Tyr

Velkomnir, gestirnir mínir!
(Welcome, my guests!) Fjörn's Leaf

Come by the fire, my good friends, for I’d like to share a Lore Tome with you all! This one is about Tyr, and here you shall find links to useful texts, as well as information regarding relative chapters and passages.

You may seek out the texts yourselves, but I have also decided to provide my own summaries of what these (often dense) texts have to say about the old gods. Still, I encourage you all to delve into the them for yourselves, for my summaries inevitably reflect my own interpretations and reflections! I will admit that I tend to favor Snorri’s Prose Edda when writing my summaries. Nevertheless, this Tome should prove useful for many folk, whether they be academic types like myself or causal wanderers like many others.

There is one thing that I must stress before we continue, though! Norse paganism was never regarded as a systematic belief by its followers; there was no overarching dogma of ‘correct’ interpretation. In other words, there were a variety of ways that it was practiced. Different regions worshipped different gods and followed their own rituals. As such, Norse paganism was a heavily localized affair, and thus a decentralized body of conflicting traditions there were never reduced to any sort of orthodoxy. This is very important to keep in mind when reading the Lore. The picture that we have is only a snapshot of reality, and even then it is the interpretation provided to us by a very limited selection.


Fjörn’s Summary of Tyr

Tyr is the Old Norse god of bravery and battle. He is considered the “bravest” and “most “valiant” of the Æsir, and he “has great power over victory in battles.”[1] According to Snorri, “it is good for men of action to pray to him” due to his influence over the qualities of courageous behavior and warrior conduct.[2] Although the warriors slain in battle now go to Valhalla with Odin, Tyr once held the position of war-god in his days as Tîwaz, prior to the Viking Age.[3]

Although not the primary Norse war-god anymore, Tyr can still be called upon for victory. As it is said in The Lay of Sigrdrifa, one can achieve victory by carving victory-runes on their sword hilt and invoking Tyr twice:

Fjörn's Leaf Victory-runes you must cut if you want to have victory,
and cut them on your sword-hilt;
some on the blade-cards, some on the handle,
and invoke Tyr twice.[4]

After several failed attempts to bind Fenrir, the gods finally acquired fetters that were strong enough to restrain him, but Fenrir demanded that someone place their hand in his mouth to show that this binding would be done in good faith (for they said that they would free him if he could not break these fetters). All of the gods looked at each other with worried faces, for they knew their hand would be lost to the wolf when he learned that his binding was not going to be undone.

While they stared and stood, Tyr walked up without hesitation and placed his right hand in the wolf’s mouth. When Fenrir failed to escape these fetters, he realized that he had been deceived and bit off Tyr’s hand.[6] Since then, Tyr has been called the “One-handed God,” not due to shame, but rather due to his bravery when all the other Æsir stood still.[7]


Lore Reference Section

Fjörn's Leaf Entries listed in North green are Fjörn’s Recommendations! Fjörn's Leaf

The Prose Edda

This source was compiled in Iceland by a man named Snorri Sturluson, who lived between 1179 and 1241; but the oldest manuscript that we have for it dates to around the year 1300. He was not a cleric, but rather a political figure from an aristocratic Icelandic family. He treats this ‘pagan’ lore as though it was “a rational but misguided groping towards the truth.” (Faulkes, xviii) But his motivation for preserving this material was for the sake of skaldic poetry, which still made use of much old lore, even during his time. Therefore, while this source was produced by a Christian author several hundred years after the ‘fall of paganism’, this source is still generally considered a “detached and scholarly treatment both of religion and poetry.” (Faulkes, xix) While it may not be a ‘pure’ source for understanding the lore of pre-Christain Norse religion, it is indeed a much-needed place to find useful insights into that worldview. [Source: Snorri Sturluson, Edda, translated by Anthony Faulkes (London: Everyman, 1995) xii-xix.]

Fjörn's Leaf Note: The word ‘Týr’ frequently appears in kennings for Thor and Odin, i.e. Hanged-Tyr or Victory-Tyr (both for Odin). In these cases, it may be more likely that ‘Týr’ means ‘god’, and thus does not necessarily have anything to do with Tyr himself.

The following references are in accordance with Anthony Faulkes’ translation (links to free online ebook):

  • Gylfaginning:
    • Fjörn's Leaf 24-5 [a summary of Tyr]
    • Fjörn's Leaf 27-9 [the story of Tyr and Fenrir’s binding]
    • 54 [Tyr’s actions at Ragnarok]
  • Skáldskaparmál:
    • 59 [listed here among other gods]
    • 64 [concerning poetic practice]
    • Fjörn's Leaf 76 [kennings for Tyr]
    • 95 [listed here among other gods]
    • 157 [listed here among the Æsir]

The Poetic Edda

This source is a collection of poems that most scholars agree preserve verses that pre-date the conversion of the North to Christianity. That said, however, they were still written down by Christian scribes. Nevertheless, this work was the primary source for Snorri’s Prose Edda. The earliest surviving manuscript containing these poems, however, is known as the Codex Regis (GKS 2365 4to), which was written by an anonymous Icelandic scribe sometime during the 1270s. [Source: Carolyne Larrington trans., The Poetic Edda (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), ix-xi.]

The following references are in accordance with Carolyne Larrington’s translation:

  • Hymiskviða (The Lay of Hymir):
    • 4.3 [regarding advice given by him]
    • 33.3 [Tyr tries to move a cauldron]
  • Lokasenna (The Flyting of Loki):
    • prose [listed among guests]
    • 38.1 [Loki refers to Tyr’s missing hand]
    • 40.1 [Loki claims to have had a child by Tyr’s wife; nothing else is known about this reference, both to his wife and to such actions]
  • Sigrdrífumál (The Lay of Sigrdrifa):
    • Fjörn's Leaf 6.4 [regarding runes carved for victory, invoking Tyr]

Fornaldarsögur (Sagas of Ancient Times)

This type of literature combines international folktale motifs combined with the preserved memory of ancient historical events and people. Yet, this should not fool the reader into believing the ‘truth’ of every word, for these sagas were written long after the events they write about, and combine many aspects of legendary and medieval Romance in their narratives. Nevertheless, these sagas, although produced in a later age, contain the remnants of old lore and stories about historical events that were passed down for hundreds of years.

  • Vǫlsunga saga (The Saga of the Volsungs):
    • Fjörn's Leaf Chapter 21 [Tyr is invoked through rune-carving; this reference is in verse, and it is very similar to that of Sigrdrífumál]

Heimskringla (Snorri’s Sagas of Norwegian Kings)

This source is traditionally attributed to Snorri Sturluson, who lived in Iceland between 1179 and 1241. It is a collection of sixteen sagas about Norwegian kings from their legendary foundations up to the year 1177. It is the product of both a long traditional of Icelandic historical writing and of skaldic poetry. The earliest manuscript for this source is known as Kringla, and it was produced sometime around 1270. [Source: Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, vol. I, translated by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes (Viking Society for Northern Research: University College London, 2011), vii-xiii.]

Fjörn's Leaf Note: As was the case for some references for the Prose Edda (which I left out), a few of these have references to the word ‘týr‘, but may not be directly reflective of the god Tyr himself. In some cases, the word comes to be another word for ‘god’. Every case below seems to be of this nature.

The following references are in accordance with Heimskringla, vol. I, as translated by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes:

  • Hákonar saga góða (The Saga of Hakon the Good):
    • Chapter 30 [in a kenning for ‘generous man’]
    • Chapter 32 [in a kenning for Odin]
  • Haralds saga gráfeldar (The Saga of Harald Grey-cloak):
    • Chapter 6 [in a kenning for a ruler with divine ancestry]
  • Ólafs saga Tryggvassonar (The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason):
    • Chapter 27 [in a kenning for a man who performs heathen sacrifices]
    • Chapter 30 [in a kenning for ‘warrior’]
    • Chapter 113 [in a kenning for ‘generous man’]

Summary Endnotes

[1] Snorri Sturluson, Edda, translated by Anthony Faulkes (London: Everyman, 1995), 24. [return]

[2] Ibid. [return]

[3] H.R. Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe (repr., 1964; London: Penguin Books, 1990), 56-7. [return]

[4] Carolyne Larrington trans., The Poetic Edda (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 163. (Stanza 6) [return]

[5] Snorri, Edda, 27. [return]

[6] Ibid., 29. [return]

[7] Ibid., 76. [return]


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