On Virginity

I’ve been sick this past week, so I’ve spent a lot of time sitting on the couch watching videos. I watched the BBC 4 part documentary on Pagans, which I was quite impressed by. The BBC really does produce much higher quality content than American made-for-tv documentaries, which always feel so redundant and basic.

Anyway, in the first section, “Sexy Beasts,” they talk about the Egtved girl, who I have talked about before. (Hilariously, when I just googled the Egtved girl to get the wikipedia link for you guys, there was that picture of me sitting like the bronze statue wearing that string skirt I made in the image suggestions. The internet is a weird thing, where I can google an obscure archeological find and see a picture of myself.) Anyway, while talking about the Egtved girl, they talked about virginity and how it meant something different in Pagan Europe than it does in Christianity. Since sexuality wasn’t seen as bad, virgins weren’t necessarily seen as more “pure” than non-virgins, they were seen as “ticking time bombs of sexual energy.” They think the Egtved girl was a virgin because she was 15 when she died, but dancing in that skirt could have been nothing but sexual. The idea being that a virgin is more sexually potent than a non-virgin because she can arouse and be aroused, but that energy is never released, it only builds.

Which got me thinking about Mary and Jesus in a very heretical way. What if Mary was capable of carrying the child of God not because her virginity made her more pure than other mothers, but because her virginity meant that she had more life source force in her?

And then I got to thinking about sex, and me, and my history with the Christian guilt and just how deeply damaging that idea was for me, that virginity was a pure state of being and sex was bad and women should be pure and so once I lost my virginity I wasn’t pure anymore, I was a whore. But no categories are stable, and as we see in the Egtved girl, sometimes the virgin IS the whore. The Norse gods are always missing that which they rule over because, as they say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Freyja loves Odh more when he isn’t there, Sif loves her hair more once it’s gone, and sex is better when you can’t have any (Sort of. sometimes.)

By the way, can we talk about how annoying the phrase “lose your virginity” is? How much it takes the agency out of the choice to begin a sexually active life? “Oh, whoops, my boyfriend came over and I lost my virginity. I can’t find it anywhere!”

But, in America, with all it’s problems, could this idea be a good thing? Could this idea be a healthier and more successful way of helping our daughters lead healthy sex lives and wait until they are ready? I think it could. We teach our daughters that they are helpless to men’s desire (because men are the only ones with desire and only want one thing out of women), and they have to be pure. So then once they’re rebellious or a man wants them or they find out that they want it to, which is scary because they weren’t supposed to, those ticking time bombs of sexual energy explode and it isn’t always healthy and they aren’t always prepared. I think it would have been easier for me if I had been taught that virginity gives a girl power and agency over her choices, that she can arouse a man or herself and know the power in that without giving in to it. That her virginity is hers to own and to give to a partner when she chooses to.

On the “handmaidens,” my distate for the term, and Sif

In order to go into more detail about my relationship with Sif, which is blossoming and which I intend to do on this blog, I first have to share something about Frigga’s “Handmaidens.”

First of all, I believe there is no foundation in the lore to call them handmaidens whatsoever. They are simply listed as goddesses in a list that includes Freyja right in the middle, but doesn’t include other notable goddesses such as Idunna and Sif. If the twelve lesser-known goddesses were considered some kind of group of Frigga’s handmaidens, it seems to me that they would have been listed as such in the Gylfaginning. Why stick Freyja right in the middle? I happen to believe that this grouping is just a modern way of dismissing the individuality of these goddesses. How many places online are they only mentioned as “Frigga’s Handmaidens,” their individuality forgotten? Conversely, how many places are they talked about as if going through each one and meeting her in trance (sometimes one per month for a year) is some way to explore femininity in heathenry as some kind of exercise in getting in touch with your femininity? In any case, they are treated as a group, always, for no reason that I can ascertain. As Lofnbard says, “This is in fact purely a modern convention of Norse Paganism and Heathenry, framing them as minor Goddesses because they are almost ignored in the lore.”

Furthermore, I cannot figure out where anyone has found evidence that all of these goddesses are necessarily tied to Frigga. Sure, Fulla and Gefjion have cases to be made, but what about the rest? I would love to be proved wrong on this if anyone can find me a lore reference that shows that most of these goddesses have a closer relationship with Frigga than with anyone else in particular. Where does this come from?

Alright, so back to Sif. What does Sif have to do with the “handmaidens”?

Once upon a time, after reading the list of goddesses in Gylfaginning, or perhaps after reading Alice Karlsdottir’s book on the “handmaidens”, I decided to dedicate an altar to Sjofn, who seemed like a goddess I would get along with very well, given that she is the goddess who turns the mind to love. Her name means affection. So, I made her an altar. For whatever reason, I had the sense that she liked tea, so I put a pretty teacup on her altar where I made offerings of tea. I also had this strange notion that she liked Baroque things more than the older, simpler Germanic ones. She seemed to like how golden they were, and how beautifully made. One night, while trying to learn more about her, it came into my head that I should learn about her through her husband. “Husband? You have a husband?” “Of course I do, silly,” was the sort of answer, and then my mind fell immediately on Thor.

Of course the idea that Thor and Sjofn had any kind of marriage was ridiculous, so I put it out of my mind a bit. Then a few people I talked to also mentioned that they have found Sif likes tea and baroque things and polite society and everything, and it seemed perhaps a bit less far-fetched. So I went back to the primary sources and dug and dug, and found that Sif is not included in the list of goddesses where Sjofn’s name is found. So couldn’t Sjofn could be another name for Sif? It’s very common to say that all of the lesser-known goddesses are by-names of Frigga, but why not Sif? Sif’s name means relation, Sjofn’s means affection. Could these not be the same goddess? Sif is a peace-keeper among the family, which seems to me to be just one method of turning the mind to love.

And so I consider Sif and Sjofn to be one and the same and treat them as such. My altar to Sif includes hearts and tea and my worship of Sjofn references Thor. I honor her by keeping the peace in my family, by looking for the positives in the loss of my long hair, and by turning my mind to love.