An Anglo-Saxon Pagan Wedding
The Proposal in Ancient Times
Not much evidence exists on how weddings were performed by any Germanic Heathen folk, much less the Germanic tribes of what is now England. However by borrowing elements from the Icelandic sagas, and incorporating elements that may be Heathen in origin, a reliable marriage ceremony can be reconstructed. The following ritual outline is drawn in part from an article by Gunnora on Viking weddings, an unpublished article by Eric Lord Wednesbury of the Winland Rice of Theodish Belief on Anglo-Saxon weddings, and two articles by Winifred Rose Hodge (see the bibliography for details) on weddings within Asatru and Paganism.
Marriage amongst the ancient Heathens was an important institution. It meant a financially stable environment in which children could be raised. And it essentially was thought of as a contract or bargain between two families. Many of the pre marriage rituals were to ensure that the future wife and any children the marriage may produce were cared for. Thus marriages were negotiated by the parties involved. A werman wishing to have a woman in marriage would approach her family with prestigious friends to negotiate it. If an agreement was struck, these friends served to witness on handa sellan the handshake that ended the agreement the couple should be wed. At this time the morning gift was agreed upon as well as the handgeld, and other specifics. The prospective bridegroom had to come up with the brýdcéap paid to her family to completely seal the pledge to marry. The brydcéap also called the mund or handgeld was to prove that the groom could support his future wife. However, it also had many and varied spiritual connotations. The concept of mund, which is very similar to ideas about frith appears in common association with weddings in the ancient Heathen belief. Mund meant not only the handgeld, but could also refer to "protection." This not only meant physical protection, but also spiritual protection as well. The handgeld also carried with it the mægen or hamingja of the groom, and its intent was to reimburse the bride's family for their loss of mægen, the spiritual 'luck' or 'power' of the family the bride carried with her.
Women were seen as very powerful, carriers of the family mægen, and more intimately connected to the kinfetch as well as the Idesa of the clan than men. They served as head of the household, and did many of the chores that ensured the community would survive. Therefore when they left to marry, the family suffered a great loss. To a lesser degree, the handgeld was to reimburse the family for her loss of labour, but in no way should it be seen as a purchasing of a bride. Instead it was an attempt to equalize gift for gift. This gift for gift scenario is seen throughout the ancient marriage process, and was a way of exchanging maegen and hamingja between the couple and their families. It was in essence, fusing members of the two clans into one family. The exchange continued through the wedding ceremony. In various Heathen areas such customs as exchanging rings, swords for keys, mead, and cake are seen. Such customs were very old and dated from at least the time of Taticus' writing of Germania. In it he says that brides were obtained by payment of a dowry by the groom in the form of sword and shield, cattle and bridled horse. On the morning after the wedding, the groom also had to give his new wife a morning gift, the morgengifu. This was hers to keep and use the entirety of her life. Finally, in addition to the groom paying the handgeld and morgengifu, the bride's family had to pay the brýdgifu. This was the bride's dowry, forever hers and untouchable by her husband. It was to ensure, in event of the husband's death or divorce, that her and her children were provided for.
The following ritual is broken into three parts, the first part is
the agreement on the handgeld, morgengifu, and brýdgifu. This is
to be performed prior to the wedding, at the beginning of the "engagement."
Since modern views on marriage differ a great deal from those of ancient times,
the negotiation is likely to be between the bride and groom, and not necessarily
their families. The second part is the wedding ceremony its self. Finally is the
brýdeala, the "wedding feast" or husel.
The Handsel or Handfæstnung
If after the proposal by the woman or werman from the other has been accepted, they can if they wish negotiate the handgeld, morgengifu, and brýdgifu. This can be done in fun, or seriously with the exchange of engagement rings or other gifts symbolic of their love and the mægen being exchanged. Once all has been agreed upon, they can conclude the agreement with the following words spoken by the groom (adapted from one done in Heathen Iceland) and a hand shake with witnesses present:
"We declare ourselves witnesses that thou, (bride's name), bondest
me in lawful betrothal, and that with a handshake thou pledge me marriage in
exchange for the handgeld and morgengifu promised, and engagest me to fulfill
and observe the whole of the oath between us, which has been said in the hearing
of witnesses without wiles or cunning, as a true and honest oath."
The Wedding Ceremony
The groom's ancestral sword
A new sword to be given from bride to groom
A sauna or sweat lodge
Prior to the wedding the bride should go to the stánbaþ or sauna or sweat lodge, if one is available, attended to by her bride's maids. This was a step perhaps in ritual purification for the wedding ceremony. There she sweats and then baths. Her and her attendants would then dress her in her wedding gown and crown her with the wedding wreath or bridal crown. This whole time she should not be seen by the groom or the groomsmen. The groom too attends to the act of purification, going to the stánbaþ, and bathing. Once through, he dresses in his wedding attire and straps on his ancestral blade.
1) The Wedding Trip
The bride goes to the site of the wedding. She is proceeded by a young kinsman bearing the new sword to be giving to the groom. The groom likewise, bearing his ancestral blade accompanied by the groomsmen goes to the site.
2) Hallowing of the site
The Weofodthegn hallows the site and then makes a brief statement as to why they are gathered that day
3) Exchange of handgeld and brýdgifu
The handgeld and brýdgifu are then exchanged. This may be done with the following words:
Weofodthegn to Groom
"Do you have the handgeld as you oathed to have?"
Groom to Father of bride:
"I give you this, the handgeld as I oathed to do." A few words may be added describing the handgeld.
Weofodthegn to father of the bride
"Do you have the brýdgifu as you oathed to have?"
Father of bride to bride:
Father of bride to bride:
"I give you this the brýdgifu. It is yours to have and hold all of your days."
"The brýdgifu and handgeld have been gifted and given. The holy oaths given have been held. Now let the bridegroom and bride exchange their oaths"
4) The Exchange of swords
The groom then gives the bride his ancestral sword. Something like the following words should be said:
"I give you this sword to save for our sons to have and to use."
The bride then gives the groom the new sword with something like the following words:
"To keep us safe, you must bear a blade. With this sword keep safe our home."
5) The Exchange of rings, the oaths, and the keys
The couple should then exchange vows and rings. These oaths are best written by the couple and should involve any pre-marital agreements that were made. Both oaths should, but need not have to invoke the goddess Wær (Vár) as keeper of oaths. Both the groom's oath, and the bride's oath should end with something like "With this ring I thee wed," with the placement of the wedding ring upon the other's finger. The bride's ring is offered on the hilt of the new sword symbolizing his trust in her. Finally, all of the groom's keys are given to the bride, as she is now keeper of the household.
The Weofodthegn witnessing the vows then pronounces the couple
werman and wife and states whatever else is prescribed by his state or nation
for a legal wedding.
Ideally the "bride ale" should take place immediately after the pronouncement with no break in the ceremony. However, if this is not possible it is permissible to break the wedding vows and brýdeala into separate ceremonies. Regardless, all should be seated at the start of the rite. A brýdealaI is little different from a standard blot. The following is an adaptation of the standard Ealdriht husel outline for the purpose of a wedding:
Hammer hallowed to Thunor
A "Loving Cup", a bowl or kasa (ON) with handles
1) Hallowing of the bride - The Weofodthegn hallows the bride by laying the Hammer in her lap. And says something like the following:
"Frige bless the bride, hallowed by the hammer in sacred hall."
The Weofodthegn then helps the bride to her feet, and proceeds
with the blot.
2) The Hallowing - The bride takes the blot bowl, and the "loving cup" and fills them with mead. The Weofodthegn then passes the drink and food over a flame, and sains the hammer over them. He or she may wish to say something like "wassail this food!" The flame and the words are intended to ensure that the food be food that brings health, by driving away any illness causing wights.
3) The Blessing - The bride blesses the groom and the groom her. The bride then assists the Weofodthegn in sprinkling the gathered folk by carrying the blot bowl around as he or she blesses the folk..
4) The Fulls - The bride and groom use the loving cup to make their toasts to the Gods. Frige and Freo are the most important to toast as they are the goddesses to ensure a good marriage. When their toasts are made, both drink from the bowl at once.
5) The Housel - The food and drink are consumed.
Following the feast, one may hold a symbel or dancing or any number of activities. Eventually, however, the brýdhlóp should take place. In ancient times, this was a race by the seperate wedding parties to the new home. The party that lost has to serve the other at the next feast. Regardless, of who gets there first, the groom blocks the door, and carries or leads the bride across the threshold.
The month following the wedding was called the hunigmonaþ
our word "honeymoon." For the net month, the couple should drink mead. And the
next morning, the morgengifu needs to be given from the groom to the
bride. Under Icelandic law, witnesses were required, and no doubt the same was
true of the Anglo-Saxon. However, in todays age, one may wish to waive this
Many customs survived in connection with weddings that may or may not have been Heathen. One should feel free to adapt these into the above outline, or to change the outline entirely when designing an Asatru or Heathen wedding.
Courtship, Love and Marriage in Viking Scandinavia by Gunnora
Anglo-Saxon Marriage by Eric Wodening (unpublished)
Brides and Hamingja by Winifred Hodge Rose