Viking wedding traditions were complex. Marriage was the heart of family structure in Viking culture, hence the intricate nature of Viking wedding rituals. Planning a wedding was so time consuming it begs the question, how do Vikings get married? Like, who had that much time on their hands? Each tradition and ritual was deemed necessary to earn the blessings of the gods, an important step on the path to becoming a parent, and continuing the Viking bloodline.
Marriage offered stability, serving as a way to control sexual activity and reproduction in the community. A culture with a negative historical reputation for its treatment of women actually worked quite hard to ensure relative gender equality and fair treatment of and respect for women and female sexuality. This list explores many Viking marriage rituals, ranging from weird to romantic.
For Vikings, marriage wasn't just a union of the couple, but of families. Because of this, the wedding was a long process. Unions had long-lasting legal implications in Norse culture, affecting everything from familiar property holdings to inheritance. Therefore, numerous negotiations were carried out before the terms of a marriage were formally agreed upon.
At the start of marriage negotiations, the groom’s family, along with legal delegates got together to determine the bride’s dowry, the groom’s financial assets, set the date of the wedding, and negotiate the wedding gift from the groom’s parents.
They groom's family, counsel, and any important local figures to whom they had connections brought proposals to the bride's family, promising to support and assist them, while agreeing upon mutually beneficial terms for the marriage.
Setting the date for a Viking wedding was its own little process. Traditionally, weddings were held on Friday, which in Norse religion is a scared day for Frigga, the goddess of marriage. Weddings typically lasted a week, and family and friends traveled to the site of the wedding. Winter weddings were impossible because snow rendered travel impractical.
Other considerations included appropriate accommodations, acquiring enough food and drink for all guests for the duration of the ceremony, and brewing a special ale drunk by the bride and groom as part of the ceremony.
All these considerations sometimes put a very long time table on a wedding. While most ceremonies took place within a year from when all negotiations were settled, in her book Women in Old Norse Society, Jenny Jochens writes of three-year waiting periods for Vikings in Iceland, whose frequent trips to Norway made it difficult to pin down an ideal date for everyone involved.
In the lead up to the wedding, Norse brides and grooms were separated so they could strip away their former selves before entering their new lives together. For the bride, this meant being stripped of old clothing and any symbols of her unwed status, such as her kransen, a gilt circlet worn by Scandinavian girls.
The kransen, symbolic of virginity, among other things, would be stored for the bride’s future daughter. During the wedding ceremony, the kransen was replaced with a bridal crown.
During her sequestration, the bride cleansed herself in a bathhouse. Hot stones were placed in the tub to produce steam, and women often switched themselves with birch twigs to induce perspiration, which symbolically washed away a bride’s maiden status away. Once the bath was finished, the bride plunged into cold water, to close the pores and end the cleansing process.
Throughout these preparations, women were attended by their mother, married sisters, and other married female relatives and friends.
Like Viking brides, grooms underwent symbolic rituals before entering their new lives as married men. His attendants would be his father, married brothers and other married male friends. In order to rid themselves of bachelor hood and destroy all vestiges of the unmarried self, Viking men participated in a symbolic sword ceremony.
The ceremony entailed a groom-to-be breaking into a grave in order to retrieve the sword of an ancestor, which was placed there by his attendants. In order to obtain the sword, the groom had to enter the grave, and emerge with the sword. Through this action, he entered death as a boy and emerged into a life a man, reborn, but the same.
Once the groom had his sword, he, like his bride, went to a bath house to symbolically wash away his bachelor status and purify himself for the wedding ceremony. During his cleansing, he’d gain insight and instruction on husbandly and fatherly duties from his attendants.