Throwing the old shoe was not always confined to weddings, though the custom nowadays has come to be associated entirely with the going away of bridal couples. Authorities differ concerning the origin of the practice, as well as of the exact meaning attached to it, but there seems to be a general opinion that it has to do with some very ancient ceremony or rite in connection with the transfer of property--woman being regarded as such among the nations where the custom of such a ceremony is first found. There is also the possibility of its referring to the time when the bridegroom carried off the bride by force, though this seems less likely.
It was in the sense of confirming a sale or exchange that the Jews understood the removal and giving of a shoe or sandal. When the kinsman of Boaz consented to waive his claim upon the parcel of land which Naomi would sell, in favour of Boaz, he " drew off his shoe," for "this was a testimony in Israel."
In a different sense the removal of a shoe marks the winding up of negotiations among the laws and ordinances given in the book of Deuteronomy, where the widow who is refused marriage by her husband's surviving brother, is directed to "come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot," thus asserting her independence and heaping upon him the blame for failure to comply with the law.
When the Emperor Wladimir proposed marriage to the daughter of Reginald, she refused him with the words:
"I will not take off my shoe to the son of a slave."
In Anglo-Saxon marriages the bride's father delivered her shoe to the bridegroom, who touched her on the head with it in token of his authority.
The idea of luck is the principal thought associated with it always in these later times--especially luck in making journeys.
Ben Johnson wrote--
"Hurl after me a shoe,
I'll be merry whatever I'll do,"
and old Heywood says--
"And home again hitherward quick as a bee,
Now for good luck, cast an old shoe at me;"
while Tennyson ("Lyrical Monologue") tells us--
"For this thou shalt from all things seek,
Marrow of mirth and laughter,
And wheresoe'er thou move, good luck,
Shall throw her old shoe after."
Undoubtedly it is the remnant of something which came from the Egyptians or some other ancient nation with which the Jews came in contact, though investigation shows that it was never confined to any one race.
There are some interesting points in regard to the practice which have usually been overlooked in treating the subject, for example, the priests and worshippers at the shrines of of the Roman Cybele, the Grecian Ops, the Canaanitish Ashtaroth, and the Egyptian Isis, were compelled to remove their sandals.
The shoes and sandals of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Jews were ornamented with horns, crescents, and other representations of the moon, while at marriage ceremonies the custom of casting the shoe was, and is now, combined with the throwing of flowers and various kinds of grain. These symbols and offerings seem to indicate the propitiation of a god, probably the deity who presides over productiveness.