Feeling romantic? Believe it or not, the Vikings were immensely romantic people. They even had a phrase for it: inn mátki munr, or, the mighty passion. While they're often painted as viciously masculine rapists (and yes, they very well could be), we know that love for a partner was a core tenant of Viking society.
Want to bring that sweet, sweet inn mátki munr into your life? Read on to learn all you need to know about how they loved, how they married, and yes-- how they made love.
Courtship Means Poetry
If you know anything about the Norse, you probably won't be surprised to learn that poetry was a big part of their courtship. After all, the Vikings greatly valued the power of words. And it's not just in poems, it's about how they speak of and to one another.
(Above: Njal and Bergthora not looking super blissful)
When married couples appear in the Eddas, they often say very poetic things about one another. For example, in Njal's Saga, old man Njal has seen his sons murdered in his own home during a feud. When Flosi, his enemy comes to his house to burn him, he offers Njal's wife, Bergthora amnesty. But Bergthora replies, "As a young woman, I was married to Njal. I vowed then that our fate would be the same." And stays within the burning house.
It's bleak, but you can't say it's not romantic.
Apart from poetry, a man could slap a woman to let her know she was desirable. Today we call that assault and it's not recommended by your favorite drinking horn company. A nicer version would be just giving them purple flowers. If a woman wanted a man to know that she fancied him, she would have to make him a shirt. Ever heard the song Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel?
Have her make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without no seam nor fine needle work
And then she'll be a true love of mine
These lines were written after the age of the Vikings, but the tradition was still used by their descendants in Europe. This line is also what some might call a sick burn.
Marriage Means Happiness
As for many cultures during the time, marriage was mainly a business transaction. It wasn't uncommon to record a marriage in a history tome, then add a line saying something like, "And then their love began to grow."
One example of this is Harald Fairhair and the beautiful Sami girl, Snøfrid. It is said that Harald Fairhard loved Snøfrid so much after their marriage that he gazed ever on her, and paid no mind to his kingdom. Whens she died, his love kept her intact, and he continued to gaze on her for three years, waiting for her to reawaken.
Basically, love was not a part of a consenting union, which made it a lot easier to get married. Whether life for the married couple was easy was entirely up to them.
And when we say, 'consenting union,' we mostly mean that the man agreed to the marriage terms with the woman's family. While the Norse were well-ahead with women's' rights in other areas, this was not one of them. So long as her father (or brother, uncle, cousin-- whoever was considered her guardian and happened to be male), she'd be married.
This isn't to say that the Vikings were completely anti-love. No, we know from their myths and folklore that happiness within marriage was very, very important. And happiness came from the woman-- the Norse greatly believed that happy wives meant happy lives. There are many stories of a woman rejecting a marriage and that marriage going to pieces.
One example is Skadi, the giantess. When she came to the halls of Odin to have reparations made to her for her father's death, she required one of these reparations to be wedded to a god. The gods, however, decided that she must pick her groom based on the sight of his legs and feet. She picked the cleanest and best-built legs, thinking that they must belong to that eternal hottie, Baldr.
(Above: Njord and Skadi having a restless night. Image via Wikipedia.)
But they belonged to the sea-god, Njord. This proved to be a very ill match, and it only lasted eighteen days. Skadi, a giantess from the mountains, couldn't stand the sounds of the sea. Njord, the sea god, couldn't stand the calls of the wolves in the mountains. They went their separate ways.
Sex Means Fulfillment
Sex was just as important as happiness and poetry. Bad sex was a completely understandable reason to get a divorce-- and not just for men. A woman could divorce her husband if he didn't know how to find the little man in the canoe, graphically speaking. And not only could she divorce him-- she could reclaim her dowry.
And what about our lesbian, gay, and bisexual friends? Well, as to be expected, the Vikings had a complicated relationship with homosexuality. Men were fine with penetrating anyone. You were still seen as masculine, even if you were penetrating another man. But it was actually illegal to be penetrated by another man. Kind of a double standard, don't you think?
(Above: Times are much friendlier for modern gay Vikings. Pink Iceland Tours offers gay-centric tours for gay and lesbian couples!)
As for women who loved women, we can be certain that they existed, just as they always have. However, we don't yet have any records of them. But we can aassume that Viking women were exchanging flowers and peronsal, engraved drinking horns for centuries.
Above all though, marriage to someone of the opposite sex had to come first, which meant that many queer Vikings were married (and presumably had sex with their spouse), but would have to sleep with a partner from the gender of their choosing outside of the marriage.
And speaking of, adultery was both a crime and expected. It could be the grounds of divorce for both men or women. A Viking man could even kill his wife (and her lover!) if he found them in bed together. But Viking men could only be punished if he was found to be sleeping with another man's wife. Again, double standards.
Which of these traditions make the most sense to you? How did you meet and court your own modern Viking partner? Share with us on social media!