Viking Symbolism: Fenrir
Perhaps the most famous wolf in all Norse mythology (and perhaps in mythology the world over– barring the Big Bad of Western European faerie tale lore) is Fenrir. This big and nasty beast is not just a giant fucking wolf. He’s also the son of Loki– and he’s meant to kill his uncle, Odin. That’s right, Marvel fans: Loki is Odin’s bro, not son.* But unlike the world serpent, Jörmungandr or Hel (their sister and the goddess of the underworld), Fenrir is raised by the gods, not by Loki. He has a special relationship with Týr, the god of law and the only god brave enough to approach him and offer him food.
Tyr and Fenrir
Loki's three children were born with omens of dispair and disaster upon them. So, Odin sent the other gods forth to find them so that they could be restrained and kept. Jörmungandr was thrown into the ocean. Hel was brought to Niflheim, where she was given control over the nine worlds.
But Fenrir was different. The gods took him home with them, and he was raised like something of a lap dog. All feared him, save for Tyr. Now, Tyr is a god of war, but there are a lot of war gods in Norse mythology. Tyr would be closest to he who the Greeks called Ares, means to represent a young soldier. In some sources, Tyr is named as the son of Odin, which makes sense. In may respects, wisdom begets war.
Unafraid of Fenrir, Tyr brought him food and comfort. And thanks to this kindness, Fenrir grew rapidly. The gods were afraid of what this might mean, so they made three fetters, or leg bindings, to keep Fenrir in place.
The Binding of Fenrir
The first binding was called Leyding, and the gods attempted to trick Fenrir by asking him to try it out and see if it was strong enough. But with a single kick, Fenrir destroyed Leyding.
The next binding was called Dromi, promising him great fortune and fame if he could break this one. This one took a little more power to break, but in the end, Fenrir destroyed it.
The gods were quite scared now, so they called in some dwarves to help them making the most powerful fettering of all, which was called Gleipnir. Glepnir was made of:
the sound of a cat's footfall
the spittle of a bird
the beard of a woman
the sinews of a bear
and the roots of a mountain.
Now, if you're wondering how someone could make some leg bindings from these things, you're missing the point. As all of these things are impossible to find, they made Gleipnir impossibly strong.
Fenrir could sense their strength, but furthermore, he knew that the gods could get up to tricks, and seeing a tiny ribbon like Gleipnir, he knew not to trust them:
"If you bind me so that I am unable to release myself, then you will be standing by in such a way that I should have to wait a long time before I got any help from you. I am reluctant to have this band put on me. But rather than that you question my courage, let someone put his hand in my mouth as a pledge that this is done in good faith."
Tyr, being such good friends with Fenrir, offered to place his hand in the great wolf's mouth. After Fenrir was bound, he tried to struggle against Gleipnir but found that he could not move. In retribution, he took Tyr's hand. He was tied to the rock Gjoll, had a sword thrust into his mouth, and bound to stay still until Ragnarok.
Fenrir as a Symbol
Typically, if you find a symbol of Fenrir, he’s biting a chain. This is because Fenrir is bound until the end of the world, after he grew too fucking big to be left on his own– and the gods knew, too, that no matter how they cared for the, uh, sweet pupperooni, Fenrir would cause them harm one day. Fenrir will only be released when the sun and the moon have been devoured. Then, and only then, he will attack and eat Odin.
There is a lot of speculation as to why Fenrir must eat Odin. Is it because of the rivalry between his father and the All-Father? It could be because that’s how wolves operate– when the pack grows weak, the young kill the old. You’ll find similar stories in Greek mythology– for that was Zeus’ father Chronos’ one great fear.
Fenrir lends his name to many wolves and wolf-like folk in modern day lore. Of course, Fenrir Greyback from the Harry Potter novels springs to mind– as vicious werewolf who purposely targets children. And if that’s not hardcore enough for you, Fenriz is also the name of one half of the death metal duo, Darkthrone. But there’s also Fenris from Dragon Age II– who, while a vicious slaughterer of bad guys, is a bit of a lone wolf looking for a pack (yes, Fenris is just an archaic word for Fenrir!)
Fenrir is an excellent symbol to put on the drinking horn of someone who has faced a lot of troubles and risen above them. Whether it’s someone who’s broken out of an abusive relationship and risen in the pack hierarchy to tend to their own needs, or someone who’s spent time in jail and deserves a welcome home gift, a Fenrir ale horn is the sort of badass gift you will hold on to and appreciate for a lifetime.
Who is the lone wolf in your pack? Think they're worthy of carrying Fenrir's sign? Check out our Customizable Viking Drinking Horns here.
Feature image cred: Gloom82 of DeviantART
* There’s some debate happening on our Facebook page about Loki’s relation to Odin, and we found evidence for them being both brothers and cousins. Weigh in on the comments below!
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