Viking society was organised under a strict social hierarchy and the Norse pagan religion was the predominant belief system of most of the society.
Being a folk religion, the pagan faith of the Vikings was more steeped in local custom and pan-village traditions compared to more organised religions.
Notable public Viking customs included religious festivals and ritual sacrifices. A number of private customs were also observed by the Vikings at occasions such as birth, marriage and death.
Viking Birth Customs
The expected birth of a child was greatly anticipated in the Viking society. Before the birth of the child, ritual songs were sung to ensure that the mother and child remained secure during birth.
Nine days after the birth of the child, his father would place the child on his knee in a public ceremony and water was sprinkled on the child. This custom confirmed the status of the child as a member of the clan and bestowed upon him the rights of the clan members.
It was also a custom to name a new child after a deceased ancestor or one of the gods of the Norse pantheon. On some accounts, guests were invited at the ninth day of the child’s birth, bearing gifts for the new child and his parents.
Viking Marriage Customs
Marriage was an important event in the Viking society and as such, marked a coming together of two families, those of the bride and the groom. Both families had to observe a certain set of customs in order to ensure a socially acceptable marriage.
The earliest step was that the groom was accompanied by members of his family to the bride’s family to propose. If the proposal was accepted, a date was set and other details such as the dowry and property rights of the bride were set.
On the set date, a huge feast took place which was attended by the families of the bride and groom as well as other guests. The feasts continued for at least three days. At the feast, the bride and the groom pronounced vows of fidelity to each other. It was a custom for witnesses to accompany the couple to their bed.
Human sacrifice was one of the most important religious customs in the Viking society. Such sacrifices were practised at the occasions of religious festivals as well as at the death of a notable Viking nobleman.
Typically, a human sacrifice was carried out by strangulating a victim and consecrating him or her to Norse god Odin. At religious festivals, human sacrifices were carried out to please the gods and ensure good yearly harvest.
The burial of a Viking nobleman usually involved sacrificing his slaves and burying them alongside him. This was done as a part of the Viking custom to bury everything owned by a deceased ancestor along with him in the grave.
Ancestor worship was a major part of familial and religious customs in the Viking society. Vikings regarded deceased ancestors as being able to influence family fortunes even after their death.
So they continued to give up offerings such as precious objects, food and drink to the deceased ancestors in order to invoke their good will and favour for the family.