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.
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.
Other names for Týr include Tiwaz, Mars Thincsus, Tiw, Ziu, and Cyo. He’s also the namesake for the second day of our week– Tuesdaycomes from Tiw’s Day. The root of his name lies in the word goditself from the Proto-Germanic language, and his rune is the tiwaz, or t rune.
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 Siguard, 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.
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 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 a 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 inconvience; 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.