Top image: Odin as an eagle simultaneously regurgitates and excretes mead. Illustration from the 18th century Icelandic manuscript SÁM 66.
It should come as no big surprise to most folks participating in or observing Norsevember that the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda together form our top sources of knowledge about the old gods and the various events that involve them. Recorded in Iceland during the 13th century, the Poetic Edda was once thought to have been written by a certain individual named Sæmundr the Wise while the Prose Edda is known to have been written by a particularly prolific landholder with lifelong traitorous ambitions named Snorri Sturluson. Other sources certainly exist as well, such as Saxo Grammaticus’ History of the Danes, Snorri Sturluson’s own Ynglingasaga (the first chapter of his epic Heimskringla), the Flateyjarbók, and the Saga of the Volsungs, among others. All of these sources were recorded after the Viking Age ended and Scandinavia had converted to Christianity, and thus only represent a small, biased, and after-the-fact snapshot of what must have once been a much more robust Norse mythology, but they’re the best we’ve got and the two Eddas remain at the forefront of it all.
Translations of both Eddas abound, which in turn have helped to provide the lion’s share of inspiration for the various retellings and other modern works influenced by Norse mythology that have cropped up over the past two centuries. Writers and artists of the Victorian Era especially loved to approach the material with a certain air of pomp and splendor, and such a tone remains a popular approach to this day (although the grim n’ gritty is clearly undergoing a rapid upswing). In both Eddas we learn of the violent creation of the world, the foreboding and accelerating harbingers of utter doom, the final battle and twilight of the gods, and the glorious rebirth of a better wold. Such epic events lend themselves well to tones of pomp and splendor.
But the Eddas and other original source materials also inform us of the instances in which Loki got banged by a horny horse, Thor went swimming in menstrual fluid, Odin shat mead in public while flying through the air, and Freyja fornicated with four dwarves in quick succession to obtain a particularly shiny piece of jewelry.
Hardly epic and heroic stuff, and the Eddas and later retellings as well as general overview materials typically gloss over these more earthly details. They’re often alluded to—the reader knows what is happening (wink wink, nudge nudge), but the emphasis usually remains on the nobler and grimmer feats, such as the loss of Tyr’s hand or Odin’s acquisition of the runes. The elements of the myths that help to convey a sense of bravery, adventure, and destiny are those that still tend to dominate public perception (and the realm of modern fantasy, where general inspiration from the Norse myths has really flourished and thrived).
But the real salt-of-the-middle-earth activities of the gods don’t usually get the same degree of attention, and it can be a lot of fun to really focus on those escapades and change the tone up a bit from one of grim austerity or epic grandeur to one of ribald bluntness. So, let’s be like Loki for shits n’ giggles (literally) and call out the gods, including the Trickster himself, as we examine a few of their baser moments:
1. Odin shits mead on Asgard in front of everyone
This incident begins when a traveling automaton created for world peace and made of divine saliva is murdered by dwarves and then liquidized and brewed into a batch of special mead. Next, an evil giant lays the smack down on these meddlesome dwarves and acquires this “mead of poetry” for himself, hiding it inside of a mountain. And of course Odin, who watches over everything and cherishes both death and poetic oratory, decides that he needs to do whatever it takes in order to acquire this special mead for himself, which involves indirectly murdering slaves and copulating multiple times with a much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much younger woman. Once these (mis)deeds are done, it’s imperative for him to transform into an eagle and transport the mead back home to Asgard after having swallowed all of it. But giants never let the gods get away that easily, and so this one chases Odin through the sky for the entire journey back. Odin manages to regurgitate most of the mead into special vats while in mid-flight above Asgard, but some of it slips out his ass since his escape really drained his energy and none of his muscles are as strong as Thor’s. All of the Aesir are present to bear witness to this amazing spectacle of Odin’s bodily functions.
2. Thor wears a wedding dress to Jotunheim
In this tale of bravery and daring-do, Thor rather carelessly loses his most cherished personal possession, which is his special hammer. It mysteriously ends up in the hands of an evil giant who demands Freyja’s hand in marriage in exchange for returning the mighty Mjölnir, which only seems natural since everyone and everything is always trying to have sex with her. Clearly, the only sensible solution is…for Thor to dress up like Freyja and pretend to be her himself…which is reasonable since they have such similar physiques…? Anyway, Loki accompanies Thor on the journey to their enemies’ home and together the two experience life on the road as cross-dressers, which is nothing new for Loki. In fact, this is the type of thing that he considers to be great fun and he really enjoys the fact that Thor feels embarrassed about the whole ordeal. After an evening of merrymaking with the giants in which all attention is centered on Thor’s stereotypically feminine features, such as his sparkling eyes and his dainty appetite, his hammer is finally brought into view and a psychotic thunder god killing spree ensues.
3. Freyja whores herself to dwarves
The Norse myths and sagas are treasure troves of, well, treasure. Dragons sleeping on piles of gold, anyone? Well, Freyja loves treasure just as much as any dragon. In particular, she loves the Brisingamen, the most amazing and fabulous necklace ever made. So one day Freyja just so happens to be wandering around Svartalfheim, as fertility goddesses are wont to do, when she stumbles upon four dwarves who are in possession of the Brisingamen. And well, she’ll do anything to have it. Quite literally, she’ll do anything. So, she ends up fornicating with each of the dwarves, which is quite the transgression according to the gods as we know them via the old manuscripts. This is because the dwarves were originally maggots and thus are considered to be very low lifeforms by the powers that preside in Asgard. But these particular dwarves stay true to the deal and Freyja receives the necklace as payment rendered, which angers Odin since he’s a skeezy old man and this transaction makes him very jealous (because he detests dwarves as well as that whole everyone-and-everything-wants-to-have-sex-with-Freyja thing).
4. Loki plays tug of war with a goat using his scrotum
In this highly heroic and family-friendly episode, Loki once again gets the gods in trouble and then solves the problem. It originates with the whole theft of the magic apples incident that eventually leads to Skadi’s unannounced arrival in Asgard whereupon she makes a scene and ultimately marries the old mariner Njord because she thinks his feet look sexy, which disappoints her because she was hoping to bag Balder, the hot god. So, to cheer her up, Loki takes off his pants and proceeds to tether his nuts to a rope and play tug of war with a billy goat gruff. Now, let your imagination run wild as you mentally picture this, because when Loki slips and falls, it’s a huge visual gag and Skadi laughs, which was the whole point of his self-inflicted genital torture in the first place.
So, according to the Eddas and the other medieval sources, the lives of the gods weren’t entirely consumed with epic encounters against the forces of evil and chaos, never-ending quests for greater power and knowledge, or adventurous explorations throughout the 9 Worlds. The monks and scholars who recorded these stories made sure to let us know that day to day (and especially night to night), the gods were predominately preoccupied with keeping it real in ways much more reminiscent of American Pie or National Lampoon’s Animal House than Lord of the Rings or Beowulf. And that’s all right, because altogether, these trials and tribulations paint a more nuanced and human picture of the gods than is often the case in the simplified view that has historically been promulgated the most in pop culture. Plus, for us, these divine escapades into the gutter are just good, clean fun!
Rowdy Geirsson is the editor of Norse Mythology for Bostonians: A Transcription of the Impudent Edda and author of Beavis and Butt-Head Starring Odin and Thor, a new humor column available online at Metal Sucks. He tweets through the ether as @RGeirsson.