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: