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Cimmerians are an unsentimental people, but most certainly passionate. The romantic ideals surrounding love that might be found in other countries do not exist in Cimmeria; there are few, if any, romantic sagas told by bards or around campfires; no one composes great swathes of poetry in celebration of love and romance.
But Cimmerians do love, and love deeply. They love their clans, their families, their hunting bands, their war comrades and, of course, members of the opposite sex in the romantic sense. Where they differ from other countries is in the way love is expressed.
There is little time, motivation or appetite for idealised expressions of love; instead Cimmerians simply get on with their lives personally confident that those who are loved know it because they are not considered to be enemies and are treated with respect and kindness.
Occasionally a couple might be so stricken with each other that they hold hands and adorn each other’s hair with flowers, but such practices are quickly subjected to scorn and ridicule because they serve little practical purpose beyond mawkish sentimentality. When a Cimmerian loves someone, he tells them, bluntly and matter-of-factly, but usually he does not feel the need to do so.
Marriage is almost always a political union, designed to forge new alliances, bring to an end old enmities or advance the standing of the families involved. Couples do marry for love, but it is the exception rather than the rule, and a union that would benefit the clan is far more likely to be approved by the chief than a union that is being made out of love.
Before marriage takes place the couple must gain the consent of the heads of each family; if one family refuses permission, then the couple can ask the relevant chieftain to overturn the decision if he approves the union. Once the families have consented, then the couple are presented to the chieftain of the bride who must also consent. If the chieftain refuses his consent, then the marriage is not permitted to take place – even if the father of the groom approves the marriage.
Once consent has been given, the couple must marry within ninety days. This period varies from clan to clan sometimes, but is a widespread and accepted Cimmerian tradition. In this time the couple must have minimal contact with other – something that is not diffi cult if the bride and groom are from separate clans – and when they do come into contact they must be chaperoned by a relative or close clan member. This particular tradition is designed to prevent the bride and groom from either eloping or having enough time to decide that they dislike each other before the marriage ceremony. It is not designed to ensure that sexual relations do not take place.
The marriage ceremony itself is a nine-step process that involves the entire clan or clans. The groom’s clan acts as host and both clans are forbidden to carry weapons for the duration of the ceremony – which generally lasts from dawn until dawn of the next day (or whenever the drinking stops).
First Step: Casting Consecration of the Circle The women of the clan prepare a circle for the bride and groom to be married within. This might be a circular area in the centre of the clan’s seat or it might be a sacred or special place in a nearby forest or on a moorland. The circle is clearly marked with either stones, flowers, petals, or some other marker and is always with a nine-yard radius. Only the bride, groom and the clan elder, who performs the ceremony, may enter the circle; anyone else who does so is considered to be cursed with bad luck for nine years. The circle is consecrated with the urine from nine virgins, which is sprinkled around the perimeter. This wards against evil spirits and is considered to be a powerful charm aiding fertility.
Second Step: Presentation of the Bride and Groom The bride and groom are brought from respective ends of the clan settlement where they have remained in seclusion from the previous night. The chieftains and elders of the respective clans andfamilies receive the couple and offer a formal blessing, usual requesting the clans’ ancestors to look favourably on the union. It is at this stage that the bride’s family presents her dowry to the groom’s family. The dowry is usually an agreed amount of some commodity that has been negotiated before the ceremony. It might be gold or coin, slaves, food or even armour or weaponry. If the bride and groom separate for any reason within nine years of the marriage, then the groom’s family forfeits the dowry. Following the exchange of the dowry, the bride and groom are presented to the gathered clans in preparation for the third step of the ceremony.
Third Step: Statement of the Bard The bard is either a clan member who regularly regales his fellows with stories, songs and poetry or someone, such as a sage, who has been nominated for the purpose. It is the Bard’s duty to explain, simply and concisely, why the couple are to be married, and to call upon the gathered clans to either bless the marriage or speak against it. It is accepted tradition for the marriage to be blessed; any opposition is expected to have been voiced in private with the relevant clan chiefs before the ceremony takes place. However, it is still an opportunity for people to protest.
Anyone who challenges the marriage must step forward and justify his opposition. It is then the duty of the groom’s chief to either accept or deny the challenge. If he accepts it, the marriage is denied and tradition dictates that each party must go their separate ways without bloodshed or rancour. In practice, when this unfortunate state of affairs has arisen, it has invariably led to the creation of a feud or the intensification of one. If the chieftain denies the opposition, he may call the challenger out. This always signals a duel of honour between the challenger and whoever the chieftain nominates as his champion. Usually this is the clan’s foremost warrior, but may be anyone the chief decides to nominate, including the groom. The stakes for the duel depend purely on the severity of the opposition. Where considerable clan or personal honour is at stake a duel to the death is not uncommon. If the charge levelled is less serious, then the duel might be to first blood or even disarmament; if they duel is simply being fought to prove a point or make one, then a physical contest, such as wrestling, might be used instead of a duel with weapons. If the challenger wins the duel, then the charge he has made stands and the marriage ceremony is either suspended or called-off completely, until a resolution (if there is a resolution) can be found. If the chief’s champion wins, then the marriage continues – although Cimmerian superstition holds that any marriage challenged in this way is always doomed to failure in some form.
Step Four: Declarations of the Bride and Groom Once the Bard’s statement has been made, the bride and groom, followed by the congregation, proceed to the circle.
Here, the person conducting the marriage calls upon the bride and groom to declare their vows. There is no specific form of words, but essentially the groom must declare that he will:
Protect and honour his wife
Provide for her and his family
Place her needs above those of any other woman
Remain faithful to her
And the bride must declare to:
Honour and obey her husband
Ensure his needs are well-met
Raise his children in the traditions and ways of the clan
Remain faithful to him
Step Five: Exchange of Rings The rings exchanged between husband and wife need not be finger rings of metal; they can be of any circular object – torques of bone or antler; warrior rings forged from the weapons of defeated enemies; necklaces of flowers or beads – anything, as long as it is symbolic of the circle.The bride presents the groom with her ring and then the groom returns the action.
Step Six: Fasting of Hands The couple clasp hands and present them to the elder conducting the ceremony. Their hands or wrists are then bound together in a loosely tied length of soft linen or silk. This signifies the completion of the union.
Step Seven: Passing of Light The elder performing the ceremony takes either a lit candle or burning brand and encircles the couple nine times, chanting their names. The light source is then passed to the couple who, holding it together in their fasted hands, must proceed nine times,anticlockwise, around the inner perimeter of the circle. This act represents the spirit of the union and everyone watches the light source carefully to see if it will be extinguished. If it goes out at any point, then it is relit by the elder of the ceremony, but the rotation in which the light goes out signals the year or years in which troubles might be encountered by the couple. The more times the light source is extinguished, the more troubled the union will be and if the light source goes out more than once in any rotation, or is extinguished in every rotation, then the marriage is considered to be cursed from the start.
Step Eight: Thanksgiving and Oath Once the Passing of the Light is completed the couple kneel in the centre of the circle and jointly utter a simple prayer of thanks to the ancestors and any gods observed by the clan – usually Crom, Macha or Nemain – and pledge to serve the clan that will be their home as a married couple.
Step Nine: Blessing and Opening of the Circle The elder of the ceremony blesses the married couple by offering them a sip of either wine or mead. This done, the circle is opened by the married couple each taking one of the markers of the circle and stepping out of the perimeter.
They emerge from the ceremony as husband and wife, and the opening of the circle is the signal for the feasting to begin. The couple can remove the item used in the Fasting of Hands and tradition demands that it is tossed by the bride into the throng of the congregation; whoever catches it will be the next to marry. Officially the marriage ceremony lasts for one full day, but celebrations might continue for several days depending on the mood of the clans involved, the status of the married couple, and how much food and drink is available. It is the mark of a good chieftain to sustain the feasting for as long as he can, and, although no chieftain has any obligation to continue the feast any longer than dawn the next day, it is considered poor form for the celebrations to end at the appointed time.