A Vikings Marriage - No Light-Hearted Affair!
by Diana Cosby
This article was based on Viking Courtship, Marriage & Divorce
By Gunnora Hallakarva (Christie Ward)
The code of the Viking was one of honor, justice, and truth. While he rode the seas with fierce abandon, when it came to courtship and marriage, he trod with great care. Viking society was well-structured. Men as well as women expected to marry to secure peace or greater prosperity and power, not for love. To marry for the sake of the heart was almost unheard of. Couples were united with little thought of their compatibility. It was their duty to make the marriage work.
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Due to their society's fear of their gods, trolls, and other supernatural creatures, they outlawed any form of poetry or endearment addressing one's betrothed. They believed such sweet prose wove a spell capturing their intended, one the other would be unable to break.
Poems of love were also interpreted as a disreputable slur toward a woman and taken as a grave matter to her family. How could a man know of a woman so deeply without tasting the wine? Any dishonor brought to the woman by a suitor was shared by not only her immediate family but aunts, uncles, cousins, etc... as well. A young man who professed his love to a woman did so with great risk to his life.
The marriage agreement was bartered much like goods. Sponsors of power and prestige (elders or leaders of the village), often accompanied each party to ensure the fair negotiation of a contract. The bride price was settled upon, and broken down into three payments. The first payment was to be made prior to the wedding, the second after the union. The third more like a dowry, was controlled by the husband, but one he was unable to spend.
The wedding was a rite of passage the Vikings held in high regard. The marriage day was set on a Friday, or Frigg's Day, a tribute to "Frigg," the goddess of marriage. It would take place outside and in the fall. This allowed visitors the ease of travel before the winter storms arrived, along with ensuring plenty of honey, a base needed to make mead was available for the ceremony and the following month after. One of the many rituals performed during the wedding ceremony was the exchanging of swords. The husband entrusted his bride with his ancestral sword. She would retain the sword until their first-born son grew of age then pass it down. The wife in turn gave her husband the sword bearing the crest of her family. Rings were given next; each held before the other on the tip of the swords just presented. This act emphasized the sacredness of their union. The couple then joined hands upon the groom's sword to recite their vows.
After the ceremony, everyone would rush back to the keep for the great feast. Upon reaching the longhouse, the groom would block his wife from crossing the threshold. He would take her hand and lead her safely across. So acute was their fear of the gods' powers and omens, they felt if the bride should trip or stumble as she crossed, so would their marriage. Once inside the keep, the feasting and celebrating began in earnest. The most important of all was the sharing of the mead. The strict code required the bride and groom to share the honey-based ale for a month after they wed; thus the "honey-moon." If the honeyed-mead ran out, this foretold great displeasure of the gods and a resultant curse on their union.
After the festivities, the bride was prepared for the groom with her hair spread in a veil around her. The groom was ushered into the bridal chamber with a grand fan fair, taunted by well-wishers and ribald cheers. The spectators left with the exception of those designated to ensure the union was consummated, and the bride chaste. The couple were then left to their wedding night and a life dedicated to preserving their union for their families and children yet to come.
Don't miss our Cheat Sheet article on the Vikings
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