Updated: Aug 20, 2021
In ancient times, the shoe was often used as a symbol of authority. ‘Upon the land of Edom do I cast my shoe’ (Psalms 60:8) This biblical story refers to the symbolic acquisition or transfer of property — a cultural practice of Assyrians and Hebrews. The symbolic ritual of the shoe extended into Hebrew culture to express wealth and/or seal a deal. When a loved one dies, Judaic practice for the grieving family is to go shoeless during shiva as a sign of poverty because without their loved one they are poor. Also implicit in Judaic law is the Halizah shoe that is ceremonially removed by a childless widow from the foot of her unmarried brother-in-law to release him from the obligation of marrying her.
During the Middle Ages, in Western culture, shoes came to represent good luck; when renovations were done in homes a well-worn shoe was often placed in the rafters or walls to ward off evil spirits and witchcraft. As early as the 1540s there are references to shoes being thrown after newly married couples to wish them good luck in their new life together; Queen Victoria referred in her diaries to shoes being thrown, for good luck, into the doorway of Balmoral castle upon its completion in 1855.
Traditionally in Ghana, a king must never touch the earth or he loses his status, so he is always in sandals, even though most of his people are barefoot. Whereas in Islamic culture, shoes and sandals line the doorways of mosques because shoes are considered unclean and are removed in the presence of Allah to show respect and submission. In the Middle East, to use the shoe or sandal to hit someone is the worst insult that can be made, something President Bush experienced when he was pelted with shoes during a visit to Iraq in 2008.
In Japan, it is traditional to remove sandals when entering the home, while in Western cultures, more complicated shoe and boot closures didn't require removing footwear, other than snow boots covered with slush and salt. It is becoming more common these days to request guests to remove their shoes, despite the fact that it has not been customary in Western society. The request is not always warmly received by guests who could be embarrassed by smelly feet, holey hosiery, a short stature, or foot deformities, as it suggests the host cares more about the condition of their floors than the comfort and company of their guests.
The Halizah Shoe