To our early forebears, marriage meant several things. Firstly, it was a legal commitment which ensured the protection and support of the children and, should one spouse die and the other be left unable to provide, the survivor; the wife's dowry was also her insurance against divorce, reverting to her in the case of a split. In the Viking Age, the price of marriage was quite high: the minimum amount a groom could pay was eight ounces of silver in Iceland, twelve ounces in Norway (it became the inheritance of the children, or reverted to the bride's family if there was no issue). Foote and Wilson suggest that originally this gift, the mundr, was first given to the bride's family, "probably not a purchase-price for her person, as if it were a slave that was being bought, but rather a gift that bore some relationship to her notional value within the totality of people and property that constituted her family" (The Viking Age, p. 113). In other words, young women were not thought of as burdens to be rid of, as in some cultures, but important and valuable members of the family whose loss was taken quite seriously. The morning-gift, given to the bride by her husband on the morning after the wedding, served a similar role of insurance against any disaster.
Secondly, marriage meant the continuance of the clan, which is the source of most of the ritual customs surrounding it. In this regard, a wedding was seen by all the family members as the mightiest event that could take place: it made sure that the kin-souls would go on, that the line would not fade away, but continue to thrive and grow. As seen at Signý's wedding in Völsunga saga when Óðinn comes into the hall to thrust Sigmundr's sword (which embodies the Völsung soul) into the Bairn-Stock, the marriage-rites also bring the god/esses' might forth in the Middle-Garth again. As a blood-linking of two kindreds in the persons of the children, marriage was likewise the most powerful means of making peace between warring clans (though even this bond was by no means always successful, as many of our sources show).
In general, romantic love was not as much a part of our forebears' awareness of the meaning of marriage as it is today; the chief considerations were rank, wealth, and kin, and arrangements were usually made between families rather than individuals - although the agreement of the prospective betrotheds was usually considered necessary. When we see women speaking their feelings about a wedding or making a choice between men in the sources, their grounds are usually practical rather than passionate. In Laxdæla saga, for example, Egill Skalla-Grímsson suggests that his daughter Þórgerðr should consider marrying Óláfr Höskuldsson, to which Þórgerðr replies, "I have heard that you love me most of all your children, but now I think that must be untrue, if you want to marry me to the son of a bondswoman - although he is handsome and a great man for fine clothing" (ch. 23). Similarly, in Völsunga saga, Hjördís is given the choice between Lyngvi Hundingsson and Sigmundr, and chooses Sigmundr, despite his great age, because he is the more famous. Relationships which are ruled by passion seldom seem to turn out well (and, oddly, seldom end in marriage), as is the case with Guðrún and Kjartan of Laxdæla saga. This is not to say that the marriages of our forebears lacked love; this is anything but the truth (and, in fact, Óláfr's charm eventually wins Þórgerðr over and the two of them do get married). However, where we see marital love in the sagas and old tales, it is more likely to be the deep and stable attachment of two people who have shared their lives for some time. The relationship between Njáll and Bergþóra best shows forth the ideal marriage: when Flosi and his men come to burn Skarpheðinn in his father's house, and Njáll refuses to come out because he does not want to live after his son, Flosi then offers Bergþóra safe passage. She replies, "I was married young to Njáll, and I promised him that a single fate should befall both of us"; she and Njáll then lie down in their bed to die together.
Tacitus tells us that the gifts given by the husband to the wife are "cattle, bridle and horse, and a shield with spear and sword. It is to share these that the wife is accepted by the husband, and she in turn brings some piece of armament to him. Here is the main part of the bond, here the holy secret, the divinity of the marriage. The wife may not think herself free from thoughts of heroism, or exempt from the chances of war; she is thus warned by the auspices with which her marriage begins that she comes to share labour and danger - the same risks in peace, the same in times of disturbance. This is what is meant by the yoked oxen, the bridled horse, the gift of arms: so must she live, so must she give birth" (Germania, ch. 18). The Northern wedding bond is a relationship of both equality and practicality, in other words.
Obviously, weddings today can hardly be carried out as they were in the old days: most families are hardly willing to negotiate life and health insurance, savings accounts, children's college funds, and such other things which fulfill the same goal today as dowry and bride-price did in the old days. Lacking the help of the blood-family, the couple's friends in the Kindred/Hearth/Garth should work on the negotiations instead. According to our traditions, a couple which cannot afford to provide security for both the husband and wife in case of disaster and take care of the children should not get married; the bride-price regulations were specifically designed to make sure that a wedded couple was financially stable from the beginning and thus less likely to become a burden on their families or, in the worst of cases, on society.
As well as the mundane financial arrangements, it is also good for a true couple to think of giving each other the sort of gifts that would have been given in the old days. The eight to twelve ounces of silver (or more, for a couple that thinks well of themselves), for instance, might be given in the form of armrings of heavy silver, with the wires either twisted together like a rope (easy to do, given strong hands and a vise for holding the ends steady) or simply wound into a spiral coil (half-round rather than round may be more comfortable to wear). Any jewelry supply store will be able to provide such wire.
In Scandinavian folk tradition, the young woman sews and embroiders her wedding dress and household goods. In the old days, the giving of great piles of gifts by the husband to the bride and her kin was important as a sign of his wealth-status, and open-handedness. How far one wishes to go with this today is a matter of choice; those who enjoy the full recreation of an historical setting at holy times may make a full pageant of it, those who do not may limit themselves to the substance of the practical arrangements and the usual giving of presents (silverware services, china, and so forth) by the guests to the married couple.
A bride-crown must also be gotten for the wedding: these have been used from early times until the present day, and were often heirlooms passed on through the generations. Silver and rock-crystal were not rare materials, and even a poor woman would have a small crown of bronze or copper. The removal of the bride-crown represents the consummation of the marriage in a form that can be done in front of witnesses.
The rings used are the traditional circle of plain gold.
Well before the wedding (at least six months to a year), it is important to start the mead brewing. There will be a lot of mead drunk, both at the wedding-feast and by the honeymooners in the next month; the term "honeymoon" is supposed to come from this practice, as drinking mead is thought to make one both strong and fruitful (an old Scottish saying has it that "Mead-drinkers have as much strength as meat-eaters").
H.R. Ellis-Davidson has argued strongly for the use of an ancestral sword in marriage ceremonies; for those who do not already have ancestral swords, Völsunga saga shows the beginning of a tradition, and the scene in the Völsungs' hall can easily be made into a short dramatic ritual. Another suggestion appearing in Teutonic Religion is Gunnora Hallakarva's idea that the bridegroom be taken to a mound to claim the sword, where he is challenged by a man in the garb of a dead ancestor and must recite his lineage and listen to the ancestor's advice on marriage and wisdom concerning the holy clan.
According to German tradition, Friday is the best day for marriage, probably because it is Frija's Day. If the cat is well-fed and well-treated, there will be good weather for the wedding (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, I, p. 305). Traditionally, weddings were probably held outdoors: the Scandinavian word for wedding, "bryllup", comes from the Old Norse "brúðhlaup" - "bride's run", referring to the custom of the women and the men racing from the wedding-place back to the hall (whichever got there last had to serve the other drink. One can guess who usually won...). The Eddic poem Þrymskviða, however, which is actually one of our fullest descriptions of a Norse wedding (never mind that the bride was actually Þórr!) seems to have the wedding taking place within the hall itself. Weather and time of year may have something to do with the choice of steads; long custom has early summer as the time of choice for marriage.
A Swedish wedding-formula tells us that "the bridal ale is drunk 'to honour and housewife and to half bed, to lock and keys...and to all right'" (Grønbech, II, p. 169).
Troth Elders and Godwo/men, as licensed clergy, are capable of performing legal marriages. The rite given here is not required for Troth members; someone who has been certified as an Elder or Godwo/man should be fully capable of altering it as needed, or of composing his/her own ritual. This rite is basically a skeleton on which more (the hallowing of the ancestral sword, for instance) can be built. The chief parts of it are the calling of Frija and her band of goddesses and the Wanic powers (if bride or groom is deeply given to another god/ess, then the rite's leader should be able to make the needful additions or changes); the presence of kinfolk or close friends who can speak of the thews of the groom and bride; the bringing forth of all the proof that the couple's financial arrangements have been worked out (this may be done as actual paperwork, or symbolized by the gift of arm-rings spoken of earlier if that seems too prosaic); the swearing of the oath upon sword and rings; the giving of weapons between the two; the return to the feast-hall; and the giving of the morning-gift and keys the next morning.
I. The folk are all gathered in a fitting stead, by choice outdoors in a fair woodland around a holy stone. The Bride and her folk stand on one side, the Groom and his on the other. The Elder stands before the stone. The Elder does the Hammer-Hallowing.
II. The Elder stands in the full "tree-stance" (hands and head raised to draw down the might of the heavens, feet spread to draw up the might of the earth). S/he speaks:
Hail to Frija, frowe most high!
We call thee, queen, come to this stead,
with loving eyes look on the pair here,
grant to them joy, grith and frith aye.
Holy brides all bring blessing here,
Sjöfn, you rule, see your work is done!
Vár, hear spoken, the vows of these two,
Lofn's leave's given, lour none to part them.
Fro Ing and Frowe, and fair wights all,
Njörðr and Nerthus, nytt they your good.
Wans all wise bring weal this day,
with gods most high and goddesses all!
III. The Elder returns to a normal stance and speaks.
Now two folk stand in the hallowed stead, and will pledge their troth before the Nine Worlds. Who stands to say that they are worthy? What deeds have they done; what thews have they shown? Is this wedding fair to their clans; who says that these kins are well-met?
The Groom's kinswo/man or speaker steps forward and tells of the worth of the Groom. The other folk there may shout "Hail!" or "Heilsa!" if he says anything especially worthy. He finishes with the presentation of the actual paperwork for insurance, savings, and so forth, or the gift of rings representing it. The Bride's kinswo/man or speaker then does the same for her, presenting her paperwork and accepting the Groom's materials or gift.
IV. The Elder beckons the Bride and Groom forward. They bear the weapons which they mean to give one another; if a beloved child has not been chosen to bear the rings for them, they also carry those. The Elder speaks.
Your worth has been weighed and well are you matched
before the awesome ones' eyes.
What oaths do you swear that ætts be mingled,
and mighty grow kind of your kins?
V. The Bride and Groom touch their rings together upon the hilt of the Groom's ancestral sword and speak the oaths that they have earlier written as most fitting to themselves. The Groom speaks.
Ring and sword I share with you,
own my oath and soul.
Bright my bride, I bring thee all
my heart and hold and hopes.
He gives her the sword and puts the ring on her finger. The Bride speaks.
Ring and sword/spear/sax I share with you,
own my oath and soul,
Husband heart-dear I hold with you
our heart and hold and hopes.
She puts the ring on his finger and gives him the weapon she has brought.
VI. While the oaths are sworn, the Elder fills the horn with ale. When the Bride and Groom have finished, the Elder lifts the horn in his/her left hand, the Hammer in her/his right. The Bride and Groom clasp hands and the Elder swings the Hammer deosil over the two of them, saying,
Hammer hallow bride and groom!
The Elder then swings the Hammer deosil over the horn, saying,
With blessed draught of bridal ale
we hail the holy folk.
You Ases and Wans you alfs and wights,
we drink to all delights,
we wassail wedding-pair.
The Elder raises the horn and makes a toast to the two there. The horn is passed around the ring; each person in turn toasts the wedding-couple.
VII. When the horn has finished its rounds, the Elder pours what is left into the blessing-bowl and fills it again. S/he swings the Hammer deosil over it, saying,
Bride and husband bound by oaths,
we hail you, holy folk.
Gladly bound and glee-full wed,
this draught seals your delights,
wassail for wedding pair.
The Bride drinks, then the Groom. Together they pour what is left into the blessing bowl. The Elder dips the blessing-twig into the bowl and sprinkles the two of them together, touching their wedding-rings and the hilts of their weapons with the wet twig as well.
VIII. The Elder lifts the blessing-bowl high and speaks.
Fro Ing and Frowe, we hail you! Frija fair, and all your maids, we bless! From Lyfja-Berg, bright women look blithely here! Thonar has hallowed; Sif brings sib joy! Alfs and idises, goddesses and gods - all kin and all friends, have your share!
S/he pours the blessing bowl out upon the stone or harrow, or straight onto the Earth.
IX. The Elder speaks:
Now the wedding is wrought - now fare all to feast!
The Bride's women and the Groom's men race back to the hall or to a point agreed on earlier. The losers will serve the winners' drink for the rest of the evening.
The Bride serves the first drink to the Groom, saying,
I bring you joy, boar of helmets,
I give you fruitfulness full.
Rede I bring you runed in the draught,
love to last while we live,
help to hold you at need.
The Groom takes the cup and raises it to her, saying,
I drink to are all our days,
housewife and half-bed, happiness ever.
To lock and keys to caring and joy,
and to right all shall I hold true.
The rest of the day and early part of the evening are spent in feasting and merriment. When it is dark and late enough, the Bride and Groom are escorted to their chamber by candlelight, amid rowdy songs and jokes. The Groom then takes the Bride's crown off and they kiss. The two are left alone, although if the group insists on being really traditional, they will stand about outside the door shouting ribald suggestions.
X. When the two wake up the next morning, the Groom should give the Bride her morning-gift and a bunch of keys which she will henceforth wear dangling from her belt as part of her ritual garb, as a sign that she is a wedded house-frowe and the queen of the home.
As the Troth has a very clear stance on the matter of homosexuality - namely, that we do not accept discrimination of any sort on the grounds of sexual preference - it follows that it is considered fitting for a handfasting rite of this sort to be carried out between persons of the same gender. If this is done, the line "Bright my bride" may be replaced with "Beloved bright"; "Husband heart-dear" may be replaced with "Heart's holy dear"; and "Bride and groom" and "Bride and husband" may be replaced with "Blessed and beloved". All gifts, the house-keys, and so forth may be given on even terms, or the couple may decide that it is more appropriate for one to pay mundr, u.s.w. to the other. Likewise with the drink-toasts: you may choose roles, or each speak both parts to the other.
It is highly unfitting, unacceptable, and offensive to use the word ergi, or any of the related terms, in the context of a gay handfasting, unless the two being married request it due to a specific magical/spiritual reason for this usage.
Although the symbolism of the wedding, particularly the claiming and passing of the ancestral sword, is specifically based on the idea of continuance of the family line, it does not follow that wedding vows are necessarily invalidated by the failure to produce children, nor that mixed couples who do not intend to bear should not be allowed to marry; and therefore, there can be no objections raised to a same-gender wedding on these grounds. The rite still acts as a spiritual binding of two persons, and through them, two clans. It must hence be treated with the same seriousness and in the same manner as a mixed-gender wedding.
Where objections are raised by others, the couple should make a special prayer to Frija's handmaiden Lofn who "is so mild and good to call upon, that she gets leave from All-Father and Frigg for folk to come together, women and men (plural in the original - so that it may easily be read as referring to lesbians and gays as well as to straights), although it is banned or denied".
Pure traditionalists of the same gender may, however, consider a rite of blood-siblinghood (which was the usual life-long commitment rite between persons of the same sex among our forebears) to be more fitting to them than an actual marriage ritual. This is the rite that would have been done in the elder days; today, however, the choice is wholly up to the two involved.
KveldúlfR Gundarsson, greatly indebted to the work of Gunnora Hallakarva and her paper on Germanic marriage customs which collected together much of the information given here. "Tryggva væri konan, ef..."