Often times in polytheistic, ancient cultures, the male head of the pantheon is also the one who creates law and doles out justice. In the Norse pantheon, that would, of course, be Odin. Except it isn’t.
Meet the Norse god, Týr.
The Norse God, Týr
Týr is alternately the son of Odin or the son of Hymir, depending on which Edda you’re looking at. It’s debated that he was originally the head of the Norse pantheon, but he didn’t stay that way. The crafty, cunning Norse wound up preferring rule-breaker Odin and unseating him, but he still found a place at the table.
There should be more stories about Týr out there, but sadly, there just isn't anything that survived the harsh tests of time. He's from the proto-Germanic age, the people who preceded the Norse by hundreds of years. Most Norse gods have roots in the goods that the proto-Germanic culture worshipped, but Týr comes straight out of their lore. He represented martial courage and power in battle. And he was the head of their pantheon. But some nine hundred years passed, and the Norse culture decided that cunning in battle was more important to them. So, Týr took a back seat to Odin.
And in taking a back seat to these more popular gods, Týr's hundreds of years worth of stories an the history of his worship fell away, too. Whether it was recorded at all, or if it was all just oral-telling that people forgot throughout the years, we don't really know. But here's what we do know.
Other names for Týr include Tiwaz, Mars Thincsus, Tiw, Ziu, and Cyo. He’s also the namesake for the second day of our week– Tuesday comes from Tiw’s Day. The root of his name lies in the word god itself from the Proto-Germanic language, and his rune is the tiwaz, or t rune.
The rune above represents Týr. It's pronounced like tea-waz, and is representative of the concepts o justice and sacrifice. The most important thing to know about tiwaz is that it represents the concept of sacrificing the self for the good of the community. While the Norse knew all-too-well how dirty a battle could become, especially when the human desires of greed and vengeance interfered, tiwaz and the tales of Týr were there to remind them that a clean and just victory meant more than simply causing pain to their enemies for the sake of pain.
Just Victory in Battle
Týr isn’t just a god of justice and law; he’s also a god of war, alongside Thor and Odin. This is an unusual juxtaposition unless you think of how the Ancient Norse thought of war and justice and how they go hand-in-hand. For example, the hero Sigurd, a humble human, invokes Týr in battle because his cause is just.
It’s important to remember that war is very rarely just people murdering one another for the sport of it. It usually stems from a contest of law– one side wishes to contest a law the other side has created. Týr represents this intersection, while his fellow god Thor represents physical strength in combat and Odin represents cunning and strategy. If you think of them like Dungeons and Dragons classes, Odin is a rogue, Thor is a warrior, but Tyr is a paladin.
The Honor of Sacrifice
The main myth featuring Týr is that of the binding of Fenrir, which we’ve written about before on this blog. The gods were afraid of the young pup, Fenrir, so they decided to bind him with chains. Fenrir was, in turn, afraid of the chains and asked that one of the gods place their arm in his mouth. It was our just friend Týr who volunteered, and when the chains tightened around the wolf, he removed Týr’s arm. Týr sacrificed his arm to uphold this just law, preventing the gods’ binding of Fenrir from becoming a fraud. It represents an exchange of trust and power, and despite the fact that it’s grizzly as fuck, there’s no doubt that Týr was totally cool with it given his spheres of influence.
This is also a fine example of sacrifice. Originally, the name of Týr came from the word Hangatyr, or The God of the Hanged. The Hanged Man is often a representation of sacrifice both in ancient mythologies the world over and also in tarot (which is a lot more modern than people think). Think about it– what is essential for a god of war? A hand to wield his instrument of battle. Týr losing his hand isn’t just an inconvenience; it’s a sincere sacrifice for the betterment of his community. Locking up Fenrir was essential to keeping the gods and the world safe, and he was only too willing to sacrifice this essential limb to do so.
That’s metal as fuck.
There are a lot of Týr worshippers in the U.S., especially in our military. Click here to read about one celebrant of Týr and how he found peace worshipping the Norse gods during his tenure in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Interested in celebrating your love of Týr, or celebrating a friend or family member in the military? We crafted our military drinking horn customizer for just that reason.