“Helzt þóttumk nú heima í millim...” A reassessment of Hervör in light of seiðr’s supernatural gender dynamics


  • Miriam Mayburd


Focusing on Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, this article examines Hervör’s crossdressing from the perspective of her confrontation with the dead on Sámsey, attempting to go beyond the conventional biary-gender model which still continues to be employed in saga criticism. Aiming to situate the present inquiry within the discursive matrix of Old Norse-Icelandic worldview, I engage recent research on seiðr and ergi which challenges standard readings of these concepts, expanding ergi from mere “unmanliness” to the broader notion of “queerness” as sexually ambiguous and perverse magical otherness, and seiðr to supernatural empowerment. A closer examination of the ergi complex provides a platform from which an interplay of multiple gender possibilities may be observed – not as fixed dichotomous polarities as they appear in modern perspective, but as a polyphonic inter-gender continuum. One’s positioning within this continuum, then, depends upon the extent of one’s immersion into the supernatural. The case of Hervör is used as an illustration of how the inter-gender dynamics of sexual abnormality play out in her own situation. It is argued that her cross-dressing activity is not ad hoc, but is crucial to her supernatural transformation into a wielder of power that can awaken the dead at Sámsey.