Form and Function of Ritual Dialogue in the Marriage Traditions of Celtic-Language Cultures

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The study examines the form and function of ritual dialogue in marriage traditions, paying particular attention to the betrothal ceremony or rèiteach in Gaelic Scotland, along with analogues in Brittany and Wales, while also exploring the relationship between the ritual dialogues and traditions such as flyting and bardic contest. What emerges is a picture of the multi-referential potential of this form of ritual speech and the symbolic significance which lies behind the surface meaning. The human drama of marriage is seen to be submerged within an all-encompassing symbolic event which adopts as its structure the spirit of conflict, dramatising the give and take of the relationship the community both desires and fears.


“This book has as its subject matter an intriguing feature of the ritual associated with courtship and marriage in Celtic lands, namely, the formal approach of the prospective groom’s party to the chosen girl’s family requesting her hand in marriage. ... What follows is a clearly written and sensibly structured scholarly in-depth study of a rite of passage which represents a well thought out and carefully documented analysis of evidence drawn from many cultures ranging over four continents. Its expert and sensitive handling of source material confers on this book the hallmark of a classic treatment of rèiteach ritual.” - Dr. Pádraig Ó Héalaí, School of Irish, National University of Ireland, Galway

“The book is clearly-structured and comprehensive, and represents both a genuinely enlightening synthesis of all available sources, and a thought-provoking analysis of the wider cultural and societal implications of the heightened language in which these heavily symbolic rituals were articulated.” - Dr. Malcolm H. Jones, Department of English Language and Linguistics, University of Sheffield

“This book will have enduring interest particularly for students of Celtic traditional cultures, and more broadly for anyone interested in the mysterious ways in which courtship and marriage traditions simultaneously engage both the most personal and the most public dimensions of our beings.” - Dr. Carl Lindahl, Martha Gano Houston Research Professor, Department of English, University of Houston

"Martin does an excellent job of linking these verbal marriage contests with other types of poetic contests in the various Celtic-speaking societies he examines. He also looks at these rituals within a cultural framework, seeing in them a working out of fears of the evil eye-, intra- and inter-community conflicts, etc. Though admittedly not a Celtic-language scholar, he does a good job of working primarily through translation." - Journal of Folklore Research

Table of Contents

Foreword by Dr. Pádraig Ó Héalaí
1 Step by Step - The Ritual Sequence
2 Brittany
3 Wales
4 Ireland
5 Scotland
6 Space, Boundaries and Ritual Entry
7 Rèiteach and the Evil Eye
8 Marriage Dialogues and Dialogic Verbal Art
9 Conclusions

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