A gay cupbearer on Mount Olympus? Male lovers in the Trojan War? While tolerance is often presented as a sign of civilization’s advancement, a reading of Greek mythology reveals greater acceptance of homosexuality in ancient Athens than can be boasted within today’s world religions. These LGBT Greek gods and demigods prove gay culture is no modern invention. Above: Antonio Verrio, The Gods on Mount Olympus (1690-1694)
AchillesThe Greek hero Achilles was invulnerable excepting his famous weak heel, but a male shieldbearer broke through the warrior’s romantic defenses. While Homer never explicitly states a gay relationship between Achilles and sidekick Patroclus, many scholars read a romantic connection between the two, as only Patroclus ever drew out a compassionate side to the famously arrogant warrior. Patroclus’s death at the hands of Trojan Prince Hector sent Achilles into a rage in which he killed Hector and dragged his body around Troy. Other myths also disclose Achilles was struck by the beauty of Troilus, a Trojan prince. Above: Jean-Baptiste Regnault, Education of Achilles (1780-1790)
ZeusWhile a famous philanderer who sired countless demigods by every peasant girl in need of an explanation to her parents, Zeus famously selected the young mortal Ganymede to serve as his cupbearer on Mount Olympus. The relationship provided the foundation of the custom of paiderastia, the practice of Greek men at the time maintaining erotic relationships with adolescent boys on the side. Above: Zeus and Ganymede, artist and date unknown.
NarcissusA figure mostly known for his obsessive vanity, this son of a nymph and a river god would spend his last days gazing at his own reflection, but the first man he showed affection for was not himself. A myth traced in origin to the Boeotia region mentions a relationship between Narcissus and the smitten Ameinias, whom Narcissus would eventually grow tired of before sending him a sword as a kiss-off. Ameinias, desperately depressed over the rejection, killed himself. Above: Jean-George Vibert, Narcissus
ApolloThe sun god, one of the most important in all literature, was also quite the libertine. Besides dalliances with numerous nymphs, Apollo was also lover to Macedonian Prince Hyakinthos, who died catching a thrown discus, then turned by the god into the hyacinth flower. The Pseudo-Apollodorus also said Apollo had been with Thracian singer Thamyris in the first man-on-man relationship in history. And for those who think same-sex nuptials are a 21st-century invention, Apollo also was in a relationship with Hymen, the god of marriage. Above: Alexander Kiselev, Apollo and Hyacinth (1884)
ChrysippusEuripedes wrote that this divine Peloponnesian hero was on the way to compete in the Nemean Games when his Theban tutor Laius ran off with him and raped him. The incident drew a curse upon the city of Thebes. Above: Chrysippus, kidnapped by Laius, looks for his father Pelops running behind the chariot; Volute Krater image (320 B.C.)
HermesThe wing-heeled messenger of the gods was said in multiple myths to have male lovers. In a variation of the Hyacinth myth, it was Hermes’ lover Crocus who was killed by a discus thrown by a god before being turned into a flower. Some myths suggest a romantic relationship between Hermes and the hero Perseus. And while some stories list Daphnis, the inventor of pastoral poetry, as the son of Hermes, other sources claim him to be the god of speed’s favorite lover. Above: Logios Hermes (Hermes Orator); marble, Roman copy from the late first century B.C.-early second century A.D. after a Greek original of the fifth century B.C.
PanOf course, many mythological texts and artworks connect Daphnis to the satyr Pan, god of music. Pan frequently was depicted in sculpture chasing both women and men around with his always-erect penis and oversized scrotum. Half man. Half goat. Bisexual. Size queen. Above: Rossi Domenico, Pan and Apollo (circa 1704), engraving
DionysusBest known as the Greek god of wine, Dionysus was also the god of intersex and transgender people. Male lovers of the god included the satyr Ampelos and the famously handsome Adonis. He also once made a journey to Hades and was guided by the shepherd Prosymnus, who led the way in exchange for the chance to make love to the party god. When Prosymnus died before that deal would be consummated, the god created a wood phallus to ritually fulfill the promise, according to research by a number of Christian historians, including Hyginus and Arnobius. Above: Diego Velázquez, The Triumph of Bacchus, a.k.a. Dionysus (1629)
HeraclesThe famous hero had a number of male companions through his many trials. Among them: Abderos, who kept the mares of Diomedes for Heracles but was eaten by the beasts; Hylas, Heracles‘ companion when he sailed on the Argo, who was eventually kidnapped by nymphs in Mysia; and Iolaus, who help cauterize the necks of the hydra when Heracles famously chopped off the beast’s many heads. Indeed, the relationship with Iolaus was enshrined in Thebes, where male couples of the day could be found “exchanging vows and pledges with their beloved at his tomb,” according to historian Louis Crompton. Above: Hans Sebald Beham, Heracles and Iolaus dispatching the hydra with club and fire
PoseidonAccording to Pindar’s First Olympian Ode, Pelops, the king of Pisa, once shared “Aphrodite’s sweet gifts” with the ocean god himself. Pelops for a time was taken to Olympus by Poseidon and trained to drive the divine chariot. Above: Felice Giani, The Marriage of Poseidon and Amphitrite (1802-1805)
OrpheusThe legendary poet and musician may be best known for the story of his journey to the underworld to retrieve his wife, Eurydice; he failed to do so when he succumbed to temptation and looked at her before both had returned to the world of the living. According to Ovid, he never took another female lover after that — but did love other young men in Thrace. Spurned, Ciconian women would eventually tear Orpheus apart during a Bacchic orgy. Above: John Macallan Swan, Orpheus (1896)
HermaphroditusPerhaps the earliest literary reference to an intersex person concerns this child of Hermes and love goddess Aphrodite who as a youth encountered the nymph Salmacis, who attempted to seduce the youth and asked the gods that their forms be permanently joined. The creature of both sexes was frequently depicted in classical art as a figure with womanly breasts and form but with male genitalia. Above: Francois Joseph Navez, The Nymph Salmacis and Hermaphroditus
CallistoThis nymph follower of Artemis took a vow to remain a virgin and could not be tempted even by Zeus, at least in male form. But when Zeus disguised himself as Artemis, she was lured into the goddess’s embrace. Hesiod wrote that after this tryst was discovered, Callisto was turned into a bear before she gave birth to son Arcas. Callisto and Arcas were later put in the stars as the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
ArtemisTwin sister to Apollo, the goddess was by differing accounts a nearly asexual virgin or a lesbian with many nymph lovers, including Cyrene, Atalanta, and Anticleia as well as moon goddess Dictynna. By some accounts, she was Callisto’s lover before the nymph was raped by Zeus. Researcher Johanna Hypatia-Cybelaia writes that lesbian and gay devotees worshipped her as Artemis Orthia, and that lesbian port Pamphilia referred to the goddess in hymn as Artemis Pergaea. Above: Peter Paul Rubens, Artemis and Callisto
The AmazonsThe original race of warrior women, the Amazons of myth lived in a society free of men, one where the powerful women would only have heterosexual sex once or twice a year — for reproductive purposes only — with male slaves abducted from neighboring villages or taken prisoner during wars, according to Strabo. So what happened the rest of the year? Well, many scholars suggest the idea of a lesbian culture is just modern fantasy, though there is art from the time that depicts Amazonian Queen Penthesilia accepting a love gift from a Thracian huntress. Above: Johann Georg Platzer, The Amazon Queen Thalestris in the Camp of Alexander the Great
TeiresiasThe blind prophet of Apollo was most famous in Greek myth for being transformed from a man into a woman for seven years. During his female years, Teiresias became a priestess of Hera, married, and even had children, according to Hesiod. Call him mythology’s original transgender person. After the gods changed him back, Zeus asked who enjoyed sex more, men or women. Teiresias revealed the ladies had it roughly 10 times better than the lads. Reporting this earned him a blinding by Hera. Above: Pentheus Scorns The Prophecies of Tiresias
AthenaThe goddess of wisdom and patron of Athens was a virgin by nearly every mythological account but did express a romantic attraction to the Attic maiden Myrmex. However, that ended poorly when Myrmex pretended to have invented the plow, one of Athena’s creations, and Athena turned the girl into an ant. Above: Athena, center, in a mural by John Singer Sargent
AphroditeWhile the goddess of love is not identified prominently as lesbian herself, the Greek poet Sappho (as in sapphic) of Lesbos (yes, as in lesbian) told many homoerotic tales and named Aphrodite as the greatest patron and ally of lesbians and homosexuals within the Greek pantheon of gods. Above: Enrique Simonet, El Juicio de Paris (1904)
ErosWhile the best-known myths of Eros depict the son of Aphrodite as a fertility god — the version that proved inspirational to the popularized Roman god Cupid — later Greek myths portrayed Eros as one of several winged erotes, and the one regarded as a protector of homosexual culture, according to research in the scholarly book Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World.
IsisThe Egyptian goddess, also worshipped by Greeks, is known for solving a gender identity issue of yore. Iphis was born female but raised male by his mother, who concealed the truth because her husband wanted a male heir. Ultimately, Iphis fell in love with Ianthe, a woman, and was betrothed to her. Before the wedding, Iphis prayed in the Temple of Isis for a solution, and voila! she became a he. As noted on this may have been a heterosexual ending, but the love story was laced with LGBT themes. Above: Isis (seated right) welcoming the Greek heroine Io as she is borne into Egypt on the shoulders of the personified Nile, as depicted in a Roman wall painting from Pompeii.
LGBT Themes in Ancient Mythology
The Death of Hyacinthos, Jean Broc Apollo and Hyacinthos, Greek mythology
Religion and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) movements have long been butting heads. The world’s three Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – have struggled with accepting and blessing gay relationships, as their respective holy texts speak of abomination and sin. It is true that these days, more and more religious organizations are finding peace and tolerance in alternative sexual orientations, but religion is still usually seen as an entity of chastity and discipline.
Ancient religions had adherents of different beliefs and philosophies. Moral values and concepts of love and sex, as well as good and evil, differed from culture to culture. Some might be surprised to find that in many old religions, mythology is full of gay relationships!
It should be noted that these examples are only some of the many illustrations of LGBT themes in mythology. Some mythologies in particular (I’m looking at you, Greece!) were so rich in homosexual or intersex themes that I picked the best ones. It should also be noted that some of these myths are absolutely not for kids, as religious stories often aren’t.
It isn’t a secret that Greek culture – and to some extent, subsequently Roman culture as well – had a more lax attitude toward same-sex relationships. Though there is some debate about exactly how widespread tolerance was, evidence of gay themes is overwhelming in artifacts. Artwork on cups and vases, literature (such as Plato’s Symposium) and stories are full of gay and transgender themes. A book could be written on the number of „gay“ myths and stories, but here are a few of the most significant:
„Ferdia Falls at the Hand of Cuchulain“, Stephen Reid, 1904
Records of the Celtic religion are hard to find, probably due to being destroyed at foreign invasion, or perhaps because of the lack of unity among the people. Most accounts come therefore from foreign sources, like the Romans.
The tales of Odin and Ragnarok are not as explicit in same-sex references as Greek mythology, though the pantheons can be compared in the excitement of their stories and the gods‘ love of alcohol. Still, they are not without their own references. Though meant as an insult, Loki the trickster god once accuses Odin of homosexuality. Loki is involved in a few other odd tales.
Chinese mythology, as a concoction of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and local folktales around the massive country, is relatively liberal with its depiction of same-sex relationships and gender-ambiguous gods. Historically, there are records of homosexuality. For example, emperors were known to keep female concubines, but many kept male concubines as well. One legend claims that Emperor Ai from the Han Dynasty said he would rather cut off his sleeve than disturb his male lover who had fallen asleep on it, and from there, one euphemism for homosexuality still sometimes used today became „the passion of the sleeve.“
Native Japanese myths are associated with Shinto, Japan’s animistic pagan religion that still exists today. Among many things, Buddhism was an import from China, probably through Korea, and as myths mixed, some parallels can still be seen with Chinese mythology. Homosexuality clearly exists in Japanese lore.
The ancient Mesopotamian world, comprised of several overlapping societies, seems to have had a place especially for intersex people. The high god Enki of Sumerian mythology recognizes those who appear not to be male or female, and some myths claim he even created a „third gender.“
Ancient Egypt, though featuring myths that don’t shy away from sex in the least, seems to have few stories that outright reference homosexuality. Still, here is one that features two of the big-name gods.
Dahomey, located in present-day Benin, Africa was a kingdom predominantly made up of Fon people that featured a lot of unique and rather advanced social and political elements, including an all-female military unit that were well-known for their bravery. In another interesting gender switch, young men, sometimes castrated, also served as „royal wives“ to the king. Dahomey itself wasn’t an ancient nation – it officially existed from the 1600s to the 1900s – but it drew upon West African Vodun and animistic religious practices and beliefs.
The native religions of the Hawaiian and Maori people feature many gods with frequent examples of apparent bisexuality or sexual androgyny. Some examples of these are the bisexual goddess Haakauilanani, and the male lovers Pala-Mao and Kumi-Kahi. Several myths have been interpreted as being gay.
It should be noted that this is only a glance into some of the more famous stories. Instances of LGBT themes in mythology are as varied, plentiful, and of course controversial as one might expect. One thing is certain, however, and that is that there was never a culture on earth that wasn’t aware of same sex relationships, even as opinions differed, and mythology is one of the best reflections of ancient cultures that we have.
19 LGBT Hindu Gods
For centuries, Hindu literature, mythology, and religious texts have featured deities that defied the gender binary.
The notion of gender as a spectrum may feel to some a modern revelation, but Hindu literature and mythology for centuries has taught of the figures who defied the binary. And while the reproductive connection between man and woman has always been revered in the faith, Hinduism, unlike most Western faiths, historically treats homosexuality as a natural behavior, one documented in folk tale and religious text alike. Behold, this incomplete list of Hindu deities and divine descendants who defied gender and sexual norms back in the day.
1. Shiva and ParvatiThe supreme god of Shaivism, Shiva has often been held as the ultimate embodiment of masculinity, but as far back as the Kushan era, there have also been depictions of Shiva in the Ardhanarishvara form, an androgynous composite of Shiva and his wife, Parvoti. The form originated when Parvoti, desiring to share Shiva’s experiences, asked for their forms to literally be joined. “What is being said is that if the inner masculine and feminine meet, you are in a perpetual state of ecstasy,” explains Hindu scholar Sadhguru. Most often, the Ardhanarishvara is depicted with the female form of Parvoti on the left and the masculine attributes of Shiva on the right.
2. Vishnu/MohiniA major deity of the religion regarded as protector of the world, Vishnu is clearly depicted in the faith as gender-fluid. This major Hindu deity frequently took on the female avatar of Mohini. Vishnu even procreated with Shiva in the Mohini form, resulting in the birth of Ayyappa, a major figure still worshipped by millions who make pilgrimages to shrines in India. The avatar Mohini frequently gets describes as an enchantress who maddens lovers.
3. KrishnaAn incarnation of Vishnu, the popular deity Krishna also took the form of Mohini in order to marry Aravan to satisfy one of the hero’s last requests, according to the Mahabharata. After Aravan’s passing, Krishna stayed in the form as the hero’s widow for a significant period of mourning.
4. ShikhandiThis warrior in the Kurukshetra war in most tellings of the Mahabharata was female at birth but changed gender later in life. Born Shikhandini, the girl in one version of the story was raised as a male by King Drupada, the girl’s father. The king even had her married to the princess of Dasharna. Upon complaints from the new bride, Shikhandini fled into the forest and met a Yaksha and exchanged genders. Now taking the name Shikhandi, he remained a man until his death at the battle of Mahabharat.
5. Bahuchara MataBahuchara Mata was traveling with her sisters and threatened by the marauder Bapiya. After she and her sisters self-immolated their own breasts, Bapiya was cursed with impotence until he began to dress and act as a woman. Today, the Hindu goddess is worshipped as the originator and patron of the hijras, trans and intersex Bangladeshis considered in the faith to be of a “third gender.”
6. RamaAnother origin story for the hijras comes from the Ramayana, which tells the tale of Rama gathering his subjects in the forest before his 14-year adventure. He tells the men and women to return to their appropriate places in Ayodhya, but upon his return from his epic journey, Rama finds some have not left the place of that speech and instead merged together in an intersex fashion. He grants hijras the ability to confer certain blessings, the beginning of the badhai tradition.
7. The Khajuraho TemplesThese medieval temples famously include depictions of people in sexual congress, a demonstration of the importance of sexual interaction within the Hindu faith. Included in the carvings are a number of depictions of gay sex, sometimes in orgy situations where several women are involved in intercourse with a single man, but there also are images of men having sex and engaging in fellatio with one another.
8. AgniThe god of fire, creativity, and wealth is depicted in the Hindu faith as married both to the goddess and Svaha and with the male moon god Soma. Connor and Sparks relate that Agni importantly received Soma’s semen orally. British scholar Phil Hine says Agni gave a divine blow job to Shiva as well, resulting in the birth of Skanda, the god of war.
9. Mitra and VarunaThese sons of Aditi from Vedic literature are depicted frequently as icons for brotherly affection and intimate friendship between men, according to the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association. Ancient texts of the Brahmana in fact depict the two as alternate phases of the moon who join in same-sex relations. On nights of the new moon, Mitra injects his semen into Varuna to start the moon cycle, with the favor returned upon the full moon.
10. Budha GrahaIn addition to providing a pivotal role in Hindu astrology as one of the planets, specifically Mercury, Budh Graha also represented a huge blow to the paradigm of gender roles millennia before the current vogue. Raised as the child of Sage Brihaspati and Tara, Budha was actually the product of adultery between Tara and the moon god Chandra. Sage Brihaspati, angered at this revelation during Tara’s pregnancy, cursed that the child would be born neither male nor female, and established the tradition that the husband of a child’s mother would be considered its father.
11. IlaThe chief progenitor of the lunar dynasty, Ila appears in many stories alternately as female or male. In the Ramayana, a meeting with Shiva and Parvati results in Ila alternating between genders every month. Ila ultimately marries Budha, producing the offspring Pururavas during one of the months when anatomy allowed, thus producing a lunar dynasty. In the Vishnu Parana, it is said Ila’s manhood was ultimately made permanent, upon which he took the name Sudyumma.
12. NaradaA Vedic sage and a Job-like figure in Hindu myth, this devotee of Vishnu once boasted he was above being a victim of maya. Vishnu encouraged Narada then to take a dip in a pool, which erased the sage’s memories and turned him into a woman. In that state, Narada would marry a king and produce several sons and grandsons doomed to die in war. While Narada was in mourning, the sage’s gender was restored to male, and he had a greater understanding of the power of maya.
13. NammallvarOne of the 12 alwar saints of Tamil Nadu, this mystic poet often expressed as female and wrote as many as 1,000 devotional songs in the persona of a woman pining for her lover, Lord Vishnu. Indeed, at an annual festival, an icon of Nammallvar in drag is brought into a sanctum of Vishnu to unite to the literary lover with her lord.
14. RadhaThe Radha Krishna are collectively known within the Hindu faith as the aspects of the male and female facets of God. Radha is regarded as the supreme goddess in control of the god Krishna, and members of a Vaishnava sahajiya sect of the faith that identified with Radha dressed and lived as women as a way of perfecting their love of Krishna, according to Vedan literature. In fact, a 15th-century leader, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, claimed to be a manifestation of Krishna in union with Radha. As in, “I am Chait”? OK, maybe that’s a stretch.
15. The Kama SutraWant proof to show your homophobic uncle that same-sex unions have been recognized by faith leaders for thousands of years? Tell him to grab that copy of the Kama Sutra he keeps in a dresser drawer and read Chapter 9, which in addition to offering instruction on fellatio makes clear that this skill can also be used acceptably in homosexual interactions. It’s even been cited by the Human Rights Campaign. Of note, the Kama Sutra existed as a religious text celebrating the union of individuals in sexual interaction.
16. ArjunaA protagonist in the Mahabharata, Arjuna spent a year in exile, cursed by a rejected Urvashi to live as a eunuch. But on the request of King Indra, that sentence was reduced and Arjuna lived just a year as a woman, taking the name Brihannala and teaching princesses to dance.
17. SambaThe son of Krishna today is considered the patron of eunuchs and transgender people, but his history sounds like modern myths about Target bathrooms. Connor and Sparks write that Samba, or Shamba, would dress in women’s clothes to more easily sneak into the company of women in order to seduce them.
18. The mothers of BhagirathaThe Hindu king Bhagiratha was credited with bringing the Ganges River to Earth, but his arrival on Earth originated in the sapphic and the divine. Historians Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kiswai note the king’s name indicates he was born of two vulvas, and discovered a story of Maharaja Dilipa, the king of the Sun Dynasty, dying with no heir. Shiva declared the king’s two widows could make love to one another to produce a true offspring, and Bhagiratha was conceived.
19. Bhagavati-deviBhagavati-devi is considered today to be the goddess of cross-dressing, and more than 5,000 male worshippers dress as women each year for the ritual Chamayavilakku festival in Kollam. Temple leaders say the tradition has been in place for hundreds of years.
Lovers‘ Legends: The Gay Greek Myths Hardcover – January 15, 2002
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BearMythology Version 4.0
It appears that it’s been about 6 years and 6 months since I last posted on WordPress. It will be awhile as I try to get used to things. It took me some time updating the new look of this blog. I think that I like it as I plan on posting in bulk.
The 3 bears and chubs you see on the top is representative of the bearish/chubby types I like. Not a single white bear? Don’t worry, we will be discussing them. Trust me, I am not partaking in the white genocide…
…Yes, I’m older, perhaps a little bitter, and definitely sarcastic; but I still have a sense of humor.
Gay Tarot Decks
Tarot cards and decks that accommodate or celebrate gay, bisexual or alternative sexual orientations.
Although the Bapst-Hall Tarot has been re-structured to fit a gay theme, it is a deck usable by anyone. The original, computer-based artwork is colourful, and larger than life.
The Brotherhood Tarot is a masculine themed fantasy deck with digitally enhanced photography. It incorporates gay history, mythology, Radical Faerie imagery, and celebrates the natural resources of California while maintaining a close tie to the Rider-Waite. Now available.
The Cosmic Tribe Tarot is an 80-card contemporary deck with three different Lovers cards included for various sexual orientations. This gorgeous and striking deck is not for the faint hearted.
The Gay Tarot focuses on the experience and identity of homosexual men. While men are featured as all the major figures, women are not excluded. The 78 images are fully illustrated, with people are of all ethnicities, shapes and sizes and in modern, contemporary settings.
The Renaissance Tarot deck has gorgeous artwork with touches of gold. All twelve deities of Olympus and several other Greek and Roman gods and demigods are pictured in the major arcana. The minor arcana are pips illustrated with small scenes from Greek mythology.
The Son Tarot celebrates the lives and experiences of gay men. Each card represents an aspect of gay male life, and offers a unique pathway to masculine spirituality. Previously out as a majors-only deck from Adam McLean, it’s now also a 78-card edition from Schiffer Books.
8 LGBTQ+ Mythology Books For Your Representation Needs
The act of retelling a story with a few tweaks of your own is as old as stories themselves. The religious and cultural stories classified as mythologies are not excluded from this creative endeavor. Take, for instance, the myth of Persephone’s abduction. A recent retelling of this myth, popular on the internet, shows Persephone entering the Underworld of her own free will, a direct contrast to the Greek myth written down by Hesiod literally called The Rape of Persephone. I don’t think the difference between the two needs to be pointed out. It is believed the Greek myth may be rooted in a Sumerian myth following a similar plot line and theme. The queer community is not exempt from this practice either. Queer historians have and are going through history, pointing out individuals who were, or possibly were, part of the community. But we deserve to see ourselves in religion mingling with gods and holy individuals as much as anyone else. We deserve to have our spot in the sun and, occasionally, flirt with it. And so we have taken to mythology, writing ourselves into stories where we may have not been before, giving ourselves a spot next to the deified, in the stories considered important enough that they continue to have life breathed into them in this modern day. These are some of my favorite LGBTQ+ mythology books.
Hello, I know this is an old entry but I’ve just come across it, and I have one to add to the Celtic list (though I agree examples are hard to find!). In the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion (Welsh), the wizard Gwydion helps his brother to rape King Math’s handmaiden. As punishment, for three years in a row the brothers are turned into mating pairs of animals, taking turns to be the female: a stag and doe, a boar and sow, a wolf and she-wolf. Their offspring are turned human and welcomed into the King’s army.
I can prepair all kinds of herbal salts of any herbs….i have a lot of knowledge about herbal technologys…
I loved it. It was great. My mom says its not true but i never listen to her any waz.
This makes me feel unashamed of myself and my girlfriend. I can tell my parents and not have to worry if I made my Gods angry. Thank you!
aliasis (author) from United States on February 22, 2014:
MercuriusTJ – haha, indeed! Greek/Roman mythology just has so much gay in it, that I couldn’t list it all because the other ancient pantheons would look too scarce in comparison. I bet a whole article could be written on just that though! 🙂 Thanks for reading!
I love the page :). You might want to add Dionysus, Hercules and Pan. Dionysus has been gbt and the Patron of LGBT.
Hercules’s lust knew no bound. He had been with women and men through his life and might his divine life too.
aliasis (author) from United States on December 01, 2013:
Dec 19 Queer Mythology in the Philippines
„We are tolerated, but not accepted. Tolerated is more of, ‚We have to endure you… but only up to here.'“ — Ging Cristobal
The Philippines is one of the most LGBT friendly countries in Asia. A 2014 poll found that 73% of Filipinos said that gay and lesbian people should be accepted by society—a shockingly different opinion from other nearby Asian countries with Malaysia coming in at 9% and Indonesia at 3%. This is surprising in a majority Roman Catholic country like the Philippines. There is a long history of acceptance for queer people in the Philippines, dating all the way back to pre-Spanish colonization and conversion to Catholicism. In Filipino mythology, there was always a queer presence.
Prior to colonization, the Philippines was a polytheistic nation. Deities differed between tribes and regions, and the myths included here were handed down generation after generation through oral tradition.
There is a pre-colonial Visayan myth that tells the story of how two gods fell in love. The tale talks of the God of Death, Sidapa, who lived alone on Mt. Madjaas. From there he could see the seen moon gods, each of who represents a phase of the moon. Many were captivated by their beauty, including Sidapa and Bakunawa, the sea dragon. Sidapa fell in love with the seven moon gods. He asked the birds and mermaids to sing his praise to the moons. He ordered the flowers to make sweet perfumes that reached the skies. He asked for the fireflies to light a path in the sky so the moons could find him.
One of the moon gods, Libulan, came down on this firefly path to meet Sidapa, who showered him in love and gifts. But as their romance bloomed, Bakunawa grew furious; it rose from the sea and devoured the moons. But Sidapa saw it attacking and saved Libulan from its wrath. It is said that afterwards, they resided as husbands on Mt. Madjaas. Some LGBT Filipinos today use Libulan as a symbol and refer to him as the patron god of homosexuality.
Transgender women were also a part of our mythology. Lakapati (or Ikapati) is the goddess of fertility and good harvest. She was also described as an androgynous, intersex, or transgender goddess. According to myth, she was one of the kindest deities, giving man the gift of agriculture. Pre-colonial Filipinos would offer sacrifices to her before planting a new field. The ceremony was described by a Franciscan missionary who said he saw, “a farmer paying homage to this fertility goddess (he) would hold up a child before saying “Lakapati pakanin mo yaring alipin mo; huwag mong gutumin” (Lakapati, feed this thy slave; let him not hunger).” In some versions of the myth, Lakapati is the consort of Bathala, the creator of the world. Bathala can also be considered to be intersex as the name means “Man and Woman in One”.
Myths are a reflection of the people who believe in them and the presence of transgender women was not confined to Filipino mythology. There are Spanish accounts of trans Filipino women living among society during pre-colonial and early colonial times. The Tansug people of the Southern Philippines believed in a third gender that was essentially women who were born as men. From a western standpoint, we can view them as transgender women though early Filipinos referred to them as „bakla“.
Trans women could live in Filipino society as women; dressing in feminine clothing, marrying men, and taking up the women’s duties and social status. Filipino women had a comparatively high status as opposed to other cultures at the time. They could divorce from their husbands without his permission, own their own wealth and land, and name their children. But transgender women were still thought to be different from other women in two ways: they could not have children and they were considered to be more spiritual. They held power within society as religious leaders, as described by Neil J. Garcia in “Male Homosexuality in the Philippines: a short history”:
“To the Spanish, they were astonishing, even threatening, as they were respected leaders and figures of authority. To their native communities, they were babaylan or catalonan: religious functionaries and shamans, intermediaries between the visible and invisible worlds to whom even the local ruler (datu) deferred. They placated angry spirits, foretold the future, healed infirmities, and even reconciled warring couples and tribes”
Queer acceptance did not last long, however. When the Spanish came in the 1500s, they brought Catholicism with them. When the Philippines was conquered, the people were converted to Roman Catholicism and that is still the most widely practiced religion in the country to this day. Spanish colonization put an end to traditional Filipino mythology and with it the rights of transgender women in the Philippines.
While it is true that the Philippines is one of the most tolerant Sian countries for transgender people and the history suggest the same, the Philippines is still no haven for LGBT people. The majority of Filipino citizens may be tolerant of queer people, but tolerance only goes so far. As Ging Cristobal put it, “We are considered second or third class citizens. We are tolerated but not accepted. Tolerated is more of, ‘We have to accept you but only up to here.’”
The Filipino government still refuses to pass anti-discrimination laws for the LGBT community that would allow for trans women to use the correct bathroom. 41 trans people were still killed between 2008 and 2016. In 2014, a Filipino trans woman named Jennifer Laude was brutally murdered by a US Marine. When people found out she was trans, her gender was denied by the public. Catholic and evangelical groups are still protesting against the rights of trans people. The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, announced last year that he opposed gay marriage stating, “That can’t apply to us, because we are Catholics.”
It is sad to think that perhaps thousands of years ago trans women had better rights than they do today, but unfortunately, that is the case. Homophobia, the invasive disease brought on through colonialism, has not yet been wiped out in the Philippines. Still, there is hope. The people of the Philippines can look back at their own past and see why transgender people need to be accepted. Acceptance for queer people is a part of the Philippines’ roots, and hopefully, a part of the country’s future.
Almendral, Aurora. (2018, April 29). A Transgender Paradox, and Platform, in the Philippines. The New York Times.
Gancayco, Stephanie. (2016, November 20). Lakapati, Transgender Tagalog Goddess of Fertility & Agriculture. Hella Pinay.
Garcia, Neil J. (2004). Male Homosexuality in the Philippines: a short history. IAAS Newsletter, pp. 13.
Gutierrez, Natashya. (2017, May 17). LGBTQ activists: We are tolerated but not accepted in the Philippines. Rappler.
Pew Research Center (2013). The Global Divide on Homosexuality. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.
Villamor, Felipe. (2017, March 20). Duterte Opposes Gay Marriage in Philippines, Reversing Campaign Pledge. The New York Times.
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My personal research into homosexuality in the Viking Age shows clearly that the Vikings had words (and therefore mental constructs and concepts) of same-sex activity; however since the needs of agricultural/pastoral living require reproduction not only to work the farm but also to provide support for the parent in old age, it was expected that no matter what one’s affectional preferences were that each individual would marry and reproduce. There are no recorded instances of homosexual or lesbian couples in the Viking Age: moreover, the idea of living as an exclusively homosexual person did not exist in most cultures until present day Western civilization appeared. One’s sexual partners mattered little so long as one married, had children, and conformed at least on the surface to societal norms so as not to disturb the community. Those Scandinavians who attempted to avoid marriage because of their sexuality were penalized in law: a man who shunned marriage was termed fuðflogi (man who flees the female sex organ) while a woman who tried to avoid marriage was flannfluga (she who flees the male sex organ) (Jochens 65).
The evidence of the sagas and laws shows that male homosexuality was regarded in two lights: there was nothing at all strange or shameful about a man having intercourse with another man if he was in the active or „manly“ role, however the passive partner in homosexual intercourse was regarded with derision. It must be remembered, however, that the laws and sagas reflect the Christian consciousness of the Icelander or Norwegian of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, well after the pagan period. The myths and legends show that honored gods and heroes were believed to have taken part in homosexual acts, which may indicate that pre-Christian Viking Scandinavia was more tolerant of homosexuality, and history is altogether silent as to the practice of lesbianism in the Viking Age.
„How did I become the bad guy in this story?“
We all know that Zeus sucks. He’s a rapist, a terrible husband, father, son, and grandson—an all around toxic douchebag who creates a lot of problems with his dick.
However, Zeus is not the only douchebag in Greek mythology who needs to be called out. There are a lot of assholes, but we’re keeping this list to just five for now. And no, Hera is not on this list because she is my patron and I think she already gets plenty of criticism from most authors (shout out to George O’Connor for giving Hera some positive play).
1. Apollo: Like father, like son. Apollo takes after his dad in being a hardcore equal opportunity predator. He doesn’t get as called out because he’s pretty and a sensitive poet type, but as the women and gays of Brooklyn know, the poets are the most dangerously emotionally manipulative men around.
A lot of Apollo’s “lovers” are really not interested and often take desperate measures to escape his lyre-holding hands. Daphne was a naiad, a female water nymph, who was just minding her own business, probably admiring her own face, when Apollo saw her. He then decided to “pursue her.” Daphne was not interested, because as I said, she was just minding her own naiad business and ran as fast as she could. Just when Apollo had her in his grasp, Daphne asked her father to turn her into a laurel tree.
That’s not the last person to resort to death in order to not be assaulted by the sun god. One of his male “lovers,” Leucates, threw himself off a rock when Apollo tried to carry him off to Olympus. Castalia, another nymph, fled from Apollo and was turned into a fountain at Delphi, where men could become inspired by drinking her water. Yup. That’s Greek Mythology.
Apollo was also hella petty towards women who rejected him. He offered Cassandra of Troy the gift of prophecy as an attempt to seduce her. When she rejected him, he spat into her mouth, giving her the gift, but then it made it so no one would ever listen to her. Oh Apollo, they wouldn’t have listened to her anyway.
2. Jason: Time to pull out your high school Greek tragedy books; it’s Euripides time. Jason is best known for two things: the quest for the Golden Fleece which basically brought together the Avengers of Ancient Greece, and pissing off his wife really, really badly.
So let’s talk about Medea. Medea is the “barbarian” princess of the kingdom of Colchis and the granddaughter of the sun god, Helios. Medea falls in love with Jason and decides to betray her family to help him obtain the Golden Fleece. That includes, but is not limited to, killing and chopping up her own brother’s body as a distraction for Jason and the crew to escape. #Loyality. It depends on the myth, but some accounts have Medea falling in love with Jason due to the interference of Aphrodite or Hera.
Medea uses her magic to help Jason on his quest, assists in helping to save his father, and delivers some sweet, sweet revenge on Pelias, the guy who screwed over Jason. Now, the type of revenge? Getting Pelias’ daughters to butcher him, thinking that Medea would restore his youth the way she’d done for Jason’s father. One could argue that Pelias’ daughters played themselves by really thinking Medea would help the enemy of her husband, but that’s none of my business. Regardless, due to the crime, Jason and Medea were exiled to Corinth.
After 10 years in Corinth, at least, Jason decides to leave Medea and gets engaged to the Princess of Corinth. Jason breaks his vow to love Medea forever but does offer her a chance to be his mistress. Class act. Medea decides to go full “barbarian” and sends Jason’s bride-to-be a cursed wedding dress (which she puts on knowing it’s from Medea). The dress burns her alive and her father, the king, lays his body on top of hers, and they die together.
Medea kills her two sons with Jason, fearing they would either be enslaved or murdered. Jason, losing the gods’ favor for betraying his oath to love his wife forever died lonely and unhappy, getting crushed by his own ship.
Lesson: Don’t betray your wife, especially not if she is a powerful sorceress who gave up everything for you, just so you can marry a younger woman.
3. Theseus: We all know the story of Theseus and the Minotaur in some way, but for those who don’t, here’s the summary: King Minos of Crete was very disrespectful to Poseidon and tried to basically screw him over via sacrifice, by not sacrificing the most beautiful bull to Poseidon, and apparently, kings in Ancient Greece love to test the gods’ ability to see through bullshit (see Tantalus). So, Poseidon made sure Minos would never, ever be that foolish again and caused Minos’ wife to fall in love with the bull he’d saved. Queen Scapegoat became filled with lust and asked the inventor Daedalus to create a fake … sexy cow costume so she could have sex with the bull. Sure, I guess.
She became pregnant with the Minotaur. Daedalus was forced to create the Labyrinth to house the beast before they were eventually imprisoned with his son, some kid named Icarus.
Where does Theseus fit in? We’re getting there; the backstory is important. Theseus was the prince of Athens, which was under the control of Crete and forced to send men and 7 women to Crete every 7 years. Eventually, Theseus pulls a Katniss and volunteers to go.
Minos’ daughter Ariadne falls in love with Theseus and provides him with the golden rope that helps him find his way through the Labyrinth and escape. Theseus kills the Minotaur, sails off, and takes Ariadne with him, promising to marry her.
Except, instead of doing that, he abandons Ariadne on an island, alone. She gave up her family, betrayed her father, and left her country to protect this asshole, and he abandons her on a fucking island!? Jason 2.0.
Douchebag. He also tried to kidnap Helen of Troy when she was ten years old.
But that’s okay. Payback is a bad bitch, and Ariadne did not die on the island alone. The turn-up god Dionysus saw Ariadne, saw she was a loyal, beautiful badass, and married her. So she didn’t get to be with Theseus, but she got to become a goddess.
4. A lot of people in the House of Atreus: Things didn’t go well for the House of Atreus in Greek Mythology. It all started when King Tantalus decided to murder his son and feed him to the gods to “test them.” That son, Pelops, who was eventually resurrected sans one piece of his shoulder (Demeter felt really bad about that), then carried on the family legacy of either being a douchebag or being surrounded by terrible people.
Hippodamia was a princess and the daughter of King Oenamaus, who was very protective of his daughter, mostly because he heard a prophecy that claimed he would be killed by his son-in-law. Therefore, he decided that any man who wanted to marry his daughter would have to face him in a chariot race, and if that person lost, they would be executed.
By the time Pelops was ready to challenge Oenamaus, the overprotective pop had already killed 18 people, but you never know until you try, I guess. Fearing losing, Pelops went to the sea and asked his ex-lover, Poseidon (all the gods are queer), for help, and Poseidon sent him a chariot with winged horses. Which, I don’t know … seems like cheating, but what do I know?
Despite cheating, Pelops still wanted to make extra sure he would win, so he enlisted Oenomaus’ charioteer, Myrtilus, to help him. Depending on the myth, either Pelops or Hippodamia convinced Myrtilus to betray his master by promising him half of Oenomaus’ kingdom and the first night in bed with Hippodamia. Now, considering that last part, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it was probably Pelops who came up with this plan.
It worked. Before the race, while Myrtilus was putting together Oenomaus’ chariot, he replaced the bronze linchpins for the wheels with fake ones. During the race, just as Oenomaus was catching up to Pelops for the kill shot, the wheels flew off and the chariot broke apart, leaving Oenomaus to get dragged to death by his horses. Pelops then killed Myrtilus when he attempted to get his “reward.”
As Myrtilus died, he cursed Pelops for his ultimate betrayal, and since the gods take curses and betrayals really seriously (when they aren’t the betrayer, that is), Pelops’ whole family was cursed. including Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Niobe.
While Myrtilus was a total creep, maybe don’t try and gift away your fiancée’s virginity? Or feed your son to the gods as a test.
5. Athena: Equal opportunity douchebag call out. Athena is kind of the worst. Hera and Aphrodite get called out a lot for victim blaming and being petty, but Athena is hella petty. She’s pretty much the kind of woman who only has male friends because she’s “one of the guys” and wonders why other women don’t like her. Despite being the goddess of wisdom and a champion of heroes, I challenge you to find a myth where she helps a woman. I’ll wait. While you search, here are two of the most prominent stories about Athena with women.
Case #1: Medusa. Medusa was one of three sisters, who was described by Ovid as being “a ravishingly beautiful maiden” (eww). For some reason, Ovid paints that as justification for Poseidon deciding to rape Medusa in Athena’s temple. Athena decided that Medusa should be punished for this and made her into a gorgon. Medusa’s two sisters, Stheno and Euryale, were also turned into gorgons for coming to the defense of their sister and siding with her against the gods. They both attempt to kill Perseus when he slays their baby sister, but fail.
Case #2: Arachne. Arachne was a great weaver and decided to not-so-humble brag that she was a better weaver than Athena. Athena came down in her tried and true old lady disguise and tried to get Arachne to pay her respects to Athena because Athena invented weaving. Arachne doubled down, and Athena revealed herself and challenged Arachne to a weaving contest.
Athena weaved a tapestry of the gods being awesome and the gods punished mortals for hubris. Arachne’s weaving depicted ways that the gods had abused mortals, especially Zeus, tricking and seducing women. #Whistleblower.
To rub some extra salt on the wound, not only did Arachne’s weaving throw a lot of shade towards the gods, but it was more beautiful than Athena’s own. Athena turned Arachne into a spider because, as the saying goes, “haters gonna hate.”
Who are your favorite jerks of Greek Mythology? Volume 2 coming soon.
Ancient Greek mythology and history is full of epic tales and love stories. The LGBT relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is a key element in the Trojan War and Greek epic poem Iliad by Homer. Cool Greek mythology gift for LBGT & gay friends.
Agni, the god of fire is married both to the goddess Svaha and the male Moon god Soma with Agni having a receptive role in this relationship.
Hindu mythology, through evolved heroes and instances, has displayed elements of gender variance and non-heterosexual sexuality. When we see it in the context of the current laws against homosexuality, based on colonial laws, it shows that it resisted sexual norms and the commonly perceived gender binary. Spoken more subtly than directly, changes of sex, homoerotic encounters, and intersex or third gender characters are very often found in the epics, the Puranas and regional folklore.
While the reproductive connection between man and woman has always been honoured, homosexuality and LGBT themes have been documented through ancient literature and folk tales, art and performing arts alike. Essentially because gender is often seen as an idea, a belief, a conviction, the sweep and scale of which can be seen through the diverse characters, each extraordinary and unusual.
Mohini is the only female avtaar of Vishnu, who exhibits gender variability, in one case even becoming pregnant (Vishnu as Mohini and the Preserver even procreates with Shiva, the designated Destroyer to give birth to Lord Ayyappa). Each time Vishnu, in his role as the protector of the universe, took the feminine form of the divine enchantress Mohini, the world got saved. Vishnu becomes Mohini when gender-adaptability (here it’s not masculinity but femininity) is called for, to solve a problem. Beyond the role of the saviour, the implications in dual-genderism and fluid sexuality is more analogical, wherein in each person lies in the male and the female.
Aravan, a god for the transgender community
Vishnu in his incarnation as Krishna in the Mahabharata, becomes Mohini to marry Aravan/Iravan, son of Arjun and the Naga princess Uloopi. Selected to be sacrificed for the Pandavas’ victory in the Kurukshetra war, Aravan has one last request, that of not wishing to die unmarried. As no woman comes forward to marry him, Krishna takes the form of Mohini, weds him and after Iranvan’s death, is seen as a hero’s widow. This folk tale expands where Aravan is considered a patron god of some transgender communities in the country today.
Gender fluid Arjuna and the story of Bhagiratha
Arjuna, too, receives a curse from the apsara Urvashi when he spurns her and the Pandava prince has to live his exile for a year as the eunuch Brihannala, the dance tutor to Princess Uttara of the Matsya kingdom. King Bhagiratha is said to be responsible in bringing Ganga from heaven as a river on Earth. Born to two mothers, the widowed queens of King Dilipa, his birth is considered a blessing and was socially approved.
The homoerotic subtext and other abovementioned instances and characters, operate within a distinct worldview yet accommodating gender and sexual variance, generally accepted and woven into the narrative of the epics and the ancient texts as typically occurring or done.
(Kavita Kane is the author of Karna’s Wife: The Outcast’s Queen, Sita’s Sister, Lanka’s Princess and Menaka’s Choice.)
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Old Norse Terminology Regarding Homosexuality and Related Concepts
The Old Norse word used in the law code and literature for an insult was níð , which may be defined as „libel, insult, scorn, lawlessness, cowardice, sexual perversion, homosexuality“ (Markey 75). From níð are derived such words as níðvisur („insulting verses“), níðskald („insult-poet“), níðingr („coward, outlaw“), griðníðingr („truce-breaker“), níðstông („scorn-pole“) (Markey 75, 79 & 80; Sørenson 29), also níða („to perform níð poetry“), tunguníð („verbal níð“), tréníð („timber níð“, carved or sculpted representations of men involved in a homosexual act, related to niíðstông, above) (Sørenson 28-29). Níð was part of a family of concepts which all have connotations of passive male homosexuality, such as: ergi or regi (nouns) and argr or ragr (the adjective form of ergi) („willing or inclined to play or interested in playing the female part in sexual relations with another man, unmanly, effeminate, cowardly“); ergjask („to become argr“); rassragr („arse-ragr“); stroðinn and sorðinn („sexually used by a man“) and sansorðinn („demonstrably sexually used by another man“) (Sørenson 17-18, 80). A man who is a seiðmaðr (one who practices women’s magic) who is argr is called seiðskratti (Sørenson 63).
Attitudes About Homosexuality Introduced By Christianity
The secular laws of Viking Age Iceland do not mention homosexuality. The only place where homosexuality is documentably prohibited is by the Christian Church. The Icelandic Homily Book (ca. 1200 C.E.) has a sermon which states that among grave sins are „those appalling secret sins perpetrated by men who respect men no more than women, or violate quadrupeds.“ Bishop Þorlákr Þórhallson of Skáholt’s Penetential (ca. 1178-1193 C.E.) lists penances of nine or ten years that include flogging for „adultery between males, or that committed by men on quadrupeds,“ and says of lesbianism that „if women satisfy each other they shall be ordered the same penance as men who perform the most hideous adultery between them or with a quadruped.“ (Sørenson 26) Christian belief condemns both the active and passive roles of homosexual intercourse, whereas the pagan Scandinavians attached disapproval only to the male who was homosexually passive.
Viking Attitudes About Homosexuality and Manliness
Homosexuality was not regarded by the Viking peoples as being evil, perverted, innately against the laws of nature or any of the other baggage about the concept that Christian belief has provided Western culture. Rather, it was felt that a man who subjected himself to another in sexual affairs would do the same in other areas, being a follower rather than a leader, and allowing others to do his thinking or fighting for him. Thus, homosexual sex was not what was condemned, but rather the failure to stand for one’s self and make one’s own decisions, to fight one’s own fights, which went directly against the Nordic ethic of self-reliance. (Sørenson 20).
Being used homosexually by another man was equated with cowardice because of the custom of sexual aggression against vanquished foes. This practice is documented in Sturlunga saga, most notably in Guðmundar saga dýra where Guðmundr takes captive a man and his wife, and plans for both the woman and the man to be raped as a means of sexual humiliation (Ok var þat við orð at leggja Þórunni í rekkju hjá einhverjum gárungi, en gera þat vi Bjôrn prest, at þat þætti eigi minni svívirðing.) (Sørenson 82, 111; Sturlunga saga, I, 201). In addition to rape, defeated enemies were frequently castrated, again testified to in several places by Sturlunga saga. Grágás records that a klámhogg or „shame-stroke“ on the buttocks was, along with castration, a „major wound“ (hin meiri sár), ranked with wounds that penetrated the brain, abdomen, or marrow: the klámhogg was thus equated with castration as „unmanning“ the victim, and classed with wounds that cause major penetrations of the body, strongly suggesting that the term refers to rape or forced anal sex such as was inflicted on a defeated combatant (Sørenson 68). It is not known how widespread the practice of raping defeated foes actually was, or if it existed before the advent of Christianity, but in other cultures which have had as strong an ethic of masculine aggression as existed among the Vikings, the rape of defeated foemen was obligatory.
The attitude that homosexual usage of an enemy was a means of humiliation in turn would have weighed heavily against men in homosexual relationships: if it was a shameful humiliation of an enemy, performing intercourse with a beloved friend would have been regarded as a the worst sort of betrayal or lack of loyalty (Sørenson 28). Since all the references in literature and especially insults indicate that to be sansorðinn, ragr, níðingr or to be accused of ergi is to be a man who is the passive recipient of anal sex, we do not know if the Vikings regarded oral sex between men unfavorably or not (or, in fact, how they regarded oral sex in general, no matter who, male or female, was doing it, or to whom, male or female, it was being done).
It is interesting to note that the Vikings considered that old age caused a man to become argr. A well-known proverb stated svá ergisk hverr sem eldisk, „everyone gets argr as he gets older.“ This possibly could point to an increasing acceptance of homosexuality after a man had raised a family and grew older (Sørenson 20), although a man such as the chieftain Snorri goði who fathered 22 children, the last at the age of 77 (just before he died), certainly proves that a man never was really too old to father children! (Jochens 81). For a man who could not have children (whether due to impotence, sterility, age, etc.) homosexual relations may have been acceptable. One slang term for such a man seems to have been kottrinn inn blauði, or „soft cat“ as reported in Stúfs þáttr, an epilogue to Laxdæla saga, in a conversation between the Norwegian king Haraldr harðráði and Stúfr, the son of Þórðr kottr (Þórðr the Cat): puzzled by the unusual nickname, Haraldr 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 that his question was foolish because „the person who is soft (blauðr) could not be a father“ (Jochens 76).
Insults Alleging Homosexuality
There is ample documentation of homosexuality in insults. Judging by the literature, the Vikings were the „rednecks“ of medieval Europe… if you went into the mead hall and called a man a faggot, he’d do the same thing that any good ol‘ boy at a Texas cowboy bar would do. The end result would be a big axe in your head instead of a big cowboy boot in your face, but the idea is the same. Furthermore, in every one of the instances where níð or ergi is encountered as an accusation, no one seriously believes that the accused party is in fact homosexual: the charge is symbolic, rather like calling a modern redneck „queer“ to provoke him to fight. (Sørenson 20)
Because, then as now, some sorts of insults were „fightin‘ words“ or even killing words, Scandinavian law codes made certain types of insults illegal, and either condoned the victim’s slaying of the slanderer or penalized the utterance of insults with outlawry. The Gulaþing Law of Norway (ca. 100-1200 C.E.) Says:
Similarly, the Icelandic law code Grágás (ca. 1100-1200 C.E.) has:
The Frostaþing Law likewise tells us that it is fullréttisorð (verbal offenses for which full compensation or fines must be paid to the injured party) to compare a man to a dog, or to call him sannsorðinn (demonstrably homosexually used by another man), but goes on to penalize as hálfréttisorð (requiring one-half compensation) terms which in our culture would almost be considered complementary, including comparing a man with a bull, a stallion, or other male animal (Sørenson 16).
Many exchanges of insults are to be found in the Poetic Edda, particularly in Hárbarðljóð , a man-matching between Óðinn and Thórr; Lokasenna, in which Loki insults the Norse gods; Helgakviða Hundingsbana in the exchange of deadly insults between Sinfjotli and Guðmundr; Helgakviða Hjorvarðssonar in the exchange of threats between Atli and the giantess Hrimgerð. Other instances may be found in the sagas such as Egils saga Skallagrimssonar and Vatnsdæla saga.
Insults directed at men come in several varieties. Taunts might sneer at a man’s poverty, as Óðinn does when he tells Thórr that he is „but a barefoot beggar with his buttocks shining through his breeches“ (Hárbarðljóð 6), or declare a man to be a cuckold (Hárbarðljóð 48, Lokasenna 40). Some insults were scatological:
Insults of this nature seem to have been merely rude or disgusting. More serious were those which were mentioned in the laws, concerning cowardice or unmanly behavior. Cowardice was perhaps the lesser of the two types of insults, although the categories blur:
Other insults alleging craven behavior may be found in Hárbarðljóð 27 and 51, as well as Lokasenna 13 and 15.
More dangerous still were insults that called a man „gelding,“ implying cowardice as well as touching on the connotations of sexual perversity connected with the horse, as in the insult where Hrimgerð calls Atli „a gelding who is a coward, whinnying loudly like a stallion but with his heart in his hinder part“ (Helgakviða Hjorvarþssonar 20).
The very deadliest of insults were those which attributed effeminate behavior or sexual perversion to the victim. Accusations of seiðr, women’s magic or witchcraft, implied that the practitioner played the woman’s part in the sexual act (Sturluson, Prose Edda, 66-68). Óðinn, a practitioner of seiðr, was often taunted with the fact, although this insult is found in other contexts as well (Lokasenna 24, Helgakviða Hundingsbana 38). Similarly, an insult might call a man a mare, either directly or via a kenning such as „Grani’s bride“ — Grani being the famous stallion belonging to Sigfried the Dragonslayer (Helgakviða Hundingsbana 42). Loki’s shapeshifting into the form of a mare may have resulted in the best of horses, Óðinn’s mount Sleipnir, but the implication of (at best) bisexuality was an inescapable slur on Loki’s reputation ever after (Markey, 79). As the Gulaþing Law states, it was equally insulting to liken a man to any creature that bears young. One of the more comprehensive insults of this class is to be found in Helgakviða Hundingsbana:
This was directed at Guðmundr Granmatsson, one of King Helgi’s captains and a formidable warrior!
In pagan Scandinavia, a ritual form of insult was also practiced at times, the erection of a níðstông or scorn-pole. This ritual had five basic elements:
Mention of this ritual is made in Book V of Saxo Grammaticus‘ Gesta Danorum and in chapter 33 of Vatnsdæla saga, but the most complete description is given in Egils saga Skallagrimssonar:
Lesbians in Viking Scandinavia
There is little mention in the sources regarding lesbianism in the Viking Age. When the feminine form of the word argr, (org), is used about a woman, it does not indicate that she is homosexual, but rather lecherous or immodest. (Sørenson 18). Staðarhólsbók, one of the existing versions of Grágás, prohibits a woman from wearing male clothing, from cutting her hair like a man, bearing arms, or in general behaving like a man (chapters 155 and 254), however it does not mention behaving sexually in the male role. After the onset of Christianity, of course, lovemaking between women was condemned by the Church as mentioned above. During the Viking Age, however, women were in short supply, at least in Iceland. Exposure of infants (barnaútburðr) was a Viking Age practice, and female infants were preferentially exposed, leaving fewer women (Jochens 86). This meant that every woman who survived to reproductive age was going to be married to at least one man in her lifetime and would bear his children unless she were barren. This gave women quite a lot of their apparent power as reflected in the sagas, as a woman could control her husband quite well by threatening divorce (Clover 182).
However, men also could have concubines so long as these were lower class (thrall) women (Karras). In many societies when there are several women living in a household who are all sexually tied to a single man, especially when the woman had no say in the arrangement of marriage or concubinage, then lesbian relationships could and did exist. There is good reason to see an almost „harem“ atmosphere prevailing among the Vikings… the women tended to gather in the kvenna hús (women’s quarters) (Jochens 80), or in the dyngja (weaving room) where a man could not go without accruing shame for unmanly interests excepting only truly mighty —i.e., virile— heroes. Helgi Hundingsbana was able to hide disguised as a maid in the kvenna hús, but for any lesser man such an act would have been regarded as cowardice, and the man who braved the dyngja would have been labeled as níðingr and ragrmann simply because the location was so strongly associated with women’s activity and central role in the society as weavers (Helgakviða Hundingsbana II 1-5). In most societies where polygamy is common and women are denied sexual outlets other than their husband, there is frequently lesbian activity to fill not only sexual but also emotional needs. If a husband had objected to his wife having a lesbian relationship, there would have been little he could have done about it, as she could always divorce him if he complained. This gave women, lesbians or not, quite a bit of power due to the relative scarcity of marriagable women, so long as they fulfilled their societal roles as wives and mothers.
Homosexuality and the Gods, Priests, and Heroes
Another aspect to the question of homosexuality is the fact that certain of the gods, heroes and highly respected priests of the gods, apparently indulged in homosexual, „unmanly“ or „questionable“ practices. Loki, of course, is clearly bisexual as he certainly took the female role sexually at least during the encounter with the giant’s stallion in Gylfaginning, which says that „Loki had had such dealings with Svaðilfari (the stallion) that sometime later he bore a foal,“ the most wonderful of all horses, Óðinn’s eight-legged steed Sleipnir (Sturluson, Prose Edda, 68).
Óðinn himself, the Allfather and King of the Gods, was justly accused of ergi or unmanliness because of his practice of seiðr or women’s magic, as learned from the goddess Freyja. We are not certain what it is about seiðr that made it „unmanly“ for a man to practice the art: it could be anything from the idea of cowardice as a result of being able to harm your enemies through magic rather than in open battle, to overt sexual rituals involving the seiðr-practitioner as the passive sexual partner, or even as the passive homosexual partner. Ynglingasaga explains:
Apparently homosexuals had a role within the worship of the Vanic gods. The Christian chronicler Saxo Grammaticus scornfully reported in his Gesta Danorum that some priests of Freyr used „effeminate gestures and the clapping of the mimes on stage and . . . the unmanly clatter of the bells.“ Dumézil sees evidence for a group of priests of Njôrðr and Freyr who were honored, yet seem to have engaged in acts of argr, and who may have worn their hair in styles reserved normally only for women or even dressed themselves as women (Dumézil 115).
One might assume that the morals expected of gods cannot necessarily be applied for humans. However, there were likewise a number of heroes known to have been guilty of ergi such as Helgi Hundingsbana (see above). Another famous ragr hero is the famous Icelandic hero Grettir, who in the poem Grettisfærsla is said to have had sexual intercourse with „maidens and widows, everyone’s wives, farmers‘ sons, deans and courtiers, abbots and abbesses, cows and calves, indeed with near all living creatures,“ (Sørenson 18) yet no one attached opprobrium to Grettir because of his vast, and omnisexual, prowess.
Other evidences of the acceptance of homosexuality in some circumstances at least is provided by the fact that apparently there were some men who acted as homosexual concubines or prostitutes. Olkofra þáttr, a short tale preserved in the manuscript Moðruvallabók (ca. mid 14th century C.E.) preserves the term argaskattr, which has the sense of „a fixed rate or other payment made to an argr man for his sexual performance“ and further indicates that the worth of such a payment was very low indeed. (Sørenson, 34-35). It would be logical to conclude that, like other concubines, these men selling sex to other men would have been of the lowest social class, thralls (Karras).
Overall, it is most important to realize that our written records of the Viking Age typically date from 200 to 300 years AFTER the events described. If you ask a room full of Americans to describe for you, in detail, the life of George Washington, you will be able to elicit no more than a handful of „facts,“ most of which will be demonstrably false… and we have classes and are forced to study Washington! This does not bode well for the accuracy of the saga accounts in regards to ancient practice. Accounts written in 1200-1300 were also written by Christian men, using the Christian technology of writing, and whose worldview would have roundly condemned homosexuality. Homosexuality did not have a good reputation during the Viking age as portrayed by the Christian writers. If homosexuals enjoyed a better reputation earlier than these accounts, we have no record of it, as the „golden age“ of the culture probably occurred between 600 and 800, before the actual start of the Viking Age proper, and is unrecorded except dimly through legends.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Iliad. A classic story, almost as prevalent within Western culture as its sister story The Odyssey is. The Song of Achilles takes this story and focuses it on Achilles and his friend/lover Patroclus, fully embracing the homosexuality of their relationship that so many other retellings ignore. I mean, there’s no straight explanation for going into such a rage after your “best friend” is killed that you try to fight a river god. And we all know how the story ends—Achilles’s heel is an idiom for a reason—but this book pulls you in and hurts so deliciously as you follow the boys growing up together, learning to fight together, and going to war together. It shows these young boys as human, rather than these legendary, mythological characters.
Heathen by Natasha Alerici
It’s a comic book with vikings and shieldmaidens. With some lesbians mixed in. Not much more needs to be said about it. Aydis is kicked out of her village for “improper behavior” and ends up setting out to kill a corrupt god, saving other individuals like her so they do not have to meet the same fate. Written by a lesbian, Heathen is an #OwnVoices story that doesn’t fall into those tropes that straight writers often end up using. The art is beautiful and the color is sepia toned, matching the feel of the Nordic landscape expertly. Please be aware, however, there is some violence in this story, as well as homophobia at some places. You know yourself best. Don’t pick this one up if you feel like it’s too much.
Wain by Rachel Plummer
A collection of poems based in Scottish folklore and mythology, this anthology is gorgeous. It’s masterful in the way it uses the myths to explore queer identities, like using selkies to explore the experience of being transgender. The poems use a host of creatures like Nessie, wulvers, Ghillie Dhu, and Cait Sidhe to tell stories within the poem, all centered around queer identities. And these identities are treated as normal, as common place as the cisgender and heterosexual identities, instead of some gimmick to cater to the community. These poems are meant for anyone, an all-ages read, so feel free to share with your children when you pick this one up.
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
Space opera mixed with Korean mythology. Simply amazing. Min, our main character, comes from a long line of fox spirits, and despite being all but forbidden to use her powers, she ends up having to rely on them and her cunning as she sets out to find her brother and clear his name, crossing paths with pirates and gamblers and ghosts (oh my!). Plus, nonbinary characters are seamlessly woven into the plot, as are polyamorous relationships, which are mentioned like they’re nothing. Magic and technology are blended together expertly into something familiar but also new.
If that queer story itch still needs scratching, check out our post on LGBTQ+ fantasy books here and our post on classic stories with a queer twist here.