A One-Handed God

The handout for our January 2015 meeting.

A One-Handed God

Probably from *Tiwaz (god), similar to PIE *deiwos, Old Irish dia, Latin dei, Sanskrit/Old Indian deva (Simek, 1993).  Simek relates this to Zeus and Jupiter as well as noting that in Old Norse tivar means “gods.”  Partially as a result of this etymology, Simek, Lindow, Dumezil, and others speculate that Tyr was at one time the sovereign and chief ruler of the gods, a sky father.

Most place-names with a Tyr-element are found in Denmark, usually with suffixes like “ved” (wood) and “lund” (grove) (Smith, 2011).  According to Smith, Tyr is the second-most common god name to be compounded to form place names; the most common is Thor.  He finds only one definite place-name in Norway (Tysnes, “Tyr’s headland”) and none in Sweden, which he suggests indicates Tyr was not a prominent figure in those areas, a notion echoed by Belier (1991).  Some speculative place names in Sweden include Tista, which may mean “Tyr’s place,” Tisby, “Tyr’s settlement,” and Tisjon, “Tyr’s lake” (Smith, 2011).

Most translators and editors make Tyr the individual who suggests to Thor that they get Hymir’s cauldron for Ægir and accompanies Thor to Hymir’s home.  In the poem, Thor’s companion is given Hymir as a father, a nine-hundred-headed giantess as a grandmother, and a fair, bright-browed woman dressed in gold as a mother.  After they gain the cauldron, Thor’s companion is unable to lift it, and Thor must carry it.  Orchard (2011) prefers to translate “Tyr” as a generic heiti for one of the powers and suggests the poet intended Loki to journey with Thor.

After Loki taunts Njorð’s pride in Freyr, Tyr responds in defense of Freyr. Loki responds by saying Tyr cannot “bring about a fair, satisfactory situation between two sides in a dispute” (Dronke, 1997, p. 365).  Loki adds that Tyr lost a hand to Fenrir, to which Tyr replies that losing a hand meant that the wolf lost his freedom and Loki lost a son.  Dronke believes that Loki’s response (that Tyr’s wife had a son by Loki, and that Tyr received no compensation for this) is likely invented by Loki.  Some modern Heathens, seeking a female consort or aspect to Tyr in the word Zisa, believe Loki may be referencing an obscure goddess figure of whom we know very little (Gundarsson et al., 2006).

Sigrdrifa advises Sigurð to carve victory runes on his weapons and twice call on Tyr.

Prose Edda:
In Gylfaginning, Tyr is described as “the bravest and most valiant,” having “great power over victory in battles,” and so brave and clever that men possessing great courage or wisdom are often compared to him (Snorri, 1987, p. 24).  The binding of Fenrir described in Gylfaginning twice; the second version is the longer of the two.  Tyr’s battle with Garm during the Ragnarok is also briefly mentioned in Gylfaginning.

In Skaldskaparmal, Bragi explains that Tyr’s name can be used in kennings and heiti for any of the other gods, such as calling Oðin Hangatyr or Cargo-Tyr, or when referring to kings and earls.

Rune Poems:

Anglo-Saxon Plowright (2006) Translation
Tir biþ tacna sum, healdeð trywa wel wiþ æþelingas; a biþ on færylde ofer nihta genipu, næfre swiceþ.  Tir is a particular token; it holds trust well with noble folk; it is ever on a journey over nights’ mists; it never deceives.
Týr er æinendr ása;
opt værðr smiðr blása.
Tyr is a one-handed god;
oft will a smith be blowing.
Týr er einhendr áss
ok ulfs leifar
ok hofa hilmir.
Mars tiggi.
Tyr is a one-handed god
and wolf’s leftovers
and the temple’s chief.
Mars “director”


A picture of the Irminsul

In the first volume of Our Troth, a tentative connection is made between Tyr and the Irminsul.  This connection appears to be based on scholarship from the late 1800s and early 1900s comparing the Irminsul to “Jupiter columns” found throughout Roman Germania which depict a “Jupiter-figure who is riding away over a snake-like giant” (Simek, 1993, p. 181).  Simek believes that the Jupiter columns were “cult monuments of the Gallo-Roman inhabitants,” and thus the god portrayed on the columns “should therefore be sought in Celtic and not in Germanic mythology” (p. 182).

Mars/War God:
Because of the interpretario Romana of Tyr as Mars (Tuesday = dies Martis, for example) and because of Snorri’s description of Tyr in the Prose Edda, individuals such as de Vries, Dumezil, Lindow, Simek, Macculloch and others have consistently interpreted Tyr as a martial god, among other functions.

In Dumezil’s theory of Oðin and Ullr/Tyr/Mithothyn as opposing sovereigns (as cited in Belier, 1991), Ullr and Tyr are the gods of the oath, the sovereigns with some magical/priestly function who uphold honor and the law and help reestablish the rule of law in difficult times.  Oðin is the priestly magician with some sovereign and warrior function who opposes Ullr/Tyr; his questionable uses of magic and lack of scruples help bring about the decline of society.  Dumezil identifies Mithothyn, the figure who takes Oðin’s place at one point in the Gesta Danorum, with Tyr based on “mjotuðinn” meaning “judge/leader.”

In the Old Saxon Baptismal Vow, Saxnot is a god who must be renounced during baptism along with Woden and Thunaer. Jacob Grimm (as cited in Davidson, 1964) was perhaps the first to identify Saxnot as Tyr, arguing that sax (knife) + not (companion) created a name “sword companion,” which he saw as a fitting name for Tyr. Later scholars such as de Vries and Davidson agree with Grimm, while Simek is inclined to identify Saxnot as Freyr.

Sovereign God:
Based primarily on the etymology of his name, a number of scholars, including Davidson, Lindow, and Dumezil, have speculated that Tyr was originally the chief god of the Germanic pantheon who was later supplanted by Oðin. Davidson (1964) goes so far as to identify Tyr with the Deus Regnator Omnium worshiped by the Semnones as described by Tacitus in the Germania, saying that the binding of the god’s worshipers in the Germania fits well with the binding of Fenrir.

Thing/Justice God:
An inscription to Mars Thingsus can be found on an altar at Vercovicium (Roman fort in Northumberland).  Above the altar was a relief showing an armed warrior bearing a shield and spear with a bird at his right side (Saussaye, 1902).  According to Simek (1993), this altar was set up by Frisian legionnaires serving Rome at Hadrian’s Wall.  While individuals such as Saussaye (1902) and Dumezil (as cited in Belier, 1991) firmly identify the figure as Tyr conflated with Mars, Simek (1993) is unsure whether Thingsus should be understood as an epithet for Mars/Tiwaz or if Thingsus should be understood as a separate god of law.

de Vries (as cited in Belier, 1991) identified Tyr as a god of justice in 1956, arguing for a conflation of law and war in a Germanic point of view. Dumezil notes the Frisian Mars Thingsus, Tisland in Zealand as a place of assembly, Tuesday is Dinegesdach in Middle Low German and Dinsdag in Dutch. Working off of Jan de Vries’s conflation and Tacitus’s description of spear-shaking as a sign of approval, Dumezil argues that the thing is a place of ordered conflict. After presenting a version of the binding of Fenrir, Dumezil describes Tyr as “god of the thing” (p.45). He further writes “it is the loss of his right hand, in a fraudulent procedure of guarantee, as a pledge, which qualifies Tyr as the ‘god of law’” (p.45).

Trollhättan bracteate:
A bracteate found in southwestern Sweden is sometimes interpreted as showing Tyr with his hand in Fenrir’s mouth (Gundarsson, 2006; Nordgren, 2004). Nordgren interprets the circles above each of the figure’s arms as celestial objects, symbolizing Tyr’s status as a sky god and the object in the right hand as a scale symbolizing Tyr’s status as a justice god. Our Troth (2006) interprets the figure as feminine, wearing a skirt and a female hairstyle, and suggests the bracteate may show Zisa.



Belier, W. W, (1991). Decayed gods: Origin and development of George Dumezil’s Ideologie Tripartite. Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill.

Davidson, H.R.E. (1964). Gods and myths of Northern Europe. London, England: Penguin.

Dronke, U. (Ed., Trans.). (1997).  The Poetic Edda: Volume II: Mythological poems, edited with translation, introduction, and commentary by Ursula Dronke. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Dumezil, G. (1973). Gods of the ancient Northmen. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Gundarsson, K. et al.  (2006). Our Troth 2nd Edition Volume 1: History and lore. North Charleston, SC: BookSurge.

Lindow, J. (2001). Norse mythology: A guide to the gods, heroes, rituals, and beliefs. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Macculloch, J.A. (1930). Eddic mythology. Boston, MA: Archaeological Institute of America.

Nordgren, I. (2004). The well spring of the Goths: about the Gothic peoples in the Nordic countries and on the continent. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

Orchard, A. (Ed., Trans.). (2011). The Elder Edda: A book of Viking lore. London, England: Penguin Classics.

Plowright, S. (2006). The rune primer: A down-to-Earth guide to the runes. Lexington, KY: Rune-Net.

Saussaye, P.D. (1902). The religion of the Teutons. Translated by Bert J. Vos. Boston, MA: Ginn and Company.

Simek, R. (1993). Dictionary of northern mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer.

Smith, E. (2011). Pagan and supranormal elements in Scandinavian place-names. Retrieved from http://germanic.eu/heathenplace1.htm

Snorri Sturluson. (1987). Edda. Translated and edited by Anthony Faulkes.  London,England: Everyman.

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