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The Wedding Cogs

Drinking from the Bride's Cog at an Orkney Wedding
A wedding guest drinks from the Bride's Cog

At an Orkney wedding feast, ale was consumed from wooden vessels known as cogs.

These cogs were undoubtedly the most essential of all the ingredients that made up an old island wedding.

The cog is simply a circular drinking vessel. Hand-crafted from wood, it is formed from staves held securely by wooden or metal hoops. Two or three long upright handles rise from the brim of the vessel allowing the bride and the groom to carry the cog around from guest to guest.

Traditionally the cogs at each wedding feast were divided into two distinct types. These were the menye-cogs and the cog-gilt-cogs.

The cog-gilt-cogs were confined to each individual cog-gilt - a cog-gilt being the large table that sat 24 guests. The menye-cogs, on the other hand, were passed throughout the wedding hall and drunk from by the assembled guests. Menye-cogs had a distinctive appearance, with every alternate stave made of a dark wood, thus giving them a variegated appearance.

Of the menye-cogs, three types were circulated at each wedding - the "geud-man’s cog" (the Best Man’s Cog), the "priest’s cog" and the "bride’s cog".

The tradition of the menye-cogs survives today, although only the geud-man’s cog and the bride’s cog are found in common use.

Originally, the geud-man’s cog was the first to be passed around and began with the bride’s father. The priest’s cog, or grace-cup as it was sometimes known, followed the wedding meal. Once the priest had supped from this cog, and toasted the married couple, it was handed to the neighbour at his left hand side.

Like many aspects of Orcadian tradition, it was always considered essential that the cog only move around the room "sunwise", in accordance to the motion of the sun.

In bygone days, it was common for a typical Orkney wedding to last all night, if not well into the next day. The third menye-cog, the bride’s cog, was the last to make an appearance and was brought out in the early hours of the morning.

Shortly after the late supper, preparations were made for the brew that filled the bride’s cog. This concoction was made up of a mixture of hot ale, gin, brandy and whisky which was then mixed with some eggs.

The bride had to be the first to drink from the bride’s cog, before it was passed to all present and replenished with the warm liquor as and when required. Few of those still sober from the night’s earlier drinking were rarely able to consume much of the cog without becoming quickly and completely drunk.

The exact mixture which now goes into the cog varies with every wedding, as each family tends to have its own views on the correct recipe. Despite the family variations, the base ingredients of this potent alcoholic mixture are usually hot ale, gin, brandy and whisky mixed with sugar and pepper.

For a cog recipe, click here.

Apart from the Grand March - a later variant of the old Wedding Walk - the sharing of the Bride’s Cog is the only one of the old ceremonies still found at Orcadian weddings today.

After the Wedding

Section Contents
Customs and First Steps
Fit Washin' Night
Saltwater and freshwater
Kissing Meat
Biddin' da Folk
The Blackening
The Wedding Day Arrives...
The Wedding Feast
The Wedding Cogs
After the Wedding

See Also
Wedding Traditions and the Odin Stone
Courtship, love and marriage in Viking Scandinavia

For the recipe for a good, strong Bride's Cog, click here.

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