Tyr and Justice Article
[Main Index] [About Jordsvin] [Asatru Information] [Young Heathens Page] [Fun Stuff] [Asatru Events] [Norse Links]
(first printed in "idunna" Magazine)
Greatly inspired by Vol. V of The Road to Bifrost by Thor and Audrey Sheil, back in print at:
Tyr is a God with whom I and Heathens with whom I have closely associated have had considerable dealings. Therefore, this article will be less in a scholarly vein and have more of a “how-to” element than many of my recent publications. First of all, there’s the matter of nomenclature to be dealt with. In this article, I will use “Tyr” for the God and “Tiwaz” as the name of “his” Rune. This seems to be the most common usage among contemporary Heathens as a whole. That of others may vary due to, among other things, whether one is a Continental, Scandinavian, or Anglo-Saxon Heathen. *Tiwaz is the name of the God Tyr in reconstructed Common Germanic. His name became first Teiws in Gothic, then later Tiw or Tiu in Anglo-Saxon and Tyr in Old Norse.
Tiw/Tyr is remembered in place names both in England (Branston, p. 42) and Scandinavia, especially in Denmark (Turville-Petre, p. 181).
Tyr may well have originally been the old Indo-European Sky Father, since his name, which literally means “(a) God,” is cognate with various Deities of that type as far away as India. As such, he MAY have been paired with Nerthus as Earth Mother way back B.N. (Before Njordh). (Our Troth, pp. 63-85). Tyr and Odin also have a curious and somewhat polar relationship. While Odin inspires, Tyr motivates! At some time in the past, Tyr was evidently more important than he was in the Viking Age. (Turville-Petre, p. 180). In some areas, Tyr may have even been the chief God. (Teutonic Religion, p. 59). Later, Odin took over that role. Thorr Sheil describes the process something like this: as Germanic society developed and became more stable, it became evident that Odin’s cunning and wisdom were ultimately more powerful than Tyr’s warlike force, and Heathen religion naturally evolved to reflect this. As far as we can tell, Tyr took this in stride. Although they may be portrayed as otherwise (Thor is NOT stupid even though the myths often depict him as such), our Gods and Goddesses are not petty or jealous. That function, as I see it, can be left to the Monotheistic God. From the Eddic poem “Lokasenna,” we know that Tyr has a wife. Some identify her with the Swabian Goddess Zisa, although this remains unproven. Whatever her name(s) may have been in centuries past, she seems content to answer to Zisa today, and modern Heathens are re-discovering her mysteries with her cooperation. (Our Troth, pp. 63-85).
The only myth which has come down to us featuring Tyr as the central character is that of the binding of the Fenris Wolf. From this, Tyr received his by-names “the one-handed God” and “the wolf’s leavings.” At the Ragnarok, Garm, the Hound of Hel, is Tyr’s opponent, as Fenris is busy with Odin.
Tyr is God of the Thing, or legislative assembly. Modern Heathens frequently put a glove marked with the rune Tiwaz on a pole or spear to declare a frithstead, or precinct in which hostilities must cease. I believe the custom of the glove on a pole to mark a place of peace continued in medieval fairs. This custom continues today at each annual Trothmoot.
Still, Tyr is NOT a peacemaker. He goes for what is just and fair and consequences be damned. Please note that Tyr is not a petty legalist nor is he a Heathen Pharisee (although some Heathens, it would seem, see him as such). The law Tyr upholds is that which is right, or more accurately, the law of Life. He is very concerned that oaths be kept. Thus, one should be very sure that one is in the right before invoking Tyr. I suggest that in cases where folks need to get along for common good (with most divorced or divorcing parents being a good example), that Balder and Nanna, together with their son Forseti, be invoked. However, Tyr does care about social obligations being kept.
Tyr can help us a great deal in developing the ability to make wise choices in our personal associations. Many approach him with reluctance, even when he calls them, because they don’t want to have to judge others. Many of us have been treated badly in social and religious environments of which we were previously a part because we just didn’t “fit in.” That, along with left over Christian ideas such as the famous saying of Jesus “Judge not; lest ye be judged,” predisposes us to be very reluctant to judge others. We Heathens are by and large a pragmatic and honest lot. We are well aware that neither we nor our Gods and Goddesses are perfect. This makes us even more reluctant to take the judge’s role, even in very private and personal circumstances. Many of us also came into Heathenism by way of the larger Pagan community. When I was associated with that community, my own observation was that to judge others, even in extreme cases, was highly frowned upon. It was even considered very gauche to hold a strong opinion. Of course, all this did was to put social relations into a pressure-cooker sort of situation which eventually exploded badly. Those interested in reading further on Heathen and Pagan social norms and their interactions can go to “The Hammer and the Pentagram” article located online at http://www.webcom.com/~lstead/wicatru.html. In any case, I was once called upon to do a Rune reading for an individual dealing with just such matters. The first Rune he pulled out of the bag was, not surprisingly, Tiwaz. The moral of the story is that while petty judgmentalism is counter-productive, so is an “anything goes” attitude. As the old saying goes, “Roll with dogs and get up with fleas.” I learned that the hard way!
Tyr and Odin were both invoked before battle and sacrificed to in victory. An old village war cry preserved in Hawick, Scotland evidently invokes them both: “Tyribus ye Tyr ye Odin; Tyr haabus ye Tyr ye Odin,” which evidently is a worn-down Norse phrase meaning something along the line of “Tyr keep us, both Tyr and Odin!” (an e-mail message from Dan Ralph Miller dated 27 December 1994). While the aid of the Elder Kin is indeed a powerful thing, fully worthy of being sought, it is no substitute for personal endeavor and initiative. In the "old days," just as now, folks were wont to blame the Gods, Wyrd, etc. for defeat instead of acknowledging their own mistakes and trying to correct them.
Since Tyr, along with Ing(vi) and Odin, appear in the Elder Futhark as the names of the Runes Tiwaz, Ingwaz, and Ansuz (means a member of the Aesir in general but the Rune Poems preserved in Scandinavia specifically refer to Odin), an article on any of these Gods can easily also incorporate a discussion of that God’s Rune. The phonetic value of Tiwaz is that of the Roman letter “T,” or sometimes, in the Younger Futhark, that of the letter “D,” since the D-Rune, Dagaz, did not carry over into that shortened Futhark. In the Elder Futhark and Anglo-Saxon Futhork, this rune has the form of an upward-pointing arrow or spear. The “broad arrow” used at least up till recently by the British Government to mark its weapons and property is possibly a remnant of Tiwaz. Its meaning is the God known as Tiw/Tiu to the Anglo-Saxons and Tyr to the Norse. The word Tiwaz itself is attested in the historical record as Teiwaz (written in a North Italic alphabet which probably served as a model for the Elder Futhark) on a helmet found in the former Yugoslavia. Tyr was indeed known in the early part of the Common Era. Roman authors such as Tacitus translated his name as "Mars," their version of the Greek war God Ares (Turville-Petre, p. 181). Although Tyr is indeed a “War God”, he is very different from Ares/Mars. For starters, he is less bloodthirsty. Nevertheless, Tyr is not a particularly “safe” God to invoke. (Sheil, pp. 43-46).
Meanings of this rune in divination include the God Tyr, battle, conquest, victory (a meaning it shares with Sowilo, the previous rune), winning, competition, strategy, weapons, soldiers, war, attack, male leader, fight, and even competitive sports. Magically, Tiwaz is of great use anytime a victory needs to be won. It traditionally marked or engraved at least twice on an object, very frequently a weapon. Check out the poem “Sigrdrífumál” of the Elder Edda. A modern soldier or police officer might want to put the Tiwaz runes on with an erasable marker, then charge them and remove the markings, if the marking of weapons be against regulations. Thurisaz, Elhaz, and Sowilo can also be marked upon aggressive and protective weapons. Tiwaz can be used to control and aim Thurisaz. This is a dangerous combination even for the advanced student. As a rune of weapons, Tiwaz ties in with the element iron, which made the most effective weapons, at least until uranium came along.
Both the Old Icelandic Rune Poem and the Old Norse Rune Rhyme make direct reference to the war God, Tyr in their verses for the rune Tiwaz. The Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, perhaps under Christian influence, identifies Tir (the rune’s name in that language, distinct from Tiw or Tiu, the name of the God) as a star, arguably the North Star.
Tiwaz can teach much about the proper use of force. Unfortunately, some see modern Heathenism as an excuse for gratuitous violence. Certain skinhead elements come readily to mind. Still, ours is not a religion for doormats. While force should be the last, not the first resort, some choose to understand nothing else. A bad childhood does much to explain, but not excuse a life lived outside the law. The ancients hanged their criminals, or outlawed them and let their victims or their victims’ families take care of it. Our legal system, while far from perfect, is better than most and takes that function in today’s society. Life without parole (in the US prison system, anyway) is probably a fate worse than death!
Tiwaz is a Rune of truth. While the God Tyr says little and may choose to remain silent, he never lies! His loss of a hand in the binding of the Fenris Wolf is a good example of this. Tiwaz can clear up difficult and confusing situations. A modern Heathen who once held a job requiring his frequent presence in courts of law sometimes saw Tyr there.
The following correspondences may help you in setting up your own workings with Tyr and Zisa: Their colors seem to be red, gray and black. Iron and steel are, not surprisingly, their metals. Ash, oak and yew are good woods to pick for your ritual tools for Tyr and Zisa work. Animals you may encounter are the horse, dog, eagle, vulture and wolf. Useful stones include jasper, hematite, bloodstone, and tiger’s eye. Weapons of choice are the sword, spear and shield. Their energy is hot, red and it rushes forward. Think of soldiers charging into battle. Tyr often appears as a dark-bearded, grim-faced man, middle-aged or older. He usually has icy-blue eyes, and may wear a red tunic and wolf skin jacket. He not surprisingly favors steel helmets and armor. Note look for his missing hand, which may have a sword attached to the stump. All places of judgment, along with battlefields, military encampments, and fortresses are Tyr’s haunts. The continental German God Saxnot is identified by some with Tyr. Tyr (and Zisa) rule over war, competition, conflict, battle, strategy and tactics, competitive sports, courts, lawmaking, law-enforcement personnel, the military, soldiers (especially ground troops), armaments, truth, wisdom, contracts and agreements, oaths, decisions, determinations, and weapons made of steel. (Sheil, p. 95). Cinnamon is excellent incense for their invocation.
In pathworking, Tyr is a God of few words. This true story told by Thorr Sheil is very illustrative. He once knew a man tormented by undeserved feelings of guilt. When he became a Heathen, he decided to “journey” to see Tyr about it. Try merely looked up at him, fixed him with a steely gaze, said “Not guilty!" and went back to what he was doing. In Tyr’s realm, you may encounter soldiers, and smell hot iron, as in the manufacture of weapons. Handle the rune Tiwaz, and invoke Tyr, the God who gave it its name, with care. Again, Tyr is not a peacemaker. Invoking him may bring out latent aggressive feelings, or make an angrier person more so. However, Tyr can also help you get rid of unwanted feelings of anger. The following personal anecdote illustrates this very well. I’ve only been angry enough to consider committing murder once in my life. The socially manipulative, animal-abusing parasite deserved it and there was even a good chance that I could have covered it up and gotten away with it, by means I won’t discuss here. Nevertheless, I decided that I was not entitled to act as his judge, jury and executioner. I didn’t want to wreak havoc on my personal Wyrd anyway. In any case, the individual in question simply wasn’t worth it.
So, what to do, not with a momentary rage, but a seething anger several years in building? After checking with my good friend and teacher Thorr Sheil, I invoked Tyr. Saying his name two or three times (“Sigrdrífumál stanza 7” and Turville-Petre p. 180) does the trick just fine (more repetitions after that tend to charge you with Tyr-essence, which may or may not be a good idea depending on the situation), and of course Tuesday, that is Tiw’s-day, would be the best day, although I was angry enough not to be able to afford to wait! Now here’s the tricky part. Instead of drawing IN Tyr’s energy as in charging a horn in a Tyr’s Blot, I lumped up all that festering rage and hatred and GAVE it to Tyr, explaining the situation and asking that he relieve me of the energy and use it where it would do some good. I repeated that working several times that day with gradually increasing results. That night before I went to bed, I saw a cockroach in my kitchen. When I killed it with a dishtowel, I brought my right wrist down HARD on the sharp Formica corner of the kitchen counter, right where the wolf bit off Tyr’s hand. I yelped! When the pain subsided enough for me to think, I realized it was a message from Tyr, and that it simply meant, “Message received.” Thus, as you can see, working with Tyr (and his rune) can hurt, even when used correctly, but is a necessary and useful part of our religion.
Oh, as for what ended up happening to the individual whom I mentioned earlier, remember how Tyr and Odin have a sort of polarity relationship? Once I had homicide off my mind and could again think clearly, I gave him to Odin via breadman sacrifice. Within a year, he found out that his real dad was Jewish, left Paganism (he claimed to be a fam-trad Welsh witch), and is now a happy member of the local Reformed Temple. The words I said when I stabbed the image were “Odin, please put X where he can’t hurt anyone else.” He’ll get nowhere with his mind-games and social manipulation in the Jewish community. He’s gay, a convert, flat broke and weird as all get-out. Those factors didn’t destroy his credibility as a leader in the Pagan community, but they sure will in the Jewish community. Tyr and Odin make a great team!
“Tyr keep us, both Tyr and Odin!”
Branston, Brian. The Lost Gods of England. New York: Oxford University Press,
Gundarsson, Kveldulf, ed. Our Troth. n.p.: The (Ring of) Troth, 1993. Most of this
work is available online at http://www.thetroth.org; go to the “Resources” link at
the bottom of the page and click there. A revised and updated edition is in
Preparation and will be published.
-----. Teutonic Religion: Folk Beliefs & Practices of the Northern
Tradition. St. Paul: Llewellyn Press, 1993. n.b.: this book is again in print as an
ebook at http://www.aswynn.runeschool.org/recommended.html for US $12. I
believe that it can also be purchased there as a paper copy for an additional charge.
Sheil, Thorr and Audrey. The Road to Bifrost Volume V: The Mysteries on Bifrost’s
Path. New York: Trollwise Press, 1991.
Turville-Petre, E. O. G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient
Scandinavia. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1964. One of the most
important books in English in the field of Germanic religion.
last modified 05/31/2008