Highly Symbolic And Kind Of Outlandish Viking Wedding Traditions And Rituals
Marriage was the heart of family structure in Viking culture, hence the intricate nature of Viking wedding rituals. According to many of the myths and folklore to which historians attribute their knowledge of Viking weddings, 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. Contrary to their negative historical reputation for their treatment of women, Vikings actually worked quite hard to ensure relative gender equality and fair treatment of and respect for women.
Much about Viking practices and culture is still unknown, since the Vikings didn't record much of their own history beyond their poetic sagas, but this list explores what we know of Viking marriage rituals, ranging from the unorthodox to the romantic.
- Photo: Viktor Vasnetsov / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Vikings Married For Legal And Financial Reasons Rather Than Love
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 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 and the groom’s financial assets, set the date of the wedding, and negotiate the wedding gift from the groom’s parents.
The 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.
- Photo: John Charles Dollman / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Setting A Date Required Numerous Considerations And Could Delay Weddings For Years
Setting the date for a Viking wedding was its own process. Traditionally, weddings were held on Friday, which in Norse religion is a sacred day for Frigg, 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 timetable on a wedding. While most ceremonies took place within a year from when all negotiations were settled, three-year waiting periods were not uncommon for Vikings in Iceland, whose frequent trips to Norway made it difficult to pin down an ideal date for everyone involved.
- Photo: Vitaly Gavrilovitsj Tichov / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Viking Brides Stored Their Symbolic Virginity And Washed Away Their Maidenhood
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, 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, where there was a standard bathing practice. 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.
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.
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Viking Grooms Underwent A Symbolic Death And Rebirth In A Sword Ceremony
Like Viking brides, grooms may have 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 bachelorhood and destroy all vestiges of the unmarried self, Viking men participated in a symbolic sword ceremony.
According to many Norse sagas - and some historians believe archaeological data verifies it - a groom-to-be would break into a grave in order to retrieve the family sword of an ancestor. Through this action, he entered death as a boy and emerged into life a man reborn.
Once the groom had his sword, he, like his bride, went to a bathhouse 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.
- Photo: Andreas Bloch / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
There Was No Specific Dress For The Bride Or Groom, But They Carried Symbolic Objects
The final act of pre-wedding preparation for a Viking bride was dressing for the ceremony. Viking brides didn't wear elaborate costumes or gowns. Rather, the ornamental focus was on her hair and crown. A woman's hair was very important in Viking culture, and indicative of her sexual allure - the longer, the better.
As a replacement for the kransen, brides wore a bridal crown, which was typically a family heirloom. These crowns were usually made of silver adorned with crystals and elaborate designs like crosses and clover leaves, and draped with red and green garland silk cords. Some bridal crowns still used in the present day are beautifully woven from straw and wheat, then garlanded with flowers.
After completing the bathing ritual, the groom dressed for the wedding. Like the bride, a Viking groom had no particular costume or ornate garment he was required to wear. He did, however, bring his newly acquired sword to the ceremony, and may have also carried a symbol of Thor, such as a hammer or an ax. Such a weapon was symbolic of his mastery in the union, and was believed to ensure a fruitful marriage.
- Photo: Johan Ludwig Lund / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Wedding Ceremonies Sometimes Began With A Sacrifice
Once the premarital rituals were finished, the ceremony began. The exchange of dowry and mundr (bride price) before witnesses would happen immediately, followed by the religious ceremony, which began by summoning the attention of the gods and goddesses, a process that may have involved a sacrifice and incantation.
If a sacrifice was necessary, Vikings used animals associated with gods of fertility - for Thor, a goat; for Freyja, a sow; for Freyr, a boar or horse.
The animal’s blood was collected in a bowl and placed on an altar. A bundle of fir twigs was dipped in the blood, which was used to sprinkle the couple, conferring the blessings of the gods. In some cases, animals were dedicated as living gifts; such animal were considered sacred.