Old pal, Dr. Emily McEwan-Fujita, came up with a funny thing pertaining to her specialty: Anti-Gaelic Bingo. It reminded me a lot of the SCA’s Bad Garb Bingo and set me to working on a Norse equivalent.
Here is my version…
To see Dr. McEwan-Fujita’s original, see http://emilymcfujita.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Anti-Gaelic-Bingo-Card-1.jpg
A reader looking into the histories of tattoos must realize that they were not known as tattoos since that is a Polynesian term that originated in the eighteenth century in a journal by Captain James Cook (it is one of two words in the standard English lexicon that comes from Polynesian sources; the other is taboo). Tattoos were indelible pigmentation inserted under the skin and were before 1760 known as markings, incisions, pricking or even painting. We see samples on the “Iceman” Ötzi, in China, in Egypt, Japan and, of course, Polynesia. Tattoos were used by the Celts, by the Anglo-Saxons and by the Norse. Ahmed ibn Fadlan’s description of the marks on Rus Vikings is well known, and tattoo enthusiasts have come up with an exaggerated history of their use that takes the slightest indication and expand it immeasurably. For the most part, these tattoos were symbols of heathen faith, and there was a steady attempt by the Church to get rid of them, though that never seems to have been complete. What were the tattoos for? Apparently as magical symbols, as medicinal marks, for identification and for the same reason that many tattoos are applied nowadays, because they’re cool art. Were they part of the sex life or considered sexually attractive? Probably so, though you can never tell since they are not generally talked about. What did the tattoos look like? Well, we have those on the body of Ötzi, which predates the Viking Age quite a bit; and we have the ambiguous description by ibn Fadlan, that the Viking males were covered from “fingernails to neck” with dark blue or dark green “tree patterns” and other “figures.” Whether this was actual flora knotwork or runes remains uncertain, so we do not know what tattoos were worn by the Norse! It is interesting to note that some folk—particularly prudes and modern tattoo-removal doctors—insist that the Norse had no tattoos. The ultimate truth, perhaps, will not be revealed until we find a flash frozen Norse Ötzi!
SEX TOYS OF THE VIKINGS
Great variation in toys for obtaining sexual gratification has been known for nearly as long as humans have had sexual organs and opposable thumbs. Vibrators, for example, might only date back to no earlier than 1870—with a steam-powered model invented in Britain to treat female genital congestion and hysteria—the manual dildo was invented in Germany about 30,000 years ago and by the Third Century bce, was well enough known that one was featured in a Greek play. Dildos were, therefore, period and were used almost universally. However, there are no real examples of dildos from the Viking Age, though that might be because people are looking in the wrong place. The Norse chieftain, Ivar the Boneless, is a famous war leader, though the exact character and extent of his illness remains controversial. Some think it refers to skinny legs, some to actual crippling and some to impotency. It is interesting to note that in his grave, “he had been buried with a small Thor’s hammer and a boar’s tusk,” It has been suggested that the tusk was because of his supposed impotency as a substitute for his penis. It is amusing then to think that the boar’s tusk was used as a dildo, though we can of course never validate any such supposition! The use of other sex toys is similarity vague. “Chances are the archeologists (many of whom lived during the ultra-conservative Victorian era) were just a little too embarrassed to report back to the scientific community that they had discovered the world’s first sex toys.” Manacles and chains were known but were generally assumed to be used for slavery and managing slaves. Since we know that bondage—just like homosexuality and many other alternative lifestyles—was popular before they received names, the chances are that chains and other cords were used for sexual purposes as well. A good example is that of the whips of the time. Although the whip is now said by the Museum of London to be a slaver’s whip, it was originally classified as a sex toy used by prostitutes. However, despite being made of rawhide, the whip is so light that its use for herding slaves is a little doubtful, and I think that the original classification might be correct and prudery dictated the reclassification.
The Norse did not run around wearing the furry loincloths and bikinis shown in so many Viking films and other popular media. There is no reason to believe that they were habitually nude, though the fact that the Norse had weekly fully immersive baths indicates that nudity did not have the same status in that time as nudity does today. In fact, going by later graphics of mixed-gender communal bathing, even the nudity of the opposite gender was acceptable (as long as the hair on top of the head is covered) and could feature clothed attendants helping the bathers.
To a good extent, clothing—when worn—reflected the status of the wearer. The dress for sex slaves—slaves who served as concubines—were very distinct. The average dress for slaves was practical in at least four ways. They were not confining, so the wearer could work more easily. They were used for identifying a slave and were different from what was worn by freemen. The cut of the clothing reinforced inferior status in the minds of slaves. And the costumes of frillur were, in many cases probably as erotic to men of the time as are a corset, stockings and high heels today. One has to wonder if wives and later non-slave concubines wore similar clothing when tending to husbands’ sexual needs.
A slave girl is described in Rígsþula, has no shoes, no jewelry. Bare arms and bare legs. Most skirts are knee length at most. Most slave clothing was rather inexpensive and plain, but Ewing opines that concubines might have worn clothing made of fine fabrics and, giving an incident in the Laxdæla Saga as a source, jewelry. Some literary and graphic references show slave girls wearing a skirt coming to mid-thigh or even “so short that her genitals were in plain view.” While this clothing might be, as conjectured, a reinforcement of the slave girl’s sub-human status, it might well have been a fetish fashion that should be very identifiable to most peoples nowadays!
There is no doubt that men and women had certain conventions and standards that had to be obeyed in their dress. In fact:
Another reason found for divorce in the sagas was what we might term “cross-dressing.” If a husband wore effeminate clothing, especially low-necked shirts exposing his chest, his wife could then divorce him…and if a woman appeared dressed in men’s trousers, her husband could then divorce her (Ibid.; also Williams, p. 114).
The Laxdæla saga says,
make him a shirt with such a large neck-hole that you may have a good excuse for separating from him, because he has a low neck like a woman.
The man was prohibited by the Grágás (Gray Goose Laws) from wearing a low-necked shirt—showing his nipples—saying that only women regularly exposed their breasts. While this might seem to document female exhibition, the real meaning is probably somewhat less prurient and refers to women wearing clothing that was suitable for breast feeding.
The wearing of trousers by women is not as forthright but no less a part of the culture:
She insisted upon wearing man’s trousers, for which cause her husband divorced her.
While women were more powerful and self-sufficient than in most other cultures for centuries afterwards, there were gender-specific fashions!
It might hear be appropriate to note here that declarations by Annika Larsson in 2010 that Vikings wore colorful, sexy fashions, devised a revised reinterpretation of the Norse hangeroc that has been pretty well demolished!