When you think of Vikings, the first thing to come to mind often is the brutality associated with their raping, pillaging, and conquering lifestyle. Yet, when it comes to Viking wedding traditions, we learn that marriage was the center of the family structure in the Viking culture and quite involved. For instance, planning the wedding required the families of the bride and groom to discuss and settle on inheritances, property transfers and dowries before the wedding could take place. These customs were considered critical for the marriage to be blessed by their deities and weren’t the only thing that took time. While most wedding took place within a year, at times planning could take as much as three years.
Viking Wedding Customs
Once all these customs were settled, a public wedding ceremony and feast took place. This included many elements common in celebrating marriage today and included vows, a banquet, and of course much partying. However, these nuptials usually went on for at least three days and could easily last a week.
As for the religious aspect of the ceremony, their Old Norse polytheistic religion included many gods and goddesses. Weddings were always held on Friday (Friggas-day) to honor the goddess of marriage. A Norse goddess linked to oaths and pledges was believed to witness the bride and groom reciting their vows, and petitions for blessings may have also been requested from Thor, who was one of their most popular gods. Petitions to the fertility deity Freyr and his goddess sister Freyja, a deity of love, beauty, war and death were also made. These gods were believed to express human emotions and in some cases were married with a family.
When the wedding could be held was dictated by other things like the weather. For instance, guests would have a hard time traveling in the wither months, and just like today, plans included making arrangements for appropriate accommodations for guests, and making sure there was enough food and drink for everyone for the duration of the festivities. This also included the bridal ale. It was a legal restriction that the bride and groom drink bridal ale, which meant honey had to be available to make enough of mead for the month following the wedding.
Gifts and Rings
The Viking groom presented his bride with the sword of his ancestors which she was to hold in trust for her son. In turn, the bride gave her husband her father's sword. This exchange of gifts of the ancestral swords formed a sacred bond of union which was consecrated by mystic rites under the favor of the presiding deities of wedlock. The brides gift of her father’s sword, signified the transfer of the father’s guardianship and protection of his daughter as the responsibility was handed over to her new husband. This rite signified the traditions of the family and the continuation of the bloodline. The exchange of rings followed the exchange of swords. The groom offered the bride a ring on the hilt of his new sword, and the bride offered the groom’s wedding ring in the same way on the sword she had received.
Viking Marriage Heart of Family Structure
Each tradition and wedding ritual was believed essential to earn the blessings of the gods, as an important steppingstone to becoming a parent, and continuing the Viking bloodline. Marriage was the heart of family structure in Viking culture, but divorce was freely available.
The ideal bride was expected to be chaste before marriage and a faithful wife, but a clear double standard existed when it came to the man. Viking reasons for chastity weren’t religious but financial. While Vikings could marry for love and not for familial advantage, an unwed maid was a marketable commodity and could bring wealth to her family with a higher bride-price. On the other hand, illegitimate children could actually bring about financial hardship for the woman’s family. The woman’s “value” could also help shape a favorable alliance with other families when she married. However, the only restriction placed on a man's sexual activity was to penalize him with a small fine if he slept with a woman not his wife. However, he could purchase a slave woman to have as a “bed-slave” with no penalty.