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The secret LGBTI history of Vikings, Valkyries and Norse gods

The secret LGBTI history of Vikings, Valkyries and Norse gods

Tom Hiddleston and Tessa Thompson fighting in a scene of Thor: Ragnarok.

You don’t need to hold a PhD in Norse mythology to know that Viking warriors and Norse gods were among the queerest of all times.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe hinted at that, although very vaguely, on several occasions.

Despite the movies watered down the comics, it is not impossible to see the saga going bolder in the future, especially with a TV show focusing on Loki in the works. DC will have its first lesbian superhero, after all. It’s time Marvel’s Norse gods and heroes followed suit.

Moreover, both Tom Hiddleston and Tessa Thompson have said that they played their characters in Thor and Avengers – Loki and Valkyrie respectively – as bisexuals.

Thompson as Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok. The warrior is modeled after Brynhild, the Old Norse heroine. | Photo: Marvel/Walt Disney

In the comics, Valkyrie has a relationship with anthropologist Annabelle Riggs.

Thompson, who is bisexual, also confirmed there was a scene from Thor: Ragnarok that would have made her character’s attraction to both genders canon. The scene, showing a woman walking out of Valkyrie’s bedroom, would have implied the warrior dates both guys and girls, but sadly didn’t make it to the final cut.

There might take time for Marvel to give us the historically accurate, queer Norse folks we deserve. In the meantime, GSN unpacked early northern mythology to reveal the LGBTI elements in gods and heroes’ tales from the Viking Age.

Loki is bisexual and gender-fluid

Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Avengers: Infinity War. | Photo: Marvel/Walt Disney

Some gods, heroes and highly respected priests apparently indulged in homosexual practices.

The trickster god Loki is surely one of the most prominent examples in this regard. His bisexuality and gender-fluidity are canon, according to the crucial texts of Norse literature, Prose and Poetic Edda.

Although these texts were written 200 or 300 years after the actual Viking Age (793–1066 AD) and were therefore deeply influenced by Christianity, they are invaluable sources to have a grasp of how same-sex relationships were regarded at the time.

Loki is definitely bisexual and a shapeshifter. He can change species and gender at his will – or should we say, their?

Specifically, Loki turns into a mare, has a sexual encounter with a giant’s stallion and gives birth, as attested in Gylfaginning, the first part of Prose Edda, dating back to the 13th century.

The author of Prose Edda Snorri Sturluson wrote that ‘Loki had had such dealings with Svaðilfari (the stallion) that sometime later he bore a foal’.

Both the Poetic and the Prose Edda clarify that the foal will grow to become Odin’s eight-legged steed Sleipnir. It is safe to say Loki and Svaðilfari are same-sex parents.

Odin practices women’s magic

The Allfather Odin practiced seiðr, a form of magic traditionally associated with women that he learned from goddess Freya.

In the Lokasenna, a poem in the Poetic Edda where Loki insults all other gods, he mocks Odin for practicing this kind of magic.

Accusing a man of seiðr was one of the greatest offenses. Women’s magic or witchcraft, in fact, implied that the practitioner played the woman’s part in the sexual act.

Bottom-shaming was a thing in the Viking Age

Ragnar and Athelstan in a scene of Vikings.
Some fans hoped to see the relationship between Ragnar and Athelstan taking a romantic turn in Vikings. | Photo: Vikings/History

Male homosexuality and bisexuality were contemplated in the Viking Age prior to Christianization.

In the pagan age, in fact, the common language included words to refer to same-sex intercourse, mainly used as slurs.

Gay sex wasn’t unusual, but a man couldn’t be with male partners for all his life. He had to conform to the traditional role of husband and father, hence marrying a woman and having children.

While there wasn’t anything shameful with being active in a gay relationship, Vikings considered the passive partners as weak.

They used to rape enemies after winning a battle in order to humiliate them. Therefore, those who were passive in a same-sex sexual encounter were deemed not strong enough to be leaders.

Preben Meulengracht Sørenson is the author of an essay on sexual defamation in early northern societies. He explained that having intercourse with a beloved friend was the worst sort of betrayal or lack of loyalty due to the link between gay sex and enemy-shaming.

Overall, Vikings didn’t regard homosexuality as something against nature. They rather believed being passive was something affecting a warrior’s strength and manhood, crucial qualities during a raid.

Polyamory and female bisexuality

Astrid and Lagertha in a scene of Vikings. | Photo: History

There are very little references to lesbianism and female bisexuality in traditional sources. Nonetheless, same-sex sexual and emotional relationships between women weren’t rare, says Christie Ward.

The independent scholar and expert in Norse mythology pointed out that many Vikings used to have relationships with multiple women.

A Viking married one woman, but created a harem-like structure in his own house, having concubines from inferior social classes. A Viking’s wife then could develop a bond with other women under her roof. A bond which involved sexual intercourses in many instances.

There was a high tolerance for these same-sex relationships. A Viking’s wife, in fact, was more independent if compared to women in other societies of the time. She was in charge of the house from a financial point of view and could even decide to divorce her husband.

And then Christians came along

It shouldn’t be surprising if homosexuality became explicitly prohibited after the Christianization, which took place around the 12th century.

The Old Icelandic Homily Book, which dates back to 1200, is a collection of Old West Norse sermons. It includes a sermon which enlists homosexuality among ‘those appalling secret sins perpetrated by men who respect men no more than women, or violate quadrupeds’.

This applied to both men and women.

Moreover, according to bishop Þorlákr Þórhallson of Skáholt’s Penetential, male and female same-sex sexual intercourse was punished with several penances, including flogging.

Finally, unlike Vikings, Christians condemned both men in the active and passive role during intercourse.

Despite the Christians’ interference, Norse mythology’s queerness couldn’t be erased from traditional sources and this should be reflected in any depiction from that time, whether onscreen or offscreen. Marvel, your turn.

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