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Thread: The Vikings and Homosexuality

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    Post Gay Vikings?

    These are excerpts from a text at http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/


    My personal research into homosexuality in the Viking Age shows clearly that the Vikings had words (and therefore mental constructs and concepts) of same-sex activity; however since the needs of agricultural/pastoral living require reproduction not only to work the farm but also to provide support for the parent in old age, it was expected that no matter what one's affectional preferences were that each individual would marry and reproduce. There are no recorded instances of homosexual or lesbian couples in the Viking Age: moreover, the idea of living as an exclusively homosexual person did not exist in most cultures until present day Western civilization appeared. One's sexual partners mattered little so long as one married, had children, and conformed at least on the surface to societal norms so as not to disturb the community. Those Scandinavians who attempted to avoid marriage because of their sexuality were penalized in law: a man who shunned marriage was termed fušflogi (man who flees the female sex organ) while a woman who tried to avoid marriage was flannfluga (she who flees the male sex organ) (Jochens 65).

    The evidence of the sagas and laws shows that male homosexuality was regarded in two lights: there was nothing at all strange or shameful about a man having intercourse with another man if he was in the active or "manly" role, however the passive partner in homosexual intercourse was regarded with derision. It must be remembered, however, that the laws and sagas reflect the Christian consciousness of the Icelander or Norwegian of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, well after the pagan period. The myths and legends show that honored gods and heroes were believed to have taken part in homosexual acts, which may indicate that pre-Christian Viking Scandinavia was more tolerant of homosexuality, and history is altogether silent as to the practice of lesbianism in the Viking Age.



    Old Norse Terminology Regarding Homosexuality and Related Concepts

    The Old Norse word used in the law code and literature for an insult was nķš , which may be defined as "libel, insult, scorn, lawlessness, cowardice, sexual perversion, homosexuality" (Markey 75). From nķš are derived such words as nķšvisur ("insulting verses"), nķšskald ("insult-poet"), nķšingr ("coward, outlaw"), grišnķšingr ("truce-breaker"), nķšstöng ("scorn-pole") (Markey 75, 79 & 80; Sųrenson 29), also nķša ("to perform nķš poetry"), tungunķš ("verbal nķš"), trénķš ("timber nķš", carved or sculpted representations of men involved in a homosexual act, related to niķšstöng, above) (Sųrenson 28-29). Nķš was part of a family of concepts which all have connotations of passive male homosexuality, such as: ergi or regi (nouns) and argr or ragr (the adjective form of ergi) ("willing or inclined to play or interested in playing the female part in sexual relations with another man, unmanly, effeminate, cowardly"); ergjask ("to become argr"); rassragr ("arse-ragr"); strošinn and soršinn ("sexually used by a man") and sansoršinn ("demonstrably sexually used by another man") (Sųrenson 17-18, 80). A man who is a seišmašr (one who practices women's magic) who is argr is called seišskratti (Sųrenson 63).



    Attitudes About Homosexuality Introduced By Christianity

    The secular laws of Viking Age Iceland do not mention homosexuality. The only place where homosexuality is documentably prohibited is by the Christian Church. The Icelandic Homily Book (ca. 1200 C.E.) has a sermon which states that among grave sins are "those appalling secret sins perpetrated by men who respect men no more than women, or violate quadrupeds." Bishop Žorlįkr Žórhallson of Skįholt's Penetential (ca. 1178-1193 C.E.) lists penances of nine or ten years that include flogging for "adultery between males, or that committed by men on quadrupeds," and says of lesbianism that "if women satisfy each other they shall be ordered the same penance as men who perform the most hideous adultery between them or with a quadruped." (Sųrenson 26) Christian belief condemns both the active and passive roles of homosexual intercourse, whereas the pagan Scandinavians attached disapproval only to the male who was homosexually passive.



    Viking Attitudes About Homosexuality and Manliness

    Homosexuality was not regarded by the Viking peoples as being evil, perverted, innately against the laws of nature or any of the other baggage about the concept that Christian belief has provided Western culture. Rather, it was felt that a man who subjected himself to another in sexual affairs would do the same in other areas, being a follower rather than a leader, and allowing others to do his thinking or fighting for him. Thus, homosexual sex was not what was condemned, but rather the failure to stand for one's self and make one's own decisions, to fight one's own fights, which went directly against the Nordic ethic of self-reliance. (Sųrenson 20).

    Being used homosexually by another man was equated with cowardice because of the custom of sexual aggression against vanquished foes. This practice is documented in Sturlunga saga, most notably in Gušmundar saga dżra where Gušmundr takes captive a man and his wife, and plans for both the woman and the man to be raped as a means of sexual humiliation (Ok var &thornat viš orš at leggja Žórunni ķ rekkju hjį einhverjum gįrungi, en gera &thornat vi Björn prest, at &thornat žętti eigi minni svķviršing.) (Sųrenson 82, 111; Sturlunga saga, I, 201). In addition to rape, defeated enemies were frequently castrated, again testified to in several places by Sturlunga saga. Grįgįs records that a klįmhogg or "shame-stroke" on the buttocks was, along with castration, a "major wound" (hin meiri sįr), ranked with wounds that penetrated the brain, abdomen, or marrow: the klįmhogg was thus equated with castration as "unmanning" the victim, and classed with wounds that cause major penetrations of the body, strongly suggesting that the term refers to rape or forced anal sex such as was inflicted on a defeated combatant (Sųrenson 68). It is not known how widespread the practice of raping defeated foes actually was, or if it existed before the advent of Christianity, but in other cultures which have had as strong an ethic of masculine aggression as existed among the Vikings, the rape of defeated foemen was obligatory.

    The attitude that homosexual usage of an enemy was a means of humiliation in turn would have weighed heavily against men in homosexual relationships: if it was a shameful humiliation of an enemy, performing intercourse with a beloved friend would have been regarded as a the worst sort of betrayal or lack of loyalty (Sųrenson 28). Since all the references in literature and especially insults indicate that to be sansoršinn, ragr, nķšingr or to be accused of ergi is to be a man who is the passive recipient of anal sex, we do not know if the Vikings regarded oral sex between men unfavorably or not (or, in fact, how they regarded oral sex in general, no matter who, male or female, was doing it, or to whom, male or female, it was being done).

    It is interesting to note that the Vikings considered that old age caused a man to become argr. A well-known proverb stated svį ergisk hverr sem eldisk, "everyone gets argr as he gets older." This possibly could point to an increasing acceptance of homosexuality after a man had raised a family and grew older (Sųrenson 20), although a man such as the chieftain Snorri goši who fathered 22 children, the last at the age of 77 (just before he died), certainly proves that a man never was really too old to father children! (Jochens 81). For a man who could not have children (whether due to impotence, sterility, age, etc.) homosexual relations may have been acceptable. One slang term for such a man seems to have been kottrinn inn blauši, or "soft cat" as reported in Stśfs žįttr, an epilogue to Laxdęla saga, in a conversation between the Norwegian king Haraldr haršrįši and Stśfr, the son of Žóršr kottr (Žóršr the Cat): puzzled by the unusual nickname, Haraldr asks Stśfr whether his father Žóršr was kottrinn inn hvati eša inn blauši, "the hard or the soft cat." Stśfr declines to answer despite the implied insult, but the king admits that his question was foolish because "the person who is soft (blaušr) could not be a father" (Jochens 76).



    Insults Alleging Homosexuality

    There is ample documentation of homosexuality in insults. Judging by the literature, the Vikings were the "rednecks" of medieval Europe... if you went into the mead hall and called a man a faggot, he'd do the same thing that any good ol' boy at a Texas cowboy bar would do. The end result would be a big axe in your head instead of a big cowboy boot in your face, but the idea is the same. Furthermore, in every one of the instances where nķš or ergi is encountered as an accusation, no one seriously believes that the accused party is in fact homosexual: the charge is symbolic, rather like calling a modern redneck "queer" to provoke him to fight. (Sųrenson 20)

    Because, then as now, some sorts of insults were "fightin' words" or even killing words, Scandinavian law codes made certain types of insults illegal, and either condoned the victim's slaying of the slanderer or penalized the utterance of insults with outlawry. The Gula&thorning Law of Norway (ca. 100-1200 C.E.) Says:
    Um fullrettes orš. Orš ero &thornau er fullrettis orš heita. Žat er eitt ef mašr kvešr at karlmanne ošrom at hann have barn boret. Žat er annat ef mašr kyešr hann vęra sannsoršenn. Žat er hit &thornrišia ef hann iamnar hanom viš meri ęša kallar hann grey ęša portkono ęša iamnar hanom viš berende eitthvert.

    Concerning terms of abuse or insult. There are words which are considered terms of abuse. Item one: if a man say of another man that he has borne a child. Item two: if a man say of another man that he has been homosexually used. Item three: if a man compare another man to a mare, or call him a bitch or a harlot, or compare him to any animal which bears young. (Markey, 76, 83)
    Similarly, the Icelandic law code Grįgįs (ca. 1100-1200 C.E.) has:
    Žav ero orš riś ef sva mioc versna mįls endar manna er scog gang va&ethla avll. Ef mašr kallar man ragan eša strošinn eša soršinn. Oc scal sųkia sem avnnor full rettis orš enda a mašr vigt igegn &thorneim oršum &thornrimr.

    Then there are three terms which occasion bringing such a serious suit against a man that they are worthy to outlaw him. If a man call a man unmanly [effeminate], or homosexual, or demonstrably homosexually used by another man, he shall proceed to prosecute as with other terms of abuse, and indeed a man has the right to avenge with combat for these terms of abuse. (Markey, 76, 83)
    The Frosta&thorning Law likewise tells us that it is fullréttisorš (verbal offenses for which full compensation or fines must be paid to the injured party) to compare a man to a dog, or to call him sannsoršinn (demonstrably homosexually used by another man), but goes on to penalize as hįlfréttisorš (requiring one-half compensation) terms which in our culture would almost be considered complementary, including comparing a man with a bull, a stallion, or other male animal (Sųrenson 16).

    Many exchanges of insults are to be found in the Poetic Edda, particularly in Hįrbaršljóš , a man-matching between Óšinn and Thórr; Lokasenna, in which Loki insults the Norse gods; Helgakviša Hundingsbana in the exchange of deadly insults between Sinfjotli and Gušmundr; Helgakviša Hjorvaršssonar in the exchange of threats between Atli and the giantess Hrimgerš. Other instances may be found in the sagas such as Egils saga Skallagrimssonar and Vatnsdęla saga.

    Insults directed at men come in several varieties. Taunts might sneer at a man's poverty, as Óšinn does when he tells Thórr that he is "but a barefoot beggar with his buttocks shining through his breeches" (Hįrbaršljóš 6), or declare a man to be a cuckold (Hįrbaršljóš 48, Lokasenna 40). Some insults were scatological:
    Žegi žś Nioršr! žś vart austr hešan
    gķls um sendr at gošom;
    Hymis meyiar hofšo &thornic at hlandtrogi
    oc žér ķ munn migo.


    Be thou silent, Njoršr! you were sent eastward
    to the gods as a hostage;
    Hymir's maidens used you as a piss-trough
    and they pissed in your mouth.
    (Lokasenna 34)
    Insults of this nature seem to have been merely rude or disgusting. More serious were those which were mentioned in the laws, concerning cowardice or unmanly behavior. Cowardice was perhaps the lesser of the two types of insults, although the categories blur:
    Enough strength hath Thórr, but a stout heart nowise:
    in fainthearted fear wast fooled in a mitten,
    nor seemed then Thórr himself:
    in utter dread thou didst not dare
    to fart or sneeze, lest Fjalar heard it.
    (Hįrbaršljóš 26)
    Other insults alleging craven behavior may be found in Hįrbaršljóš 27 and 51, as well as Lokasenna 13 and 15.

    More dangerous still were insults that called a man "gelding," implying cowardice as well as touching on the connotations of sexual perversity connected with the horse, as in the insult where Hrimgerš calls Atli "a gelding who is a coward, whinnying loudly like a stallion but with his heart in his hinder part" (Helgakviša Hjorvar&thornssonar 20).

    The very deadliest of insults were those which attributed effeminate behavior or sexual perversion to the victim. Accusations of seišr, women's magic or witchcraft, implied that the practitioner played the woman's part in the sexual act (Sturluson, Prose Edda, 66-68). Óšinn, a practitioner of seišr, was often taunted with the fact, although this insult is found in other contexts as well (Lokasenna 24, Helgakviša Hundingsbana 38). Similarly, an insult might call a man a mare, either directly or via a kenning such as "Grani's bride" -- Grani being the famous stallion belonging to Sigfried the Dragonslayer (Helgakviša Hundingsbana 42). Loki's shapeshifting into the form of a mare may have resulted in the best of horses, Óšinn's mount Sleipnir, but the implication of (at best) bisexuality was an inescapable slur on Loki's reputation ever after (Markey, 79). As the Gula&thorning Law states, it was equally insulting to liken a man to any creature that bears young. One of the more comprehensive insults of this class is to be found in Helgakviša Hundingsbana:
    A witch wast thou on Varin's Isle,
    didst fashion falsehoods and fawn on me, hag:
    to no wight would'st thou be wed to but me,
    to no sword-wielding swain but to Sinfjotli.

    Thou wast, witch hag, a valkyrie fierce
    in Allfather's hall, hateful and grim:
    all Valhöll's warriors had well-nigh battled,
    willful woman, to win thy hand.
    On Saga Ness full nine wolves we
    had together -- I gat them all.
    (Helgakviša Hundingsbana 38-39)
    This was directed at Gušmundr Granmatsson, one of King Helgi's captains and a formidable warrior!

    In pagan Scandinavia, a ritual form of insult was also practiced at times, the erection of a nķšstöng or scorn-pole. This ritual had five basic elements:




    1. an overt or covert association of ergi [effeminate behavior];
    2. implementation of an animal, usually female [i.e., a mare], as a totemic device whereby lack of masculinity is implied;
    3. an animal's body or head is mounted on a pole and turned toward the dwelling place of the person towards whom the nķš is directed;
    4. formulaic verse, often inscribed in runes on the pole supporting the totemic device;
    5. appellant incantations to the gods or spirits to confer magical power on the totemic device and/or carry out the desires of the nķšskald (Markey 77-78).
    Mention of this ritual is made in Book V of Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum and in chapter 33 of Vatnsdęla saga, but the most complete description is given in Egils saga Skallagrimssonar:

    Egil went ashore onto the island, picked up a branch of hazel and then went to a certain cliff that faced the mainland. Then he took a horse head, set it up on the pole and spoke these formal words:

    "Here I set up a pole of insult against King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild."

    Then, turning the horsehead towards the mainland:

    "And I direct this insult against the guardian spirits of this land, so that every one of them shall go astray, neither to figure nor to find their dwelling places until they have driven King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild from this country."

    Next, he jammed the pole into a cleft in the rock and left it standing there with the horsehead facing towards the mainland, and cut runes on the pole declaiming the words of his formal speech
    (Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, trans. Egil's Saga. New York: Penguin. 1976. p. 148)
    Lesbians in Viking Scandinavia

    There is little mention in the sources regarding lesbianism in the Viking Age. When the feminine form of the word argr, (org), is used about a woman, it does not indicate that she is homosexual, but rather lecherous or immodest. (Sųrenson 18). Stašarhólsbók, one of the existing versions of Grįgįs, prohibits a woman from wearing male clothing, from cutting her hair like a man, bearing arms, or in general behaving like a man (chapters 155 and 254), however it does not mention behaving sexually in the male role. After the onset of Christianity, of course, lovemaking between women was condemned by the Church as mentioned above. During the Viking Age, however, women were in short supply, at least in Iceland. Exposure of infants (barnaśtburšr) was a Viking Age practice, and female infants were preferentially exposed, leaving fewer women (Jochens 86). This meant that every woman who survived to reproductive age was going to be married to at least one man in her lifetime and would bear his children unless she were barren. This gave women quite a lot of their apparent power as reflected in the sagas, as a woman could control her husband quite well by threatening divorce (Clover 182).

    However, men also could have concubines so long as these were lower class (thrall) women (Karras). In many societies when there are several women living in a household who are all sexually tied to a single man, especially when the woman had no say in the arrangement of marriage or concubinage, then lesbian relationships could and did exist. There is good reason to see an almost "harem" atmosphere prevailing among the Vikings... the women tended to gather in the kvenna hśs (women's quarters) (Jochens 80), or in the dyngja (weaving room) where a man could not go without accruing shame for unmanly interests excepting only truly mighty ---i.e., virile--- heroes. Helgi Hundingsbana was able to hide disguised as a maid in the kvenna hśs, but for any lesser man such an act would have been regarded as cowardice, and the man who braved the dyngja would have been labeled as nķšingr and ragrmann simply because the location was so strongly associated with women's activity and central role in the society as weavers (Helgakviša Hundingsbana II 1-5). In most societies where polygamy is common and women are denied sexual outlets other than their husband, there is frequently lesbian activity to fill not only sexual but also emotional needs. If a husband had objected to his wife having a lesbian relationship, there would have been little he could have done about it, as she could always divorce him if he complained. This gave women, lesbians or not, quite a bit of power due to the relative scarcity of marriagable women, so long as they fulfilled their societal roles as wives and mothers.


    Gay Prostitution

    Other evidences of the acceptance of homosexuality in some circumstances at least is provided by the fact that apparently there were some men who acted as homosexual concubines or prostitutes. Olkofra žįttr, a short tale preserved in the manuscript Mošruvallabók (ca. mid 14th century C.E.) preserves the term argaskattr, which has the sense of "a fixed rate or other payment made to an argr man for his sexual performance" and further indicates that the worth of such a payment was very low indeed. (Sųrenson, 34-35). It would be logical to conclude that, like other concubines, these men selling sex to other men would have been of the lowest social class, thralls (Karras).


    Conclusion

    Overall, it is most important to realize that our written records of the Viking Age typically date from 200 to 300 years AFTER the events described. If you ask a room full of Americans to describe for you, in detail, the life of George Washington, you will be able to elicit no more than a handful of "facts," most of which will be demonstrably false... and we have classes and are forced to study Washington! This does not bode well for the accuracy of the saga accounts in regards to ancient practice. Accounts written in 1200-1300 were also written by Christian men, using the Christian technology of writing, and whose worldview would have roundly condemned homosexuality. Homosexuality did not have a good reputation during the Viking age as portrayed by the Christian writers. If homosexuals enjoyed a better reputation earlier than these accounts, we have no record of it, as the "golden age" of the culture probably occurred between 600 and 800, before the actual start of the Viking Age proper, and is unrecorded except dimly through legends.

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    Post Re: Gay Vikings?

    Very interesting. I had heard that some ancient armies, such as the Spartans and Romans, Homosexuality was a common thing while armies where out on a campaign. Soldiers would make boyfriends until they got home.
    Just close your eyes...can you remember
    The generations not so long ago
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    We wait for the chosen son's return

    I come alive
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    Make our past become the futre once more

    Still he lives! 2000 years have passed
    And still we're yearning for his return
    We fulfill a wishful prohecy
    And so the chanting begins
    Hail Caesar...Hail Caesar...we render unto you
    What is still yours

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    Post Re: Gay Vikings?

    Very interesting. I had heard that some ancient armies, such as the Spartans and Romans, Homosexuality was a common thing while armies where out on a campaign. Soldiers would make boyfriends until they got home.
    I heard the very same thing. I suppose it might have helped moral.

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    Post Re: Gay Vikings?

    Quote Originally Posted by Strengthandhonour
    Very interesting. I had heard that some ancient armies, such as the Spartans and Romans, Homosexuality was a common thing while armies where out on a campaign. Soldiers would make boyfriends until they got home.
    Homosexuality has been common among several warrior-tribes, however this has often been because of a distortion of the way they viewed women.

    It seems to have been the case that they became very martial and very "macho", and in this process they started viewing women as inferior. After a while they were seen as so inferior, that the thought of having sex with a woman was disgusting, since they could pollute the male with their inferiority. The tribesmen have then become paedophiles and started using boys instead. This was/is the case in New Guinea/Papua, I dont know if the same applied in Sparta or certain circles of the SA.

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    Post Re: Gay Vikings?

    Sacred Band of Thebes are likely some of the finest warriors in the history of humanity, and the first to defeat the Spartan army.

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    Post Re: Gay Vikings?

    hhhhmmmmmmmm..............disturbing subject

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    Post The Vikings and Homosexuality

    Gunnora Hallakarva

    The Vikings and Homosexuality


    Gunnora Hallakarva runs the Viking Answer Lady Page, a collection of essays on all sorts of aspects of Viking culture. She wrote this piece, which is a splendid summary of modern discussion on Viking homosexuality, and gave permission for its inclusion at the People With a History site.

    DEAR VIKING ANSWER LADY

    How did the Vikings regard and treat male and female homosexuals? I am considering adding a blue feather to my Viking garb, but I wonder how this will affect my persona?

    (signed) They Call me Strange Oddi

    GENTLE READER,

    My personal research into homosexuality in the Viking Age shows clearly that the Vikings had words (and therefore mental constructs and concepts) of same-sex activity; however since the needs of agricultural/pastoral living require reproduction not only to work the farm but also to provide support for the parent in old age, it was expected that no matter what one's affectional preferences were that each individual would marry and reproduce. There are no recorded instances of homosexual or lesbian couples in the Viking Age: moreover, the idea of living as an exclusively homosexual person did not exist in most cultures until present day Western civilization appeared. One's sexual partners mattered little so long as one married, had children, and conformed at least on the surface to societal norms so as not to disturb the community. Those Scandinavians who attempted to avoid marriage because of their sexuality were penalized in law: a man who shunned marriage was termed fušflogi (man who flees the female sex organ) while a woman who tried to avoid marriage was flannfluga (she who flees the male sex organ) (Jochens 65). The evidence of the sagas and laws shows that male homosexuality was regarded in two lights: there was nothing at all strange or shameful about a man having intercourse with another man if he was in the active or "manly" role, however the passive partner in homosexual intercourse was regarded with derision. It must be remembered, however, that the laws and sagas reflect the Christian consciousness of the Icelander or Norwegian of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, well after the pagan period. The myths and legends show that honored gods and heroes were believed to have taken part in homosexual acts, which may indicate that pre-Christian Viking Scandinavia was more tolerant of homosexuality, and history is altogether silent as to the practice of lesbianism in the Viking Age.

    OLD NORSE TERMINOLOGY REGARDING HOMOSEXUALITY AND RELATED CONCEPTS

    The Old Norse word used in the law code and literature for an insult was nķš , which may be defined as "libel, insult, scorn, lawlessness, cowardice, sexual perversion, homosexuality" (Markey 75). From nķš are derived such words as nķšvisur ("insulting verses"), nķšskald ("insult-poet"), nķšingr ("coward, outlaw"), grišnķšingr ("truce-breaker"), nķšstöng ("scorn-pole") (Markey 75, 79 & 80; Sųrenson 29), also nķša ("to perform nķš poetry"), tungunķš ("verbal nķš"), trénķš ("timber nķš", carved or sculpted representations of men involved in a homosexual act, related to niķšstöng, above) (Sųrenson 28-29). Nķš was part of a family of concepts which all have connotations of passive male homosexuality, such as: ergi or regi (nouns) and argr or ragr (the adjective form of ergi) ("willing or inclined to play or interested in playing the female part in sexual relations with another man, unmanly, effeminate, cowardly"); ergjask ("to become argr"); rassragr ("arse-ragr"); strošinn and soršinn ("sexually used by a man") and sansoršinn ("demonstrably sexually used by another man") (Sųrenson 17-18, 80). A man who is a seišmašr (one who practices women's magic) who is argr is called seišskratti (Sųrenson 63).

    ATTITUDES ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY INTRODUCED BY CHRISTIANITY

    The secular laws of Viking Age Iceland do not mention homosexuality. The only place where homosexuality is documentably prohibited is by the Christian Church. The Icelandic Homily Book (ca. 1200 C.E.) has a sermon which states that among grave sins are "those appalling secret sins perpetrated by men who respect men no more than women, or violate quadrupeds." Bishop Žorlįkr Žórhallson of Skįholt's Penetential (ca. 1178-1193 C.E.) lists penances of nine or ten years that include flogging for "adultery between males, or that committed by men on quadrupeds," and says of lesbianism that "if women satisfy each other they shall be ordered the same penance as men who perform the most hideous adultery between them or with a quadruped." (Sųrenson 26) Christian belief condemns both the active and passive roles of homosexual intercourse, whereas the pagan Scandinavians attached disapproval only to the male who was homosexually passive.

    VIKING ATTITUDES ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY AND MANLINESS

    Homosexuality was not regarded by the Viking peoples as being evil, perverted, innately against the laws of nature or any of the other baggage about the concept that Christian belief has provided Western culture. Rather, it was felt that a man who subjected himself to another in sexual affairs would do the same in other areas, being a follower rather than a leader, and allowing others to do his thinking or fighting for him. Thus, homosexual sex was not what was condemned, but rather the failure to stand for one's self and make one's own decisions, to fight one's own fights, which went directly against the Nordic ethic of self-reliance. (Sųrenson 20). Being used homosexually by another man was equated with cowardice because of the custom of sexual aggression against vanquished foes. This practice is documented in Sturlunga saga, most notably in Gušmundar saga dżra where Gušmundr takes captive a man and his wife, and plans for both the woman and the man to be raped as a means of sexual humiliation (Ok var žat viš orš at leggja Žórunni ķ rekkju hjį einhverjum gįrungi, en gera žat vi Björn prest, at žat žaelig;tti eigi minni svķviršing.) (Sųrenson 82, 111; Sturlunga saga, I, 201). In addition to rape, defeated enemies were frequently castrated, again testified to in several places by Sturlunga saga. Grįgįs records that a klįmhogg or "shame-stroke" on the buttocks was, along with castration, a "major wound" (hin meiri sįr), ranked with wounds that penetrated the brain, abdomen, or marrow: the klįmhogg was thus equated with castration as "unmanning" the victim, and classed with wounds that cause major penetrations of the body, strongly suggesting that the term refers to rape or forced anal sex such as was inflicted on a defeated combatant (Sųrenson 68). It is not known how widespread the practice of raping defeated foes actually was, or if it existed before the advent of Christianity, but in other cultures which have had as strong an ethic of masculine aggression as existed among the Vikings, the rape of defeated foemen was obligatory. The attitude that homosexual usage of an enemy was a means of humiliation in turn would have weighed heavily against men in homosexual relationships: if it was a shameful humiliation of an enemy, performing intercourse with a beloved friend would have been regarded as a the worst sort of betrayal or lack of loyalty (Sųrenson 28). Since all the references in literature and especially insults indicate that to be sansoršinn, ragr, nķšingr or to be accused of ergi is to be a man who is the passive recipient of anal sex, we do not know if the Vikings regarded oral sex between men unfavorably or not (or, in fact, how they regarded oral sex in general, no matter who, male or female, was doing it, or to whom, male or female, it was being done). It is interesting to note that the Vikings considered that old age caused a man to become argr. A well-known proverb stated svį ergisk hverr sem eldisk, "everyone gets argr as he gets older." This possibly could point to an increasing acceptance of homosexuality after a man had raised a family and grew older (Sųrenson 20), although a man such as the chieftain Snorri goši who fathered 22 children, the last at the age of 77 (just before he died), certainly proves that a man never was really too old to father children! (Jochens 81). For a man who could not have children (whether due to impotence, sterility, age, etc.) homosexual relations may have been acceptable. One slang term for such a man seems to have been kottrinn inn blauši, or "soft cat" as reported in Stśfs žaacute;ttr, an epilogue to Laxdęla saga, in a conversation between the Norwegian king Haraldr haršrįši and Stśfr, the son of Žóršr kottr (Žóršr the Cat): puzzled by the unusual nickname, Haraldr asks Stśfr whether his father Žóršr was kottrinn inn hvati eša inn blauši, "the hard or the soft cat." Stśfr declines to answer despite the implied insult, but the king admits that his question was foolish because "the person who is soft (blaušr) could not be a father" (Jochens 76).

    INSULTS ALLEGING HOMOSEXUALITY

    There is ample documentation of homosexuality in insults. Judging by the literature, the Vikings were the "rednecks" of medieval Europe... if you went into the mead hall and called a man a faggot, he'd do the same thing that any good ol' boy at a Texas cowboy bar would do. The end result would be a big axe in your head instead of a big cowboy boot in your face, but the idea is the same. Furthermore, in every one of the instances where nķš or ergi is encountered as an accusation, no one seriously believes that the accused party is in fact homosexual: the charge is symbolic, rather like calling a modern redneck "queer" to provoke him to fight. (Sųrenson 20) Because, then as now, some sorts of insults were "fightin' words" or even killing words, Scandinavian law codes made certain types of insults illegal, and either condoned the victim's slaying of the slanderer or penalized the utterance of insults with outlawry. The Gulažing Law of Norway (ca. 100-1200 C.E.) Says: Um fullrettes orš. Orš ero žau er fullrettis orš heita. Žat er eitt ef mašr kvešr at karlmanne ošrom at hann have barn boret. Žat er annat ef mašr kyešr hann vęra sannsoršenn. Žat er hit žrišia ef hann iamnar hanom viš meri ęša kallar hann grey ęša portkono ęša iamnar hanom viš berende eitthvert. Concerning terms of abuse or insult. There are words which are considered terms of abuse. Item one: if a man say of another man that he has borne a child. Item two: if a man say of another man that he has been homosexually used. Item three: if a man compare another man to a mare, or call him a bitch or a harlot, or compare him to any animal which bears young (Markey, 76, 83) Similarly, the Icelandic law code Grįgįs (ca. 1100-1200 C.E.) has: Žav ero orš riś ef sva mioc versna mįls endar manna er scog gang vašla avll. Ef mašr kallar man ragan eša strošinn eša soršinn. Oc scal sųkia sem avnnor full rettis orš enda a mašr vigt igegn žeim oršum žrimr. Then there are three terms which occasion bringing such a serious suit against a man that they are worthy to outlaw him. If a man call a man unmanly [effeminate], or homosexual, or demonstrably homosexually used by another man, he shall proceed to prosecute as with other terms of abuse, and indeed a man has the right to avenge with combat for these terms of abuse (Markey, 76, 83). The Frostažing Law likewise tells us that it is fullréttisorš (verbal offenses for which full compensation or fines must be paid to the injured party) to compare a man to a dog, or to call him sannsoršinn (demonstrably homosexually used by another man), but goes on to penalize as hįlfréttisorš (requiring one-half compensation) terms which in our culture would almost be considered complementary, including comparing a man with a bull, a stallion, or other male animal (Sųrenson 16). Many exchanges of insults are to be found in the Poetic Edda, particularly in Hįrbaršljóš , a man-matching between Óšinn and Thórr; Lokasenna, in which Loki insults the Norse gods; Helgakviša Hundingsbana in the exchange of deadly insults between Sinfjotli and Gušmundr; Helgakviša Hjorvaršssonar in the exchange of threats between Atli and the giantess Hrimgerš. Other instances may be found in the sagas such as Egils saga skallagrimssonar and Vatnsdęla saga. Insults directed at men come in several varieties. Taunts might sneer at a man's poverty, as Óšinn does when he tells Thórr that he is "but a barefoot beggar with his buttocks shining through his breeches" (Hįrbaršljóš 6), or declare a man to be a cuckold (Hįrbaršljóš 48, Lokasenna 40). Some insults were scatological: Žegi žuacute; Nioršr! žuacute; vart austr hešan gķls um sendr at gošom; Hymis meyiar hofšo žic at hlandtrogi oc žeacute;r ķ munn migo. Be thou silent, Njoršr! you were sent eastward to the gods as a hostage; Hymir's maidens used you as a piss-trough and they pissed in your mouth. (Lokasenna 34) Insults of this nature seem to have been merely rude or disgusting. More serious were those which were mentioned in the laws, concerning cowardice or unmanly behavior. Cowardice was perhaps the lesser of the two types of insults, although the categories blur: Enough strength hath Thórr, but a stout heart nowise: in fainthearted fear wast fooled in a mitten, nor seemed then Thórr himself: in utter dread thou didst not dare to fart or sneeze, lest Fjalar heard it. (Hįrbaršljóš 26) Other insults alleging craven behavior may be found in Hįrbaršljóš 27 and 51, as well as Lokasenna 13 and 15. More dangerous still were insults that called a man "gelding," implying cowardice as well as touching on the connotations of sexual perversity connected with the horse, as in the insult where Hrimgerš calls Atli "a gelding who is a coward, whinnying loudly like a stallion but with his heart in his hinder part" (Helgakviša Hjorvaržssonar 20). The very deadliest of insults were those which attributed effeminate behavior or sexual perversion to the victim. Accusations of seišr, women's magic or witchcraft, implied that the practitioner played the woman's part in the sexual act (Sturluson, Prose Edda, 66-68). Óšinn, a practitioner of seišr, was often taunted with the fact, although this insult is found in other contexts as well (Lokasenna 24, Helgakviša Hundingsbana 38). Similarly, an insult might call a man a mare, either directly or via a kenning such as "Grani's bride" -- Grani being the famous stallion belonging to Sigfried the Dragonslayer (Helgakviša Hundingsbana 42). Loki's shapeshifting into the form of a mare may have resulted in the best of horses, Óšinn's mount Sleipnir, but the implication of (at best) bisexuality was an inescapable slur on Loki's reputation ever after (Markey, 79). As the Gulažing Law states, it was equally insulting to liken a man to any creature that bears young. One of the more comprehensive insults of this class is to be found in Helgakviša Hundingsbana: A witch wast thou on Varin's Isle, didst fashion falsehoods and fawn on me, hag: to no wight would'st thou be wed to but me, to no sword-wielding swain but to Sinfjotli. Thou wast, witch hag, a valkyrie fierce in Allfather's hall, hateful and grim: all Valhöll's warriors had well-nigh battled, willful woman, to win thy hand. On Saga Ness full nine wolves we had together -- I gat them all. (Helgakviša Hundingsbana 38-39) This was directed at Gušmundr Granmatsson, one of King Helgi's captains and a formidable warrior! In pagan Scandinavia, a ritual form of insult was also practiced at times, the erection of a nķšstöng or scorn-pole. This ritual had five basic elements: (1) an overt or covert association of ergi [effeminate behavior]; (2) implementation of an animal, usually female [i.e., a mare], as a totemic device whereby lack of masculinity is implied; (3) an animal's body or head is mounted on a pole and turned toward the dwelling place of the person towards whom the nķš is directed; (4) formulaic verse, often inscribed in runes on the pole supporting the totemic device; (5) appellant incantations to the gods or spirits to confer magical power on the totemic device and/or carry out the desires of the nķšskald (Markey 77-78). Mention of this ritual is made in Book V of Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum and in chapter 33 or Vatnsdęla saga, but the most complete description is given in Egils saga skallagrimssonar: Egil went ashore onto the island, picked up a branch of hazel and then went to a certain cliff that faced the mainland. Then he took a horse head, set it up on the pole and spoke these formal words: "Here I set up a pole of insult against King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild." Then, turning the horsehead towards the mainland: "And I direct this insult against the guardian spirits of this land, so that every one of them shall go astray, neither to figure nor to find their dwelling places until they have driven King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild from this country." Next, he jammed the pole into a cleft in the rock and left it standing there with the horsehead facing towards the mainland, and cut runes on the pole declaiming the words of his formal speech (Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, trans. Egil's Saga, New York, Penguin, 1976, p. 148)

    LESBIANS IN VIKING SCANDINAVIA

    There is little mention in the sources regarding lesbianism in the Viking Age. When the feminine form of the word argr, (org), is used about a woman, it does not indicate that she is homosexual, but rather lecherous or immodest. (Sųrenson 18). Stašarhólsbók, one of the existing versions of Grįgįs, prohibits a woman from wearing male clothing, from cutting her hair like a man, bearing arms, or in general behaving like a man (chs 155 and 254), however it does not mention behaving sexually in the male role. After the onset of Christianity, of course, lovemaking between women was condemned by the Church as mentioned above. During the Viking Age, however, women were in short supply, at least in Iceland. Exposure of infants (barnaśtburšr) was a Viking Age practice, and female infants were preferentially exposed, leaving fewer women (Jochens 86). This meant that every woman who survived to reproductive age was going to be married to at least one man in her lifetime and would bear his children unless she were barren. This gave women quite a lot of their apparent power as reflected in the sagas, as a woman could control her husband quite well by threatening divorce (Clover 182). However, men also could have concubines so long as these were lower class (thrall) women (Karras). In many societies when there are several women living in a household who are all sexually tied to a single man, especially when the woman had no say in the arrangement of marriage or concubinage, then lesbian relationships could and did exist. There is good reason to see an almost "harem" atmosphere prevailing among the Vikings... the women tended to gather in the kvenna hśs (women's quarters) (Jochens 80), or in the dyngja (weaving room) where a man could not go without accruing shame for unmanly interests excepting only truly mighty ---i.e., virile--- heroes. Helgi Hundingsbana was able to hide disguised as a maid in the kvenna hśs, but for any lesser man such an act would have been regarded as cowardice, and the man who braved the dyngja would have been labeled as nķšingr and ragrmann simply because the location was so strongly associated with women's activity and central role in the society as weavers (Helgakviša Hundingsbana II 1-5). In most societies where polygamy is common and women are denied sexual outlets other than their husband, there is frequently lesbian activity to fill not only sexual but also emotional needs. If a husband had objected to his wife having a lesbian relationship, there would have been little he could have done about it, as she could always divorce him if he complained. This gave women, lesbians or not, quite a bit of power due to the relative scarcity of marriagable women, so long as they fulfilled their societal roles as wives and mothers.

    HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE GODS, PRIESTS, AND HEROES

    Another aspect to the question of homosexuality is the fact that certain of the gods, heroes and highly respected priests of the gods, apparently indulged in homosexual, "unmanly" or "questionable" practices. Loki, of course, is clearly bisexual as he certainly took the female role sexually at least during the encounter with the giant's stallion in Gylfaginning, which says that "Loki had had such dealings with Svašilfari (the stallion) that sometime later he bore a foal," the most wonderful of all horses, Óšinn's eight-legged steed Sleipnir (Sturluson, Prose Edda, 68). Óšinn himself, the Allfather and King of the Gods, was justly accused of ergi or unmanliness because of his practice of seišr or women's magic, as learned from the goddess Freyja. We are not certain what it is about seišr that made it "unmanly" for a man to practice the art: it could be anything from the idea of cowardice as a result of being able to harm your enemies through magic rather than in open battle, to overt sexual rituals involving the seišr-practitioner as the passive sexual partner, or even as the passive homosexual partner. Ynglingasaga explains: Ošinn kunni ža ķžrótt, er mestr mįttr fylgši, ok framši siįlfr, er seišr heitr, en af žuķ mįtti hannvita ųrlog manna ok óoršna hluti, suį ok at gera monnum bana eša óhamingiu eša vanheilendi, suį ok at taka frį monnum vit eša afl ok geta ošrum. En žessi fiolkyngi, er framiš er, fylgir suį mikil ergi, at eigi žoacute;tti karlmonnum skammlaust viš at fara, ok var gyšiunum kend sś ķžrótt. Óšinn had the skill which gives great power and which he practiced himself. It is called seišr, and by means of it he could know the fate of men and predict events that had not yet come to pass; and by it he could also inflict death or misfortunes or sickness, or also deprive people of their wits or strength, and give them to others. But this sorcery is attended by such great ergi that men considered it shameful to practice it, and so it was taught to priestesses (Ynglingasaga 7). Apparently homosexuals had a role within the worship of the Vanic gods. The Christian chronicler Saxo Grammaticus scornfully reported in his Gesta Danorum that some priests of Freyr used "effeminate gestures and the clapping of the mimes on stage and . . . the unmanly clatter of the bells." Dumézil sees evidence for a group of priests of Njöršr and Freyr who were honored, yet seem to have engaged in acts of argr, and who may have worn their hair in styles reserved normally only for women or even dressed themselves as women (Dumézil 115). One might assume that the morals expected of gods cannot necessarily be applied for humans. However, there were likewise a number of heroes known to have been guilty of ergi such as Helgi Hundingsbana (see above). Another famous ragr hero is the famous Icelandic hero Grettir, who in the poem Grettisfęrsla is said to have had sexual intercourse with "maidens and widows, everyone's wives, farmers' sons, deans and courtiers, abbots and abbesses, cows and calves, indeed with near all living creatures," (Sųrenson 18) yet no one attached opprobrium to Grettir because of his vast, and omnisexual, prowess. The God Freyr

    GAY PROSTITUTION

    Other evidences of the acceptance of homosexuality in some circumstances at least is provided by the fact that apparently there were some men who acted as homosexual concubines or prostitutes. Olkofra žaacute;ttr, a short tale preserved in the manuscript Mošruvallabók (ca. mid 14th century C.E.) preserves the term argaskattr, which has the sense of "a fixed rate or other payment made to an argr man for his sexual performance" and further indicates that the worth of such a payment was very low indeed. (Sųrenson, 34-35). It would be logical to conclude that, like other concubines, these men selling sex to other men would have been of the lowest social class, thralls (Karras).

    SAME-SEX COUPLES IN ART

    A provoking bit of information is provided in the art-historical evidence as well. There exist a good number of small gold foil plaques known as goldgubber which depict a couple embracing. Frequently these are assumed to be Freyr, god of fertility, and Gerš, the beautiful giant maiden, and many commentators such as Hilda Ellis-Davidson believe that they may have been used at weddings.(Ellis-Davidson, Myths and Symbols, pp. 31-31 and p. 121). However, if one looks closely, at least two of the surviving goldgubber depict same sex couples embracing, one two bearded figures, another two women with the typical long, knotted hair, large breasts, and trailing dresses! Since these plaques in general are associated with weddings and sexual union, it is tempting to assume that these two same sex examples represent and/or commemorate homosexual relationships. Of course, the plaques in question could simply depict two friends embracing. Another possible explanation is that, in many cultures, people do not dance with the opposite sex, only with members of their own gender, and that therefore these figures may be representations of dancers.

    CONCLUSION

    Overall, it is most important to realize that our written records of the Viking Age typically date from 200 to 300 years AFTER the events described. If you ask a room full of Americans to describe for you, in detail, the life of George Washington, you will be able to elicit no more than a handful of "facts," most of which will be demonstrably false... and we have classes and are forced to study Washington! This does not bode well for the accuracy of the saga accounts in regards to ancient practice. Accounts written in 1200-1300 were also written by Christian men, using the Christian technology of writing, and whose worldview would have roundly condemned homosexuality. Homosexuality did not have a good reputation during the Viking age as portrayed by the Christian writers. If homosexuals enjoyed a better reputation earlier than these accounts, we have no record of it, as the "golden age" of the culture probably occurred between 600 and 800, before the actual start of the Viking Age proper, and is unrecorded except dimly through legends.


    References

    Bax, Marcel and Tineke Padmos. "Two Types of Verbal Dueling in Old Icelandic: the Interactional Structure of the Senna and the Mannjafnašr in Hįrbaršljóš" in Scandinavian Studies 55:2 (Spring 1983) pp. 147-174.

    Clover, Carol J. "The Politics of Scarcity: Notes on the Sex Ratios in Early Scandinavia." Scandinavian Studies 60(1988):147-188.

    Damsholt, Nanna. "The Role of Icelandic Women in the Sagas and in the Production of Homespun Cloth." Scandinavian Journal of History 9(1984):75-90.

    Dumézil, Georges. From Myth to Fiction: the Saga of Hadingus. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1970.

    Ellis-Davidson, Hilda R. "Insults and Riddles in the Edda Poems," in Edda: A Collection of Essays. eds. Robert J. Glendinning and Haraldur Bessason. Manitoba, Univ of Manitoba Press, 1983, pp. 25-46.

    Ellis-Davidson, Hilda R. . Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions. Syracuse: Syracuse U.P. 1988.

    Hollander, Lee M. trans. The Poetic Edda. Austin, Univ. of Texas Press. 1962. [References to poems of the Poetic Edda are indicated in the text by the name of the poem and the verse number].

    Jochens, Jenny. Women in Old Norse Society. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press. 1995. Jóhannesson, Jón et al., eds. Sturlunga saga, vols. I and II, Reykyavķk, 1946.

    Karras, Ruth M. "Concubinage and Slavery in the Viking Age," Scandinavian Studies. 62 [1990]: pp. 141-162.

    Markey, T.L. "Nordic Nķšvisur: an Instance of Ritual Inversion?" in Studies in Medieval Culture 10 (1977) pp. 75-85.

    Sųrenson, Preben M. The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society. trans. Joan Turville-Petre. Odense Univ. Press. 1983. ISBN 87-7492-4362.

    Stromback, Dag. Sejd: Textstudier I Nordisk Religionshistoria. Stockholm: Hugo Gebers Förlag. 1935.

    Sturluson, Snorri. Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway. Lee M. Hollander, trans. Austin: University of Texas Press. 1964. [References to selections of Heimskringla are indicated in the text by the name of the selection (i.e., Ynglingasaga) and the chapter number].

    Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. trans. Jean I. Young. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press. 1954; 1962.
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    Post Re: The Vikings and Homosexuality

    A few Universalist "Asatruars" on a yahoo group of mine had a discussion about this. The Universalists were ultimately owned Here were a few points made:

    To quote "Germania" by Tacitus:

    "Traitors and deserters are hanged on trees; cowards, shirkers and
    sodomites are pressed down under a wicker hurdle into the slimy mud of
    a bog. This distinction in the punishments is based on the idea that
    the offenders against the state should be made a public example of,
    whereas deeds of shame should be buried out of men's sight."

    "The edda's give us great examples of what the gods thought of
    Homosexuality. For example Thor having to dress up as a woman (As
    Freyja in this case) to get his hammer back from the giant Thrym. The
    story goes Thor said he would not do it because he didn't want to be
    the laughing stock of Asgard and that he was embarrassed and ashamed
    to do it but he knew he had to, for the good of the collective group."

    "The very deadliest of insults were those which attributed effeminate
    behavior or sexual perversion to the victim. Accusations of seišr,
    women's magic or witchcraft, implied that the practitioner played the
    woman's part in the sexual act" (Sturluson, Prose Edda, 66-68).

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    Post Re: The Vikings and Homosexuality

    Quote Originally Posted by ForMyFatherland
    A few Universalist "Asatruars" on a yahoo group of mine had a discussion about this. The Universalists were ultimately owned Here were a few points made:

    To quote "Germania" by Tacitus:

    "Traitors and deserters are hanged on trees; cowards, shirkers and
    sodomites are pressed down under a wicker hurdle into the slimy mud of
    a bog. This distinction in the punishments is based on the idea that
    the offenders against the state should be made a public example of,
    whereas deeds of shame should be buried out of men's sight."

    "The edda's give us great examples of what the gods thought of
    Homosexuality. For example Thor having to dress up as a woman (As
    Freyja in this case) to get his hammer back from the giant Thrym. The
    story goes Thor said he would not do it because he didn't want to be
    the laughing stock of Asgard and that he was embarrassed and ashamed
    to do it but he knew he had to, for the good of the collective group."

    "The very deadliest of insults were those which attributed effeminate
    behavior or sexual perversion to the victim. Accusations of seišr,
    women's magic or witchcraft, implied that the practitioner played the
    woman's part in the sexual act" (Sturluson, Prose Edda, 66-68).
    fantastic reference, I will use this.

    where can I read this discussion?
    Mother is the name of God in the lips and hearts of children.

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