Norse mythology is a rich and complex source of stories, symbols, and beliefs that have influenced many aspects of culture and art. One of the most prominent and popular figures in this mythology is the god of war, who is often depicted as a fierce and brave warrior, but also as a wise and just ruler. But who is the Norse god of war, and what is his role in the cosmic order? In this article, we will explore the origins, attributes, and legends of the Norse god of war, and how he relates to other gods and beings in the Norse pantheon.
The Name and Etymology of the Norse God of War
The Norse god of war is known by several names, but the most common and widely used one is Týr. This name stems from the Proto-Germanic word *Tīwaz, meaning “god” or “deity”. According to Wikipedia, this word is also the origin of the names of other Germanic gods, such as Tīw in Old English, Ziu in Old High German, and Teiws in Gothic. The name Týr is also the source of the name of the rune ᛏ, which represents the letter T in the runic alphabet, and the name of the day Tuesday in English and other Germanic languages.
However, some scholars suggest that Týr may not have been the original name of the god, but rather a title or epithet that came to be associated with a specific deity whose original name is now lost. This is because the word *Tīwaz was a generic term for any god or deity, and not a proper name. Therefore, it is possible that the Norse god of war had a different name in the past, but it was replaced or forgotten over time.
The Attributes and Symbols of the Norse God of War
As the god of war, Týr is associated with courage, strength, valor, and victory. He is often depicted as a one-handed warrior, holding a sword or a spear, and wearing a helmet and armor. He is also the patron of heroes and warriors, who invoke his name and seek his protection and favor in battle. According to Greek Mythology, Týr is also the god of law and justice, and he represents the principles of order, honor, and oaths. He is the arbiter of disputes and the enforcer of contracts, and he presides over the thing, the assembly of the free people in Norse society.
One of the most distinctive symbols of Týr is his missing hand, which he sacrificed to the monstrous wolf Fenrir, the son of Loki. According to the myth, the gods wanted to bind Fenrir, who was prophesied to cause havoc and destruction at Ragnarök, the end of the world. However, Fenrir was suspicious of the gods’ intentions, and he refused to let them put a magical chain around his neck, unless one of them would put his hand in his mouth as a pledge of good faith. The only god who was brave enough to do this was Týr, who knew that he would lose his hand, but also that he would save the world from Fenrir’s rampage. Thus, Týr placed his right hand in Fenrir’s mouth, and the gods fastened the chain around the wolf’s neck. When Fenrir realized that he was tricked, he bit off Týr’s hand, but he could not break free from the chain. Týr’s sacrifice was seen as a noble and heroic act, and a sign of his loyalty and devotion to the greater good.
Another symbol of Týr is the constellation of the Great Bear, also known as Ursa Major or the Big Dipper. According to the myth, this constellation represents the shape of Týr’s chariot, which he rides across the sky. The seven stars that form the chariot are also known as the Seven Stars of Týr, and they are used for navigation and orientation by sailors and travelers. The constellation is also linked to the myth of the Aesir-Vanir War, a conflict between two tribes of gods that resulted in a truce and an exchange of hostages. According to the myth, Týr was one of the hostages that the Aesir sent to the Vanir, and he was well received and respected by them. However, he also missed his home and his fellow gods, and he longed to return to Asgard. Therefore, he used his chariot to travel between the two realms, and he became a symbol of peace and harmony between the two factions.
The Legends and Stories of the Norse God of War
Týr appears in several legends and stories in Norse mythology, and he plays a significant role in some of the most important events and episodes. Some of the most famous and notable ones are:
- The Binding of Fenrir: As mentioned above, this is the story of how Týr sacrificed his hand to bind the wolf Fenrir, and how he earned the respect and admiration of the gods and men for his bravery and selflessness.
- The Aesir-Vanir War: This is the story of how the two tribes of gods fought against each other, and how they eventually made peace and exchanged hostages. Týr was one of the hostages that the Aesir sent to the Vanir, and he became a mediator and a diplomat between the two sides.
- The Theft of Thor’s Hammer: This is the story of how the giant Thrym stole Thor’s hammer Mjölnir, and how the gods devised a plan to retrieve it. The plan involved dressing Thor as a bride and sending him to marry Thrym, while Loki disguised himself as a maid and accompanied him. Týr was also part of the plan, and he acted as the best man and the witness of the wedding. When Thor and Loki arrived at Thrym’s hall, they found that the giant had prepared a lavish feast, and he offered them food and drink. However, Thor ate and drank so much that Thrym became suspicious, and he asked Loki why the bride was so hungry and thirsty. Loki replied that the bride had not eaten or drunk anything for eight days, because she was so eager to see Thrym. Thrym was satisfied with this answer, and he decided to lift the veil and kiss the bride. However, when he saw Thor’s eyes, he was terrified, and he asked Loki why the bride had such fierce and angry eyes. Loki replied that the bride had not slept for eight nights, because she was so excited to see Thrym. Thrym was convinced by this answer, and he ordered his sister to bring the hammer and place it on the bride’s lap, as a sign of blessing and consecration. As soon as Thor saw the hammer, he grabbed it and threw off his disguise, and he proceeded to kill Thrym and all his kin. Týr and Loki also revealed their true identities, and they helped Thor escape from the hall and return to Asgard with the hammer.
- The Death of Týr: This is the story of how Týr met his end at Ragnarök, the final battle between the gods and the forces of chaos. According to the prophecy, Týr will face the hound Garmr, the guardian of Hel, the realm of the dead. Garmr is a fearsome and ferocious beast, who is said to be the equal of Fenrir in strength and size. The two will fight each other fiercely, and they will both die from their wounds. Týr’s death will be mourned by the gods and men, who will remember him as a valiant and honorable warrior, and a loyal and faithful friend.
The Legacy and Influence of the Norse God of War
Týr is one of the most influential and revered gods in Norse mythology, and his legacy and influence can be seen in many aspects of culture and art. Some of the examples are:
- The rune ᛏ, which represents the letter T and the name of Týr, is used as a symbol of courage, honor, and justice, and as a talisman for protection and victory.
- The name of the day Tuesday, which derives from Týr’s name, is associated with war, law, and order, and is considered auspicious for starting new ventures and projects.
- The constellation of the Great Bear, which represents Týr’s chariot, is used for navigation and orientation, and as a sign of peace and harmony between different groups and factions.
- The god of war in other mythologies, such as Mars in Roman mythology and Ares in Greek mythology, are often compared and contrasted with Týr, and are sometimes identified with him through the process of interpretatio romana or interpretatio graeca.
- The god of war in modern media and entertainment, such as the video game series God of War, are inspired by and influenced by Týr, and sometimes feature him as a character or a reference.
Týr is the Norse god of war, and one of the most prominent and popular figures in Norse mythology. He is a brave and powerful warrior, but also a wise and just ruler, who embodies the ideals of courage, honor, and loyalty. He is the patron of heroes and warriors, and the arbiter of law and justice. He is also the god of sacrifice and peace, who gave his hand to bind Fenrir, and who mediated between the Aesir and the Vanir. He is a symbol of strength and order, but also of harmony and balance. He is a god of the past and the present, but also of the future, who will fight and die at Ragnarök, but who will also be remembered and honored by the gods and men.