This is a ritual usually perpetrated upon a soon to be married man before his wedding, but in some places (see above example from Kirkwall in Orkney) carried out by and on females! Workmates and friends organise and carry these out. More widely this involves the soon-to-be-married man being caught, stripped of much of his clothing (at least to the waist) and tied up. He is then 'blackened' (traditionally with tar, soot or sometimes treacle) then covered also with flour and/or (traditionally) feathers. He is then paraded through the streets with a great deal of noise and hilarity often ending up tied to a lamppost or railings and abandoned while his friends go off to enjoy the rest of their evening in the pub. The custom has died out in some places, but is still enthusiastically carried out in others. In Orkney, for example, a groom or bride-to-be might even end up in the sea by the end of the ordeal (See, for example, The origins might lie in another pre-wedding tradition of feet washing (does anyone still do this?) and the general racket involved (banging tins, shouting etc) may be linked to beliefs that this wards off evil spirits (fairies) and bad luck.


Kirkwall Market-Cross "Blackening" ©John P Shearer (Orkney)
Kirkwall Market-Cross "Blackening" ©John P Shearer (Orkney)

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