Viking Wedding Rituals
Marriage was more than a simple factor in the Viking culture, it was primarily, a contractual agreement between the families of the groom and the bride. Beyond the economic aspect, marriage was a way of controlling reproduction, sexual activity, and inheritance lines. Beyond economic and territorial reasons, marriage also covered religious and mythical dimensions of people’s existence. Many other aspects of Viking culture life, such as organization at the society level, divorce, gender roles, hierarchy and day to day family life allow us to deeply understand the sociocultural context the Viking marriages were organized in.
Was there love in viking marriage?
Although the Vikings have had a negative reputation for women condition, it is surprising to find out that they actually put a lot of effort to ensure fair treatment of women, female sexuality respect, and gender equality. Even if marriages were arranged by groom and bride’s families, people still had the possibility to find true love both inside the institution of marriage and outside of it.
Norse poems, sagas, and myths are filled with many love stories, as mythology indicates that only those who loved deeply could gain the right to rebirth. At higher classes however, marriage was at first an economic agreement, meant to create alliances and ties, with very practical reasons. Mostly, love had little to do with marriage, and marriages were in the vast majority of cases, arranged, but as written proofs show us, it was a common practice for daughters to be consulted by their fathers. If a woman had been forced into a marriage, this marriage could end with either a divorce or husband’s death.
Since men were often far away from their homes, they needed good relationships with their wives, since they remained at home, in charge with everything, starting with children and ending with family’s farm. The wedding represented a vital transition not only for the bride and the groom but also for their families, a solemn pact in which these two families involved promised each other to help and to work together, following their best common interests. A wedding was, in the Viking culture and society, a long and complex process, and it comprised many steps and rituals, having at the core the wedding feast. All of the wedding steps should have been followed religiously, otherwise, if the gods’ blessing had not been obtained, the Vikings said that the marriage would not be a harmonious and viable one.
Rituals the Vikings followed during their weddings
On some Viking gold pieces of jewelry, couples have been depicted holding both a rod (a branch) and a ring. Maybe a rod or a branch (carved with runes inscriptions, symbolizing fertility) was an important element of the wedding ritual, meant to bring the couple long life together and fertility.
We can find the Viking wedding rituals in Norway’s traditional poems and in the Nordic folklore: in old poems and stories that talk about weddings, there are included ancient wedding wordings, such as the groom weds the wife, and makes her “the lady of the house”, to live together “under one blanket and on one sheet”. A very beautiful metaphor about family life indeed!
When a man married a woman, he gave her the keys to the house, acknowledging the fact that she is the one in charge at home. At the same time, the woman gave her groom the family sword, showing that she recognized that he was in charge away from their home.
The wedding agreements, our nowadays prenuptial contract, were settled by the two families involved, and in most of the cases did not mention mandatory monogamy. It is well known that if women were not sexually they could easily divorce or have concubines, other men than their husbands. Men also could have concubines, even living in the same house with their families, but the difference between women’s and men’s concubines was related to inheritance rights: The husband’s children along with other women had equal inheritance rights as the legitimate children, while the wife’s children with other men were considered as the husband’s, not as belonging to their natural father.
Many rings have been found in the excavated graves, and along with brooches, they seem to be the most encountered Viking jewelry pieces. Many discovered rings were wide rings, covered with various zoomorphic, vegetal or geometric figures and religious symbols. Seal rings are one specific type of Viking rings, and many of them featured the Helm of Terror, Yggdrasil (the Tree of Life) or The Wheel of the Sun. Some of the rings were opened, allowing them to fit different finger sizes, showing that sometimes they were offered as gifts or used ass currency or even left as an inheritance for the next generations.
The actual wedding ceremony, preparations, and honeymoon
“Honeymoon” is a term that originates from Viking weddings: they drank a lot of mead (brewed from honey), there was supposed to be enough mead at a wedding, to last for a month.
It was not that easy to set a wedding’s date in the Viking’s society (no, you wouldn’t just send an e-mail with “Save the date!” as subject). Usually, the weddings were held on Friday, the Frigga day (goddess of marriage), and they lasted for a week. Many family members and couple’s friends traveled to the wedding place, but during the winter this was impossible due to heavy snow, so they avoided organizing weddings during the winter.
The Vikings also had to consider accommodation, drinks, and foods for the guests (for one week) and this was not an easy task. Specialists estimate that those wedding ceremonies took place between a year and three years after all the negotiations had been settled.
The brides, before the wedding, together with other women in the family, stored their kransen, a gilt circlet that Nordic girls wore and symbolized their virginity. It was put away until the bride’s daughter will grow up and would receive it. Also, the bride would wash in a very hot water, meaning that she washed away her maiden status.
The groom also left behind his bachelor life and his childhood and became a man, a family’s head, within a ceremony held with other men in the family. Maybe our modern bachelor and bachelorette parties are rooted here, the pre-wedding Viking rituals…
There were many beautiful rituals in the Viking weddings, but also strange ones, that could not be yet understood. The best part is that those passionate about the Viking society organize their own weddings as Viking-themed wedding and they follow the Viking rituals in detail, even using Viking inspired wedding jewelry and drinking mead.