Viking Cats: Sacred Betrothal Beasts?
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
There is a rumour that brides of medieval Scandinavia received kittens as wedding gifts but trying to find a reputable source is difficult. How did this rumour come to be? Where did it come from? Scouring the net to find any attestation in manuscripts or archaeological discoveries will leave a searcher disappointed. Although the rumour is not (currently) possible to prove, I have found a string of evidence that points to the possibility of couples receiving kittens at weddings:
1. Cats existed in Scandinavian long before the Viking Age:
In 2014-2015 archaeologists in Alborg, Denmark found the oldest remains of felines in the Scandinavia region. In 2016 scientists estimated these remains to be around 2000 years old. A genetic study on these cats discovered that Vikings took cats on their travels (source) (source) (source).
Other felines found in nine other locations of Scandinavia indicate that cats were kept as house pets (source).
2. Freya is associated with cats, and she is honoured at times of betrothal:
Freya is the goddess of love, beauty and fertility. To honour Freya weddings were held on Fridays (Freya's Day) (source) (source)
Freya's chariot is pulled by two cats. These cats were a gift from Thor. Thereafter, cats became associated with the goddess Freya (source).
3. Given the previous points, a cat would be a fitting gift at a Viking Age wedding:
During the Viking Age, women received gifts the morning of their weddings. This would be called a morning gift, and it usually included clothing, jewellery, household goods, livestock, slaves, land and/or estates. The more her dowry, the grander the gift (source)
At the time of the wedding ceremony deities of fertility would be invoked either by sacrificing an animal or dedicating one to a deity as a living gift. If an animal was dedicated to a god as a living gift, it would be maintained as a sacred beast thereafter (source)
4. Cats were very rare and could have been well coveted gifts
Cats were rare, especially in Iceland, (source) (source) expensive, and connected with the most powerful Norse goddess, Freyja and her magic.
Only the middle class or the elite would have been able to afford felines. (source)
Unfortunately, after hours of hard research, I have determined there are not any direct links between felines and brides on their wedding day - although it could have been possible. In conclusion, we do not have any evidence that brides received felines during their betrothal to their husbands. If it happened, cats were likely to have been sacrificed or honoured as sacred beasts by wealthier families of the Viking Age to honour the goddess Freya. Jennifer Hartman Pagan Kids pagankids.org
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