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Weddings In Anglo Saxon Times

Did you know that Swords would be exchanged at an Anglo Saxon Wedding?


The Marriage Proposal in Pagan Times

Marriage in the early Anglo Saxon Period was very important as a union between two families. As such it involved a contract or bargain between the groom and the father of the bride. The father of the bride was keen to ensure that his daughter and any children that came from the marriage were secure financially whatever happened to the marriage and the groom in these uncertain times.

Thus marriages were negotiated by the parties involved. A man wishing to have a woman in marriage would approach her father (or head of the family). He would go with his friends - especially if they were men of rank and position.

There would be negotiation  and if agreement was reached, these friends would witness the ceremonial handshake that sealed the deal. This was called the 'handa sellan'. Agreement would be reached on these details:

The morgengifu  or 'morning gift' was a gift of money that the Groom gave to the Bride on the morning after the wedding. It was supposed to guarantee that the Bride had some independence of the Groom and would protect the future of herself and her children. This was hers to keep and use the entirety of her life.

The handgeld (or brydcéap or  mund) was a financial or other gift to be passed to the bride's family at the wedding and was supposed to show that the groom could care for his future wife as well as symbolically make up or recompense to brides family for her leaving them. Daughters brought a certain spiritual luck to a family. They in many ways carried the sense of family and the clan spirit of a family.

The brýdgifu or the bride's dowry was to be paid by the brides family and again was  to be long to her and to be untouchable by her husband. Like the morning gift it was to ensure, in event of the husband's death or divorce, that her and her children were provided for.

The Wedding Ceremony

Getting Ready for the big day
We may associate the Anglo Saxons with being smelly and dirty but prior to the wedding the bride would bathe. If available (probably more common in the Germanic and Scandinavian homelands than in England) she would visit the a sauna or sweat lodge. Her attendants would then dress her in her wedding gown and crown her with the wedding wreath or bridal crown.  Just like today she should not be seen by the groom.
The groom would also bathe and then dress in his finest clothes as well as strapping on his ancestral blade.

The Bride arrives
On the journey to site of the wedding the bride would be proceeded by a young kinsman (member of her family) bearing a new sword she will be giving to the groom. The groom likewise, bearing his ancestral blade accompanied by the groomsmen goes to the site.

The Blessing
The priest officiating the ceremony (the Weofodthegn) would call on the gods to hallow the site and would make a statement as to the purpose for gathering. Of the various gods the goddesses Freya and Frigja would be particularly invoked as those most involved in weddings, love, marriage and fertility.

Exchange of the gifts: handgeld and brýdgifu
The handgeld and brýdgifu are then now exchanged. This may be done with the following words or similar:
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 Exchange of swords

Swords had symbolic significance to the Anglo Saxons and it is fitting therefore that they hold a place in the wedding ceremony. The groom then gives the bride his ancestral sword. He was passing on the sword to his future wife so that she would keep it safe for her sons to one day own. Something like the following words would be said:
"I give you this sword to save for our sons to have and to use."
The bride then gave the groom a new sword. She was giving him a weapon to protect her and her family. She might use something like the following words:
"To keep us safe, you must bear a blade. With this sword keep safe our home."

The Exchange of rings, the oaths, and the keys

Rings would be exchanged just as to day, oaths given and finally, all of the groom's keys are given to the bride. The granted her the role as keeper of the household. The woman had ultimate authority on the storage of food and the well being of the household just as the man had the role of protecting the household from enemies.

The Weofodthegn now having witnessed the vows pronounced the couple married 

The Reception
Just as today the occasion of a wedding would be an excuse for a party. The Bride and Groom would share a loving cup to make their toasts to the Gods. Frigja and Freya. These were the most important to toast as they are the goddesses to ensure a good marriage. Now there would be a feast of the best food and drink.

Following the feast, there would be music and dancing and the usual entertainments. There is some evidence that in some tribes a race or brýdhlóp should take place. This was a race by the separate 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. So that tradition goes back a long time.
The morning after the wedding, the morgengifu needs to be given from the groom to the bride probably with witnesses.

The month following the wedding was called the hunigmonaþ  from which we get our modern word "honeymoon." This was so named because for the next month, the couple would drink mead.

So some parts of these ceremonies we recognise today and some are less familiar.

A wedding ceremony will feature in Child of Loki (book 2 of the Northern Crown Series)

This article has taken material from the very useful website. That site studies and recreates ancient tradition of the years before the Christian Church replaced the Pagan religions of the Anglo Saxons.


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