Viking Gender Roles

Þorfinnr Hróðgeirsson

Before I get started, I want to offer a content warning.  This talk is going to mention sex, sexual abuse, and violence, especially violence directed at sexual and gender minorities in pretty stark terms.  I’ll try to point these out ahead of time.  Much of the content of this talk involves religion, both Old Norse and Christian.  Remember that it’s always ok to leave if you need to.

Email me or the event stewards if you want a copy of the lecture notes, with citations.

The idea of the Viking warrior is a strong cultural idiom that pervades medievalism, especially in the early period.  How many people in the room reenact Vikings, after all?  And how many reenact any other place between 793 and 1066?  A few Anglo-Saxons?

In some ways this idea of a violent, gruff raider, taking riches and assaulting women reflects in our modern society as a symbol of masculinity gone wrong, and medieval Christian writers certainly want us to believe they were savage outsiders with no place in society.  But how did Norse society look from the inside?  What do we know about the expected gender roles and how they were enforced?  What happened to those who deviated?

That’s the topic I want to explore with you today.  Most of the talk does not have firm answers: my goal is to raise more questions than I answer, and to get you thinking about this, especially if you have a Viking persona.  As I am accustomed to doing on topics of Viking culture, I want to briefly survey the sources we will interpret.  All of them are flawed in their own way, so it’s important to keep those flaws in mind as we move forward.  Throughout this talk, I will be using my best attempt at reconstructed Medieval Icelandic pronunciation, following Dr. Jackson Crawford of the University of Colorado Boulder.[1]



Essentially no writing from Viking era Scandinavia survives outside of fragments and some brief runestones.  Most of we have dates to the thirteenth century: the Codex Regius is a 1270s manuscript which is probably a copy of an older manuscript from around 1200.  The 14th century Hauksbók manuscript also preserves some poems.  Some of these poems are datable to times further in the past via historical linguistic methods: looking for rhymes and alliterations - the poems are generally highly structured - that we know didn’t work at the time of their writing.  The earliest poems date to 900-1000.  For these poems I will be using Dr. Crawfords translations from his 2015 book The Poetic Edda, although many other translations, including public domain ones, exist.[2]

Poems are challenging to use as strong evidence because they are non-literal, and the stories they tell about gods and heroes are not direct evidence of Norse life and culture.  But they are instructive, especially in so far as Norse society used their gods and heroes as models to aspire to, or shy away from.  Later poems also have the problem of influence from the Christians writing them down - and even for the early poems, they’re relatively late in the Viking age, so there may be Christian influence there too.  If you are trying to answer questions about early Viking culture, you need to think about that.  Does Óðinn’s sacrifice of himself to himself merely echo God the Son’s sacrifice of himself to God the Father?  Or is it a story that came about via contact?  This issue needs to be considered for any conclusion drawn from stories of the gods and heroes.


There is a substantial body of prose literature, much of it written down by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, who wrote down much of the prose he could gather from the oral tradition extant at the time, and makes references to much of the poetry which we have received through the Codex Regius.

He was attempting to put together a cohesive view of Norse mythology, although in in fact one may not have actually existed at the time when it was practiced, and it’s not clear that practitioners expected a cohesive mythology.  And, of course, he was a Christian writing for Christians.  So one must interpret his writing with a grain of salt, and consider where he was coming from.  Iceland at this time, and Snorri in particular, looked back at their pagan past with a sort of fondness, and Snorri was trying to preserve a tradition of sagas and poetry that was dying out but had not lost prestige.

There’s also the world of the Icelandic sagas - stories of feuding families, many of them written by Snorri as well.  These are all also written down around Snorri’s time, but many reference events which took place around the time of conversion to Christianity of Iceland in 1000, or possibly earlier.  Similarly to the later poems, one must consider whether a saga represents an original cultural norm, or one which developed after the close of the Viking era.  Remember that they are stories, not historical records.


The Grágás are the collection of Icelandic laws which are found in a few manuscripts from the second half of the 13th century, but represent an older oral tradition.  According to the Íslendingabók, the 12th century history of Iceland, they are not older than the 920s.  Much like the sagas, it’s not easy, or even generally possible, to date the contents, so any conclusions we draw from the laws must be measured against that uncertainty.


Some Muslim travelers such as Ibn Fadlan[3] talk about their encounters with the Volga Rus.  Especially at his early date (921-922), and based on their cultural markers, these people probably represent a mostly-Viking culture.  However, they are eastern Vikings, representing the far opposite extreme from our Icelandic sources.  Worse, the conclusions we may draw are filtered through his opinionated gaze as an outsider to their culture, and as a Muslim: Ibn Fadlan is shocked at the Rus’ poor cleanliness, for example, while Christian writers thought that the Vikings spent too much time on bathing weekly.

He may also be documenting a group of people on the frontiers of Viking society, with, er, ruder habits and norms than mainstream Vikings closer to their traditional centers.  Still, their clothing and habits as described match what we know of Vikings from other sources.

Ibn Hayyān documents a Viking attack on Seville and some other Iberian cities in 844, but doesn’t really tell us much.[4]  Ibn Rusta describes the Rus in 903-913, with many of the same caveats.[5]  Mas’ūdī in 943 conjectures that the people attacking al-Andalus by sea are the same as the Rus in the Sea of Azov.[6]

There are also Christian authors such as Adam of Bremen, although I couldn’t find a convenient English translation of his work to incorporate into this talk.


We have a lot of grave finds, but many of them, in particular the very rich set of finds at Birka in Sweden, were excavated by late-19th century men.  Grave finds tell us facts about objects, but to learn about something more abstract like gender roles, we have to interpret them, and that is where all the danger lies.  19th century interpretations apply a 19th century worldview, and that is one that is gender essentialist and erasive of queer ideas.


Men are clearly privileged in the Norse world.  Óðinn and his brothers created the world, and men are the ones who have privileges like voting rights.  They are far more likely to be the bearers of grudges - although not always - and most of the Aesir and Vanir - the two primary families of Norse gods - are men.  So I’ll be discussing men first, because to some extent our understanding of Viking women is their position in contrast to men.

There’s a clear dimorphism in the dress of Viking era men and women: we see differences in burial goods (in very broad strokes, male graves tend to have weapons and tools, and female graves jewelry and domestic equipment[7], although these categories are extremely inconsistent), and observers describe their clothing and jewelry as different.  But that’s not that interesting on its own.  What did it mean to transgress those norms?

Drengr vs Argr and Ragr

When I first started planning this talk, I wanted to talk about queerness in Norse culture.  Unfortunately, it’s not directly possible to do so for several reasons: first, we just don’t have enough information.  Few queer voices survive to the modern day, and very little at all from the Viking era survives in their own voice.  But more significantly, it’s ahistorical to apply the modern cultural constructs of queerness - gay, lesbian, trans, non-binary, agender and all the rest are modern labels we apply to behaviors and experiences that certainly occurred in the past, but would have been conceptualized in different ways.

Content warning:  section is going to involve a lot of discussion of something close to homophobia.

However, the terms drengr, roughly “manliness,” and its antonym argr, “a highly pejorative adjective implying a lack of manly qualities, and, especially, imputing to another a desire for a passive role in sex with a male,”[8] have such strong parallels to modern notions of a classic, perhaps toxic, masculine identity and an undesirable, femme, possibly even queer identity, respectively.  Modern analogs for argr are so highly offensive even today that I do not wish to use them in this talk.

Scholar of queerness in Viking religion Amy Jefford Franks provides a consolidated view of ergi “as a similar word to queer, in that its meaning relates to thepushing against boundaries, in this case in specific relation to gender and sexuality”[9]

The Grágás bring up the legal consequences of accusations of argr, ragr, or ergi (all synonyms): “There are three words, if men’s speech becomes so bad, which all carry the penalty of outlawry [permanent banishment], namely if one man calls another ragr or stroðinn or sorðinn [“fucked”].  And the case shall be taken to court in the same way as with all words liable to the highest personal recompense.  Moreover, one is entitled to kill on account of these three words.”[10]  This positions these crimes as equal to the murder of a close male family member.

A similar insult, that a man turns into a woman every ninth night, and has born children, shows up in Norwegian law codes, and in Þorsteins saga Síðu-Hallssonar and in Njáls saga.[11]

This seems to be a different category of insult from other insults, and the sexual quality is important to its weight.  The necessity to codify legal remedy to the insults also implies that they were common.[12]  Further linking sex and honor, the Grágás communicate a notion that a man has an obligation to protect or avenge the safety, and to a lesser degree the sexual inviolacy of women very close to him, at least if he catches the perpetrator in or preparing for the act.

The Grágás also draw an equivalence between a man acting as a receptive sexual partner and a broad class of “major wounds” that penetrate organs or bones, which underscores the gravity of the damage to male social standing.[13]

We also have Loki called argr by Óðinn, Thor and Njörðr during Lokasenna, his verbal duel with the gods.  He is called it for one clear reason: he shapeshifts into a mare, mates with a stallion, and bears its child, and for living as a woman and bearing children.  But meanwhile, Loki levies a argr at the god Gefjun for his sexual behaviour: “I remember that boy who seduced you into his bed.  That handsome boy gave you a necklace, and you opened your thighs for him.”

Óðinn and Seiðr

Loki even levels the charge against Óðinn.  Óðinn is a practitioner of seiðr, one of the four kinds of Norse magic, which is apparently feminine: “but people say that you practiced womanly magic on Samsey, dressed as a woman.  You lived as a witch among the humans - and I call that an argr way of living.”

As an aside, I appreciate how Frigg, Óðinn’s wife, tries to hide both of their shame: “You should not discuss your histories openly in front of everyone.  Whatever you two gods went about doing in your younger days - that belongs in the past, and should stay there.”  Could this indicate a tolerance for sexual deviancy among the young, but an expectation that men “grow up” into normalcy?

In Ynglinga saga there is a discussion of Óðinn’s seiðr as well: “such ergi accompanies this sorcery that it was considered shameful for men to be involved in it; therefore this art was taught to the priestesses.”[14]  The seiðr he performs allows him to know fates and the future, cause bad luck, and to take away or transfer to another intelligence or strength.[15]

We also see in Gísla saga Súrssonar that seiðr is heavily sanctioned when practiced by men:[16]

Then it happened that Borkr paid Thorgrimr Nose to do some seiðr, so that no one could help Gisli.  Thorgrimr Nose was given a nine year old steer for this. Now Thorgrimr did the seiðr and he prepared all the equipment in his usual way and made himself a scaffold and he did this magically with all ergi and devilry.

Gisli later kills Thorgrimr, although it's not explicitly for this action.  How much of this is historical and how much is later Christian changes to the narrative?

We’ll talk a bit more about seiðr when we talk about women, below.

I look at Óðinn as a strong example and proponent of toxic masculinity.  He wants you to be drengr, but he wants that so that you’ll be toxic and murder people, and then get murdered.  And then you’ll be in Valhalla, and you’ll fight for him at Ragnarok, which is the only thing he really cares about.  He goes around intentionally destabilizing societies in order to increase his strength at Ragnarok.  Could this be a metaphor for manliness himself?  Is stability opposed to drengr?  After all, if there is peace, one cannot prove one’s bravery in violence.

Looking at how he acts with women, he’s happy to co-opt female power when it furthers his ends, just as he takes pride in infidelity.  And look at how Frigg acts: she’s generally silent, and angry.  It’s noteworthy that we see signs of devotion to Óðinn among the elite of society, and among raiders and men on the frontier.


Thor is an interesting foil to Óðinn, especially in Hárbarðsljóð, where they taunt each other.

Content warning: this section discusses rape.

An exchange happens a few times that’s more or less Óðinn saying “well I slept with nine women last night, stolen from their husbands,” and Thor responds “Oh yeah?  Well I was out killing frost giants.”  Could this represent an alternative notion of masculinity, one focused on simple violence rather than sexual conquest?

The followers of Thor seem to have been extremely common in Scandinavia - place names with Thor in them are far, far more common than those mentioning Óðinn, and Thor’s hammers are ubiquitous finds.  There’s some suggestion that Óðinn may have been a god of the nobility more than Thor was.  “Óðinn receives the powerful men who fall in battle, while Thor receives their servants.”[17]  Could this indicate a class distinction between the corresponding masculine presentations?  This poem could be trying to tell us that Óðinn’s excesses act to undermine his masculinity - in fact, Thor calls Óðinn ragr when Óðinn calls him a coward.

This whole exchange is interesting from this perspective.  Óðinn says that he was off in the east raping women, meanwhile[18]

Thor said:

“[I was] Fighting berserkers’ brides,

On the island Hlesey,

They had done evil things,

Assaulted everyone.”

Graybeard [Óðinn] said:

“How shameful of you, Thor,

Fighting women.”

Both are trying to accuse the other of argr.

In Þrymskviða, when it is suggested that Thor dress as a woman in order to retrieve Mjǫllnir, he even admits that he would be called argr - but he does it anyway, his duty to protect Asgard winning out over his shame.  … is also worth noting as we can date it linguistically to before about 975, so it is something directly from the Viking age.[19]

Repercussions for Argr

Content Warning: this section discusses violence directed at sexual and gender minorities.

The sheer volume of argr being used as an insult, along with its support in the Grágás argue for the importance of sexual dominance in Viking masculinity.  I do not know of Viking-era references to what happens to people actually believed to be argr, but Tacitus, writing about a much earlier, but related Germanic culture, suggests that they were ritually murdered, although one must read Tacitus with its own enormous pile of caveats.  He could very well be saying that he regrets that Rome doesn’t do the same thing with their homosexuals, and not really saying anything about the Germans.[20]

One possible, but mysterious example is the story of Hagbard and Signy from 13th century Danish manuscript Gesta Danorum,  we see Hagbard crossdress in order to get access to his love’s chambers.  It seems that we as readers are to laud him for this, but he is hanged shortly after.  This may be a story that even predates the Vikings, but whether the crossdressing aspect is equally old is unclear.[21]  And Guðrún in Laxdæla saga divorces her husband for crossdressing after making him a shirt with a low-cut neckline.[22]

A more direct and historical example involves Ragnvaldr, a son of Harold Finehair the first king of Norway.  He practiced seidr with 80 other “seiðmen,” which resulted in his half-brother Eric Bloodaxe being sent by Harold to kill them.[23]

So then, how does a man be drengr and ward off accusations to the contrary?  Certainly, there are innumerable stories of martial prowess, bravery, and upholding oaths even if they’re awful.  But there seems to be an element of performative sexual dominance involved.

I want to pause here to add a content warning, because I’m about to discuss descriptions of rape.

Ibn Fadlan relates (paraphrasing) that “
each of the men has sex with his slave on a raised platform while his companions look on.”  Does this indicate a social value in being seen in the penetrative position?  Perhaps this is to cement a drengr position in society?  We see similar rape of women attested by the other Muslim writers, as well as performed by Óðinn in Hárbarðsljóð.

Ibn Rusta relates that “When a son is born, the father throws a naked sword before him and says: ‘I leave you no inheritance.  All you possess is what you can gain with this sword.’”  Marwazī recounts the same behavior in 1130 (but recounting behavior before Christianization in the early 900s), with actual property being left to the daughters.[24] Is this the same idea that a man’s worth is only what they can acquire by force?


Seiðr and Female Magic

Völuspá, the account by a near-omniscient vǫlva, a kind of seeress, to Óðinn on creation and destruction of the world, is the first poem in the Codex Regius, and immediately centers female spirituality in the Norse world.  Urðr at her well and the two other norns decide the fates of everyone, and we also see in Völuspá the introduction of Heiðr the evil vǫlva, the first being to be murdered (three times!).  It seems that access to seiðr may not have been unambiguously good, as Loki calls Freyja a witch with negative connotations in Lokasenna.  This may reflect on the entire Vanir family having a lower status than the Aesir, possibly in part because of this link between seiðr and sexual deviancy.

We also learn that seiðr was first either introduced to the Aesir by Freyja (Ynglinga saga) or Heiðr in Völuspá.  Indeed, there seems to be a strong association with predictive magic and women in Germanic societies.  About 1000 years before our post-Viking authors, we have both Tacitus and Caesar writing about Germanic women playing a respected clairvoyant role.[25]

Some notable non-mythical woman engaged in seiðr: Queen Ota, for example[26], and there may be a link between seiðr and the common practice of women becoming abbesses in Germanic regions of Europe for one or two hundred years post-Christianization.


But by contrast we also have the figure of the valkyrjar - valkyries - who portray a very different image of Norse womanhood.  And the prominence of battle words in Norse female names (Gunnhildr) suggests a cultural relevance of this image.  And images of valkyries show up all the time in finds: on gold foil, on pendants, and so on.  Does that mean that there were at least some Viking women who identified with the image of the valkyrie?

Even so, some depictions of Valkyries seem to still center traditionally female actions such as weaving, but in a violent context.  Consider the particularly violent poem Darraðarljóð[27]:

Blood rains    from the cloudy web

On the broad loom    of slaughter.

The web of man    grey as armor

Is now being woven;    the Valkyries

Will cross it    with a crimson weft.

The warp is made    of human entrails;

Human heads    are used as heddle-weights;

The heddle rods    are blood-wet spears;

The shafts are iron-bound    and arrows are the shuttles.

With swords we will weave    this web of battle.

The Valkyries go weaving    with drawn swords,

Hild and Hjorthrimul,    Sanngrid and Svipul.

Spears will shatter    shields will splinter,

Swords will gnaw    like wolves through armor.



The same adjective discussed above when applied to women indicated shameful nymphomania, as Freyr’s servant Skírnir curses Gerðr with it in Skírnismál, after bribing and then threatening her to get her to marry Freyr[28][29].  Similarly, Loki accuses Iðunn, Frigg, and Freyja of being lustful.  In Þrymskviða, Freyja says that she would be called lustful if she were to marry the jotunn who has stolen Mjǫllnir.

Lustful isn’t exactly the same as ergi, but it’s clear that sexual feminine sexuality is not simply a negative for men: in excess it’s a negative for women as well.

Dress and Weapons

Ibn Fadlan notes that women wear jewelry, and in so doing carry the wealth of their man.[30]  Does the absence of jewelry on men indicate a taboo?  What does it mean if a woman does not wear the jewelry?

In Þrymskviða we get a picture of the gender-marked items of clothing, at least in what Freyja’s wedding dress should look like:

So they put

A wedding dress on Thor,

They put the brisinga-necklace

On his neck,

They put a chain of jingling keys at his belt,

They draped a woman’s dress down to his knees,

They placed jewels on his chest,

They wrapped a pretty headdress around his head.

The Grágás provide some legal consequences for women who crossdress.  Section 254 of the Konungsbók reads[31]

If in order to be different a woman dresses in men's clothes or cuts her hair short (p. 204) or carries weapons, the penalty for that is lesser outlawry.  It is a summoning case and five neighbours are to be called for it at the assembly.  The case lies with anyone who wants it.  The same is prescribed for men if they dress in women's clothing.

Laxdæla saga relates that crossdressing - from either gender - is grounds for divorce.  Guðrún divorces her husband after making him a scandalously low-cut shirt as we mentioned before, and then councils her lover Thord to divorce his wife for once wearing male breeches with leg wraps.[32]

But this contrasts with some other evidence in some ways.  We’ve already discussed the Valkyries.  We also now have several graves of people with two X chromosomes buried with typologically male grave goods: swords, spears, shields, but not necklaces, turtle brooches, or keys.[33][34]  Of course, 19th century archaeologists were not looking hard for signs that the body could be that of a woman - osteological analysis supports the chromosomal findings that this person developed primarily under the influence of estrogen.

There’s reason to believe from the grave goods that this person was at least buried as a warrior and strategist.  They were buried with “war-gear of excellent quality, intended for someone of high social standing,” as well as gaming implements, and several other elements of the burial reinforce the warrior interpretation.[35]  Even if this person had been performing a non-warrior role through their life, and, as the authors of the paper revealing their karyotype say, “it is possible that we are just seeing the high-end ‘straight-to-Valhöll’ option from the Birka funeral directors,” we still have to grapple with the choice to bury them in an unambiguously warrior context.  If we take those authors’ opinion, this person was a “professional warrior and was buried in a martial environment as an individual of rank.”

There are some other sources: a statue of a warrior woman with a sword[36] - valkyries have spears - and there are some other sources which mention warrior women: the 13th century Gesta Danorum does,[37] and we have several saga characters who wear men’s clothing to some degree, or wield weapons, and do violence, particularly in the Saga of the Volsungs: Brynhildr is the prototypical shield maiden, a former Valkyrie, appearing as a man with her helmet on.

Since these people aren’t sanctioned by outlawry, we can’t take the Grágás as written at face value.  Perhaps it is a late addition to the laws while the sagas reflect an earlier time.  There is some notion from some sagas that women who took up arms did so to account for a lack of men in their families, and returned to acting as traditional women when that need ended.

Law aside, this burial raises other questions: this person had two X chromosomes, but were they a woman? Non-binary? A trans man? .  What we cannot know is how to understand their gender non-conformity through a 21-century lens.

Beyond the Binary

Late in drafting this talk I came across a wonderful part of an MA thesis by Meghan Callaghan titled Magic beyond the binary: magic and gender in the Poetic Edda that led to some new insights.

I’ve largely presented a traditionalist view of gender roles, in part because that makes it easier to see the distinctions placed on them.  But by the same token, we could view the transgressions and those who welcome them - particularly Loki - as representing positions between or outside of binary genders.  Perhaps Loki revels in accusations of argr because he exists outside of the social norms binding him to masculinity.  In his literal shapeshifting, not just between male and female, but also into a falcon, a salmon, a mare, and more, Loki defies being fixed by form or gender expression, and represents transgression itself in many ways.  He has both impregnated as a man, been impregnated as a woman, and been impregnated as a man by eating the heart of a witch and giving birth to witches.  One of Loki’s children is half-alive and half-dead.  Could this ergi-male aspect of Loki represent a third gender in Norse culture, or something we today might understand as genderfluidity?

It’s interesting to note that in many of Loki’s stories, he causes chaos but then puts it right again.  Does this imply a return to his masculine nature being inevitable?  What does his binding in his male form until Ragnarok - bound with the body of his son - mean for this interpretation?  What are we to make of Loki, the only character in the Norse mythological world who transgresses these boundaries so flagrantly and comfortably, is an outcast?  How does he contrast with Óðinn, his blood brother, who also transgresses but retains status and masculinity?

One final consideration with Loki is that his position as a villain at the end of his story could have been embellished by Snorri or other Christians in an attempt to draw an analogy with the Devil.  It’s hard to disentangle this possibility from the Viking-era interpretations of him.

Seiðr, too, is fantastically complex to study because it potentially has origins from multiple marginalized directions: we’ve already talked about its homosexual connotations, and how it could only be practiced by people with diminished masculinity, but it might also have some origins in the shamanistic magic of the Sámi people.  This origin could also explain some of the negative connotations of seiðr.

Note that Óðinn also shapeshifts.  Is he also transgressive, but to a lesser degree?  We know that Óðinn uses seiðr, but he still remains a masculine icon.  Part of this is because much of his magic is chanting-magic, galdr.  Is this an intentional choice by later scribes to normalize Óðinn into the Christian mold?  It is possible that Viking-era Norse society was far more open to gender non-conformity than we are led to believe by the sources we have, filtered as they are through Christian hands.

Odin’s Gender

Recent scholarship, particularly by Amy Jefford Franks, presents a more complex view of Óðinn’s gender, going so far as to view his existence in both male and female aspects.  The tension between his masculine warrior-god aspects and argr seið uses is critical here.  She argues that this tension is only resolvable through a queer perspective.[38]

Throwing back to Hárbarðsljóð, one reading suggests that Óðinn’s sexual exploits of women are done using seiðr, so perhaps Thor’s charge of seiðr is that he’s performing womanhood inappropriately by being promiscuous, as well as performing manhood inappropriately by doing seiðr.

One of Óðinn’s names means “Gelding,” a castrated male horse, which adds to the complexity of his gender.

The Lejre chair is a fascinating tiny silver figurine that appears to be Óðinn, seated, wearing women’s clothing.  Could this be a seiðr performance?[39]

Franks casts Óðinn as a mediator of a mixed-gender space in Valhalla, whose queerness is necessary to draw the feminine Valkyries and the masculine dead together.

Other examples of Non-Conformity

We already considered how valkyries and women in battle represent a challenge to traditional Viking womanhood.  There are a few other challenging grave finds: for example a 40 year old skeleton assigned female by archaeologists from Gerdrup buried with both a needlebox (female-signifying) and a spear (male-signifying).  There are also some Norwegian graves with oval brooches (female) and weapons, often axes.  These could be jumbles from bad recordkeeping or preservation, but they could also represent people living lives with some typically male aspects and some typically female aspects.  If we look further afield in Friesland or the British Isles, we also find migration-era graves of archaeologist-assigned men with female-marked grave goods.  Could there have been similar people in Viking Scandinavia?  Would these people have identified as trans or non-binary today?[40]

And so I want to end this talk with a quote from Gesta Danorum, to remind us to broaden the space we allow for our interpretations of gender roles and expression when we look at the past:[41]

There were, in days of yore among the Danes, women who changed their female beauty into male being, and devoted most of their time to martial arts, so that the disease of exuberance should not dull their courage. For they hated all kinds of voluptuous life style and hardened body and soul continuously by the means of endurance and exertion. And, thus giving up all female weakness, forced their souls to achieve male cruelty, and they were so keen on warfare that you might think that they were no longer women. Mostly they were women with strong souls or slim, tall figures who choose that way of life. As if they forgot the traditions into which they were born, and preferred harshness instead of soft words, battle instead of caress, thirsted after blood instead of kisses, practised the art of war instead of the art of love, and held spears in those hands which should have been occupied by weaving, and they did not think about the marriage bed, but death, and attacked with sharp weapons the men, whom they could have pleased with their beauty.

Appendix - Stuff that doesn’t fit well in the rest of this document as written

New Sources Not Incorporated Yet - spider this

[1] See for a walkthrough.

[2] Crawford, Jackson C. The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes. Hackett Publishing Company, 2015.

[3] Fadlān Ahmad Ibn, et al. Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North. Penguin Books, 2012.

[4] Ibn Fadlān, 105.

[5] Ibn Fadlān, 126.

[6] Ibn Fadlān, 143.

[7] McGuire, ErinLee Halstad (2009).  Manifestations of identity in burial: Evidence from Viking-Age graves in the North Atlantic Diaspora.

[8] Crawford, xxii.

[9] Franks, Amy Jefford.  Valfǫðr, Vǫlur, and Valkyrjur: Óðinn As a Queer Deity Mediating the Warrior Halls of Viking Age Scandinavia.  2019, Scandia: Journal of Medieval Studies.

[10]  Ström, Folke. 1973. Nith, ergi and Old Norse moral attitudes. London: Viking Society for Northern Research.

[11] Ström, Folke. 1973.

[12] Fjorn-The-Skald. "Fjorn-the-skald." Fjörn's Hall. September 13, 2017.ágás-medieval-icelandic-law-on-women-that.


[14] Ström, Folke. 1973.

[15] “Seiðr Magic and Gender,” YouTube video, 19:32, Jackson Crawford, December 6, 2018,

[16] Seiðr Magic and Gender

[17] Crawford, 86.

[18] Crawford, 87.

[19]“Baldrs draumar ['Baldur's Dreams'],” YouTube video, 22:35, Jackson Crawford, June 26, 2019,

[20] Ström, Folke. 1973.


[22], chapter 35.

[23] Heimskringla (Haraldar saga) ch. 34–5.

[24] Ibn Fadlān, 183

[25] Seiðr Magic and Gender

[26] Ström, Folke. 1973.

[27] "Valkyries, Wish-Maidens, and Swan-Maids." Viking Answer Lady Webpage - Viking Pets and Domesticated Animals.

[28] Crawford, 79.  Stanza 36

Þvrs ríst ec þer

oc þria stafi:

ergi oc ęþi

oc oþola;

sva ec þat af ríst,

sem ec þat a reist,

ef goraz þarfar þess.

[29] Ström, Folke. 1973.

[30] Ibn Fadlān, 46.

[31] Dennis, Andrew, Peter Foote, and Richard Perkins. Laws of Early Iceland. University of Manitoba Press, 1980.

[32], chapter 35.

[33] Price, Neil, Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, Torun Zachrisson, Anna Kjellström, Jan Storå, Maja Krzewińska, Torsten Günther, Verónica Sobrado, Mattias Jakobsson, and Anders Götherström. "Viking Warrior Women? Reassessing Birka Chamber Grave Bj.581." Antiquity 93, no. 367 (02 2019): 181-98. doi:10.15184/aqy.2018.258.

[34] See for example, although there’s a lot of reporting on it.

[35] Price et al., 2019

[36] Gardeła, Leszek (2013). "'Warrior-women' in Viking Age Scandinavia? A preliminary archeological study". Analecta Archeologica Ressoviensia. 8: 273–314.

[37] Jesch, Judith. Women in the Viking Age. Boydell Press, 2006.

[38] Franks, 2019



[41] Ibid