Till Death Do Us Wed

If the Mongol dead could find love and get married, then it’ll never be too late for you.

The Mongols and Tartars of Central Asia had a peculiar custom regarding their young dead. If a young person died single then their parents would match them up with another dead youth who had also died single. So firm was their belief in the persistence of the soul after life on earth that they would consider the dead to still be a part of their community.

They would count the new couple as truly married and their families would be in-laws just as if they had been married during their lives. They even went so far as to draw up a dowry, write down what it would have contained, and then burn the list along with the marriage contract so that notice of the wedding and the items on the dowry list would be conveyed by fire to the newlydeads… newlyweds in the afterlife.

But before they’d be wed, the dead had to consent to this union. And their consent was given like this. They would go to their cemetery and place two seats beside each other with two banners on top of them. A “Kwei-mei,” or “Matchmaker of Ghosts,” would read the wedding rites and the confirmation of each other’s vows would be deemed given if the two banners touched. A cynic may say that it was just wind blowing the banners causing them to touch, but how could one wind blow in two directions at the same time? Well, the seats were placed perpendicular to each other. So, a northwind and a westwind blowing throughout the course of a day could cause each banner in turn to flag in the direction of the other and touch.

If they did not touch, the families would petition a dead elder and a dead maiden—by the same method of burning a writing—to consult the dead youths to either convince them or inform them of the marriage in case they were being stubborn or not in the know of what was going on. Then, they would try again with the banners.

And, so, even in death the Tartars would go unmarried so that they may not have to spend the afterlife in perpetuity alone. What a beautiful idea.

Source: Polo, Marco, Henry Yule, and Henri Cordier. The Travels of Marco Polo: The Complete Yule-Cordier Edition : Including the Unabridged Third Edition (1903) of Henry Yule’s Annotated Translation, As Revised By Henri Cordier, Together With Cordier’s Later Volume of Notes and Addenda (1920). New York: Dover Publications, 1993.

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