I recently read the book Phallos by Thorkil Vanggaard. The overall theme of the book was about phallicism and how it was expressed in many cultures including the ancient Norse cultures. I’ve often heard that the Norse looked down on homosexuality and effeminacy, but reading Vanggaard’s book gave me a different perspective on the matter.
The terms Arg, Argr, Ragr, and Ergi are Norse insults for effeminate men, as well as the male submissive partner in male-male anal sex. According to Vanggaard, the taboo and insults weren’t directed at homosexuality itself but at being submissive and violated. In many cultures, the Norse included, homosexual dominance was used as a political or personal power play to denote the dominant partner as being superior or masculine than another. There was no taboo against being the dominant participant, and even heterosexual men engaged in such acts. Being the submissive participant acted upon by another brought with it a sense of shame. It can be likened letting oneself be bullied or being someone’s “bitch” in a prison environment.
According to Vanggaard, this is why homosexual relations among equals in rank or age are problematic in many ancient cultures, and also why we frequently see culturally approved homosexuality between people in different age groups and social brackets. It’s socially acceptable for someone younger or of a lower social rank to be submissive to someone of higher rank or age.
Vanggaard also suggests that while anal submission was viewed with contempt, male-male genital relations may have been common – especially among the Vikings – in much the same way it is in other all-male military and educational environments where sexual release is needed in the absence of women.
The Norse had rituals for joining men as blood brothers, and Vanggaard suggests that these relationships may have involved genital sex and that these men were often buried together in a way that resembled that of man and wife. In the Blood Brothers Saga, Thorgeir and Thormod were blood brothers and may have been lovers.
My previous research as alluded to the fact that the Norse god Freyr (a phallic fertility god) was worshipped by a sect of effeminate male priests who rang bells and that other homosexual rites may have been involved in his worship. Vanggaard mentions that animal phalluses, including those of reindeer, were sacrificed to Freyr. A description of this is given in the Song of Volse. Some men, including the god Odin practiced the feminine art of Seidr, a form of shamanism. The masculine counterpart was Galdr, which involved singing incantations.
As I mentioned in my last podcast on gay werewolves, Norse wolf warrior bands may have involved some type of homosexual initiation. I’m still researching this and hope to have more to report in the e-book I’m writing on gay werewolves. There may be some connection to these initiations and the Norse story of Gudmundr. In one of the stories, Gudmundr is accused of being agr, but the sorcerer Sinfjotli argues that all of Odin’s warriors (the einherjar) fought to win his love. Sinfjotli goes on to say that Gudmundr is pregnant with nine wolf cubs and that he, Sinfjotli, was the father. Sinfjotli was a sorcerer who is described as being Ylvingar or “wolf’s kin” and who sometimes takes on the form of a wolf. Sinfjotli would not have dishonored the einherjar or himself by saying this if there was a taboo against being the dominant homosexual partner.
For further reading on the subject:
I just finished reading the book “Phallos: A Symbol and It’s History in the Male World” by Thorkil Vanggaard. Although the book was written in Denmark in 1969 and translated to English in 1972, I found the book interesting and relevent even 40 years later in 2014. Vanggaard weaves together a history of phallicism in many cultures throughout history – starting with ancient Greece and then highlighting Norse, Scandinavian, Jewish,and pre-Christian Roman cultures. He then outlines how phallicism continued and changed under Christianity and was persecuted as an element of hereticism and witchcraft in the middle and post-middle ages.
While he does mention some phallic cults, Vanggaard’s main focus is on what he calls a “radical” homosexual element that exists both in heterosexual men and “inverse” or true homosexuals. He describes how some cultures like ancient Greece considered phallicism and male-male pederastic relationships sacred, and how both heterosexual and inverse homosexual men engaged in these relationships without the same stigma modern society ascribes to such relations. To him what made these relationships work was the fact that there was a difference in the ages and sometimes status of the men involved in these homosexual relationships. He contrasts this with the Norse concept of Argr, basically an insult to effeminate men and men who were the submissive partners in homosexual sex – anal sex specifically. There was no shame in being a dominant partner in homosexual sex, and Vanngaard also suggests that non-anal, genital sex may have been common and accepted among the Norse. The taboo in Norse culture, and other cultures mentioned in the book, is related to dominance and submission. In these cultures it is important for men of similar age and rank to be equals, and being the submissive partner taints one’s credibility as such.
Vanggaard suggests that the phallus has a dual symbolism in many cultures. It can be erotic or it can be aggressive. The phallus can be viewed as an object of beauty and eroticism as it was amongst the ancient Greeks or it can be transmuted into aggressive symbols like the sword, spear, lance, and arrow. Due to religious influences and differences in culture, this phallicism and phallic symbolism has gone deep into the underground of the subconscious, especially in modern heterosexual men.
Vanggaard uses baboons as an example of the aggressive use of the phallus in nature. Male baboons often guard their troops from other troops of baboons by standing around the perimeter with exhibiting their erect penis. This is an aggressive stance and a warning sign to the other baboons. It is interesting that among the Greeks Herms (statue pillars with a head and erect penis) often guarded boundaries or the entrances to houses. The Romans placed statues of Priapus with an erect penis in orchards to frighten away birds and theives. In ancient Greece, phalluses were used as grave markers, especially to those who donated to the theater in their life. Norse bauta stones (phallic shaped stones) marked graves and sacred spots. In these cases, the phallus was probably used to ward off trespassers and those who meant harm. Phallic amulets are still in use today, and may have a similar warding effect. There is a magickal phallic gesture called the “fica” that is used as a defense against the evil eye and “other dangers.” This gesture is made by placing the thumb through the second and third fingers.
Horned animals also play into phallic symbolism, and many phallic gods have horns.
I will likely make another blog post soon with more of my notes from the book, and my next podcast will be on phallicism. I’m hoping this will be out sometime in April or May of this year.