Welcome to Tyr’s Aett, the third and final aett (group of eight) of the Elder Futhark. Tiwaz is the name of this aett’s first rune in reconstructed Common Germanic. Its name became first Teiws in Gothic, then later Tiw or Tiu in Anglo-Saxon and Tyr in Old Norse. Its phonetic value 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. Unfortunately, Roman authors such as Tacitus translated his name as "Mars," their version of the Greek war God Ares, even though Tyr, while sharing this function, is a very different (for starters, less bloodthirsty) God. Please note that I will use “Tiwaz” for the rune and “Tyr” for the God, since this is the most common usage in contemporary Heathendom.
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 Sigdrifumal 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. So, all in all, an article on the rune Tiwaz is also a theological treatise on the God who gave it its name.
Tyr and Odin are have a curious, and somewhat polar relationship. While Odin inspires, Tyr motivates! 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. In some areas, Tyr may have been the chief God. Later, Odin took over that role. As society developed and became more stable, it became evident that Odin’s cunning and wisdom were ultimately greater than Tyr’s martial force. 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.
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.
Still, Tyr is NOT a peacemaker. He goes for what is just and fair, and consequences be damned. Please note that while he is not legalistic or Pharisaic; the law Tyr upholds is what is right, or more accurately, the law of life. 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. 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!
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.
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.
In pathworking, Tyr is a God of few words. 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 commit premeditated murder once in my life. The SOB deserved it and there was even a chance that I could have covered it up and gotten away with it, but I decided that I was not empowered to act as his judge, jury and executioner, and didn’t want to wreak havoc on my personal Wyrd. The dog-beating, manipulative little creep 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 friend Thorr Sheil, I invoked Tyr. Saying his name twice does it 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 the 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 the SOB 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 mindgames 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!”
At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson (for the translations of the Rune Poems).
Our Troth, published by The Troth, Inc. (for the information on Zisa). Out of print but available online via my links page.
The Road to Bifrost vol. III: the Runes and Holy Signs by Thor and Audrey Sheil (my runework is based on their own). They have given their kind blessing to my series of articles on the runes.
Here are some relevant comments by my linguistic consultant, Ingeborg Svea Norden. They are, of course, posted by permission and are entitled "Who is Tyr?"
Dear Nathan Hillman (and the rest of you who get this):
The text below is taken from an article I meant to place on my rune site, but never got around to putting there. Enjoy! (To those who got Part I earlier I sent the second message to Nathan only, as some of the content was too private.)
Although another rune l've already discussed (ansuz) can refer to the gods in general, tiwaz is the first rune named for a *specjfic* god: the one called Tyr in Old Norse and Tiw in Anglo-Saxon. The Eddas describe Tyr as only a minor god of war, and some of the lore surrounding this rune fits that aspect. (One poem alludes to the use of the tiwaz-rune as a charm for victory in battle, for instance.) Still, there is good evidence that he was originally more important than that.
First, Tyr's name is related to a number of god-names (Zeus, Jupiter) and general words for "god" (Greek _theos_ Latin _deus, Sanskrit deva in various cultures. Any deity who gets called "THE god" is typically a sky-father and ruler of his pantheon; the rune poems and religious art seem to imply Tyr had these characteristics as well.
Second, Tyr's connection with justice would be more typical for a ruler than for a minor warrior-type. One of the few surviving stones about him describes Tyr's binding of Fenrir-a monstrous wolf, son of Loki, who threatened the gods. (Wolves conventionally represent chaos, death and destruction in Norse belief; thus it makes very good sense for a god of cosmic order to subdue one.) After the other gods trick Fenrir into being tied with an unbreakable magic fetter, the wolf demands that one of them place a hand in its mouth as a pledge of good faith. Only Tyr is brave enough to do it, although he ends up losing the hand. He thus accepts the consequences of a dishonorable act, no matter how badly the gods needed to saw themselves. The two Scandinavian rune poems allude to this myth, speaking of Tyr as "the one-handed god" and "the leftovers of the wolf.
The Anglo-Saxon rune poem, on the other hand, seems not to allude to 11w as an actual god. It renames the rune with a similar-sounding word tir, "glory") and describes a constellation or star important to sailors: "Tir is a certain sign; it keeps faith well with noblemen over the mists of night; it never fails." Although people have debated which heavenly body the poet meant, the North Star is most likely: it always keeps its place in the night sky and is dependable for navigation. The fact that one poem associates the rune with a star might be taken to support the idea of Tyr as a sky-father. The shape of the rune also suggests a pillar holding up the vault of heaven; and pillars were indeed part of Germanic pagan worship. (Charlemagne is said to have chopped down a great tree that represented the Irminsul, or "great pillar", to the pagan Saxons.)
You were right, Nathan, to point out Tyr's special concern with keeping and upholding the cosmic law-that he acts justly at any price, and is willing to sacrifice part of himself for both the universe's and the other gods' well-being. He ~ a single-minded, transcendent figure; the pillar raised to meet the heavens, and the star shining in a fixed place, show those aspects fairly well. And as I have pointed out before, some older Germanic poetry describes the Biblical God in terms that sound as if he were standing in for a native creator-god with a strong sky aspect. (Yes, Odin also has some sky aspects and plays a major part in creation; however, his personality differs too greatly from the Biblical God. Tyr, however, could easily fit the descriptions in the poems if some tribes DID think of him as the leader of the pantheon once.)
Despite his noble qualities, Tyr still seems too grim and remote to form personal relationships with humans: he is a god to be admired and respected, sometimes imitated, but rarely loved. ft's probably no accident that Heathens associate him with the North Star-which is an immovable source of light and guidance, but is also too distant for humans to feel its warmth.
lngeborg S. Norden
last modified 08/11/2004