, an owl can be heard, then one of the betrothed will die soon; and if a bat appears, then things look bad with respect to the groom’s fidelity. If it rains on the wedding day, not to mention on the way to the church, this points to many tears. If the rooster crows early in the morning, it is taken to mean blessing and fortune, but if the ring falls on the ground during the wedding ceremony, people view it as an alarming sign. One should not assume that superstition is only to be found among peasants; it is also found in otherwise enlightened and highly sophisticated educated circles. It is almost incomprehensible how people can believe with such confidence in this kind of foolery and nonsense, providing numerous bits of evidence from their own experience with the most serious mien. How deeply must the need for belief be anchored in the soul, if even those who do not believe in God’s word and His promise use such things to set themselves into state of fear and terror or to deceive themselves.

It is rather rare that a firmly committed engagement is reversed. However, the engagement often takes a long time until it comes about, the reason usually being that the fathers cannot agree on how to provide for their children’s future. When betrothed, the respectable girl lives in a state of seclusion and avoids conversation with other young men, and when she is invited to a wedding or christening together with the groom, she sits beside him and dances only with him – just as the married man dances only with his wife. Of course, the man has the exclusive prerogative to woo the woman; however, he seeks to ascertain whether the girl is interested. If she accepts little gifts from him at the fair, or a rake decorated with elaborate carvings at harvest time, or a colorful distaff, often skillfully and diligently executed, in autumn; and if the present is reciprocated with a handsome ribbon on the scythe or a bouquet on the hat when harvest time begins, he knows that his intentions meet with approval. To be turned down flatly gives plenty of cause for mockery and gossip. Usually a girl regards a man’s courtship as a sign of God’s will and suppresses any other inclination she might have. It’s as though she is not supposed to think of marriage at all until the man who pursues her shows up. One hardship is when she must decide immediately for or against the suitor,

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