Throughout the 9th to 11th centuries, Vikings and other Scandinavian explorers voyaged the world, bringing tales, power, and tradition everywhere they went. Vikings were a heavily cultural group that held solid beliefs and pushed rigorous practices regarding important events.
One such would be weddings – a considerable part of a Viking’s life, weddings throughout Scandinavia proved to be worthwhile endeavors, reinforced by a variety of traditions and some extravagant celebrations. However, when it came to doing things by the book, weddings were one of the most strict.
Still, that didn’t mean that Vikings and other Scandinavians didn’t have an opportunity for fun and entertainment in the meanwhile. Here’s what all went into a Viking wedding and the traditions they left behind:
Customs and Important Traditions
Marriage meant two big things – the first was an alliance between families and those within. The second would be celebrating Frigga, the goddess of love and childbirth, and one who would benefit the most from a wedding and the children and families soon to grow.
Viking weddings were primarily a combination of two families. While modern-day weddings might revolve primarily around the union of the groom and bride, Viking traditions had unions placed between the families and the cultures of the two to be married.
Cultural fixes were only part of the wedding; a large part of the event was a literal alliance. Members of both sides of the wedding would meet to negotiate the conditions of their relationship after the marriage and the price paid for the bride beforehand.
Called “mundr,” the price paid for the bride was provided by the groom in return for the ability to marry the bride in about a year. Once a price was agreed upon to be paid by the groom to the bride’s family, the heads of both families would meet and negotiate a time for the wedding to occur. This would usually be about a year, sometimes, not always, including the bride’s opinion.
Significantly, this date in the future would fall on a Friday. A substantial part of Viking and Nordic culture, Friday was the day of Frigga, setting up the event to coincide with her day, a perfect opportunity to bless the family with a happy marriage and many children. Of course, the Friday depended on the conditions at the time, the availability of both families, and the event, but it was still a Friday, nonetheless.
No matter the timing, a marriage would be primarily run by the groom and the bride’s family. It took a few hundred years (until the 12th century) for the bride’s permission to be mandatory. Still meanwhile, the men of the households were the negotiators, managers, and creators of the wedding.
A Celebration of Love and Union
Once the wedding was set and the Friday chosen, the families moved to set up grand festivities. While we think of weddings as being primarily one or two-day endeavors in the present, they were spread across a week in Viking and Nordic times.
This weeklong expenditure would involve the broom and gride exchanging swords, hundreds of drinks, feasts, food of all kinds, and cultural icons of significance, like replicas of Thor’s hammer. It was a huge deal for the two families involved when a wedding happened, again thanks to the significant alliance negotiated in advance.
When the time rolled around for the celebration, it was incredibly significant to ensure that the wedding didn’t line up with poor weather. As food and drinks of every kind were required to make the most of the event, most families would negotiate timing to coincide with the harvest season. This would ensure that both families only had the best to offer for the wedding celebration.
Fortunately, these events were planned by family members months in advance. As the wedding approached, however, many smaller, more intricate parts of the wedding came to fruition.
One major part is the separation of the groom and bride, joining their same-sex familial counterparts for comfort and guidance before the wedding.
Once split, the bride, only a day before marriage, would visit a bathhouse with the exclusively-married females of her family to remove their kransen before bathing in steaming water before freezing water. Removing the kransen, a circlet representing virginity, was a massive part of the marriage preparation. It now meant the bride was prepared to lose her virginity to her new husband.
On the other hand, the groom would meet with the married men of his family, breaking into the grave of an ancestor and retrieving a sword. These swords were kept as part of the life of a Viking, with the retrieval symbolizing the entry into a new life filled with marital promises and a family. The sword, taken yet again a day before the wedding, would then be given to the bride during the marriage.
Viking marriages were very particular – while clothing wasn’t assumed to have been culturally relevant when it came to being wed, hair was. Nordic traditions emphasized long, ornate bridal hair alongside decorated hair for the groom.
In preparation for the wedding, the bride receives a traditional crown, passed down through her family’s generations for each newlywed. On the other hand, the men would carry the blade retrieved from their buried ancestor, complete with a symbol of Thor.
Thor played a large part in the Viking wedding process, believed to be a considerable part of the family’s future. While the apparent manifestation would be Thor’s strength and power throughout the marriage, weddings called upon Thor, in addition to power, to bless their future children with strength and long lives.
Before the groom and bride were wed, rituals like those above were incredibly important. In addition to representative options, there were more direct actions – one such common one would be the sacrifice of a cow by the Gothi, negotiator and creator of the wedding, to the goddess Freyja.
This would bless the marriage with great love, fertility, and battle-readiness, preparing the couple for battles and love for years to come.
A Celebration of Significance
As the bride and groom came to have their families and selves united, the groom and the bride would exchange swords. The groom’s sword came from an ancestor’s grave, and the bride’s, from her living family, representing the interlocking of living and deceased families between the two.
Alongside (or on) these swords would be the exchange of rings. Again, depending on the families, the rings would have been attached to the blades, adding further meaning to the exchange or given separately and held by the two individually.
Once married, then the festivities began. While Viking and Nordic cultures didn’t rely on a wide variety of food and drink, everything was used and brought to the table, literally, with a wedding.
Members of both families would get all the refreshments and food they could, creating a massive celebration with what would frequently be much of a seasonal harvest.
The bride and groom would get drunk on mead, the families would feast, and the two would get to know each other and their family members. However, as the weddings and marriages afterward were often presented and created by family members other than the newlyweds, the couple wouldn’t get to know each other well until after much talk and the celebration came to a close.
These were vast gatherings of great significance for both families, and they helped start a firm and greatly child-bearing relationship between the groom and bride. Once everything came to a close, the families would then be great allies, supporting and representing the couple throughout their time, before repeating the process with other marriages in the future.