Scandinavian wedding traditions can add a lot of beauty and fun to a wedding plus can be a nice way to honor the past of the couple. We have written a number of posts about these traditions and links are provided at the end of this blog. Today we are looking at wedding culture and traditions of the Vikings. (You can see great pictures like this one at Paul Edmonson’s post “I Photographed A Real Life Norwegian Viking Wedding.”)
No not these Vikings …
But the Vikings of the days of yore (I’ve always wanted to say that in a proper sentence). Like Hagar and Helga from the Sunday Funnies (or not).
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. 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.
The Process of Getting Married Was Laborious
Because marriage was the center of the family in Viking culture, Viking wedding traditions were intricate and complex. 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.
Picking a Date Had Many Concerns
- 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.
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:
Brides Went Through Rituals Involving Their “Maidenhood”
During these rituals, women were attended by their mother, married sisters, and other married female relatives and friends. This includes the stripping of symbols of her “maiden” status, such as her kransen. (A kransen, is a circlet worn in the hair by Scandinavian girls and is a symbol of virginity. The kransen would be stored for the bride’s future daughter.) During the wedding the kransen was replaced with a bridal crown.
The bride also cleansed herself in a bathhouse which symbolically washed away a bride’s maiden status away.
Grooms Went Through Rituals Involving A Sword Ceremony
The groom also participated in symbolic rituals specifically a symbolic sword ceremony. His attendants would be his father, married brothers and other married male friends.
The groom broke into a grave to retrieve the sword of an ancestor, which actually had been placed there by his attendants. In order to obtain the sword, the groom had to enter the grave, and emerge with the sword. Symbolically it was his death as a boy when he entered the grave and emerging as a man. A little more complicated than the now traditional beer can crushing on your head and burping the alphabet.
After getting the sword the groom had his sword, he also went to a bath house to symbolically wash away his bachelor status and purify himself for the wedding ceremony.
Brides Emphasis Their Hair Rather Than Gowns
Viking brides didn’t wear elaborate costumes or gowns. Rather, the focus was on her hair and crown. A woman’s hair was very important in Viking culture, and suggestive of her sexual allure. The longer, the better.
The bridal-crown that replaced her kransen was typically a family heirloom. These crowns were usually made of silver decorated with crystals and elaborate designs such as crosses and leaves, and draped with silk cords.
Grooms Carried Symbolic Weapons
Viking grooms didn’t have a particular costume or ornate garment he had to wear. However, he did bring his newly-acquired grave-robbing sword during the ceremony, and sometimes carried a symbol of Thor, such as a hammer or an axe. Such a weapon was symbolic of his mastery in the union, and was believed to ensure a fruitful marriage.
Weddings Was Not Always Good News For Animals
When the premarital rituals were done 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 Thórr, a goat. Freyja a sow. For Freyr, a boar or horse. Again, not a good day for the local livestock.
Viking Couples Exchanged Rings and Swords
A Viking groom presented his ancestral sword to his bride, which she kept for any future sons they might have – boys got swords, girls got virgin headbands. The bride then gave the groom a sword of her ancestors, symbolizing the transfer of a father’s protection of a bride to the husband (much like today’s giving away the bride idea). This exchange was a symbol of sacred union, sanctified by mystic rituals. The bride and groom then exchanged rings to further consecrate the vows, offering rings to one another on the hilt of their new swords. (Can you see today’s 3-year-old ring bearer running down the aisle with the rings on the end of a sword? What could happen?)
After the Ceremony and Before the Party There is a Race and a Stabbing
The bridal and groom parties moved from the ceremony to the feast in a ritual called bruð-hlaup, or bride-running. In Christian days, the two parties walked separately to the feast. In the Pagan days, the parties raced to the feast, and whoever lost the race served beer to the winners for the night.
Once in the feast hall, the groom buried his sword in the ceiling. (Dr. Freud, calling Dr. Freud.) The depth to which the sword sunk symbolized the enduring nature of the union. (Dr. Phil, calling Dr. Phil.)
At the feast, an imitation of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, was placed in the bride’s lap as she asked for Thor’s blessing. The placement of a symbol of Thor’s manhood in between a new bride’s womb and genitals was highly symbolic (insert your joke here).
Getting Drunk on Bridal-Ale Was Mandatory
It was a legal requirement for the couple to drink bridal-ale together at their post-wedding feast. Their union was only binding once they did so. The ale was usually honey-based mead, and the wedding could only go forward if the couple had enough of it to last a month; it had to be drunk throughout their honeymoon.
At Least Six Witnesses Walked the Couple to Bed So They Could Well, You Know
The final wedding night ritual was escorting the newlyweds to the bridal couch. At least six witnesses led the couple by torchlight to their bed, where they consummated their marriage by hopping on the good foot and doing the bad thing. This ritual existed so there would be no doubt as to the consecration and validity of the marriage, and enough witnesses to settle any legal disputes that might arise.
This information was gathered from two great sites that go into more detail. If you’d like to know more I recommend you visit these pages:
For other Scandinavian wedding traditions visit: