We've written before about Viking wedding traditions, but they have all been modernized rituals. What were Norse weddings actually like in the days before PETA and the Christian Church? Read on to find out.
Viking wedding traditions held a surprising amount of complexity. A man and a woman who joined their lives together in a ceremony were the very core of the Viking homestead. Reproduction was valuable-- the more kids you had, the more you could farm, the better you could fight, and the wealthier you were.
But in order to run a household successfully, a man needed a woman who was clever, resourceful, and proud. And a wife needed a husband who respected, trusted, and deferred to her. While the Vikings weren't known for their great treatment of women, a model Viking man needed to hold his wife in the highest regard. After all, she was in charge of his legacy.
A wedding wasn't just a man and a woman joining together. It was two families joining in an alliance. And because of this, Viking wedding traditions revolved around legal negotiations. Representatives from both families would meet to talk the bride price (called the mundr), dowry (called the heiman fylgia), support in war and peace, and inheritance. For a people who get painted as barbarians, the Norse had strict legal guidelines.
Weddings needed to be held on a Friday, as that was Frigga's day, and Frigga was the goddess of weddings, love, childbirth, and mothers. Mead, ale, and meat would need to be secured for all the guests invited, and gifts for the bride and groom from their families would need to be figured out. The bride was also expected to give her husband a gift called the morgedn-gifu on the morning after the wedding.
Finally, a gothi or priest who could perform the ceremony and knew the Viking wedding traditions would need to be secured.
Figuring all of this out could literally take years. So, don't feel bad if you need to push back your own date a year or two. You're just doing it Viking-style.
Wedding Preparations for the Bride
Frigg, Goddess of Marriage and Love
In the day before the wedding, Viking brides and grooms separated into gendered groups with their families and friends. The reason for this was not just to perform rituals sacred to their sexes, but so the older men and women could provide guidance and comfort.
A bride would be brought to a bathhouse or spring by the married female members of her family and her married friends. The unwed were not permitted to partake in these rituals. At the bathhouse, the signs of her maidenhood would be removed, such as her kransen (a traditional circlet that let the world know of her virginity) and her maiden clothes. These objects would be placed in a box that would be given to her future daughter.
We know that the Vikings treasured cleanliness, and it was so important to them, it became a ritual before weddings. The bride would symbolically wash away her maidenhood with the steaming water, and would try to make herself perspirate by switching herself with birch twigs. Once she felt as though her body was cleansed enough, she would jump into ice cold water to symbolically finish the cleansing.
The Groom's Preparations
One of our modern-day Viking grooms
The groom would also be taken away by the same-sex members of his family, but his instructions had a strange twist. He would be required to break into the grave of an ancestor and retrieve a sword. This symbolized him entering death as a boy and emerging into life as a man.
Following this, he was taken to a different bathhouse or spring to engage in much the same rituals as the bride.
After the bathing was done, the bride and groom would be dressed for their weddings. Strangely enough, clothing was not important, but the hair was. The bride's hair symbolized her sexuality, and therefore, the longer and more ornamental it was, the better off both she and the groom were.
She would be given a traditional bridal crown, which had been worn by her mother and other ancestors before her. The crown could be made of any number of materials that were available and important-- from straw to wood to metals and decorated with anything from flowers to crystals.
For the men, clothing was also not important, but weapons were. He would carry the blade he retrieved from the grave to show that he was now a man. His hair would also be expertly decorated and he might wear a symbol of Thor, such as Mjolnir.
Ceremony Rituals for a Traditional Viking Wedding
The gothi at a modern Viking wedding
Since weddings were more of an exchange of promises and property, the exchanging of these before witnesses came before any religious ceremony.
Religious ceremonies varied based on the region that the wedding was taking place, but a lot of them involved blood. The gothi would sacrifice an animal important to the god that he wishes to have look upon a wedding. For example, Freyja would receive the sacrifice of a sow.
While the meat of the animal was important for the feast, it was the blood that was required for the ceremony. It was taken from the wound and dribbled over the statues of the gods called to the wedding, then over the forehead of the gothi to symbolize the gods' relationship with mankind. Then, the gothi would dip twigs in the blood and fling it on the married couple as blessings. This ceremony was called the blot.
A modern-day Viking-inspired ring from Viking Front
And going back to that sword that was acquired from the tomb? The groom would give it to his new wife so that she might keep it for their future sons. In return, the bride would give him a sword of her own ancestors to symbolize their two families becoming one. These swords would bear metal rings on the bottom which the couple would then remove and wear.
The feasting which followed the ceremony was equally as important as the ceremonies. It's hard to know a lot about the feasting and what traditions happened therein because the Vikings were more concerns with keeping records of property exchanged, but we do know a few things.
For instance, we know about the brullaup, or the bruð-hlaup, also known as the bride-running. The two families would race from the place of the ceremony to the place of the feast. Whoever got there last had to serve beer to the other family for the rest of the night.
Thinking for foregoing drinking at your wedding? Unfortunately, the Vikings didn't have that option. The bride and groom were required to get drunk on mead, also called bridal ale.
A modern loving-cup, based on the Scottish quaich, from AleHorn
The two would drink from the same cup called the loving-cup, to further symbolize their union.
As with many medieval weddings, a traditional Viking wedding meant the bride and groom were required to be supervised after the wedding. The consecration of their union had to be witnessed by at least six people, in some form or another so there could be no questioning of the validity of the union.
With all that mead in their systems and the pressure to perform under scrutiny, it's a wonder any Viking weddings were legitimate!
Looking for the perfect wedding gift? Why not try a traditional Viking drinking horn? Click here to get started.