Gender and sexuality

Playing a cis man

In a patriarchal society, you are not only permitted but expected to lead. Viking-Age society was, to us, incomprehensibly violent, which quite literally meant the strongest survived. This is deeply reflected in the cultural notion that only those who die on the battlefield would have a worthy afterlife. As such, all men of worth was except to find their death in combat. There was a very real risk that someone would stab you in the back at all times, and as such honour and the importance of oaths were deeply ingrained in the culture. A person is nothing without their honour. Having close friends was therefore not just a joy in life but a necessity. Your friends and family were your safety net, and there is even an old term for an especially close friendship between two men - fostbrödralag (originating from the special bond between foster/blood brothers).

Marriage is a contract, a way for two clans or households to form an alliance. It is also a way to gain resources, as women can be quite rich and powerful as individuals due to the pre-christian inheritance laws (more under the Playing a cis woman section). As a married couple, the personal honour of both of you will be influenced by that of the other. It is easy for you to divorce your wife (though always risking the vengeance of her family if it is done in a disrespectful manner), but if you influence her personal honour negatively she can also divorce you. This means that the family dynamic is much more equal than it historically will be later, and respecting your wife is not only expected but necessary. Both spouses tend to accompany each other to the Thing, though your wife can always choose not to join if she wants to. This means that the woman usually has more influence over how the farm is run and a stronger connection to any servants, while your political influence and freedom are stronger.

Yours are the domains of war, trade and diplomacy - the domains of the official world, of violence and politics.

Playing a cis woman

A woman during the Viking-Age has a lot more integrity, agency and freedom than she will after the christianization. You can own your own land, inherit on the same terms as your male relatives ( though usually the oldest son inherits the land/farm, the rest of the inheritance is split between all siblings, regardless of gender), and usually have a say in whom to marry. Although a man usually negotiates the terms of your betrothal with your father, the agreed-upon terms will be presented to you before any actual engagement. You also keep your personal honour even after marriage, which means that you are well within your right to divorce your husband if he doesn’t respect your honour or draws shame over your household (your honour is influenced by that of your husband).

You can fight as a shieldmaiden while unmarried, but will have to lay down your weapons after taking a husband. This is solely for practical reasons - once you are in charge of a farm together, one of you will have to be present to keep an eye on things while the other one is away, and the freedom of the man will always be prioritized. There are of course exceptions, like if your husband does not want to go viking in the summers or prefers to send you over attending trade markets himself, but these exceptions are not without consequence. If your husband is perceived as weak or cowardly (by not going viking), people will question his manliness and your reputation as a household might plumage.

Staying at home, however, is not an unimportant task. In addition to being responsible for the overall prosperity of the farm, you are tasked with raising your children into respectable men and women. This includes either finding good warriors to teach them how to fight, or doing it yourself if you used to be a skilled shieldmaiden. You must also teach them how to honour the gods, as well as the art of skald (storytelling and singing) - an artform typically connected to women before the christianization.

Medicine is another important skill assigned to women, as well as seidr (fortunetelling) and other types of magic. Though men can learn spells and a few are born with the ability to master seidr, women are much more naturally inclined to those arts. Women who devote their lives to magic are called völva and are a form of mystic. They are usually unmarried, without children, and either travel from farm to farm being paid to tell the family’s fortune, or stay with a specific household to assist them in all godly matters.

Yours are the domains of medicine, magic, seidr (fortune telling) and skald - the domains of the domestic world, of nurturing, teaching and the mysteries ever connected to “the other gender” throughout history.

Playing a trans person

Trans people have always existed, but have not always had the possibility to (safely) be out. During the Viking-Age there is no safe way to transition, though you might get away with it if you are passing and leave your homestead to go somewhere no one will recognise you. The only place trans people can be considered safe(r) and free(r) is as mystics. Since they are connected to the gods they are considered holy, and it’s incredibly risky to mistreat a mystic. Someone assigned male at birth who mastered seidr (fortune telling) was considered feminine and less of a man, which means it was not completely outrageous if “he” also presented more femme. A person assigned female at birth could also experiment with their gender presentation more as a völva, especially since some of the gods connected to magic could fluctuate between genders (such as Loki, who is a genderfluid deity/”god” but has the societal role of a man referred to as he/him).

Playing a man attracted to other men

Sexual intimacy between two (or more) men was frowned upon, an attitude stemming from patriarchal oppression - a homosexual man was seen as “half a man”, womanly, feminine, and all the negatively charged meanings linked to those terms. Being openly gay (or otherwise attracted to men) was not a thing, unless you were willing to face violent oppression and possibly even be cast out. However, queer people have always existed, though they had to work in the shadows. After all, who says two men in fostbrödralag couldn’t be lovers using the term to cover for their romantic relationship, or that a farmer and his worker never shared a bed?

Men attracted to men couldn’t be open about their desires, but accusing someone of being homosexual was also incredibly risky. It was considered such a grave insult that a confrontation like that couldn’t result in anything other than holmgang between the two parties (or their champions).

Playing a woman attracted to other women

Women being attracted to other women was not considered a possibility. In fact, it wasn’t considered at all - queer women did not exist in the eyes of society. The good thing about this is that you could have a “close friend” of the same gender without being as questioned as a man would be. The bad thing is that there was no way two be open about your identity or marry the woman you loved, and without having children your legacy will be lost.

The Norse and polyamory

The concept of faithfulness was very different before the Christianization. While marriage was an important contract between two people, having sexual relationships outside of your marriage was not frowned upon, as long as everyone involved was an informed, consenting adult. This meant that you could have a relationship with someone not married to you, as long as you had the consent and permission of both your person of interest and their spouse (and also, in case you yourself were married, the permission from your own spouse). As long as no one had to provide for a bastard child despite not sharing their blood, sleeping with other people than your spouse was all swell. However, you could not be married to more than one person at a time, and to uphold the honour of your spouse you should keep your affairs at least somewhat hidden from the public eye (or your spouse may be perceived as undesirable).

Sexual violence

That Vikings would be more prone to sexual violence (because they “raped and pillaged”) than other cultures at the time is a common misconception. In fact, there are no records found of sexual violence in the records of their crimes which the monks kept (arson, murder and many other cruelties are mentioned), while there are recorded rapes by Christian men. At the time, molesting a maiden was also punishable by death in the Nordic countries, signifying that sexual violence was considered a severe crime. There will be no play on sexual violence at this larp, and with reference to these historical findings we ask that you respect that decision and refrain from starting a discussion about historical accuracy.