That’s why the Vikings gave cats as wedding gifts
Hangai Lilla, 2023. June 6 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary
As brave hunters, warriors, and independent creatures, cats make excellent companions for any community. If you think about it, the determined and fearless Vikings with similar qualities are remarkably similar to cats. In fact, they could benefit from their presence in many life situations.
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By looking into Scandinavian mythology, we can get to know several stories about cats, which give us a comprehensive view of the relationship between the daring and able Vikings and the free-spirited cats.
The most colourful cat mythology belongs to the Nordics
Various animals appear relatively often in Viking stories, from Odin’s ravens (Huginn, Muninn) to Loki’s son, the wolf Fenrir. Perhaps the most significant and well-known cats in the old Norse tales pulled Freyja’s chariot. The goddess was responsible for fertility, death, war and love. Freyja’s sacred animal was also the cat. So it’s no wonder that many people believed that they could earn the goddess’s approval and support by treating them well.
In Norse mythology, cats also appear in other situations. Jörmungandr, also the son of Loki, is a huge snake. When Thor had to lift the cat of the giants in a contest, Jörmungandr changed himself into a cat to take the animal’s place, thus tricking Thor.
It is believed that the previously mentioned Fenrir wolf binding, which was forged by the dwarves, also had a feline quality: one of the 6 magical ingredients of Gleipnir was the sound of a cat’s footfall.
They also appear in Scandinavian folk tales
Kitties also appeared in Scandinavian folk tales. For example, in one story, a cat helps a poor man and eventually asks him to cut off its head. When the man fulfills the request and decapitates the cat, it turns into a beautiful princess, whom he then marries.
We have now presented only a few of their appearances out of the many, but based on these, it can be seen that the Scandinavians regarded them as particularly positive beings.
Cat migration to Scandinavia
In Old Norse, the word “köttr” was used for the cat, which has now been changed to “katt”. The Norwegian Forest cat’s – which was formed naturally, without human intervention, and is itself the protagonist of many ancient stories and fairy tales – original name is “Skogkatt”, which simply means forest cat.
There are several theories about how domesticated cats arrived in Norway. One thing is certain, the ancestors of all cats come from the same Felis catus species. They started their world conquest journey from Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization.
DNA studies suggest that there was a double migration of cats. The first time, their journey took them from the Middle East to Europe and Africa. On the occasion of the second migration, they reached different parts of the world, including Scandinavia, by boat from Egypt.
Unfortunately, it is currently not possible to say when they appeared in this area, but there are indications that they probably began to proliferate in the region in the Iron Age. Their presence became prominent in the Viking Age. In terms of their size, although they are often mentioned as giants in legends, the cats of the Vikings were not that big. In fact, they were probably much smaller. According to a study published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology, cats have grown an average of 16% larger since the Middle Ages.
In the life of the Vikings, the cat was a multi-functional wedding gift
Cat remains have been found in Viking settlements, which suggest that they were kept by Vikings, although it is suspected that they were not just pets. When the Vikings weren’t raiding and pillaging, they spent a lot of time growing crops and farming. Since rats were also a big problem in Scandinavia, Viking cats probably played an important role in protecting crops.
Some experts believe that Viking cats were also given to brides on their wedding day. The animals were functioned as a symbol of love in reference to Freyja. And of course, in the new household, it was also used as a rodenticide. Genetic tests prove that they also took them with them on their ships to protect the cargo from rodents. As Freyja was also the goddess of war, so their presence could have beeen a good omen in this point of view as well.
They also needed their fur
We also have to touch on a rather sensitive area, why cats were important to the Vikings. Due to the harsh weather, they also needed fur to protect themselves. Archaeological evidence shows that furs were often traded; including the furs of seals, goats, wolves and cats. Of course, looking back, we cannot know for sure whether they waited for the cats to die a naturally, or whether they were killed for their fur. However, at the Odense excavation, the remains of 68 cats were found in a well. According to the analysis, the cause of their death was not natural.