Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Tyr: The Norse God of Law and War Breaks a Promise

Ancient Origins

The Norse god Tyr is not very well-known, at least when compared to such names as Odin and Thor. But he is also part of the Aesir tribe in the Norse pantheon and Tyr could be called the bravest of the Norse gods. This aspect of his personality is evident in the best-known myth about him, the Binding of Fenrir.

 Tyr - God of Justice, War, and Law
 Tyr was once a major god widely worshipped by various Germanic peoples and there were several variations to his name. In Old English, for instance, he was known as Tiw, whilst Tyz was his name in Gothic. In the pantheon of these Germanic peoples, Tyr was regarded to be a god of war. Given the war-like culture of these peoples, Tyr would have been one of their most important deities.

 The role of Tyr diminished, however, with the arrival of the Viking Age, as he was superseded by Odin and Thor. These two gods were also associated with war, though they were also associated with wisdom, strategy, and cunning. As a result, Tyr was overtaken by Odin and Thor in importance.

The Norse god Týr, here identified with Mars. ( Public Domain )

 Tyr became the god of law and justice, the role which he is remembered for today. Whilst war and law seem to be two contradicting aspects of life, to the Norse and other Germanic peoples, these two aspects are actually intertwined. Law, like war, may be used to settle disputes, and victory may be gained over an opponent using either method. Additionally, a legal assembly could be regarded metaphorically as a battlefield.

The Binding of Fenrir
Tyr is easily recognized as he is depicted as a god with only one hand. The explanation for this is found in the myth known as the Binding of Fenrir, arguably the most famous tale regarding Tyr. In this myth, the gods wanted to bind the great wolf Fenrir. This monstrous wolf was one of the three offspring of Loki, and the gods had been keeping him in Asgard since he was a puppy in order to keep an eye on him. As Fenrir continued to grow, the gods began to worry that they would not be able to keep him in their home and, fearing that he would wreak havoc if he left Asgard, they planned to have the creature bound up.

Tyr. ( CC BY SA ) 

The gods, therefore, began to bind Fenrir with various ropes and chains. In order to obtain Fenrir’s consent to being tied up, the gods told the wolf that these bindings were meant to test his strength. Each time Fenrir broke free, the gods cheered and clapped, though in their hearts, they were growing increasingly worried. Eventually, the gods decided to seek the help of the dwarves, the best blacksmiths available, to produce a rope or chain that not even the great wolf would be able to break free from. As a result, Gleipir was formed. This was a light and silky rope made from several rather odd ingredients – the sound of a cat’s footsteps, the beard of a woman, the roots of a stone, the breath of a fish, and the spittle of a bird.

Tyr and Fenrir. ( Hellanim)

When Fenrir saw the rope, he became suspicious, and would only allow the gods to tie him up on the condition that one of them placed his hand in his jaw as a sign of good faith. Despite knowing the consequences of his actions, Tyr volunteered to place his hand in the wolf’s mouth. Tyr had befriended Fenrir when he was still a pup and was known to be an honorable god, and so the wolf trusted him. When Fenrir found that he had been tricked, and that he could not break loose from Gleipnir, he was furious, and bit Tyr’s hand off. Tyr lost not only a hand, but also a friend.

Tyr and Fenrir. ( Public Domain )

Fenrir would be bound until Ragnarok, when he would break free from Gleipnir and devour Odin. As for Tyr, he would face Garm, the guard dog of Hel, and both would succeed in killing each other.

Top Image: Tyr, Gleipnir and Fenrir. Source: Wolnir

By Wu Mingren

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