Viking Cats: Sacred Betrothal Beasts?
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'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 ceremony, gods or goddesses of fertility would need to be invoked. This was done either by sacrificing an animal, or dedicating one to the god as a living gift. If an animal was dedicated to a god(dess) 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
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; but if it happened, cats were likely to have been sacrificed or honoured as a sacred beast by wealthier families of the Viking Age to honour the goddess Freya. Jennifer Hartman Pagan Kids pagankids.org
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