A Boy and His Dog: Tyr and Fenris

There’s a good chance you may not have heard of Tyr.

At the same time, we all acknowledge His day, once a week.

Yup, as surely as Odin/Wotan gets Wednesday, and Thor gets Thursday, Tyr’s day is Tuesday, which shows how important He was in Pre-Christian Europe.

In fact, at one point, He may have been more significant than the All-Father, Odin.

However, by the time of the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century C.E., Tyr had waned in significance; He was a still a God of Law, but He shared the role of God of War with His Brother, Thor.

So how do you spot a Tyr?

Tyr_one_hand
Etching by Lorenz Frølich (1895)

Quite simple: He’s missing his right hand. And that’s the topic of this story. But first, we need to take a look at Asgard’s favorite foil, the trickster-God Loki…

*

Loki had two significant lovers: Sigyn (Norse for “Victorious Female Companion”) and the Giantess/Witch Angrboda (Norse for “She-Who-Offers-Sorrow”).

(I will leave His equine dalliance out of this discussion)

He had three children with Angrboda:

Hel, half dead on one side of Her body, made Queen of the Nine Realms of the Underworld;

Jörmungandr, the World Serpent, who encircles Midgard;

And Fenris, or Fenrir-Wolf, the Fearsome Beast who the Gods took home to raise in Asgard…

*

Only one of the Gods dared feed the growing Beast, and that was Tyr.

Tyr the Brave.

Tyr the Just.

Maybe that’s why the Wolf trusted the God. Alone, among the Aesir of Asgard, Tyr was Just.

It would prove fateful for both of them.

*

The Prophecies were clear – Fenris would bring woe to the Gods.

And so they formed a plan…

The had skillful Dwarves forge three fetters. The first was Leyding, and it was strong.

The second was Dromi, and it was twice as strong as Leyding.

The third was Gleipnir, and it looked like a silken ribbon.

First, the Gods taunted  the Wolf; They said that he could prove his Might and Fame if he could break Leyding.

Fenris agreed, and They bound him;

It took a great effort, but the Beast loosed the chains called Leyding.

Again, the Gods provoked the Wolf; They said true Glory would be his if he could loose the chains of Dromi.

Fenris agreed, and they bound him;

It took an even greater effort, but the Beast loosed the chains called Dromi.

A third time, the Gods goaded the Great Wolf; he would be renowned if only he could loose the bonds of Gleipnir.

Fenris laughed at their dare; what challenge could a silken ribbon pose? What Glory could be found in succeeding in such a trivial matter?

Still, the Gods tempted him with Songs of Glory.

The Wolf suspected a trap…

*

How often have you heard a cat’s footfall?

How often have you seen the beard of a woman?

Have you over come across the roots of a mountain?

The nerves of a bear?

How about the breath of a fish?

Or the spittle of a bird?

All of these items went into making Gleipnir, and that’s that why they’re so hard to find…

All used to make the silken ribbon that would prove unbreakable until the End of Days…

*

Fenris made a deal:

“I don’t trust you guys, so I’ll make a pact: if one of You places Your hand in my mouth, I’ll play Your game.”

All of the Gods backed out.

Save one.

The one God who Fenris trusted over them All.

Tyr.

Tyr the Just.

Tyr-migration period
Drawing of Swedish golden jewelry, from the Migration Period (4th-6th C.E.)

*

At the End of Days, Fenrir-Wolf will break loose the bonds of Gleipnir.

At Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, he will devour Odin, the All-Father.

He will, however, not slay Tyr (that dubious honor goes to Garm, Hel’s guard dog).

He and Tyr finished their business eons earlier, when the Gods betrayed Fenris by binding him in the unbreakable Gleipnir.

And Fenris, true to his intent, bit down on the hand that fed him…

tyr-fenrir
Týr sacrifices his arm to Fenrir, John Bauer (1911)

*

So now you know all about Tyr, and more importantly how to spot him.

And you know about Fenrir-Wolf, and why he rages against the Gods of Asgard, who tricked and betrayed him.

So, cry no tears for Odin and his children at Ragnarok.

But instead, remember the honest sacrifice of Tyr, who suffered for his brothers and sisters.

Tyr, the Just.

Tyr, the one armed.

And remember Fenris,

For the Wolf

is always

at the door…

fenris
Odin and Fenris, Dorothy Hardy (1909)

 

 

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