A Viking wedding was an elaborate and meticulously planned event, from the opening of financial negotiations to the ending bestowment of the morning-gift from the groom to his bride on the day following the wedding ceremony.
Negotiations began with the potential groom and a delegation of influential men arriving at the house of his chosen bride. During negotiations, three fees were agreed upon: the mundr or bride-price, paid to the bride’s father for the transfer of her protection to the groom; the heiman fylgia or dowry, paid to the groom as the girl’s portion of her inheritance; and the morgedn-gifu or morning-gift, paid to the bride by the groom on the day following the marriage.
Weddings were often alliances between families, seldom involving love. Love was expected to come later, with a couple’s growing familiarity with one another.
Setting the Date for a Viking Wedding
As Frigg is the goddess of marriage, Norse tradition made Friday (Frigg’s-Day) the most auspicious day to hold the viking wedding ceremony. Other considerations were the weather, attaining the supplies needed to feed and lodge the many guests, and the time required for the preparation of the essential mead.
Mead was an essential part of the weeding ceremony, and it was legally required for the bride and groom to drink mead at the wedding and throughout the following month, thus creating the tradition of “honey-moon”.
The wedding festivities usually lasted for a week, so the date of the wedding was careful chosen to be sometime after the harvest and before the snows began, as travel in winter was near impossible.
Viking Wedding Preparations
Before the festivities, the bride would spend time with her mother and other married women. She would be bathed and dressed in new clothing, in a precursor of the modern “Spa” day, while receiving instruction on his her soon-to-come motherly duties.
Unmarried girls typically wore a kransen, or circlet over their unbound hair. At this time, her kransen would be removed to be held in trust for her future daughter. Following Norse wedding tradition, the kransen would be replaced with a marriage crown to be worn only during the marriage and the festivities. This crown was often a family heirloom and made of either silver (in the case of Jarls) or elaborately woven wheat or straw.
Like his bride, the groom also underwent some rituals, attended by his father and married male friends and relatives. The groom was required to participate in a symbolic sword ceremony which entailed his breaking into a grave in order to retrieve the sword of an ancestor; this symbolized the death of a boy and his transformation into a man. It is important to note that the weapon retrieved from the grave (usually a sword, sometimes an axe), was not the same weapon the deceased was buried with, as traditionally the weapons buried with the dead were bend or broken before the burial. The weapon that the groom unearthed was usually put into the grave - oftentimes near it, with just a thin layer of earth - just moments prior to the ceremony, usually by the groom’s father.
After the unearthing of the weapon, just like his bride-to-be, the groom would be bathed and dressed, then he would receive instructions on his new fatherly duties.
Marriage was celebrated early in life and oftentimes, both bride and groom were teenagers, sometimes as young as twelve or thirteen, making these “instructions” given by the couple’s parents extremely valuable for the new couple.
The Wedding Ceremony
The ceremony was conducted by a Gothi, (priest). The first part of the wedding was an invocation to the Gods through the Blot ritual, when sacrificial blood was drizzled over small figures of the gods and then across the forehead of the participants. In modern days, the blood is usually substituted by mead by the Ásatrúar (modern-day Norse religion) practices, but its meaning remains the same, symbolizing the union of gods and people.
The Gothi at the Viking wedding in Norway
Following the Bloti, The couple would then proceed to the wedding vows, when the groom presented his newly retrieved “ancestral” sword to his bride, who was to hold it in trust for their future son. The couple then exchanged rings, offered to one another over the ancestral sword to further seal their wedding vows.
Exchange of rings
After the end of the ceremony, the Gothi then declares that is time for the bruð-hlaup (Brullaup) or “bride-running,” officially opening the festivities.
According to the tradition of bride-running, the families of the bride and groom race each other to the feast. The family that looses the Brullaup will have to pour the drinks for the family who wins.
Before the beginning of the wedding feast, bride ad groom performed the obligatory toast to the Gods. The traditional toast with mead was even considered a legal requirement for a marriage to be considered valid, as the Gods were again invited to the festivities. For the traditional toast, the bride should pour her groom a measure of mead, usually in a special cup. The groom accepts the vessel, consecrates the drink to Thor and toast to Odin, then hand it to his wife, who would make her toast to Freyja.
All legal matters done, the feasting and merriment would then begin and last throughout the remainder of the week. Dancing, wrestling, and good-natured insult-contests provided the entertainment for the guests.
The Morning After
On the morning following the ceremony, the last part of the wedding took part, the morning present.
The newly married couple were once again parted in this first morning. The bride is dressed by her attendants, and her hair was braided or bound up in the fashion reserved for married women. She is then escorted into the hall where, as the final legal requirement of the union, the husband paid his new wife the morning-gift before witnesses.
The marriage is now complete. All that is left is another six days of party followed by the couple’s honey-moon.
They sure knew how to party back then!
If you are planning on having a traditional Viking wedding, or perhaps renewing your vows, the Ásatrúar religion is alive and well, being formally recognized by the government of the nordic countries Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.