Tyr: Norse God of War and Treaties

Tyr is a Norse god of law, justice, and heroic glory. He is known for his bravery and is considered one of the Aesir, a group of principal gods in Norse mythology.

One of the most famous stories involving Tyr is the binding of the wolf Fenrir, a monstrous wolf who posed a threat to the gods.

Tyr’s role in Norse mythology is somewhat overshadowed by other gods like Odin and Thor, but he remains an important figure in the pantheon, especially when it comes to themes of honor, bravery, and the enforcement of law and justice.

Who is Tyr in Norse Mythology?

Tyr is the son of Odin and the half-brother of Baldr, Thor, and Heimdall. He is also the husband of the harvest goddess Zisa. The couple may or may not have children together.

In some literature, primarily the Poetic Edda, Tyr is instead regarded as a jötunn that was integrated into the Aesir. Following this interpretation, Tyr’s parents would instead be Hymir and Hrodr. Regardless of his parentage in Old Norse religion, Tyr was one of the most venerated gods and, at some point, the most worshipped.

Which Norse Pantheon Does Tyr Belong To?

As a son of the chief god Odin, Tyr belongs to the Aesir (Old Norse Æsir) pantheon. Also referred to as a tribe or a clan, the Aesir are marked by their physical prowess and impressive tenacity. Tyr’s role as a Germanic deity is substantial: he is considered to be one of the main Aesir gods. It is said that of the Aesir deities, Tyr was the most well-respected.

Is Tyr Actually Odin?

Although Tyr isn’t actually Odin, he was once the chief god of the Norse gods and goddesses. It is just that Odin gained enough traction to boot Tyr off the pedestal.

Having one god replace another god as the supreme deity was totally standard amongst ancient Germanic peoples. During the Viking Age, Odin had lost enough steam that he started to get replaced by his burly son, Thor. A multitude of archaeological evidence from the later Viking Age presents Thor as the most popular deity within the religion. It is just the nature of the beast.

READ MORE: History’s Most Famous Vikings

It isn’t unusual that the chief god of a pantheon reflects major values within its respective society. A society’s values are not stagnant; they fluctuate and change with time. Therefore, while Tyr is a god identified with war, he values honor and upholding justice. We can then infer that in early Nordic societies, maintaining justice was crucial.

It is likely that when Odin came into power, there was a newfound emphasis placed on wisdom and attaining knowledge. As the power shifted over to Thor, it may have been a tumultuous time. People belonging to societies that venerated Thor may have felt as if they needed his protection as the guardian of mankind even more. This would align with Christianity’s introduction to Scandinavia; big change was on the horizon and, with change, came some fear.

READ MORE: How Did Christianity Spread: Origins, Expansion, and Impact 

How is Tyr Pronounced?

Tyr is pronounced like “tear” as in “tearful” or “teardrop.” By the same token, Tyr is also known as Tiw, Tii, and Ziu, depending on the respective language spoken. If any of these sound familiar (we’re eyeballing that Old High German Ziu) that is for a good reason.

As the English Tiw, Tyr’s name originates from the Proto-Germanic *Tiwaz, which means “god.” Meanwhile, *Tiwaz shares the same root with the Proto Indo-European *dyeus. Both words mean “god” or “deity,” thus cementing Tyr’s religious significance.

For perspective, both the Greek Zeus and the Roman Jupiter have etymological origins in the Proto Indo-European *dyeus. *Dyeus likewise inspired the Vedic sky god Dyaus and the Celtic deity Dagda. These gods were the chief gods of their own specific pantheons, as Tyr once was.

READ MORE: 41 Greek Gods and Goddesses: Family Tree and Fun Facts and Roman Gods and Goddesses: The Names and Stories of 29 Ancient Roman Gods

In the Runic alphabet, Tyr was represented with the t-rune, ᛏ. Called a Tiwaz, the rune is associated with the veneration of Tyr. Unfortunately, the t-rune had been adopted by Nazis during the Third Reich. Nowadays, the Tiwaz is largely associated with Neo-Nazism and fascism despite its continued use in the Germanic neo-pagan movement.

READ MORE: 16 Celtic Gods and Goddesses: Ancient Celtic Pantheon

What is Tyr the God Of?

Tyr is ultimately a war god. To be more specific, he is the god of warfare, treaties, and justice. As a Norse god of war, his peers include the deities Odin, Freya, Heimdall, and Thor. However, Tyr’s power is not necessarily found exclusively in the heat of battle.

Generally, Tyr deals with lawful war and bringing wrongdoers to justice. If there is a wrong, he will right it. It is for this reason that Tyr bears witness to all treaties drafted during times of war. In the case that someone violates a treaty Tyr is the god that will deal with the offender.

Besides being a war god and a stickler for the rules, Tyr is also the venerated patron of warriors. It was not unusual for Nordic warriors to invoke Tyr by engraving the Tiwaz onto their weaponry or shields. The Poetic Edda actually references this practice when the Valkyrie Sigrdrifa advises the hero Sigurd to “carve…into your sword’s hilt…the blade guards…the blades, invoking Tyr’s name twice.” The Tiwaz would also be engraved on amulets and other pendants for protection.

Is Tyr a Powerful God?

Tyr is considered a powerful god in Northern Germanic religion. Amongst the Aesir, he was certainly the most respected and trusted. Such a belief is echoed in the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson: “He is the bravest and most valiant, and he has great power over victory in battles.”

Indeed, despite losing the mantle of the chief god, Tyr retained his identity as one of the strongest gods. He was said to have won numerous battles, even after he lost one of his hands. Even Loki, when hurling insults at other deities in the Lokasenna, could only mock Tyr for his missing hand. His reputation was untouchable since even Loki’s mockery didn’t seem to affect Tyr greatly.

Tyr instead assured that, while he did miss his hand, Loki must miss his chain-bound son, Fenrir, more.

READ MORE: 11 Trickster Gods From Around The World

What are Some of Tyr’s Myths?

There are two famous myths involving the god Tyr. In both myths, Tyr is defined by his courage, selflessness, and adherence to his word.

What little myths have survived from Norse mythology have originated from centuries of oral tradition. Coincidentally, there is substantial variation in myth depending on its source.

One Giant Kettle

In the Hymiskvida (Hymiskviða) from Poetic Edda, the gods and goddesses of Asgard partied so hard they ran out of mead and ale. This was a huge problem. So after a little bit of twig divination and an animal sacrifice, it was revealed that the Aesir could be aided by the sea jötunn, Aegir. Only…Aegir didn’t have a big enough kettle to make sufficient ale.

In comes Tyr with the sudden memory that his father (who isn’t Odin in this tale) had a massive kettle. His father was a jötunn named Hymir that lived in the east. According to Tyr, he owned a cauldron that was five miles deep: that would certainly be enough for the gods! 

Thor agreed to go with Tyr to retrieve the kettle from Hymir. On the journey, we meet more of Tyr’s family (still no Odin relation). He has a grandma with nine-hundred heads. His mom seemed like the only normal one in Hymir’s halls.

Upon arrival, the pair hid in a giant, well-made cauldron since apparently, Hymir had a penchant for breaking guests’ bones. When Hymir returned, his gaze broke several beams and kettles: the only one not to break was the one Tyr and Thor hid in. Hymir eventually offered his guests three cooked oxen, of which Thor ate two. From then on, Tyr does not appear in the myth.

Tyr and Fenrir

This is the most well-known tale of Tyr. The gods feared the strength that Fenrir could accumulate if he was allowed to continue growing freely. There was an unplaced sense of foreboding connected to the beast. It is just as likely that the Old Norse gods and goddesses knew of Fenrir’s connection to Ragnarök.

The gods decided to bind Fenrir and isolate him away from civilization, hoping to stave off the apocalypse. They attempted this twice before with basic metal chains, but the great wolf broke free each time. As a result, they commissioned the Dwarves to make the unbreakable fetter Gleipnir. Once the thread-thin binding was crafted, they attempted to bound Fenrir a third time.

The Aesir proposed a game of might to the wolf. He was suspicious and only consented to the supposed game when Tyr agreed to place his arm in Fenrir’s mouth. With newfound assurance, Fenrir agreed to be bound. After finding out that the gods wouldn’t release him, he bit off Tyr’s hand. From then on, Tyr became known as the one-handed god.

Why Did Fenrir Bite Tyr?

Fenrir bit Tyr because he was betrayed. The entire reason for Tyr putting his hand into the maw of the monstrous wolf was to promise good faith. After all, Fenrir was raised in Asgard amongst the gods and goddesses. According to legend, Tyr was the only one brave enough to feed Fenrir as a pup.

While Fenrir didn’t necessarily trust the Aesir, he did somewhat trust Tyr. Tyr, meanwhile, knew that Fenrir would have to be bound to put off Ragnarök. He decided to willingly sacrifice his hand for the safety of the realms.

How Was Tyr Worshiped?

During the Viking Age (793-1066 CE), Tyr was primarily worshipped in modern-day Denmark. In earlier years, the exaltation of Tyr was much more commonplace because of his role as the supreme deity. Thus, worship of Tyr was most popular when he was still being referred to as the Proto-Indo-European Tiwaz. Considering his position, he would have been sacrificed to, through both blōt and material offerings.

Outside of sacrifices, there is an archaeological record of Tyr worshipers invoking the Norse god through the use of the t-rune. When considering the charm on the Lindholm amulet (three consecutive t-runes), it is thought that the runes reflect an invocation of Tyr. The Kylver Stone is another example of the Tiwaz being used to call upon Tyr.

There may be a significance of the number three in ancient North Germanic religions. After all, there were three brothers that created mankind, three primordial beings, and three initial realms in Norse cosmology. The Tiwaz being repeated thrice is no coincidence.

By the same token, as evident in the Poetic Edda, those seeking protection by Tyr would engrave his rune on their belongings. These include weapons, shields, armor, pendants, arm rings, and other adornments. The use of his rune was believed to enhance the strength of weapons, armor, and shields during warfare.

Besides the Tiwaz, Tyr had other symbols. He was associated with spears and swords, specifically his signature sword, Tyrfing. In myths, it is stated that Tyrfing was crafted by the same Dwarves that made Odin’s spear, Gungnir.

Did Tyr Survive Ragnarök?

Like many other deities of Norse mythology, Tyr did not survive Ragnarok. He fought and fell to the guardian of Hel’s gates, Garmr. Described as a massive wolf or a dog, Garmr was blood-stained from those he had killed. Oftentimes, he is mistaken for Fenrir.

In their epic battle, Garmr ripped off Tyr’s remaining hand. This sounds like a bit of deja vu for Tyr: it is terribly ironic. Before succumbing to his grievous wounds, Tyr landed a fatal blow to Garmr. They managed to kill each other, either of them taking out a significant threat from the opposing side.

One could even argue there was some poetic justice to it. That Garmr, who was theorized to be an offspring of the wolf Fenrir, avenged his parent. For Tyr, he managed to fell a great entity in a battle for the last time. Both of them would have felt some amount of satisfaction with their final deed.

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