The Purchase of a Bride: Bargain, Gift, Hamingja

by Winifred Hodge Rose

"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 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. 52)

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 the woman,
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 their value.

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 here discussed.)

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 as gifts.

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 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. 65)

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 kept.

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 and luck.
"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; 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 her.

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, emotional, material,
and spiritual.

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 household.

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 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 and family.

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 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 self
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 the
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?
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 frith,
to the bride as shrewd businesswoman looking out for her own interests.

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 exercise.

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 ecclesiastical debate--that
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 desire
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 of
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,
London, 1931


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