We talked a little bit about Viking weddings in my article about proposals. Or you might have read about the mead ceremony that my partner and I wrote for some friends who were inspired by the one from American Gods. I am preparing for my own wedding, and you can type, ‘Viking Wedding’ into Pinterest and literally come up with thousands of results. The era of Game of Thrones, LARPing, and Dungeons and Dragons has ushered in tons of love for our Viking forefathers, and people are only too happy to extend that to their wedding ceremonies. But if you’re not having your wedding in a church (and even if you are!), you might still be looking for the rituals to make your wedding day legit. Here are a few– you might recognize some, but they have ancient roots!
Handfasting is popular in many European cultures even to this day. It’s mostly reputed to come from the ancient Celts, but the Vikings used it, too.
The couple-to-be finds or makes a long, symbolic scrap of cloth with which their hands are ceremonially bound by their wedding officiant. In my days helping my partner officiate ceremonies, I’ve seen couples use cord in their wedding colors, scarves they’ve knitted together, and even handkerchiefs that were owned by a deceased loved one.
The officiant asks the couple to join hands (representing that the couple is freely giving themselves to this marriage, not being forced, which was essential to the Vikings). The couple clasp their hands and the officiant binds them– make sure to practice this part at the rehearsal. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Once the hands are fastened, the officiant reads the vows the couple commit to one another. The hands are then untied and whatever was used for their joining is given a special place in their home.
This tradition is rumored to be the reason we call getting married, ‘tying the knot.’
Sword Ceremony and Bridal Bath
Betrothed Viking couples had ceremonies of their own they had to complete even before walking down the aisle. The bride was expected to, ‘wash away her maidenhood,’ in order to prepare herself for her husband-to-be. Luckily, this had nothing to do with the hymen (like so many ancient wedding rituals do). Instead, the bride went into a hot spring (or sauna crafted from hot stones) and made herself sweat out her old life. Her mother, married sisters, and married female friends were there to attend to her. Maybe that’s the origin of the spa day?
The grooms, on the other hand, did pretty much the same thing (with married male relatives and friends), but with an added step. Before their spa day, their male attendants would take their sword and place it within the grave of an ancestor. The bachelor would have to break into the grave and steal his sword back, symbolically killing the boy within and emerging as a man afterward.
As a modern Viking woman, I think we should all be permitted to rob our ancestors graves of swords.
I hinted at this in an earlier article, but now it’s officially time to explain bride running. And honestly, I’m stoked.
Also called the bruð-hlaup (pronounced brullaup, because fuck yeah), the bride run is best presented to your guests as a surprise. That way they can’t prepare in advance. To do it best, have your officiant announce it at the end of the ceremony. All are expected to participate, but only as able.
The bride run is a race between the groom and bride’s respective families to get to the reception. The loser serves drinks to the winner for the rest of the night. Now, of course, this was done because Viking ceremonies and receptions were typically held in close enough space that racing to them was pheasible. If your wedding day involves driving from ceremony site to reception, you might want to change the rules so that no one gets into a car accident or winds up with a speeding ticket. And it also make it difficult for your photographer to get the required pictures.
So, in the age of found families and motor vehicles, feel free to change the rules up as you want. Have the person who shows up to the reception venue first get free drink tickets (if you’re the kind of monster who isn’t having an open bar, and if you are, shame on you). Or make the families run a symbolic three-legged race once everyone’s safely at the reception. Go nuts.
Have you used any of these ceremonies in your own wedding? Have you come across any other traditional Norse or Celtic ceremonies? Let us know!