Wyrd Designs – Wedding Customs in the Northern Tradition

While part of the world may now be in Royal Wedding-mania, all I can say is, I grow a bit weary of all of the news and media coverage, especially of the fluff stories of the really tacky merchandise, or finding Kate’s face on a jelly-bean. Dear world media, really? Is that the best thing you can come up with by the dateline?

I wish Wills & Katie the best, and I hope that all the problems that so plagued some of the last royal couples don’t plague this new generation. But I am very glad the day is upon us, and all the crazy fervor will soon be over. (Though I imagine the wedding, may be giving quite a boost to the British economy).

So instead of digging into yet another story about the royal bride and groom, I thought perhaps it was time to crack out some wedding trivia specifically rooted in the Northern Tradition. Read on to find out just what that is.

Nik and Morag in Oslo Norway on Solstice 2002, performed by Foreningen Forn Sed

Nik and Morag's Forn Sed wedding in Norway

While we may think of the time of Walpurgis as a time of great fertility of the land and a time ripe for weddings in antiquity, especially in Scandinavian countries during the Viking Age, it appears that weddings tended to be held not in today’s popular summertime months of May and June, but rather later in the year closer to the harvest time.

There were a few reasons for this that all are connected to the weather and natural agricultural cycles. In many cases (especially among families of more influence) brides and grooms were matched not simply with their neighbors, but by finding an agreeable candidate at large gatherings known as Things.

One of our earliest written sources for a Thing appears in Tacitus’ Germania, but other related cultures also had Things. Some of the better-known sites are Norway’s Frosta and Gula, Sweden’s Uppsala and Skara, Denmark’s Viborg and Oresund, and Iceland’s Thingvellir. I think it’s important to step back and understand what a Thing was, and one of the most detailed accounts of a Thing gathering comes to us from Iceland’s annual gathering known as the Althing. The Althing was part judicial court (as it listened to and passed judgment on legal cases), part parliament (as it passed and made law), part economic summit or trade show (as trade agreements could be worked out), part religious ritual (as it began with a sacred ritual known as a blót where there was a blood sacrifice to the Gods), and it also acted as a debutante ball as families introduced to society their daughters of marriageable age as they sought out advantageous matches across all of Iceland.

Just like today, when a wedding was to occur you needed to allow for sufficient time for guests to travel to the location of the wedding, allow for the wedding to be planned, and you would also need to make sure traveling conditions were favorable for the families, friends, and other guests. But you also needed to find a time where food was plentiful so that the wedding feast (which was usually a week-long affair!), could truly be a feast and able to support a large gathering of people. The time of greatest food surplus will always happen in that period around the harvest-tide.

But while food is needed for the wedding feast, a bride also needed to make sure there were ample supplies of wedding-ale too. Women were the brewers in this culture, and they oversaw the production of the wedding-ale, which was usually a type of mead. For those not quite sure what makes mead different than other types of alcoholic beverages, the key ingredient of mead is honey.

As with most alcoholic beverages it takes time to allow the beverage to brew appropriately, so this is an item that had to be planned for. This wasn’t just cultural tradition, but also a legal requirement of the wedding: the husband and wife had to share the wedding ale during the wedding ceremony. Mead however was used for more than just the wedding ceremony; it was tradition for the bride to make sure she had a month’s worth of wedding-ale available for her and her new husband. This is the origin of the term ‘honey-moon’ which referred to the first month of the marriage where the newlywed couple imbibed the honey-made drink nightly. So the origination of the term honeymoon, is firmly rooted in the Northern Tradition culture.

It also appears, most weddings were held on Fridays, or Frigga’s Days. I suppose in that regard, Wills & Katie are keeping to an old custom by coincidence (as I doubt it was intentionally chosen for that reason).


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