Viking marriages were arranged by families for contractual and political reasons. The marriage was between two consenting people who were barely adults.
When you think of Vikings, what comes to mind? Violent raiders and invaders, covered in tattoos, reversed mullets, and carrying brandished weapons. Hollywood’s depiction of Vikings is responsible for this perception of ruthlessness and savagery.
TV series have also thrust Viking rituals into the global spotlight. This has piqued the interest of couples. Many have adopted the Norse-themed weddings. But are the Viking wedding ceremonies depicted in movies accurate? You would be surprised to learn that Norse communities were structured and orderly, especially with marriage unions.
Viking weddings were an integral part of the community as they were contractual. Marriages were typically arranged for political reasons and wedding dates were set. Both young men and women engaged in pre-wedding preparations which involved blood sacrifices and a sword ceremony for men. Women removed their Kransen–a bracelet worn to symbolize virginity–so that they could pass it on to their daughters. During the wedding ceremony, they exchanged rings and swords.
Surprisingly, Viking couples shared all domestic duties, and the wives could divorce their husbands–talk about feminism. The couple was then expected to reproduce to sustain their civilization. If you are interested in a Norse-themed wedding, keep reading to find out more about Viking marriages.
So let’s get started.
How did Vikings propose marriage?
If you are thinking of the typical get down on one knee, diamond-encrusted ring in hand, and pop the question– will you marry me? You’ll be surprised. Most Norse weddings were arranged. Parents from the wealthy class arranged the wedding of a young couple to ally with the families. The marriage was more of a contract than it was a union.
The marriage had two distinct phases: the betrothal which was more of a ceremony, and the actual wedding which signified a commitment. Love was not an integral part of Viking marriages. The main purpose of the marriage was for economic and political gain, or to end a longstanding feud between the families.
OK, I know what you’re thinking:
Since it was an arranged marriage, the women were forced into it. False! You’d be surprised to learn that even though Norse communities were male-dominated, they were feminists. The women were not forced into marriages against their will. They had their rights and were consulted before their betrothal. Forced marriages would mostly end with divorce or the death of the husband.
The marriage betrothal was more of a business for the families involved as it formed a legally binding contract. Yes, they signed formal agreements and exchanged money as this meant serious business.
Upon agreeing that the wedding will occur between two consenting young adults, both families would invest financially in the union. The groom’s family would pay a bride’s fee to the bride’s family. The bride’s family would also pay dowry to the groom’s family during the wedding ceremony. The bride also received a morning gift from the groom the morning after the wedding.
Even though Viking marriages were more of an alliance between two families, they formalized their union publicly with a commitment ceremony, a wedding.
How did the Vikings prepare for weddings?
If you thought today’s wedding preparations were more complicated, then you probably haven’t heard what wedding preparations looked like back in the Viking Age. Everything you consider complex when it comes to wedding planning nowadays is nothing compared to what Viking wedding preparation was. Does it seem to you that Vikings had well-regulated rules when it came to marriages despite being considered barbarians? Vikings strictly upheld their culture and traditions.
Prepare yourself for a shock!
Vikings took years to plan their wedding ceremony. Like with any wedding, Vikings had pre-wedding preparations for both the bride and groom. After the business part of the union was over and done with, the wedding preparations began. Critical wedding details such as the wedding date, and the accompanying elements such as the food, drinks, and guest accommodation were agreed upon.
1. Setting the wedding date
Today, wedding dates are set based on wedding venue availability. Viking weddings had other considerations e.g. weather, and
First and foremost, the weddings were held on an auspicious day. Friday was the perfect day to hold a Norse wedding as it was known as Frigg’s or Freya’s day, the goddess of fertility and marriage.
Due to the freezing Scandinavian winters, the wedding dates were set for autumn. This was the season for harvesting and gathering bounty and represented plenty of food to celebrate. Because of these considerations, Viking weddings were delayed for years.
2. Pre-wedding preparations for the groom
The couple would be separated to prepare them for their married life. The groom underwent a ceremony to transition from childhood to adulthood before the wedding day. The groom and his male friends had a sword ceremony. He would have to break into a grave and retrieve a family sword. This signified that the groom would die as a child and be reborn as a man.
Blood sacrifices were also common to thank the gods for allowing the couple to find each other. A goat was sacrificed to ask Thor to bless the union. The goat’s blood was harvested and kept in the temple to be used during the wedding.
3. Pre-wedding preparations for the bride
With the help of her female relatives, the bride would be washed to cleanse away her maidenhood. The bride has stripped of her old clothing and anything that symbolized her unwed status. The Karsen worn by the bride which symbolized virginity would also be removed.
The Karsen was stored to be passed on to the bride’s future daughter. The cleansing ritual ended with the bride bathing in cold water to signify that her new life could begin. Married women would advise the new bride about her future marriage.
What were Viking weddings like?
After the cleansing ritual where the bride was stripped of her maidenhood and the groom reborn as a man, the wedding was held the next day. The groom would give the sword he had retrieved from his ancestor’s grave to his soon-to-be wife as a wedding vow. The bride would keep the sword to be handed down to their firstborn son.
The bride also gave the groom her father’s sword. This sword was meant to symbolize the transfer of protection from her father to her husband. Both the bride and groom exchanged finger and arm rings as they said their wedding vows. They exchanged rings symbolizing that the marriage was sealed and they were now considered a married couple.
The groom would strike the sword given by the bride’s family in a support pillar in their house. Depending on how far the sword was embedded into the pillar, this symbolized the strength and longevity of their marriage.
The wedding wear was not much of a focus. They mostly focused on headwear. The bride wore a family heirloom made of silver and decorated with beads to replace the Kransen. The crown and bridal gown were inherited from her mother. The groom’s hair was also decorated, but the main focus was understandably on the swords he wore. The swords symbolized his transition from a boy to being a man.
Remember the sacrificed goat blood? Fir twigs were dipped into the blood and sprinkled on the couple with blessings from Thor. Live animals and a month’s worth of wedding ale brewed from honey were also given as gifts to the couple.
Viking Wedding Traditions
After exchanging vows, it was now time for a feast. The wedding celebrations would last for a week. After the wedding ceremony, the newlyweds and their relatives would participate in a bride race– a brud hlaup. This was a foot race from the wedding venue to the reception hall. The losing family was then tasked with serving wedding drinks to the winners.
Another exciting fact is that the couple would drink the wedding ale from the same cup– a loving cup to symbolize their union. The bride and groom drank the ale as they made a toast to Odin and Freya to bless their marriage with fertility.
This gave rise to their honeymoon phase. The final wedding ritual included the bride and groom being escorted to their matrimonial home by the guests. The guests would have to witness them getting into bed together. The newlywed room had to have at least 6 witnesses who would watch them engage in marital affairs. This would serve as proof that the couple consummated their marriage.
The couple was expected to reproduce as much as they could. More sons meant more hands to help out with farming and eventually become warriors to help in their raids. Once married, both the wife and husband were equal partners in domestic duties. The men worked in fields, tending to crops, hunting, and fishing. The women ran the households. They had complete control over necessities such as food and clothing. The men also went on to trade, raid, and explore leaving the wives to manage the homes alone.
Vikings engaged in many odd but exciting pagan rituals. Viking weddings were more of a business transaction and love was not involved. The wedding preparations were carefully planned with consideration. These considerations made the wedding last year. The actual wedding ceremony was filled with rituals such as the brud hlaup where they would race to the wedding reception and feast. Both men and women helped out at home.