As one of the principal deities of the Norse, Tyr is the god of justice, law, and war. He is the son of the Jotunn Hymir (or possibly Odin), and a great upholder of order.
God of: Authority, battle, bravery, duels, glory, honor, justice, law, loyalty, oaths, order, rectitude, sacrifice, victory, and war
Son of: Either Hymir (according to Hymiskvida) or Odin (according to Skaldskaparmal).
Brother of: (if son of Odin) Baldur, Bragi, Heimdall, Hodr, Thor, Vali, and Vidar
Name in Old Norse: Týr
Other names: Tew, Ti, Tiu, Tivar, Tiw, Tiwar, Tiwaz, Tue, Ty, Tyrur, Tyz
Bravery, bringing justice and order, formalities of war, granting victory in battles and duels, guarding oaths and protecting heroes, honor, maintaining peace, and upholding the law
Animals associated with Tyr
Tyr weapon/domain of power
His sacred and undefeated sword Tyrfing, his self-sacrifice, his sheer determination, his unblemished honor and morality, and his unfaltering courage and brilliant heroism
Tyr is either the son of Odin if relying on Snorris’ Skaldskaparmal, or based on the Hymiskvida Tyr is the son of the Jötunn Hymir. Tyr’s name means ‘(the) God’ in Old Norse. Tyr is more known for the second English weekday and the rune named after him. Tuesday is Tiw’s (Tyr’s) day, and the Tiwaz rune (t-rune), depicted as a spear, is said to have magical abilities.
The defender of justice and law
Tyr is the god of justice, law and war. He is the divine guarantor of order and truth, ensuring all oaths are kept in times of war and peace. Tyr is considered one of the principal deities of Norse mythology. He is a brave and powerful warrior that might grant victory to those who call upon him. Everything regarding war, from treaties to battles, is affected by Tyr.
Furthermore, he inspires courage and protects heroes. Honor is his to give to anyone he deems worthy. Most importantly however is the fact that Tyr is the keeper of justice and order. His authority is undeniable on battlefields or during peacetime. He upholds the law and punishes those who lie.
The sacrifice of Tyr
Wielding his fearsome, yet obscure sword Tyrfing, the valiant Tyr stands proudly in Asgard. Tyr does not participate in many of the old sagas. However, he does play small but important parts in a few. In Hymiskvida Tyr is introduced as the Jötunn Hymir’s son. He and Thor travel to Hymir’s abode to take a kettle that’s large enough to brew an enormous amount of mead. As it often does with Thor and the Jötuns it ends with battle and numerous dead Jötunn.
Fenrir bites off Tyrs’ hand
The second tale about Tyr is the most lavish and interesting. When Fenrir was but a pup, but growing dangerously fast, the gods of Asgard met in secret. Knowing Fenrir’s role in Ragnarok and fearing for their lives, the Aesir devised a plan. They would bind the wolf with a special dwarven chain called Gleipnir (open one).
Having tried to restrain Fenrir with different chains before the big wolf was suspicious. Trying to convince him to go along they said it was just a game where he could easily break loose. In the end, Fenrir said he would allow them to try to tie him if one of them would put his hand into his mouth.
None of the Aesir were bold enough for such a gesture of good faith. Except Tyr. The god of law and war placed his hand inside Fenrir’s mouth while the rest began to bind him. When Fenrir realized he couldn’t break free and that he had been fooled he bit off Tyr’s hand. Deeming that which was right and prudent, Tyr willingly forfeited one of his hands. This shows a remarkable sense of loyalty and law. He never flinched, never recoiled. His deed establishes the fairness of the act. His sacrifice marks his stern belief in the law, the security and protection of the Nine Realms.
Tyr fights til the end with Garmr
And in the end, at Ragnarok, Tyr will arm himself with Tyrfing and stride to the battlefield. There, he will clash with the terrible guardian of Hel’s gate, Garmr, the bloodstained hound (or wolf) of the underworld. Their fight will be dreadful and they shall both kill each other. And that is how Tyr, the compelling god of law and war will die.
Tyr in Germanic mythology
Tyr is sparsely mentioned in Norse mythology as documented by Snorri and the Poetic Edda. In older Germanic mythology, however, he seems to have been a more important god. As a deity, Tyr’s first mention occurs in Tacitus’s Germania, in 98 A.D.
Following the Roman method of interpretation, Tyr was referred to then as Mars, the Roman god of war. Among the Germanic peoples, Wodanaz (Odin), Thunraz (Thor) and Tiwaz (Tyr) were the three most important deities. Wodanaz was the leader while beneath him stood Thunraz and Tiwaz.
Unfortunately, there is very little information regarding Tiwaz. Much like his Norse counterpart, he was the god of war and law, and a prominent guardian of order. Tiwaz was the divine overseer that granted victory and justification to those who met with blades.
Law and war were intertwined concepts for the Germanic peoples. It was common for them to seek justice in the field of battle.
Another interesting fact is that Tiwaz – Tyr was once revered as the king of the Germanic gods. In fact, his name means ‘God’. But, for reasons unknown, the great Wodanaz (Odin) took his place and became the high ruler himself.
Mentions In the old texts
In the Poetic Edda, Tyr appears in the poems Hymiskvida, Lokasenna, and Sigrdrifumal.
In the Prose Edda, Tyr is referred to several times in Gylfaginning and Skaldskaparmal.
Looking back at Tyr’s origins one can understand why he is revered as a god of law and war. Tyr was worshipped as such a deity. For the Vikings, law and war were tightly intertwined concepts. To better understand this notion it should be taken into consideration the era in which these gods were hailed. Those were hard, difficult times where peace seemed like the rarest commodity. Duels and battles were most of the time honorary procedures. The victor had the truth by his side and thus most of the conflicts were resolved in this matter. To fight would mean invoking the law and that’s why Tyr was called the god of war and law.
Tyr’s name is translated as ‘the God’. This reveals the importance he had once. But, in Norse mythology, it is Odin who is the king of the gods. Tyr rules on the field of battle as a lawgiver of the gods and a stern jurist.
The Aesir knew how dangerous Fenrir was to become. Even as a pup he was striking fear into their hearts. But not Tyr’s. He was the only one who could come near Fenrir. But he knew the risks as well. If Fenrir was to be left unchecked then the world would suffer. Therefore, the Aesir thought of binding him with Gleipnir. Tyr, as the bravest, decided to sacrifice his hand in order to show his commitment. To protect the world from Fenrir, but mostly to legalize his binding was why Tyr did what he did.
Featured Image Credit: John Bauer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons