Weddings are a long and resource-consuming rite of passage that are an end-result of months of planning, negotiation and organization. A traditional Viking wedding was no different. In order to understand where the Vikings’ were coming from, we need to know why they considered marriage important.
Significance of a Viking Marriage
In Viking times, the union between two mature heterosexual individuals was great for the community as it tended to control promiscuity. It was also considered great for the marrying parties’ families who had orchestrated the union to either secure a political or social standing or as a peace settlement between two families in times of war.
At social gatherings in form of market fairs or large feasts, fathers set their girls up to perform household chores at their booth for their own comfort as well as present their daughters as potential wives. It was at these gatherings that most family heads held discussions about their intent and the betrothing contract drawn up.
Girls were merely notified of their potential suitor and details on the arrangements were more often than not a matter for her parents and elders to decide. If she had a more considerate father or male representative who were having trouble making up their mind, she would have a select few candidates to pick from. In other better or worse circumstances, if her family was keeping her from marriage, she could end it all by claiming the third suitor who came in search of her hand in marriage. Emphasis was placed on the girl’s virginity which would help in acquiring more wealth for her family as chastity was highly valued.
For marrying age, girls were ready to be married off as soon as they got their first period and this could be anytime around their 12th birthday. Boys had a little leeway going up to 15 or 16 before settling down with a family.
Once two families agree on the union, there had to be a few practices that were to be observed to officially seal this contract. The groom’s family sought out influential and powerful leaders of their community who would speak on the behalf of the groom to help him seal the deal. They also acted as witnesses who could confirm the betrothal which is sealed by a handclasp. Their power and support promised to the bride’s family helped to quicken the decision process.
Upon a positive decision, they then discussed bride price. In Viking’s traditional fashion, the bride price included three different payments. Two by the groom to the bride’s family and one from the bride to the groom.
Also known as the bride price was payment that was handed over to the bride’s father in recognition and appreciation of his role as a protector and a legal guardian of the young maiden. The value was set to match the girl’s bride price to the man but there were not limitations added to it. Mundr served also as a cushion for the woman during the difficult time of pregnancy. A man who was unable to pay this price commonly referred to as “poor-man’s-price” was seen as one who is unable to cater to his offspring and was considered unworthy or marriage. This price was payable at the day of the wedding or at the time of negotiation as a sign of goodwill.
The “morning gift” is the other payment the groom had to make to his bride. Significantly given to the bride as an appreciation for sexual availability to her husband or due to the fact that she was a maiden.
The morning gift represented that which the groom considered possessions worth giving to his new bride. It could be anything from keys to his house, items of clothing and furniture, animals, lands and slaves as well. These gifts were made to match the value of the dowry paid to the groom and were more importantly to secure the woman’s financial situation through pregnancy. From the moment the gift was handed over to her, she assumed lead role in all delegated areas as seen fit by her husband.
Also known as the dowry, this payment was more for the bride to use and for the husband to protect. This payment was a share of the bride’s father’s wealth that she was now eligible for as a married woman. It was to never be spent frivolously, could not be used to settle any debts the man had and definitely could not be considered as part of his possessions if found on the wrong side of the law. This payment was set up to support the woman and her children in the event that she became a widow. In case of a divorce, this amount had to be returned to the wife.
Before they could meet at the grove to say their vows, the bride and groom had to undergo preparation rituals that were symbolic to them losing their child-like status and transforming into a capable adult almost overnight.
Girls had attendants in the form of mother, married sisters and other married women close to them who helped them through the process of stripping down her maiden status. First, she would have to do away wilt all attire and accessories like the circlet that Viking maiden girls wore.
Then she would be let into a bath-house which is like the modern-day sauna and steam bath where she would “wash away” her maiden status. While the bride strips of her old self, her attendants are by her side, constantly giving her tips and advice on how to live with a man and passing wisdom that all wives should have. This then was followed by a cooling bath that closed off the pores of the skin to reveal a “transformed” human.
Men, on the other hand, had a ritual in which they had to go into a grave of their ancestors and retrieve a sword which he would hand over on the wedding day. He then also had to go to the bath-house to streak himself off his boy hood. Men had attendants too of the married status who gave him marriage advice and his hot bath ended in a cool one too.
According to the Viking culture, attire was not of great emphasis to either party. Girls were more concerned with their hair and it was let down and decorated with a bride crown. The men carried their sword and an option of an axe or hammer as a sign of his manhood and the virility of his generation.
Wedding days in the days of the Vikings had to be set on a Friday in honor of the sacred goddess of marriage, Frigga. As these were big events of social importance, relatives and friends from all over had to make their way there and stay for the whole duration of the wedding which lasted 7 days. Families had to have them around harvest time to be able to feed the staggering number of guests. They also had to be held in the good weather months because they most often happened in open fields with sacred groves.
If any payments of dowry or bride price were in balance they had to be settled before the wedding in the presence of witnesses. Then the bride would be walked down to the groom by a young man who also carried the sword that would be gifted to the groom.
When handed over to the groom the ceremony begins with a sacrifice to the gods of fertility. For Thor, a goat is offered, Freyja a sow and Freyr a horse. Blood from their slit throats will be used to bless the couple and the attendants by use of a twig that is dipped in the blood and sprayed in a T or hammer like sign.
Next the couple will exchange their swords. Men hand over the retrieved sword from the ancestors’ grave to the woman representing the continuity of that bloodline and also for safe-keeping. That she might hand it over to their son in the same condition. Women hand over the sword carried by their escort and it symbolizes the transfer of guardianship and protection from the father to his now, son-in-law.
Further underlining the sacredness of their relationship, the couple hand each other the rings by the tip of their sword. This indicates that both are well aware and ready for any danger that may arise if these vows are broken.
A rather interestingly strange ritual that the Vikings had was that after all the formalities were observed and the couple was officially married, they would then have a race challenge to the location of the wedding feast with the agreement that the losing party would serve the winners ale all night long. On reaching the door to the venue of the feast, the groom had to block the bride’s way in and carry her over the door for good luck. Then he had to stick his sword into the ceiling and the depth to which it sunk in was considered significant to the strength and prosperity of that marriage.
Vikings made sure that the bride and groom had tons of ale to drink throughout the wedding ceremony and well through the month over their honey moon. It was customary and expected of the bride to indulge in as much ale as possible.
All through the night, the couple had been assigned at least 6 people who would keep their company and escort them by light to their chambers. Not just for the couples’ safety but for the six to bear witness that coital activities were conducted between the two. All this just to avert any false claims that might crop up in future.
The next morning, the wife was dressed up by female attendants and her hair tied and adorned with items descriptive of a married woman. Then the wife would leave to go receive her morning gift. This is on the second day of the week-long traditional Viking wedding.
- Life During the Viking Era
- what foods did vikings eat
- what is a viking berserker
- what is a traditional viking wedding
- What is the viking weapons
- why were viking ships so successful and important
- Which countries were the Vikings related to
- What is the relationship between Vikings and Celts?
- What navigation tools did the Vikings use in operating activities?
- The differences between Vikings and the Wokou