Tyr-drops…

Since today is Tuesday, I thought I’d post a few drops of info about the Norse God for whom the day was named: the noble Tyr…

As with the rest of the Norse pantheon, Tyr’s name varied slightly across several regions and over multiple time periods, but his Old English name was Tiw…and if you say “Tiw’s Day” several times over, you should see pretty quickly how we get from there to “Tuesday.”

But what’s up with this God, right?  Why did we name an entire day of the week after him, when we only have seven to work with, total?  How does he rate??

We have but seven of these, so out of the billions of things we could have named Tuesday after...why Tyr...??
We have but seven of these, so out of the billions of things we could have named Tuesday after…why Tyr…??

Okay, fair question…

First, as with many old pantheons, the importance of various members can tend to wax or wane with the times.  For instance, in old Egyptian mythology, it’s pretty clear that Anubis was originally regarded as the Lord of the Dead, but as Osiris-worship began to explode across those lands, Anubis was a bit supplanted by the now more popular Deity.  Osiris took on the mantle of Lord of the Underworld, while Anubis became more the Gatekeeper of the realm, judging the arriving souls of the newly deceased, but no longer having full and final rule over the Underworld.  So it was with Tyr: it’s believed now that he was once held as the ruler of his pantheon, but worship of Odin grew — Odin, who is now almost universally seen as the King of the Norse Deities, the All-Father —  while Tyr diminished in prominence.  Although accounts differ, maybe the most widely adopted view today is now that Tyr actually evolved into a role as one of Odin’s sons, half-brother to the mighty Thor.  But the point is that while Tyr may not be as famous today as he once was, back when they were handing out names for the days of the week, he may still have enjoyed a significantly higher profile…

Second, there’s one major myth about Tyr that seems to secure his place as a figure well worth keeping in mind and commemorating.  This myth has to do with honor, courage, a magic ribbon, and the hugest, most monstrous wolf imaginable…

But let’s start with the trickster-God, Loki, who actually served as the spark-plug for a lot of the most well-known Norse myths…

Loki, the Trickster -- artwork by Arthur Rackham, 1910...
Loki, the Trickster — artwork by Arthur Rackham, 1910…

Most of the Norse pantheon was made up of Odin and his kin, a group known as the Aesir.  In the early days of their reign, they established a treaty with, and intermingled somewhat with, another group of Deities called the Vanir.  Loki was one of the few members of the pantheon who hailed from neither group, but was instead adopted in from the beings known as the Jotnar, or Giants.  In that dawning period of development, Loki, while mischievous, was also quite clever and charming when he wanted to be, and he wanted to be so then, far more than would be the case in later times.  He was, in fact, so much fun to have around back in the day, that Odin adopted him as a blood-brother, performing an official ritual of binding with Loki to make the playful Jotun a full member of Odin’s Aesir family.  Loki spent most of his time with the Aesir after that, and even married the Aesir Goddess named Sigyn.

Loki also bore definite inner darkness, though, and he crept away to establish and maintain a second, secret marriage, this one with a Giantess named Angrboda.  With this latter wife, Loki brought forth out of his shadowy second marriage three monstrous offspring: a half-dead/half-living Goddess named Hela, a fearsome serpent called Jormungand, and a terrifying wolf dubbed Fenris (probably more often written as Fenrir, but I learned it first as Fenris, and that’s what stuck in my head, so I’m afraid that’s what I have to go with here…).

Loki's brood: Fenris, Hela, and Jormungand (L-R) on Class Picture Day at Jotunheim Elementary School (artwork by AnywhereButReality on deviantART)...
Loki’s brood: Fenris, Hela, and Jormungand (L-R) on Class Picture Day at Jotunheim Elementary School (artwork by AnywhereButReality on deviantART)…

Despite Loki’s skill with secrets, two of his three children began growing at enormous rates, and it didn’t take long before the prodigiously perceptive All-Father, Odin, spied them from his lofty seat called Hlidskjalf, a high throne in his realm of Asgard that afforded him glimpses into all corners of each of the Nine Worlds:

Be as crafty as you want -- when Odin sits on Hlidskjalf at the top of the Nine Worlds, you will *not* escape his notice...(artwork by Miroslav Zapletal)...
Be as crafty as you want — when Odin sits on Hlidskjalf at the top of the Nine Worlds, you will *not* escape his notice…(artwork by Miroslav Zapletal)…

Odin was gifted with more than just a sweet vantage point from which to view the world, however — he was tremendously skilled with Magic and Divination, and had been afforded various prophetic glimpses of the future, and he knew that dark days loomed ahead for the Aesir and all the Nine Worlds, and that Loki and his monstrous offspring would play major roles in this.  Doing what he could to stave off that future disaster, Odin sent Hela to the Underworld, granting her rulership of the dead so as to keep her occupied, and he flung Jormungand into the sea.  He probably acted none too soon there, too, as the great serpent soon grew so gargantuan that he coiled around the entire Earth, settling in with his fangs clamped onto his own tail.  That just left Fenris…

The initial plan was to bring the wolf to Asgard, the better to keep an eye on him.  Fenris grew so alarmingly quickly, though, and was so absurdly strong and ferocious that none of the Aesir felt comfortable even bringing him food, much less working to control him…all, that is, except for Tyr.  Odin’s powerful son, considered a War-God and a Sky-God among other attributes, was arguably the bravest of the Aesir, and it was he who brought food to the mega-menacing Fenris each day.  Meanwhile, the Aesir, knowing something more had to be done, hatched a desperate plan for dealing with the wolf…

It's been said that Fenris soon grew so great that when he opened his slavering maw wide, his chin would touch the Earth below, and his upper jaw would graze the very vault of heaven itself (artist unknown)...
It’s been said that Fenris soon grew so great that when he opened his slavering maw wide, his chin would touch the Earth below, and his upper jaw would graze the very vault of heaven itself (artist unknown)…

The Aesir coaxed Fenris into allowing himself to be bound by first one great chain, and then a second, but he was able to snap them after some exertion (the Aesir had suggested to the wolf that if he consented to be so bound and then managed to burst his bonds, his fame would grow, and the wolf apparently wanted to cultivate his rep at the time…).  With rising apprehension, Odin and the Aesir then sent word to the Dwarves — the greatest craftworkers in all of creation — and had them forge a mystic ribbon that would surpass any chain in its ability to hold fast anything it might ensnare.  Forged from a handful of impossibilities — the breath of a fish, the sound of a cat’s footfall, the roots of a mountain, the beard of a woman, the spittle of a bird, and the sinews of a bear — the magic ribbon, named Gleipnir by the Dwarves, was fashioned and then delivered to the Aesir.

Now Fenris may not have been the Stephen Hawking of giant wolves, but he did possess a certain animal cunning, and after having been presented with two intensely formidable masterpieces of chain to break, he grew immediately suspicious upon seeing the Aesir now approaching with this innocuous-looking gold ribbon.  He knew something was up, but he just wasn’t sure exactly what.  Also, he told the Aesir, how could breaking a flimsy little piece of glorified string bolster Fenris’ street cred?  Anyone could snap something so insignificant…

The Aesir nodded and told Fenris that he made a good point, and they’d leave off with the binding games at this juncture…and most likely no one would assume Fenris was for some weird reason unreasonably frightened of this little gossamer strand they had.  Most likely…

Fenris took the bait then, and agreed to let them wrap him up in golden Gleipnir…on one condition: one of them had to agree to put their hand in Fenris’ mouth during the binding as a show of good faith.  Fenris knew that if the Aesir had managed to concoct some trick he couldn’t discern, they’d at least shrink from offering up one of their hands as an afternoon snack for him.  He put forth the terms of his bargain, waiting for the Aesir to subside and slink away with their little piece of gold cord…

But then Tyr, knowing exactly what was coming, but putting on a cheerful front anyway — as if Fenris had simply asked to hold his ID, like a bartender running a tab — strode up to the great beast and offered up his own good right hand…

For the sake of all of creation, Tyr says hello to Fenris, and goodbye to his own right hand...(artwork by YanareKu on deviantART)...
For the sake of all of creation, Tyr says hello to Fenris, and goodbye to his own right hand…(artwork by YanareKu on deviantART)…

And the rest of it played out about as you might expect: Fenris, momentarily placated, accepted Tyr’s hand into his mouth…the Aesir bound the creature up in the unbreakable magic fetter Gleipnir…the wolf realized after some fruitless struggling that he’d been tricked…and in a bloody show of payback, he divested courageous Tyr of his sword-hand at the wrist — a part of the body also known as “the wolf-joint,” by the way…

So in the wake of that myth, the Norse God Tyr has come to be associated with qualities such as bravery, nobility, reliability, self-sacrifice (especially for the greater good), and justice.  Not only does our day of Tuesday bear his mark, but one of the Runes of the Elder Futhark, the ancient Norse alphabet — specifically, the Rune called Tiwaz — also signifies Tyr and his primary attributes.

Tiwaz: the old Norse Rune equivalent of our letter "T," and symbol of noble Lord Tyr...
Tiwaz: the old Norse Rune equivalent of our letter “T,” and symbol of noble Lord Tyr…

So there you have it: Tyr was a brave Deity willing to sacrifice his own right hand in order to postpone Doomsday for a time so that others might enjoy creation for a bit longer than they might have otherwise done.  In my own humble estimation, that’s at least arguably worthy of having a day of the week named after you, although counter-arguments will be accepted here with a perpetually open mind!

(and P.S.: when Ragnarok — the Norse Doomsday — did arrive, Fenris finally burst his bonds and joined his father, his terrible siblings, and a host of other monsters, ghosts, giants, and demons in final war against the Aesir and their allies, and Tyr fell in battle against another dread canine: Garm, the fiendish hellhound who until then had guarded the gates of the Norse Underworld…Tyr and Garm destroyed each other as Ragnarok played out around them, Tyr this time sacrificing not just his hand, but his entire self, in order to take out one of the darkest players the other side could boast, and in so doing, remained valiant right up until the very end…)

6 thoughts on “Tyr-drops…

    1. Thanks, Rosewyn! Fellow Runecasters are always welcome here, and I appreciate the feedback. I’m happy you liked this post — I do feel that some of the Norse Deities go a bit underappreciated, as there just aren’t all that many stories about some of them. Tyr is a really fascinating figure, though, and deserves some love!

  1. Pingback: In Which Ms Action Learns About the Solar Myths | Everything You Were Told Not to Believe...

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