How Paganism & Christianity Influenced Viking Wedding Traditions

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There is not much documentation on the religious aspect of Viking wedding traditions. The evidence that has been found though, show both Pagan and Christian elements. It is thought that the Nordic wedding rituals began to change during the Middle Ages when the Christian missionaries began to spread throughout Europe.

Then there are wedding traditions whose origin are unclear. Some of the Norse traditions could have stemmed from the Pagan ceremonies but still carry a strong resemblance to Christian traditions.

The bride’s entrance to the wedding feast is an example of how Christianity altered Norse wedding traditions. During Paganism, Norsemen would race to the location of the feast. This was called the bride-running. The last person to enter the hall would be forced to serve the mead for the rest of the night. Christianity replaced this tradition with a walk where the bride’s family followed after the groom’s party. The groom then escorted his bride into the feast, symbolizing their shared life path.

Norse Gods to be Honored Through Wedding Traditions

Before the spread of Christianity, Scandinavians believed in numerous deities. Norse wedding traditions required several deities to be honored. There are five Gods that play a role in Norse wedding traditions. These five Nordic Gods are Thor, Vár, Frigga, Freyja, and deity freyr.

Thor, the king of the Nordic Gods, and his mighty hammer was a commonly used symbol during wedding ceremonies. The groom might wear a hammer to show his strength and transition to manhood. The bride might sit with the hammer on her lap to symbolize her accepting her husband.

Freyr is the fertility deity, and his sister Freyja the goddess of love, war, beauty, and death. Weddings took place on Fridays to appease the Goddess of marriage, Frigga. Vár is the Goddess that is said to witness the exchange of vows. These Norse Gods were called upon through incantations and honored with a sacrifice.

The Nordic Traditions to Exchange Wedding Rings

The Nordic wedding tradition of exchanging oath rings shows the importance of family honor. Not only did Vikings exchange wedding rings but they did so on swords that were considered family heirlooms.

Before the wedding rings were exchanged, there was an exchange of swords. The sword that was exchanged was often an ancestral sword. The bride would give the groom her father’s sword to symbolize her husband taking over responsibility. The groom would gift his father’s sword to the bride for safekeeping for their future son.

After the exchange of swords, the rings would be exchanged. Each wedding ring was presented on the tip of the newly gifted sword. The exchange of swords and rings symbolized the union of not just the bride and groom but also of the families.

The Nordic Traditions in Wedding Attire

Another example of how weddings combined both Christian and local traditions is the dress. Brides did not wear extravagant dresses. Rather, the focus was put on a woman’s headdress. Norse girls wear a kransen or a head wreath, to symbolize their virginity. For their wedding day, women would wear a crown covered with silk garlands, crystals and the Christian symbol of crosses, instead. The bride’s kransen was kept for her future daughter as a family heirloom.

A Week of Traditions & Viking Wedding Feasts

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Viking weddings lasted for several days because of the many ceremonies and several days of the feast. Marriage is also considered a coming of age for a Viking and his bride so there are also ceremonies that take place before the actual wedding.

The longest of all Viking wedding traditions is the feast. The feast itself lasted around three days but could even continue for a week.

A significant element of the feast was the sharing of bridal-ale, a specially brewed mead that the couple had to drink for an entire month. The first sips were ceremonious. The bride would present the bridal-ale to the groom in a kåsa and dedicate her own first sip to the goddess Freyja. The groom would honor both Thor and Odin before taking his first sip. The drinking of bridal ale during the feast and a month afterward was a binding aspect of the marriage.