Though his origins are difficult to determine, Tyr (pronounced like “tier”) the was a god of Norse mythology who became known best as the Norse god of war. He was one of the primary gods of the Norse and the Viking age, along with the more well known gods Odin and Thor.
Tyr lives on in the modern day once a week. Tuesday is named for Tyr, though it comes through the Germanic word for his name, Tiw. The day started out as Tiw’s Day, and as languages shifted it changed into our modern word Tuesday.
Even though he’s best known as the Norse god of war, Tyr was much more than that. His main function was as the god of law and justice. The reason he’s known more as the god of war is because of the Romans. They connected him to their god of war, Mars. In Roman minds, though, war, law, and justice were all so deeply connected that they saw no reason to separate the ideas. So, when they were listening to stories of Tyr and passing them along to present day, the only name they gave him was the god of war. They thought the connection to law and justice was obvious and didn’t need to be mentioned.
The Norse people had similar ideas. In their mind, war was not chaotic hell. It was a physical disagreement, but it had its rules. Battles were agreed upon ahead of time. The time and place were set by the warring groups ahead of time. There were several different parts to the idea of war, and each had a god connected to it. Thor was a warrior god who represented the physical fighting in war. Odin was a more magical god, he represented the power of the mind and the planning that goes into battle strategy. Tyr, the god of law and justice, stood for the order and the rules of warfare. The courtroom can also be considered a place of war, and Tyr also stands for the legal battles fought against opponents.
Over time, many of the stories about Tyr have been lost. As the Vikings and the Norse were conquered by the Romans and others, parts of their culture were lost, including parts of Tyr’s story.
One story that has survived through the years is the story of Tyr and the supernatural wolf Fenrir. Fenrir was only a wolf pup, but he was strong and growing quickly. The gods were fearful that he would soon be able to kill them all. To keep him from killing them all, they wanted to chain him up. As soon as Fenrir saw the chain, he knew something was wrong. He agreed that the gods could put it around him, but only if a god would put his arm in Fenrir’s mouth as a sign of good faith. All of the gods were afraid, but Tyr stepped up and offered his right arm. He put it into Fenrir’s mouth so that the gods could chain him. Once he was chained, Fenrir realized that he was unable to escape, and so hit bit off Tyr’s arm.
Tyr’s act of sacrifice was also an act of justice. He made an agreement with a dangerous being, and he kept to his word even when it meant the loss of his arm. His sacrifice also lead to the freedom of the other gods. However, his thirst for justice leads him to wait for revenge on Fenrir. There are prophecies that say he will get his revenge at Ragnarok, the Norse version of the Christian Armageddon.