Within the Germanic Faith we often face attacks and attempts at censor from various currents of society who would seek to identify us as divergent or even dangerous to the accepted ideas and behavior of modern society. One of the most frequent of these attempts comes from the realm of modern political ideologies, in this case the prevailing doctrine of liberalism, which has sought to corrupt or ignore the sacred traditions of our forefathers so as to make it more palatable for them.
In the following article, I will discuss the actual traditional beliefs, mindset and worldview of our ancestors within the field of homosexuality and other sexual deviances in order to showcase the incompatibility of the modern with that of the ancient and true.
Nith And Ergi
No topic like this could begin without a discussion and examination of a principal facet of our ancestors’ understanding of the world contained in the terms “Níð” (Nith) and “Ergi”, of which a thorough understanding of the Theological and Sociological significance is crucial when discussing how our forefathers might have interpreted or understood any modern behavior.
Nith is a Theological and Legal concept that can be best explained as roughly analogous to the Christian use of “sin” as describing “an offense against God”. The Germanic usage of Nith can be translated to mean the terms: “libel, insult, scorn, lawlessness, cowardice, sexual perversion, homosexuality” but also the terms “Untruth, bad, wrongness and incomprehensibility” and best represents a similar terminology to the Christian use, but with the added implication of a violation of natural laws or the inherent structures of reality.
A person who commits Nith is termed a Nīðing (Nithing) and was considered among the, if not the, most serious of legal and moral accusations one could deliver. From níð are derived such words as níðvisur (“insulting verses”), níðskald (“insult-poet”), níðingr (“coward, outlaw”), griðníðingr (“truce-breaker”), níðstöng (“scorn-pole”), also níða (“to perform níð poetry”), tunguníð (“verbal níð”), tréníð (“timber níð”, carved or sculpted representations of men involved in a homosexual act).
Ergi is a term closely related to Nith and is a noun meaning “effeminacy, unmanliness” and holding connotations especially of cowardice. It is often seen in the adjectival forms of the word “Argr” and “Ragr” which hold the same meanings when describing an individual as such. The term is also used especially in reference to homosexuality, such as the term Rassragr meaning literally “ass-coward”, through the connotations that such actions are unmanly, akin to women and indicative of cowardice.
The Law Codes
Accusations of both Nith and Ergi, especially relating to the conduct of homosexuals and other perversions are recorded in the written law codes of both Iceland and Norway during the early post-conversion periods in the 12th and 13th centuries, representing the earliest Norse accounts of law other than scattered mentions of rulings delivered throughout the sagas and most probably representing the predominant cultural baggage retained from their recent pre-christian past.
The Grey Goose Laws (Icelandic: Grágás) was introduced in Iceland during the pre-conversion period by an immigrant from Norway named Úlfljótr sometime during the 920’s and were modeled on those from the Norwegian west-coast law-province, Gulathing. It was first written down later during the commonwealth period around the year 1117. It relates the following regarding the subject:
“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 Ragr (Unmanly, Effeminate), or Stroðinn (Lit: “Screwed” or “Fucked”, with the implication especially of sexual penetration) , or Sorðinn (Diminutive of “Sannsorðinn”, demonstrably Stroðinn, objectively, provably so), 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.”
Likewise the later norweigian law code of the The Gulaþing Law says:
“ 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 (Sannsorðinn). 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.”
Likewise we have the much much older works of Tacitus in his “Germania” that records the following:
“The Assembly is competent also to hear criminal charges, especially those involving the risk of capital punishment. The mode of execution varies according to the offence. Traitors and deserters are hanged on trees; cowards, the unwarlike, 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 offenders against the state should be made a public example of, whereas deeds of shame should be buried out of men’s sight.“
The former is of controversial origin given the precise translation often used for the word “sodomite” as the original is a bit more circumspect regarding the nature of the transgression perhaps partly due to the terse nature of latin itself and possibly do to a reluctance to discuss the topic openly, with Tacitus writing in latin: “et corpore infames” meaning literally “Men (who commit crimes which are) bodily infamous”. That the term refers to some kind of sexual perversion is quite indisputable and aligns well with other attested germanic prohibitions on Homosexual conduct, but which strictly speaking cannot be so narrowly pinned down.
Aside from the historical sources condemning such behaviors, we find matching instances of this related in the Poetic Edda, a work of indisputable pre-christian origin owing to its complex and archaic poetic schema and often thought to be the source work for Snorri’s later Prose Edda.
The Lokasenna features several such instances throughout its ritual insults mostly relating to the person of Loki and in clear reference to his many actions of Nith such as birthing children, sex with animals, and homosexual intercourse while assuming a female shape. His exchange with the God Njord features an explicit slur towards this effect:
“Þat er válitit,
þótt sér varðir vers fái,
hós eða hvárs;
hitt er undr, er áss ragr
er hér inn of kominn,
ok hefir sá börn of borit.”
“This is a small harm (in comparison to your deeds),
That a woman may have a lover and a lord,
But a wonder it is that this effeminate god
Comes here, though babes he has borne.”
Here we can see Njord render to Loki the insult “áss ragr” calling him mockingly an “Effeminate god” for the Nith of giving birthed children. Critically we can see here our forefathers and the Gods disdain for those that would violate the bounds of natural sexual order and the proper behavior of men, with Njord even claiming that such a thing as Adultery is a small matter in comparison.
Also in the Lokasenna we have Odin deliver a similar insult to Loki saying:
“Veiztu, ef ek gaf
þeim er ek gefa ne skylda,
enom slævorom, sigr,
vartu fyr iörð neðan
kýr mólkandi ok kona,
ok hefir þú þar börn of borit,
ok hugða ek þat args aðal.”
“Though I gave to him who deserved not the gift
To the baser, the battle’s prize;
Winters eight wast thou under the earth,
Milking the cows as a maid,
Ay, and babes didst thou bear;
Unmanly thy soul must seem.”
Here we can see a dual association made between milking cows as a maid (a domestic duty relegated to women) and a further reminder of Loki’s habit of shape changing into women and the time he bore a child from the stallion Svaðilfari. The actual insult at the end is of particular note: “ok hugða ek þat args aðal” which could be rendered more literally as “and your hugr is of an effeminate nature” showcasing that Loki’s crimes of Ergi are properly to be thought of as resulting from spiritual corruptions innate to his being.
A further example of prohibitions on sexual perversions among the Gods can be taken from an account in the Thrymskvitha relating to the time that Thor dressed as Freya to steal back his mighty hammer from the Jotnar. When it is first proposed to him Thor is aghast at the prospect and rejects it saying:
“Látum und hánum hrynja lukla
ok kvenváðir um kné falla,
en á brjósti breiða steina
ok hagliga um höfuð typpum.”
“Then Thor the mighty his answer made:
“Me would the gods unmanly call
If I let bind the bridal veil.”
The former showcases that not only is Thor obliged to reject such an action as wearing women’s clothing, but expresses his logic therein by stating that if he was to do such a thing, that the other male gods would disdain him as “unmanly”.
To fully understand our ancestors worldview regarding homosexual acts we must also discuss the practice of “castration rape” in which a defeated foeman is anally violated by either another man or by a physical implement with the intention of humiliating and unmanning them by attaching to them the shame of Ragr and Nith.
Such instances are recorded sparsely by the Sagas and law codes of the time, with the term “Klámhogg” meaning “shame-stroke” being used for any injury on the buttocks or upper thigh of a man, with it ranking in “Grágás” as a “Major Wound” on par with serious and life threatening bodily injury.
Examples of this conduct can be seen in “Guðmundar saga dýra” And Sturlunga Saga wherein Guðmundr intends to have a captive man and wife both raped so as to cause them permanent social injury and preclude them from being political rivals in the future, and also depicting the castration of captured enemies for the same reasoning. It is not known how common such actions are to be considered but it would be historically comparable to other male dominated societies around the world where similar behavior took place.
What must be fundamentally understood here is how our ancestors understood such actions socially, and also why this was allowed alongside such otherwise strong penalties for homosexuality.
We must firstly mention that penetrating another man was seen as something so terribly violating as to constitute actual injury to their body and soul and certainly not something one would engage in with friends or loved ones, it being relegated to hated enemies at best. We can therefore consider such things in the same category as rape and killings: actions which were harshly known to our forefathers against enemies but which were not tolerated within the bounds of the community. One does not trust the man who desires to kill and rape his neighbors and our ancestors would have exiled as outlaws anyone who seemed to have this hostile desire.
Secondarily, we can understand the situation as being akin to the modern practice of “Prison Rape” in which the principal intent of the deed is done to humiliate and punish a hated foe and not out of a sexual desire towards them. Our ancestors clearly differentiated between the mechanical action of rape and the desire to possess another sexually and romantically that constitutes the modern understanding of homosexuality.
Indoeuropean Prohibitions on Homosexuality
Similar prohibitions against homosexual behavior are found throughout the Indo-European world, from classical Greece to Vedic India, showcasing that by no means are germanic thoughts on the matter to be held as a unique divergence, but as part of an ancient ancestral relegation of such activities as spiritually impure and criminally inclined.
The Manusmriti (The Law of Manu) from the 2nd century BC records the following regarding sexual conduct from Verse 11.174:
“If a twice-born man commits an unnatural offence with a male, or has intercourse with a female, in an ox-cart, or in water, or during the day,—he should take a bath along with his clothes.—”
Also from 11.67:
“Causing pain to a Brāhmaṇa (by a blow), — smelling at things that should not be smelt, or at wine, — cheating — and sexual intercourse with a man, — all this is declared to lead to loss of caste (Gatibhramsa).”
Also from the Arthashastra written by the revered sage Chanakya, it states the following:
“When a man has connection with a woman against the order of nature (a-yonau), he shall be punished with the first amercement. A man having sexual intercourse with another man shall also pay the first amercement.”
(An Ammercement referring to the first degree of financial penalties of between 48 to 96 panas, a sum of silver coinage that was significant to anyone but the most wealthy of lords or kings and nigh ruinous to the lower classes at that time period.)
We may shift our focus to the classical world to see the signs and records of homosexual conduct being, if not declared utterly illegal and forbidden, then signs of it as being among various scales of social disdain and repugnance according to proper and traditional morality.
We may begin with the historical Trial referred to as “Against Timarchus” conducted by the famous Athenian orator Aeschines. The gist of the trial refers to Aeschines arguing that Timarchus (a wealthy and connected politician) was not capable of addressing the assembly on the basis that he had sexually prostituted himself as a youth and was known to have been penetrated by a series of male lovers, rendering him stripped of Athenian citizenship by this fact, saying:
“You will see, then, that Timarchus cannot blame the city for any part of this prosecution, nor can he blame the laws, nor you, nor me, but only himself. For because of his shameful private life the laws forbade him to speak before the people, laying on him an injunction not difficult, in my opinion, to obey—nay, most easy.
It was with such conduct as this in view that the lawgiver expressly prescribed who were to address the assembly, and who were not to be permitted to speak before the people.
Who then are they who in the lawgiver’s opinion are not to be permitted to speak? Those who have lived a shameful life; these men he forbids to address the people.
“The man who has failed to perform all the military service demanded of him, or who has thrown away his shield.” And he is right. Why? Man, if you fail to take up arms in behalf of the state, or if you are such a coward that you are unable to defend her, you must not claim the right to advise her, either. Whom does he specify in the third place? “Or the man,” he says, “who has debauched or prostituted himself.” For the man who has made traffic of the shame of his own body, he thought would be ready to sell the common interests of the city also.”
We may also consult the matter of the Theban Sacred Band, a interesting choice for such an article learned adherents of history might be thinking, for as Plutarch records:
“The sacred band, we are told, was first formed by Gorgidas, of three hundred chosen men, to whom the city furnished exercise and maintenance, and who encamped in the Cadmeia; for which reason, too, they were called the city band; for citadels in those days were properly called cities. But some say that this band was composed of lovers and beloved, And a pleasantry of Pammenes is cited, in which he said that Homer’s Nestor was no tactician when he urged the Greeks to form in companies by clans and tribes, since he should have stationed lover by beloved. For tribesmen and clansmen make little account of tribesmen and clansmen in times of danger; whereas, a band that is held together by the friendship between lovers is indissoluble and not to be broken, since the lovers are ashamed to play the coward before their beloved, and the beloved before their lovers, and both stand firm in danger to protect each other.“
Plutarch’s relation of this incredible claim is to be prefaced with the admission that “But some say that this band was composed of lovers and beloved” giving rise to the implication that many others disagreed with this interpretation and indeed it may have been but a rumor, perhaps devised by their political enemies the Athenians, who were themselves rife with pedophiles and homosexuals such that they could scarcely imagine any other scenario. This interpretation meets with an agreement from Phillip II Antigonus, after the famous battle of Chaeronea.
Defeat of the sacred band came at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 BCE), the decisive contest in which Philip II of Macedon, with his son Alexander, extinguished the Theban hegemony. Alexander became the first to break through the Band’s line, which had hitherto been thought invincible. The traditional hoplite infantry was no match for the novel long-speared Macedonian phalanx: the Theban army and its allies broke and fled, but the Sacred Band, although surrounded and overwhelmed, refused to surrender. It held its ground and fell where it stood. Plutarch records that Philip II, on encountering the corpses “heaped one upon another”, understanding who they were, exclaimed, perhaps in rejection of the Athenian rumors and condemnation of this behavior in general:
“Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything unseemly.”
Likewise we can look to the Athenians chief rivals in the Spartans for a thorough condemnation of homosexual and pedosexual conduct through the laws of that great Lawgiver Lycurgus, as recorded by Xenophon:
“The customs instituted by Lycurgus were opposed to all of these. If someone, being himself an honest man, admired a boy’s soul and tried to make of him an ideal friend without reproach and to associate with him, he approved, and believed in the excellence of this kind of training. But if it was clear that the attraction lay in the boy’s outward beauty, he banned the connection as an abomination; and thus he caused lovers to abstain from boys no less than parents abstain from sexual intercourse with their children and brothers and sisters with each other.”
I would likewise end this section of the article with a quote by Plutarch on the matter:
“Alas for the evil days! Because all the Greeks know what is right and fair, but the Spartans alone practice it.”
Counterpoints to Common Arguments
One of the more commonly seen arguments regarding the Germanic view of homosexuality is to claim a passive/active distinction to their conduct by transferring the well known classical Greco-Roman structure to the Germanic peoples cultural beliefs. Part of this argument stems from a political necessity of modern academia regarding the supposition that ancient peoples did not conceive of homosexuality in the same manner we do today, principally as a sexual orientation or identity, but merely as a lone vice akin to desire for drink or intemperance that otherwise “straight” men might engage in.
While politically convenient for a narrative that would see homosexuality as modern sexual identity divorced entirely from the prohibitions and structures of the ancient world, it runs into significant trouble from our actual Germanic sources which do not appear to support this interpretation, and indeed ascribe qualities to homosexuals that we would recognize today such as exclusive sexual interest in men and therefore an inability to produce children.
Take for instance the incident reported in Stúfs þáttr, an epilogue to Laxdæla saga, in a conversation between the Norwegian king Haraldr Harðráði (Harald Hardrada) and Stúfr, the son of Þórðr kottr (Þórðr the Cat): puzzled by the unusual nickname, Harald asks Stúfr whether his father Þórðr was “kottrinn inn hvati eða inn blauði”, “the hard or the soft cat.” Stúfr declines to answer despite the implied insult, but the king admits quickly that his question was foolish because “the person who is soft (blauðr) could not be a father”.
While it is notable that the implication of the insult hardly needs to be translated to our cultural context for us to understand what vexed Stúfr so, it may be lost on modern audiences that the cat could be strongly associated with both women in general (such as Freya’s chariot being pulled by a pair) and also was the traditional attire of the Volva-Seeresses who wore cat skin clothing.
What is most relevant here however is the kings quick admission that the “soft cat” could not possibly have been the mans father, an obvious reference to the inability of a homosexual to produce children and directly contradictory to the academic argument that our ancestors viewed them in terms of an active/passive sexual distinction rather than a modern sexual identity.
Another common argument for the acceptance of homosexual conduct stems from the association of such a revered and widely worshipped deity as Odin Alfather himself with the institution of Seidr (sorcery) due to its widespread association with the concept of Ergi in lawcodes and prohibition of men practicising it.
This assumption stems from a modern academic argument that claims that the reason Seidr was forbidden to men and reserved for women, was that it featured rituals deemed intrinsically feminine or even relating to female sexuality itself such as ritual penetration or the consumption of male seed. An example of this prohibition on Seidr can be found in Ynglingasaga:
“Óðinn had the skill which gives great power and which he practiced himself. It is called seiðr, 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”
It must be noted that no real description of Seidr rituals survives handed down to us from which to base the judgement that the practice contained some kind of sexual component or particularly feminine actions itself, the argument being based entirely on the description of the magic being “attended by such great Ergi”. This judgement however disregards that the definition of “Ergi” is not entirely one identical with a charge of homosexual conduct, but rather “unmanliness” among which is implied cowardice and subterfuge.
We can interpret the passage of how and why this magic was associated with unmanliness by simply describing its effects and noting that they are cunning, manipulative and underhanded methods of attacking a foe rather than the honest and simple practice of open hostility and combat which our forefathers found to be unsuitable for proper men but perfectly acceptable for women, who were not expected to engage in such physical combat in the first place and for whom more manipulative and indirect methods of conflict resolution were to be assumed.
A final rebuttal to common arguments for the acceptance of homosexuality among the germanic people can be found relating to the work of Gesta Danorum written by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in the late 12th century: though it should be noted that at this time Sweden had still yet to formally convert and Heathenism was indeed practiced openly in that country. Saxo records the following regarding the Huskarl Starkather:
“After Bemoni’s death Starkather, because of his valour, was summoned by the Biarmian champions and there performed many feats worthy of the tellings. Then he entered Swedish territory where he spent seven years in a leisurely stay with the sons of Frø, after which he departed to join Haki, the lord of Denmark, for, living at Uppsala in the period of sacrifices, he had become disgusted with the womanish body movements, the clatter of actors on the stage and the soft tinkling of bells. It is obvious how far his heart was removed from frivolity if he could not even bear to watch these occasions. A manly individual is resistant to wantonness. “
We must however keep in mind that this transmission of events is extremely questionable for a number of reasons. Firstly, Saxo himself was a Danish Christian writing during a period in which their traditional national rival, Sweden, was also formally pagan and he may have felt compelled to publish scandalous rumors about them on this basis, and indeed Gesta Danorum is known for being wholly out of step with other works of Germanic mythology and history.
Even if we assume that the accusations were truly delivered by Starkather, we must also consider that this man had personal motives to accuse his former lieges of improper conduct, as the kings Alrek and Eirik of Uppsala were noted to have spent several years aviking before settling down whence Starkather decided to leave their court for that of their regional rival in Denmark. Accusations of Ergi-ness would fit a typical motif of Norse insult wherein its well understood that no such association is actually true, but that the severity of the insult ensured that it filled the role of “fighting words” in the time period.
Finally, this description of the Odin-worshipping Danish Starkather’s disgust with the cult of Freyr at Uppsala finds no historical purchase in a similar treatment of priests of Freyr depicted in Iceland who were well known as leading political figures and respected wealthy men such as Hrafenkell Freysgothi, Þorgrímr Freysgoði, the Freys-gyðlingar family noted to reside in the south-eastern quarter, and the Gothar of Helgafjell. These men were all noted as widely respected members of Iceland’s elite ruling class in that time period with no hint of any sort of association of them or their priesthoods with Argr, Ragr, Ergi or Nith.
- A note should be made that despite using material from a wide variety of IE cultures and theological material, that no assumption as to the primacy of the germanic response to homosexual behavior should be implied.