With his story shrouded in mystery and seemingly eclipsed by that of Thor and Odin, Tyr is not a well-known Norse god. What is known about Tyr is that he is a god of battle, courage, and swords. But more than just being involved in war, Tyr is also heavily involved in matters of law, justice, honor, and oaths. He also has a large respect for authority.
There are a few different theories on his patronage. One is that he is the son of Odin, and a close brother to Thor. Another theory is that his father is the etin Hymir and his mother is unnamed. Some theories state that Tyr is actually older than Odin himself. Whether this means that Tyr is Odin’s father, or that he is older even as a son (which works in the logistics of godhood) is unknown.
In Old Norse mythology, before the Viking Age, Tyr was a lot more important and sometimes seen as the Chief of gods, or head of the Norse pantheon. His name can actually be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European god “Dyeus,” which literally means “god.” This word even lends itself to the Latin “Deus,” which refers to the Christian God. It is even connected to the Greek “Zeus,” head of his pantheon. But, as the Viking Age developed, Tyr’s importance was eclipsed by Thor and Odin. In the Old Norse age, characteristics of men, such as honor, justice, law, and oath-keeping were important. But, as Vikings emerged, battle characteristics become more important, thus Thor and Odin were pushed to the forefront of the Pantheon, even though Tyr was quite the warrior, too.
The most well-known story of Tyr involves the binding of Loki’s demon-spawn, the wolf monster, Fenrir. This monster son of Loki’s terrorized both Asgard and Midgard. Twice the gods tried to bind Fenrir but failed both times, after which they asked the dwarves for help. The dwarves created a fetter called Gleipnir, which seemed too pretty and weak to be of any use, but it was made of six magical ingredients: the sound of a cat’s footfall; the beard of a woman; the roots of a mountain; the sinews (nerves) of a bear; the breath of a fish; and the spit of a bird. (Because all these ingredients went into the making of Gleipnir, it is said that is why they don’t exist in the world anymore.) Fenrir didn’t trust the gods to bind him, so he required one of them to put their hand in his mouth. Tyr was the only one courageous enough to be willing to do so. Once he was bound, Fenrir fought against the Gleipnir and bit off Tyr’s left hand. Everyone laughed and cheered that he was finally bound, except for Tyr. Fenrir was then tied to a mountain and remained bound until Ragnarok when Loki will free him, and he will swallow Odin whole as revenge.
More interesting facts about Tyr
- Tyr is pronounced like the English word “tear”;
- He has only one hand—his left-hand—because Fenrir, the wolf monster bit off his right hand. But, he is still one of the best god warriors;
- Viking warriors would often put the “T” rune (an arrow pointing up) on their swords to invoke the power and patronage of Tyr in their battle;
- Romans equated Tyr with their War god, Mars;
- Tuesday is named after Tyr. In Old English, it was the Day of Tiw (Tiwesdaeg). Romans called the same day of the week Dies Martes after Mars;
- Tyr accepts mead, meat, and blood for sacrifices;
- According to legends of Ragnarok, Tyr and Gram, the guard dog of Hel, the goddess of the land of the dead, will kill each other;
- In Lokasenna, Loki teases Tyr with cuckoldry (lewd sexual acts);
- Tyr is almost as strong as Thor. They can both lift Hymir’s cauldron, but Thor can lift it more, However, no one else (other than Thor) is stronger than Tyr.
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