Norse Magick and Sexuality
For those who have interests in learning Seidhr or Norse magick, discussing the highly-debated topic of "ergi" is a must. As a quick note, seidhr is a magickal practice that is very similar to shamanism and was taught by the Goddess Freyja, the Goddess of ferility and love (if you want to learn more about the practice, I'll include a link later). In seidhr, most of the practitioners are female- and are known as the Volva. However, commonly today many men are beginning to practice seidhr as well. This raises up the controversial issue of "ergi", which more or less translates to meaning "unmanly, acting in the ways of a woman, gender-transgressing behavior". Some people mistakenly equate this to "homosexuality", though this is a wrong comparison.
Traditionally, in Norse society, being called an "ergi" was seen as one of the worst insults you can bestoy upon another. Thus, if the person accused of being an ergi either did not immediately challenge the other person who called them the name, or they did not take physical action, they were often beat up, killed, or outcast from their homes.
There are a few mentions in the Eddas and Sagas of men practicing Seidhr, but unlike the tales of women who practiced- the men were treated differently. For instance in Heimskingla they mention Ragnvald, the son of Harald Fairhair, as a male who practiced seidhr. However, they believed that Ragnvald had brought a shame to his family and honor by taking up this "feminine" practice. His own father and kin locked him in a building and burned the building down.
Seidhr was considered to be unmanly, because the person who practices seidhr must become a type of vessel to be used in the practice. It promotes the person to be in a very vulnerable state, as they go into the deep seidhr trances, and this state of vulnerability was seen as feminine and not manly- thus it was rejected by the culture. "If we look further into the receptive qualities that could be associated with seidr, we see that to the Norse- to be sexually passive was a feminine quality and to be sexually active was a male quality". (Katie Gerrard)
Another term that you'll note occasionally is the word "argr". This word can be roughly translated to simply meaning "pervert", and like ergi it is a word with negative connotations which suggests feminine sexuality. It is thought to be a term related to the word "ragr" which is meant to reference someone who is effeminate In the Flyting of Loki, when Loki calls out the other Gods, he and Odin exchange words. Odin makes fun of Loki for shapeshifting into a woman and giving birth, but then Loki points out that Odin once practiced Seidhr- and calls him unmanly:
Odin (to Loki):
Yet eight winters you were beneath the Earth
A woman milking cows
And there you bore children
And that, I thought, the hallmark of a pervert(argr)
Loki (to Odin):
But you once practiced Seid on Samsey
And you beat on a drum, as the witches do,
In the likeness of a wizard you journeyed amoung mankind
And that, I thought, the hallmark of a pervert(argr)
"Of all the "bright" and "upper-worldly" Aesir gods, Odin is paradoxically the "darkest", as any survey of the rest of his heiti will show. He is a god of the Dead in his own right as leader of the Einherjar, a god of war and frenzied berserker states, a god of sorcery who cohabits with ravens and wolves, a dead man hanged on the Tree. He is also just as ergi in his own way as his blood-brother Loki, if less obvious about it. He has also managed to overshadow the ergi archetype with the King archetype in most people's eyes, and so avoid being outcast, and thus he is a God of both those in power and those cast out at the fringes, the ruling class and the homeless wanderer. He is a deity of extreme opposites, and so it is not unusual that he takes both uber-manly warriors and argr spirit-workers." (Raven Kaldera)
My personal belief is this: Seidhr is, and was, a form of ecstatic magick. Seidhr does, and did, include sexuality and sexual acts. When practicing seidhr, the vessel has to be able to physically and spiritually transcend boundaries. It is not unthinkable then, to me, that it was thought that the vessel practicing seidhr was able to transcend gender roles- and this was what the Norse considered taboo, as their culture was heavily focused on what defines manly action and what defines feminine action. If Odin, the God of War and "manly man" of the pantheon, could transcend gender roles and master seidhr- as he did- then it surely is not this taboo "unmanly" practice. Not to mention that men commonly practiced galdr and spa, which were related practices, and did not receive negative connotation for that.
I would say that anyone who still uses the term ergi to try and insult a seidhr practitioner is ignorant. I think that seidhr is meant for both sexes, and I am happy to see that in modern times we have more men becoming a part of the experience. I encourage all genders to practice seidhr. I would definitely be interested in hearing other Heathens ideas about the old usage of ergi and their views on seidhr ties with sexuality.
If you'd like to read more about Ergi:
If you'd like to read more about Seidhr:
Being Ergi by Lydia Helasdottir
Seidr: The Gate is Open by Katie Gerrard
Wightridden by Raven Kaldera