Queer Deities in Northern Paganism

Inspired by a recent discussion on whether there is a possible correlation between being Lokean and being queer (feel free to substitute whatever term you prefer here, I’m just using queer for sake of brevity), I thought I’d devote my First Official Post (that half-baked intro thing doesn’t count) to discussing how my deities play with (and sometimes completely disregard) traditional gender roles and how someone who isn’t heterosexual could possibly relate to deities who all (as far as we know) are in heteronormative marriages. Please keep in mind that I am writing this as a cisgender lesbian woman, so what I say is not necessarily going to apply to persons who are trans* or cis women who are not lesbians, or well, anyone except myself. Your mileage may vary, etc. etc.

Now to the topic at hand. It seems that there is a certain subset of Heathenry that would like it very much if queer folks would just get back in the closet and stay there. Some seem incredulous to the very idea that anyone who isn’t cis, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, or in any way “different” would even find Heathenry attractive. Why, they wonder, would one say that Freyr is associated with gay men when he’s a FERTILITY god? Why would it be the same for lesbians with Freyja? Don’t they know she’s a FERTILITY goddess? Why would either of them be interested in people who don’t procreate, because FERTILITY!

This assertion is, quite frankly, absurd. Not a warrior or a skald? Sorry, you’re not allowed to honour Odin. Not a sailor? Don’t go crying to Njord, then. Not a farmer, a labourer, or anything above middle class? Thor is out for you, my friend. Not a hunter? Skadi hates your guts. Do I need to go on?

Some also seem to conveniently forget about the “effeminate” actions of Freyr’s priests in the Gesta Danorum (complete with “unmanly” clatter of bells). To be fair, many have interpreted this passage as implying that his priests were gay men, but not all gay men are effeminate. At the very least, they were transvestites (of any sexual orientation) or perhaps even transgender. Even so, the fact that these men were *priests* even though they acted in such a manner that was so shocking to their countrymen says that maybe Freyr isn’t so uptight about the gender or orientation of the people who love him.

While I’m at it, here’s a list of ways deities screw around with gender roles:

  • What does Skadi do when her father is killed? Stay home and knit? No, she puts on armor and storms Asgard by herself
  • Odin puts on a dress to learn seidr
  • Thor puts on a dress to get his hammer back
  • Loki shapeshifts into a mare and gives birth to a foal
  • Njord learns that his daughter sleeps around…a lot. His response? Does he take offense like a good patriarchal father figure? Nope, in fact, his response is a solid “Meh, why shouldn’t a woman have a lover in addition to her husband?”

This is just a small sampling of the ways in which the deities completely disregard what is considered “proper” manly or womanly behaviours, and in case anyone tells me this sort of thing was exclusive to deities, heroes like Helgi Hundingsbana (who disguised himself as a woman) and Grettir (who allegedly slept with ‘maidens and widows, everyone’s wives, farmers’ sons, deans and courtiers, abbots and abbesses, cows and calves, indeed with near all living creatures’) also managed to avoid catching any heat for their “unmanliness”. It’s actually pretty telling that these tribes that were so obsessed with manliness would produce so many examples to the contrary.

I’m going to shift gears and go back to that discussion of FERTILITY! for a moment (here’s where it gets more personal for me). Yes, that is an important part of who Freyja and Freyr are, but to say that it is all they are is (IMHO) completely disregarding the other important roles that they play. When Freyja sleeps with the dwarves to obtain Brisingamen, she’s not doing it with the goal of having lots of babies, but to obtain an object of power. Likewise, when Brisingamen breaks, is it because she’s disgusted by the idea of marrying a jotun, or because the marriage was arranged for her without her consent (thus causing the necklace, a symbol of her sexual prowess and agency, to break). In case you’re keeping track, neither of these stories has anything to do with FERTILITY! (except perhaps indirectly) and more to do about owning and expressing one’s sexuality (which, btw, includes controlling fertility, but that’s a discussion for another day).

6 thoughts on “Queer Deities in Northern Paganism

  1. Congrats Krystal on the new blog! Great post and I agree with the sentiments. Yes, Freyr is a phallic god…he is also the last of the Gods whom I would ascribe to any sort of static sexuality, be it hetero or otherwise. Freyr is a god of growth, expansion, fullness for EVERYONE, this is implicitly stated in the Lore. Last time I checked EVERYONE included well…EVERYONE. =)

  2. I agree with much of what you’ve said here. One point I’d like to make, however, is in response to this

    “Why would either of them be interested in people who don’t procreate, because FERTILITY!”

    I see it not as physical fertility, but fertility of the mind and soul. The need to stretch your boundaries and try to improve yourself. Being a cis-Female Lesbian has no effect on the fertility of the mind and spirit.

    As Cena says – anyone has the right to follow any deity – sexual status/path has no bearing on that

    • What I forgot to mention is that I think they use a very narrow definition of “fertility”, one that is human-focused, not so much animals or plant life. It’s ironic in light of the fact that the Vanir are usually dismissed as “nature deities”.

  3. Extremely narrow, since the ancients considered “fertility” an all encompasing term – not only for humans, animals and plants as relates to reproduction and growth, but also of imagination, creativity and other things,

    Modern “reconstructionism” at work in some ways – take the old, but leave out anything I don’t like – idiots

  4. The way I see it is like this, before the so-called “Viking Age” the Norse people probably lived more like the nomadic tribes around them and like these tribes they probably had a class of people who were transgender in some way, like for example the Native Americans had the Two-Spirit people. I bet in all kinds of worship there was room for gender queer people everywhere. In the center of all spirituality there is one unknown god, the god that us pantheists speak of. Like with Hinduism today, the other polytheistic societies probably saw their deities as manifistations of the supreme essence-whatever it is. God is what God is (and so is Goddess lol) for all is One.

  5. One of the worst remarks I ever got from a pain-in-the-Asatru type: “You don’t work the land; you don’t want a husband or children; and you worship Freyr of the perpetual erection?!?”

    My sworn brother, though, observes that “Everyone sees that statue [of Freyr] and thinks, ‘Look at the big willy’; they forget that he isn’t *doing* anything with it. He’s not having sex or masturbating.” If gay and/or transgender priests are OK for a god of fertility, then asexual followers shouldn’t bother him either; there’s more to Njord’s son than farming and fornicating.

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