"Purchasing a bride" is associated in our minds
today with the concept of women as property, as chattel, even
as slaves. It seems to hold nothing in common with Heathen ideals
of self-respect, autonomy, freedom, and seems like the exact
opposite of a sound foundation for a good Heathen marriage today.
Why, then, spend any time reading or writing an article about
it? A closer look at the Heathen foundations of the practice
of "purchasing" a bride shows that there is a rich
trove of spiritual wisdom buried within it--wisdom which was
severely distorted by cultural changes until all its meaning
was lost and replaced by the image of women as chattel. In order
to grasp the ancient wisdom, we will have to dig far underneath
the surface of all the concepts associated with this practice--concepts
such as marriage, love, purchase, gift, and property. We use
these words today, and their older forms were used in ancient
Heathen times. We assume that we are talking about the same concepts
across this span of time, but in some important ways we are not.
Before beginning our explorations, I must acknowledge again
my great debt to a man of wisdom, Vilhelm Groenbech, and his
volumes on The Culture of the Teutons. There is no scholarly
work, in my view, that has more to offer in understanding the
deeper, spiritual values associated with all aspects of daily
Heathen life than his.
What is marriage?
We cannot understand why our forebears thought it proper to "purchase"
a bride until we understand what a bride was, in their minds,
and why someone might want to purchase one and engage in marriage
with her. What kind of relationship was this that a man sought
to "buy"? What kind of investment in the relationship
did the woman expect from him?
Groenbech tells us that:
The real and psychological foundation of marriage is expressed
in the word mundr... and is the happiness and frith of the family....
It expresses the active character of the frith at home and comprises
the most exalted aspect of the frith: the holiness. In Anglo-
Saxon much importance is attached to this last point, so that
the word besides meaning the sacred power, which bestows on the
kinsman authority, right and duty towards the...family...--at
the same time denotes sanctity, both passively as inviolability
and actively. The mund of the king is the king's peace, the mund
of the place is the peace of the place.... Thus mund is the inner
authority and honour, which the husband must acquire in order
to be able to keep and sustain his wife--and it is the natural
name of the gift, through which he wins her mund. (Vol. III p.
We shall continue our exploration of the meaning of mund momentarily,
but for the present it is enough to understand that mund is both
an essential quality of a marriage similar to frith, and at the
same time it is a term for that which one invests in the marriage.
Mund is the bride-gift which must be paid in order to make a
true marriage come into being.
A marriage in ancient times was seen--as was friendship--as
a bargain, an exchange of value. All relations, in fact, were
seen this way. The exchange of value was objectified, was made
real in this material world, by an exchange of material objects.
These objects were given as "gifts," in full expectation
that "gifts" of equal value would be returned.
The ancient marriage was founded on gifts. Of the greatest importance
were the gifts of the bridegroom--or rather of the clan--to the
family of the bride; but this chief gift
was supplemented by numerous smaller gifts; trinkets and gems
were given by the bridegroom to his betrothed and later his wife,
as well as by the father to his daughter at the wedding; further
gifts were presumably bestowed on the kinsmen of the bridegroom
by the family of the bride's father, on the wedding guests by
and perhaps the bridegroom presented each of his brothers-in-law
with a gift.
(Groenbech Vol. III p. 50)
If one's understanding stops at this level, then it leads to
a cheapened and distorted view of marriage as the result of venal
marketplace haggling, with little of spiritual, emotional and
ethical worth associated with it. But in reality, the viewpoint
of the ancients reflected a high degree of respect for the intangibles
associated with marriage. The association of material valuables
with marriage and friendship did not cheapen these relations
in their eyes, but rather confirmed both the material and the
intangible worth of them. The two aspects--material and spiritual--were
to them closely intertwined, each serving as a way of expressing
the other. "Exchange of gifts is the only way to friendship
and alliance." (Groenbech Vol. II p. 55)
How can this be so? How can material objects, however valuable
in monetary terms, be so closely intertwined with the feelings
associated with marriage and true friendship? Were these people--our
ancient kin--so shallow and materialistic? So lacking in spiritual
and emotional depth as to equate material with spiritual value?
The ancient Heathens were often described as
being this shallow by Christians who wanted to devalue Heathen
beliefs and ways. Yet, careful thought and the willingness to
understand ways now strange to us will show the depth that indeed
existed in the ancient Heathen soul, and by so doing, show a
dimension to the marriage relationship that is all but lost today.
The key to understanding this lies in perceiving the true value
of "things," and moreover "things owned by specific
people," and understanding how such things receive and keep
Treasure and Hamingja
Groenbech tells us that "holiness is in treasures. ... Holiness
is in the heart of ownership." (Vol. II p.118) Holiness
can reside in things--personal possessions, land, homes, domestic
animals, and anything else that is owned by a person, clan or
tribe. (This is not to say that holiness is absent from other
objects not in these categories, but if it is present this is
due to a somewhat different process of causation than the one
Possessions absorb hamingja (spiritual energy and character)
and luck from their owners, though they do not lessen the owner's
hamingja and luck thereby--rather, they increase them, as long
as the objects remain in good condition and in the possession
of their owner. If the possessions are passed down in the family
line, their hamingja and luck are enhanced by each generation,
and can reach legendary proportions thereby. If the possessions
are stolen or damaged, the owner loses proportionally from his
or her own store of hamingja and luck--if the loss is severe
enough, it can even portend disaster and death. If the objects
are shared, as part of founding a relationship--marriage, friendship,
alliance--then the relationship is strengthened and deepened
proportionally to the hamingja and luck of the objects shared
This process of infusing hamingja and luck into objects, and
gaining the same back from them, goes very deeply into the Germanic
way of being. It is not a ritualistic or intellectual process;
it is a matter of actually sharing one's life and being with
material objects, domestic animals and land, and sharing in their
qualities as well. The following quotation from Groenbech brings
out the sacramental nature of this process.
The essence of ownership was identity between possessor and
possessed; and therefore the word helga, to hallow, applies equally
to appropriation (of land) and to the higher consecration
whereby men added the final touch to the temple and dedicated
it to the god. The hamingja which held the property together
and made it serviceable to man was the same that resided in his
own veins. (Vol. II p. 118)
There was a related concept that rounded out the meaningfulness
of the relation between owner and possessions, expressed in the
Anglo-Saxon word neotan, which had cognates in the other Germanic
languages and survives today in the German word n?tzen. The modern
translation of this term is "to use," but much of the
nuance does not come through in translation. There was
more to it than simple utility. The implication was that a valuable
possession could and should be used to increase the good in one's
life--to increase well-being, prosperity, happiness, health,
fame, and the other goods one longs for. Groenbech in the quotation
above used the term "serviceable" which approaches
some of this meaning. A valued possession should neither sit
around uselessly, nor should it be put to unworthy and inappropriate
use. Such an object is charged with power, and it is both stupid
and disrespectful to fail to use the power or to misapply it.
Groenbech tells us:
Treasures and man are one; but the man has his time, and that
done, another succeeds him; the treasure remains, handing on
the luck to his successor. Man comes to his appointed day; by
virtue of his luck he makes his way across into the other existence;
but he does not take the whole sum with him; part, and that no
insignificant part, remains in the things he leaves behind him,
there to await the man who follows. With very good reason, then,
weapons, clothes, household implements may be called bearers
of life; not only is the sword a lasting thing, it is a well
of life, whence a man may renew his store, through which he can
draw up power from the primeval source. The settler struck his
axe into the new soil to mark it as his property, and it (the
axe) has hamingja enough to bring the whole piece of land under
its will, making it (the land) to serve its owner, and guard
him against aggression. (Vol. II p. 108)
Unauthorized use of another person's possessions--even, for example,
borrowing a bull without leave to service one's cow, and then
returning the bull--could seriously damage the intangible properties
of that possession and thus damage its power of use.' A bull
so used was thought to have lost its power to reproduce--at least,
to reproduce outstanding offspring that would also be filled
with hamingja and luck.
Such was the identity between owner and owned, and out of
that identity sprang the true usefulness of the possession--usefulness
not only on the physical plane but in the domains of the metaphysical
as well. The will and luck of the owner are linked with the possession,
and the possession thus serves the owner's will by furthering
his or her well-being. Use of the possession against or without
the owner's will severs or damages that crucial link between
owner and possession, and thus wrecks the luck and hamingja that
have been created by the bond between them.
The same quality that makes a valued possession vulnerable
to abuse, however, also endows that possession with the power
to create and sustain a good relationship, which in the ancient
Germanic mind was the same thing as a bargain.' Gifts are the
basis of a bargain, and the bargain is the basis of a relationship.
The ancients considered it possible to give, sell or exchange
a material object but fail to give the intangibles associated
with it. Often such trickery was attempted, and many customs
arose which had the purpose of ensuring that the new owner received
all that he or she had bargained for, both the tangibles and
intangibles. "It was demanded that the owner should lay
his whole mind in the transfer, and give the soul as well as
the externals; care was taken to prevent his sucking up the luck
himself, before handing over the property." (Groenbech Vol.
II p. 78) Thus, in an agreement based on trust and goodwill,
the giver / seller would speak words that showed the intent to
transfer the whole possession over. Examples are: "May you
use this in good health," or "I give you this sword,
and I think it bears great luck with it."
The soul surrendered in the thing was...an individual actual
mind or, as we should say, a psychological state, backed up by
the whole, past and present and future power and responsibility
of the hamingja. And in handing over his pledge, the giver could
and would state in words what were the attitude of his mind in
giving, if only he understood the--by no means easy--art of guiding
words aright and driving the right hamingja into them. All that
is said and promised, reserved and required, is laid upon'...the
thing and thus handed over to the opposite party. (Groenbech
Vol. II p. 80-81)
Gifts One can see from the foregoing explanation the very great
significance of giving property as a gift, or making a good-faith
bargain of exchange. There are great benefits associated with
gift-giving, but also great dangers to both sides, so that the
whole process of gift-giving was to our forebears fraught with
meaning, nuance, and tension. Understanding something of the
true value of possessions to the ancient Heathen mind allows
us to perceive the real nature of a gift in this context. "A
giver has entrusted a lump of his soul to another." (Groenbech
Vol. II p. 60) Because of the hamingja or life-force, the identity
shared between owner and possession, "a gift is able to
touch the wells from which feelings arise; it fosters not only
unity of will, but also affection, joy and well-being in a relationship."
(Groenbech Vol. II p. 61)
If there is the intention of goodwill on both sides, then
all is well. If the giver intends to withhold the hamingja and
luck of the gift, the receiver must beware, and bargain to obtain
the full value. It is also possible that the giver intends to
use the gift in order to manipulate or otherwise harm the recipient.
The naive did not fare well under Heathen ways; one must have
one's wits about one, even in the acceptance of a gift.
The effects produced by exchange of gifts will depend on the
relation between the two lucks colliding. ...For the luck contained
in a gift is not only a soul, but a disposition and a wish, that
actual state of the soul, and it is this question: what does
he want? what does he mean? which leads a man to ask for time
to consider the gift... It was demanded that the goodwill should
accompany the gift in open words; the receiver could trust the
words because they were laid upon' the gift, or entered into
it." (Groenbech Vol. II p. 74)
By the same token, a gift might be given in goodwill, but then
abused by the receiver of the gift. A gift is not simply
a gift, it is an implied relationship of some kind between giver
and receiver. Accepting the gift means agreeing to the
relationship, whether it is that of husband and wife, alliance,
friendship, or simply a contract to give (sell / exchange) goods
or services. It requires trust on both sides, or else the damage
to both is severe.
The sternly cold definition of a promise is: not a pledge to
truth or any similar third party, but a two-sided bargain between
you and him. If the bargain be broken, your soul suffers thereby,
because a part of it is fixed in the other party, and the damage
is equally dangerous whether it be you or he that fails, or some
accident that upsets the contract. (Groenbech Vol. II p.
The actual process whereby this "exchange of soul-parts"
that Groenbech describes takes place, is usually by exchanging
gifts which carry part of the souls of their owners. Regardless
of the reason for the failure, or who causes it, if an agreement
of trust fails between one person and another, both suffer because
of it; the souls of both are damaged.
Since a gift carries with it part of the soul of the owner,
then the better and greater person the owner is, the higher the
value of the gift. "The gift has an inner value in proportion
to the giver, something which is expressed in the name which
goes with weapons and valuables. ....A gift carries with it something
from the former owner." (Groenbech, Vol. II p. 16) Thus
it is a source of pride, and even of power, to be able to boast
that a possession was given to one by a great and justly famous
person--a person of strong hamingja and luck.
This brief explanation allows us to gain some sense of the
true weight of a gift, for good or ill, in the context of the
ancient Heathen mindset.
One might safely trust to the gift and give it full power
to speak on one's behalf, for the
soul in it would of itself reach in to the obligation, to honour,
must bind luck and weave fate into fate, must produce will, or
place a new element into it. Therefore, no power on earth can
check the effect of a gift half way, when it has once passed
from hand to hand, and therefore, none can resist the spiritual
effect of that which he has suffered to come...near. (Groenbech,
Vol. II p. 58)
How were gifts used to found and maintain a marriage?
This whole path of understanding puts in quite a different light
the idea of "buying" a bride with a series of gifts
to her and her kin. Rather than seeing the bride as a "thing"
to be bought through the exchange of inanimate objects, the ancients
saw "things" as possessing soul, luck and hamingja
as a bride does--lesser in degree, but not so very different
in kind. The value of the
bride as a spiritual person, her hamingja and luck, and all her
personal qualities, as well as her material and social value,
are acknowledged and honored rather than degraded by the giving
of gifts to win her.
(A wife's) love has its origin in taking over the honour of
the husband, with all it contains of possessions and acquisitions,
and...if the suitor can but get so far as to lay his gift in
the maiden's lap, he has already won her favour. And in return,
should the bargain (of the husband toward his wife) be broken,
the wife goes away without a lingering glance." (Groenbech,
Vol. II p. 63)
The giving and receiving of gifts between groom and bride, and
their kin, puts each party in a position of mutual gain and mutual
vulnerability. Giving and receiving of gifts is not incidental
to the creation of relationship and trust, but rather is a prerequisite
for this to occur. Gift-giving brings about the blending of each
party's strength and happiness into a greater whole, and the
founding of a new relationship of goodwill and well-being between
individuals and clans as long as all sides of the bargain are
The most prominent place in Germanic social life is occupied
by the "bargain", the great symbol of intercourse and
mutual goodwill. ...Marriage is the great exchange of gifts,
the gift-alliance before all others. ....But in the ultimate
essence of the matter, the bridal bargain did not differ from
friendship, which was also a bargain, and likewise brought about
by gifts. In the gift, the door is opened to the Germanic will
to peace; but at the same time, a host of psychological mysteries
pour in. (Groenbech Vol. II p. 6)
The most fundamental of the psychological mysteries' that is
established through the marriage-bargain (or any other, for that
matter) is frith, a relationship founded on peace and trust.
The extreme importance of a rock-solid foundation of frith for
any relationship was clear to the ancients. Frith is powerfully
rooted in families and kinships. But here--on the occasion of
beginning a new marriage--there is no foundation of frith yet
in place--these are two individuals from different families,
not yet bound in frith, but planning to wed. For frith to become
established between them, it is necessary for trust to be there.
For trust to occur, a bargain has to take place, and a bargain
is created and sealed by the exchange of gifts rich in hamingja
"When an article of value is passed across the boundary
of frith and grasped by alien hands, a fusion of life takes place
which binds men one to another with an obligation of the same
character as that of frith itself." (Groenbech Vol. II p.
54) In ancient times there was, I believe, a certain mistrust
of relying entirely on the emotion of "being in love"
to do all that was needed to
establish the ground of frith on which a new family would grow.
It was recognized that something more solid is needed, and for
them, the exchange of gifts began that process of developing
solid trust and frith.
While frith was considered the essential foundation of marriage,
love was by no means ignored. Marriage was founded upon love,
but according to the Germanic conception, there was no idea of
love appearing before the marriage had been solemnised and married
life commenced; ....it was known that when all formalities were
duly and properly carried out, affection would surely come. And
they soon grew to love each other,' say the sagas of happily
married couples. But we know, too, at what time affection grew
and became strong between the two, it was on the morning of the
second day, when the husband by his gift, confirmed or fixed'
the reality of the first embrace. The bride had her morning gift
promised the day when their union was finally decided upon....and
it was due to her from the morning after the pair had slept one
night together. These two acts, the embrace and the gift, are
the origin of love....the two necessary conditions for true marriage.
(Groenbech Vol. II p. 61-62)
But love and frith between two individuals alone is still
not enough to ensure the viability of the
marriage. Even today, when there is friction with one's in-laws
the marriage suffers and perhaps
dissolves. This was even more the case in earlier times, when
families lived and interacted more
closely together and were more dependent on each other. When
life was challenging and
difficult, alliances between kindreds and clans were to the advantage
of all. To take advantage of
all the opportunities for good that are inherent in a marriage,
the frith woven by the wedding gifts
needed to include the kinfolk as well as the bride and groom.
"Frith lay in the mundr, bridal sum
or bridal gift,which forms the centre of that bargain which was
formed between two circles of
kin." (Groenbech Vol. II p. 54)
Originally, the idea was not to "buy" the bride
from her kinfolk, nor even to recompense her kin for their loss
of her and the work and value she gave her family. In many cases,
she was no more nor less "lost" to her family than
her husband was "lost" to his, by their union. Rather,
the power of gift-giving was employed in order to weave frith
not only between bride and groom, but among their kinfolk as
well, for the benefit of all concerned. In this way of doing
things, frith and gifts are interdependent. Gifts are the threads,
the bargain of trust is the loom, and frith is the finished cloth.
The stronger and more beautiful the gift-threads given, the better
and more lasting the frith-cloth woven from them.
What gifts were given, then, to weave such a cloth of frith?
What was expected of the man wanting to wed? Of what worth were
the means to create a marriage and found a new family?
There were a confusing number of terms used for different
aspects or phases of the gift-giving involved in bringing about
a wedding, but they can be boiled down into two main categories.
One was the gifts to the kinfolk, and the other the gifts to
the bride. There was a prescribed order in which the gifts were
to be given during the stages of wooing and the wedding itself.
The groom's gifts, as a whole, can be summed up under the
term mund. At the beginning of this article was a quotation that
discussed the spiritual aspects of mund--the benevolent authority
and sense of honor that a man applies toward maintaining the
safety and well-being of those for whom he is responsible. One
meaning of mund is "protection"--not only protection
of physical safety, but of well-being, honor, wealth and happiness
as well. A man must grow into the strength and quality of character
needed to be a true and honorable warder of that which he loves.
He must show his worth and earn that which he will protect: here
is the connection between "mund as protection" and
"mund as that which a man must pay in order to win his bride."
The connection between mund, honor, authority of character,
and winning a bride is shown in this statement by Groenbech,
where he speaks of the bride's role in bringing about her wedding
to the right mate, and her commitment of love once he has won
When she sends a lover away because he has proved himself
hardly up to her standard in his dealings with his neighbours,
she does so because she hungers for love in her marriage. It
needs honour to wake her senses, for family fame and family wealth,
clan traditions and ancestors' deeds make up the minds of women
as well as of men. And the affection with which she regards her
husband is frith: which is to say, that far from being a mere
intellectual appendage to her spiritual life her love is instinct
and energy that makes her fight for the one she loves."
(Vol. II p. 62)
The mund that the man pays to the bride's family not only demonstrates
symbolically, but also brings with it in reality his hamingja
and luck, his power and generosity, his worth as a bridegroom
and protector / provider of a new family.
The payment of mund and bride-gift was so essential to the
wedding process that usually a marriage was not recognized as
legal without them.
The rule is to be understood in the following way: in order
to be properly married one has to wed the woman by mund and on
the morning after the wedding to give her a morning gift according
to earlier promises; when this as been done and the engagement
celebrated by an "ale," the children are entitled to
inherit. (Groenbech Vol. III p. 51)
The Roman historian Tacitus described the same kind of pattern
among the Germanic tribes of his time--about 90 C.E.--though
he did not provide as much detail about the different stages
of the gift-giving, if there were such. In contradistinction
to Roman society, Tacitus wrote,
the wife does not bring a dowry to the husband, but rather
the reverse occurs. Parents and relatives are present and pass
judgement upon the gifts, gifts not suited to womanly pleasure...but
cattle and a bridled horse and a shield with framea and sword.
In return for these gifts a wife is obtained and she in turn
brings the man some weapon: they consider this exchange of gifts
their greatest bond, these their sacred rites, these their
marriage divinities. (Tacitus Germania Ch. 18)
It is clear from this description that the groom is offering
his bride the kind of gifts that are likely to be strongly imbued
with the personal hamingja and luck of himself and his clan.
It is also clear that as far back as Tacitus' time (and likely
farther) it is the bargain based on exchange of gifts that forms
the foundation of the marriage--a foundation that is social,
Our word wed is still spoken and written the same as the word
in Anglo-Saxon. To us, the word means "get married,"
carrying with it the connotation of making vows and signing a
marriage license. The original meaning of the word simply meant
a pledge of any kind, and was often used as a simple contract
or agreement. The guts and soul of the agreement, however, involved
the giving of a gift, along with all the significance carried
by a gift. By the bridegroom's gifts, and the acceptance of those
gifts by the bride and her kin, they all committed to an agreement
that the marriage would take place, and would partake of the
nature of a fair and honorable bargain respected by all.
Now that we understand that friendship and marriage can be seen
as a bargain of honor and trust, and have seen something of the
full worth a man gives to win his bride, we must ask: what does
he gain in return? What is the worth of the bride?
The bride carries with her all the worth of the feminine powers,
of womanhood, wifehood, and motherhood. She brings not only her
ability to produce a family, but the ability to establish and
run the household that supports it, her ability to cause them
all to thrive and bring them frith and joy in life. These are
not empty words. In the same way that the bridegroom's gifts
bring with them the hamingja and luck of the man and his clan,
so the bride-goods that the woman brings to her wedding embody
the hamingja and luck of herself and her clan. Without these
there would be little hope of healthy children, married happiness,
and luck in establishing the wealth and well-being of the new
In addition, the luck that the woman-as-bride carries within
her own being is so potent and so precious that it is heavily
surrounded by "superstitions" and wedding customs to
protect it, even today when people supposedly do not believe
in such things. Any injury to the bride's luck at the wedding
bodes ill for the rest of their married life. She herself embodies
the luck and power of thriving new life. The frequent, desperate
efforts, told in our mythology, of the giants to steal a Goddess
for their bride shows on the godly plane the power of life and
luck that a holy bride holds within her.
As the bride steps from the house of her birth to the new
home that will be hers and her husband's, she brings with her
what might be called the "hamingja of the home."
So also are cattle both sharers in luck and a means of luck.
... Acting as links between men and luck, such beasts and chattels
drew life forth from the ultimate depths of that hamingja wherein
they were fixed. But this fund of honour and blessing had other
wells too, gaping wide in the house itself. ... The whole house
is pervaded with hamingja, from the roof to the roots of its
uprights, even to the cooking vessels; there is not a corner
in or about the home but has its inspiration, from the weathercocks
on the gables....to the fire on the hearth." (Groenbech
Vol. II p. 109, 110)
This is far beyond any possible pecuniary value that land, home,
and chattels could be given. If a newly married couple fails
to bring with them carriers of hamingja from their ancestral
steadings, this would impoverish them more than any lack of material
goods could do. The well-appointed bride brought with her, in
the things she had made and the heirlooms and gifts of her kinfolk,
a rich store of hamingja with which to establish a new steading
The husband's gifts must--naturally--strive to match this
value, as a gift for a gift.' But although
the wife's value has in a certain sense been paid for' by her
husband in this way, she loses
nothing of what is hers thereby. "Husband and wife must
enter into a lifelong alliance of honour;
but she does not therefore lose touch with her own kinsmen--nor
do her treasures lose their
original power; her kinsmen are natural guardians of her honour
together with or...in spite of her
husband." (Groenbech Vol. III p. 52-3)
There is yet more value that comes with a bride, however. The
ancients believed in the holiness of the home, which was connected
with the luck and frith maintained in it. The closer one was
to the core of the home, the greater one's holiness, luck and
frith. To unfold the old thoughts and experience we must remain
within the hamingja and let it unfold itself for us. From the
centre, a man's holiness spreads out through the house,
fills it with its atmosphere and permeates men with their force,
so that they are different beings within doors from what they
are outside. We can mark this holiness in the "home-frith."...
In those members of the clan who constantly dwelt within the
narrowest circle of luck, holiness was at its strongest. Women
were filled with frith to such a degree that an attack upon them
did not amount to an injury but an outrage. ... The woman also
reveals in her activity that she has a closer contact with luck,
under ordinary circumstances, than the man can maintain. (Groenbech
Vol. II p.120, 121)
The powerful luck inherent in a bride and wife carried along
with it a great deal of responsibility, simply as a part of the
nature of luck and holiness. Full holiness demanded many considerations
and much care. The greater luck a man had gathered in himself,
the greater power in his movements, but also the greater danger
of any false step. If he failed or sinned, the act was more momentous,
and consequently his guilt was more immediately fatal and the
wound less easily staunched. (Groenbech
Vol. II p. 122)
This understanding comprises much of the reason why women's behavior
was held to higher standards than that of men, why men sought
a wife of good and strong character and were willing to go through
a great deal to win and keep her.
The goods that the bride brings with her to her wedding were
called heimanfylgja, literally "follower to the home."
In a material sense, these were simply goods that she made or
obtained, and brought with her from her old home as a foundation
to establish her new household. Traditionally, the bride and
her family were expected to supply linens, clothing, household
implements and often much of the furniture for the new household.
But the term heimanfylgja is fraught with meaning to the Heathen
mind--meaning that extends beyond the material sense alone.
The original heimanfylgja consisted of treasures, in which
the hamingja of the wife entered that of her husband; the epic
formulae express this endowing by goedha gulli, the bride is
made beautiful with gold. ... (In) Beowulf (line) 2025, gold
hroden (gold-bedecked), describes the ideal wife, or--what comes
to the same thing according to Teutonic psychology--the woman
as she really is, and the epithet expresses the honour and prosperity
flowing from the alliance with a true woman... According to some
paragraphs in the laws the trinkets of the woman went to her
daughters. (Groenbech Vol. III p. 57)
We can see in this description a parallel with the famous swords
and other arms of mighty warriors and kings, which carried their
hamingja with them when given away or inherited from their original
owner. In the same way, a woman's adornments and other personal
belongings serve as physical carriers of her hamingja. These
she brings with her to her wedding and their
might is shared with her husband and children, just as the might
of his hamingja-bearing treasures and gifts is shared with her
and their children. A statement from Tacitus confirms this. He
wrote that the bride accepted her gifts "with the understanding
that she is receiving things she is to hand on to her children,
unimpaired and in worthy state, which her daughters-in-law may
receive and which may be handed on again to grandchildren."
(Germania Ch. 18) (On the same principle, the arms and more masculine
goods given to a bride by her groom, even if she did not ever
use them herself, were expected to be held by her in trust and
honor. They were imbued with her hamingja while in her possession,
and then given to her grown sons with their hamingja and luck
increased by her motherly care and power.)
The term heimanfylgja has yet another connotation for the
Heathen mind, whether linguistically accurate in a literal sense
or not, though it is not discussed by Groenbech. The fylgja we
know as the fetch, a part of our soul-body complex that follows
behind us or walks before us during life, guides us through death
and the afterlife, and that may return to attach itself to another
born into our line, carrying with it the orlay we have laid during
our lifetimes. The Kinfylgja, often mentioned in the Sagas and
other lore, is the fetch of the family or kindred. Considering
the spiritual and material power of the home, perhaps it is not
too far-fetched (if one can excuse the pun) to understand the
heimanfylgja as being the "fetch of the home."
If such an entity exists, then it is logical to assume that
it will be rooted in the ancestral home, and then perhaps create
a daughter-fetch of itself to follow the bride from her family
home to the new home of her own. This heimanfylgja may be supposed
to bring with it the same things that the fetch in other forms
brings: the hamingja, luck and orlay of the home.
It makes sense, also, to associate this young heimanfylgja
with the luck of the bride, and realize how it needs to be protected
by all the measures that protect the bride, especially when it
comes to the bride's entry into her new home after the wedding.
For example, the custom of the groom carrying the bride over
the threshold stems from the fear that ill wights hiding under
threshold, or other forms of ill-luck, will cause the bride to
stumble as she enters her new home and spill out the luck she
bears. The result would be bad luck to herself and her whole
household. Many other customs relate to the "homing of the
bride" and the luck of the household, and might perhaps,
for modern Heathens, be meaningful ways for us to relate to our
What happened to the original understanding that marriage was
a fair and honorable bargain between groom, bride and all their
kinfolk: a bargain rich in hamingja, holiness and luck shared
by all who were associated with it? What happened to the idea
that the bride-price--the mund--was tangible proof of the groom's
intention to earn, honor and protect the great, intrinsic
value that the bride brought with her, and win the bride's love
and loyalty thereby? How did this ethically, emotionally and
spiritually rich viewpoint degrade into the practice of mercenary
haggling over chattel-brides?
A basic cause of this degradation lay in the adoption of monetary
currency as a medium of exchange of value. This caused conversion
from a focus on hamingja-bearing personal property to a focus
on money or on distant land-holdings that carried little in the
way of personal hamingja of their owners. By attempting to use
this hamingja-deprived medium to "purchase" a
bride according to Romanized and Christianized laws, not rooted
in Germanic folk-law, a pathetic mockery was made of the power
and meaning of "bride-purchase." Its true spiritual
meaning was lost, and naught was left save marketplace haggling
over the bride as chattel, or at best, the redefinition of the
bride from her ancient role as bearer of hamingja, holiness and
to the bride as shrewd businesswoman looking out for her own
Not that there is anything wrong with the bride as shrewd
businesswoman, indeed--that is one of her responsibilities as
keeper of much of the household's wealth, and she should exercise
it to the fullest. But there is a great deal wrong with the bride
as someone whose conscious focus is only on her own personal
gain, whether material, emotional, or in terms of social status,
and who is unaware of the higher and deeper gifts that she should
be bearing with her to her wedding. In such a case, the bride
is coming empty-handed to her groom, no matter what she might
be bringing in terms of financial or political value, and the
marriage is unlikely to prosper.
As part of the same unfortunate trend, mund was transformed
from something that carried with it a bridegroom's hamingja and
luck, strength of character and honor, into a carefully-weighed
compensation to the bride's parents for expenses of food and
clothes during her childhood. The impetus toward heroic generosity,
loving trust and commitment that was originally expressed by
the bridegroom's mund, was instead damped down into a banal accounting
By trying to measure and weigh the monetary value of "treasures,"
and to codify in the laws the meaning of a "fair bargain,"
the Heathen soul-substrate underlying the physical and social
worlds was ignored and lost.
On the whole the Germanic and Scandinavian laws concerning
the relations between husband and wife have ceased to express
the original idea of purchase of the bride. While they were being
formed the old society was changing under the influence of Roman
culture; the social and especially economic revolutions have
fatal consequences for marriage and the position of the woman.
The properties are changed from living values to pecuniary values....until
the pecuniary point of view has been fully established, and both
payment for the bride and morning gift are reduced to mere rudiments
devoid of practical importance. (Groenbech Vol. III p. 51)
The bride's adornments that once bore with them the shining hamingja
of her disir were degraded to a laundry-list of trinkets, weighed
against the value of the groom's financial settlements. The hamingja-rich
treasures once given by the groom were replaced by impersonal
monetary instruments, uninspired and unblessed by any spiritual
force. It is no wonder, then, that the bride came to be looked
upon as "chattel," though that should never have happened.
If "things" are considered to have no soul-power, then
whatever is bought by those things is likewise considered devoid
of such power. As all things material--including land and the
Earth herself--lost their quality of soulness under the teachings
of the Christians, so also did women, who were classified with
things material. This reached the point where there was serious
arose again and again over several centuries--as to whether women
even had souls or not.
A bride won by the giving of gifts that carry a man's soul
with them is a soul-mate. She brings enrichment and increase
of luck and the power for good to all aspects of their mutual
life, and she is valued accordingly as a whole and beloved person.
The power of the gifts given by her groom--that she is free to
accept or decline according to their worth in her eyes--and his
for her in her wholeness awaken the bride's love for him.
A bride gained by financial transactions alone is--from the
perspective of her husband and in-laws--"purchased"
and hence "chattel." She is not seen as a whole person
in her own right, possessed of soul and character, luck, hamingja
and holiness. The knowledge that she is bought and owned by her
husband awakens not love but fear and aversion in the bride.
It puts her in the
same position as a thrall or slave, in whom no value is seen
save for the work their master can get out of them.
It is no wonder, then, that the idea of "bride-purchase"
today arouses a feeling of revulsion. There are good reasons
for this. Unfortunately, this revulsion causes us to turn away
from the whole subject, unaware that beneath this custom with
all its layers of evil lies an older understanding that shines
with beauty and wisdom, that has much to teach us about the nature
the world and our interactions with it. As with so many other
aspects of our Heathen inheritance, the imposition of the Christian
world-view caused the burial of this wisdom--burial under a smelly
pile of garbage, so to speak, that tempts no one to dig beneath
it! But the exercise is worthwhile, leading to the unearthing
of yet another strand that can help unite us with our
Heathen forebears and carry their ways into the future, weaving
from ancient wisdom new cloth to suit the present day.
Benario, Herbert W., transl., Tacitus' Agricola, Germany,
and Dialogue on Orators, Revised
Edition. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK, 1991.
Groenbech, Vilhelm. The Culture of the Teutons. Humphrey Milford,
Oxford University Press,
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