Tag Archives: Germanic Belief

Musings on Tiw and the Skyfather

In Sanskrit we have Dyauspitar, in Latin Jupiter (Iupiter), and in Greek Zeus Pater. These names literally translate as “Skyfather” (dyaus = sky, pitar = father).

The piter element does not appear in relation to the Gothic Tius, the Old English Tiw/Tiu/Tig, the Old High German Ziu/Zio, or the Old Norse Tyr. Nor does it appear in relation to the Baltic Deivas.

While the Greeks often used the name Zeus apart from the piter element, when the name Dyaus appears alone in Sanskrit it is often taken to reference the material heavens/sky rather than the divine being. Similarly, while Zeus stood alone as a deific name, he was not sharply identified with the material sky — which was more sharply identified with his grandfather Uranus, the Titan’s sibling Hyperion, and their own father, Aether — but rather as the “King of Heaven” and those things that reside in it (gods, heroes); and as such, figuratively speaking, as “the Father of the Olympians”, who were in fact his brothers and sisters. Indeed, contrary to his name, the mythic portrayal of Zeus, his deeds and his attributes correspond much more closely to those of Indra — as well as Parjanya, Perun, etc. — including in his ancient associations with the “thunderous bull” (and the labrys), than they do to Dyauspitar, this latter of whom enjoyed only a slight and perhaps even inferred association with the Vedic “red bull whose bellowing is the thunder”, and who himself corresponds more closely to the Greek Uranus, and perhaps the Baltic Deivas.

In the Germanic context, Zeus most closely resembles, not his (near) namesake, Tiw, but rather Thunor (Old Norse – Thor, Old High German – Donar; no known Gothic); who was indeed ultimately (but not initially, ie. Tacitus) identified with the Roman Jupiter and whose image stood between and above that of both Ingui and Woden in the great Viking Age temple at Uppsala in Ingvaeonic Sweden.

Given the weak association of the Baltic Deivas and the Sanskrit Dyauspitar with “thunder”, with storm and weather, and given the evidence of the existence of a P.I.E. “Weather-God” as evidenced in Parjanya, Perun, etc., we might assume that “meteorological phenomenon” were never part of the Skyfather’s original portfolio to (ahem) “begin with”. We might assume that he was more associated with the “dome of heaven” or “upper-heaven”, and its related features, such as the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars and constellations, as a thing distinct from “storm” or “wind”.

Alternately, it might be that all things above the earth and so in the heavens were once the province of the P.I.E. Skyfather, but as man began to name his world, and consequently to refine his understanding of it, that a distinction between “sky-god” and “weather-god” emerged (just prior to the event horizon of our proverbial measuring stick as found in myth and language). Of course, while perhaps reasonable sounding, it is incredibly reaching considering that the P.I.E. Skyfather was already “fading into the background” in our oldest direct attestations, ie. the RgVeda.

Either way we find ourselves with the parallel notions…

That Indra was born from dyaus (the sky).

That Zeus was the grandson of Uranus (“Father Heaven”)

As well as the vague Baltic notions of Dievas as the supreme Godhead and dome of the sky, and Perkons as the visible embodiment of his will.

And we are left with a “point of resistance” regarding the Greek beliefs, where the name that we would expect to be applied to the Skyfather (ie. Zeus) is instead applied to the “Weather-God”. And the Almighty God, which is to say Hercules within the Graeco-Roman context — initially deemed the equivalent of Thunor by Tacitus — is left once removed from an association with weather.

Looking at the eldest sources for Germanic belief, and taking the Roman equations at conventional value, ie. Mars = Tiw, etc. we run into another “point of friction” where the root element of the P.I.E. Skyfather’s name is being applied to a battle-god; who also presides over exceptional punishments (and so exceptional crimes, eg. sacrilege) as carried out by the “tribal state”, eg. flogging, imprisonment, execution (Tacitus), while a Frisii inscription left at Hadrian’s Wall hails a “Mars Thingsus” or “Battle-God of the Legal Assembly”.

Nevertheless, in the 8th or 9th century Old English Rune Poem, the stanza that is associated with the rune otherwise named for Tiw associates him with glory — that is tir the word substituted for his name in the O.E.R.P. — as well as guidance, and the stars in the night sky. While the 10th century runic mnemonic known as the Abecedarium Nordmannicum states “Tiu, Birch, and Man in the middle” which is an obvious cosmological reference (ie. heaven, earth, man in the middle).

Most curiously, in light of all the above, we have the Viking Age poem Hymskvidha, in which we find Tiw and Thunor (a curious duo) teaming up in a journey out to the hall of the etin (titan, nature spirit) Hymir in order to win his massive cauldron; a tale which seems forced together with that of the primal tale of the Thunderer’s struggle with the World Serpent. In any event, contrary to Snorri’s assertion regarding Tiw’s ancestry in the Prose Edda, the more reliable poetry names Hymir as Tiw’s father; which is of course no more “problematic” than the titan Cronos being considered the father of Zeus or Audhumbla the mother of Buri. The name Hymir would seem to go back to a root that means “twilight, dusk“, while his hall is said to stand at “heaven’s edge“, ie. the horizon, and he is noted for his kingly herd of cattle, foremost among which was a great ox (aka. bull) named “Heavenbellower“; this last of which is a metaphor applied to Dyaus (RgVeda Book 5, Hymn 58), Parjanya (RgVeda, Book 5, Hymn 83), and Indra (RgVeda, Book 6, Hymn 44) .

And so, contrary to the oft stated assertion that Tiw, despite his name, has no sky associations, there you have it; sky associations. And even a weak association with thunder for that matter.

However, this does nothing to explain the “point of friction” caused by Tiw’s association with warfare; or at least with Mars who, as we would be wise to remember, nevertheless did have associations beyond warfare. Associations that were equally if not more important to his high status among the Romans than his association with warfare alone. Still, outside of Zeus and Jupiter, the Skyfather has no particular association with warfare within the broader Indo-European context.

The notion of the sky-god being associated with the Thing is on the other hand easily perceived within a Germanic context. The Thing was not just a legal assembly after all, but also a general community assembly in which all manner of public debate and discussion might take place. One of the many roles of the Thing was to set the calendar for the year, and indeed, the word thing is believed to stem from a root that refers to “a stretch of time“; considered to relate to the intervals between meetings of the Thing, which was judged by the new and full moons according to Tacitus. In the Eddic poem Voluspa we read of how the sun, moon, and the stars wandered aimlessly through the heavens until “the gods gathered at council” and brought order to their passage. And so order to time.

As a god of the Thing, whose name and attributes identify him with the heavens (and the general notion of tiv or div-inity, and so “the gods gathered at council”), we see a likeness to the Greek Hyperion, who is remembered as the father of Helios (sun), Selene (moon), and Eos (dawn; cognate to Easter, Ausrine, etc.), of whom Diodorus Siculus wrote (1st century BC),

Of Hyperion we are told that he was the first to understand, by diligent attention and observation, the movement of both the sun and the moon and the other stars, and the seasons as well, in that they are caused by these bodies, and to make these facts known to others; and that for this reason he was called the father of these bodies, since he had begotten, so to speak, the speculation about them and their nature.

The relation between the Thing and warfare is also quite evident, and on a number of levels. Firstly, it was the proven men (Kershaw’s *teuta), the adult warriors, that made up the Thing. And it was at the Thing that adolescent males were recognized as *teuta via the declaration and the awarding of spear and shield; which Tacitus states was the equivalent to the awarding of the toga among the tribes of Germania, which no man came to the assembly without, ie. “they sit down armed”, and which they used to show their support for issues there discussed. Likewise, declarations of war and the mustering of armies were associated with the Thing. And of course, the Thing was the arena for disputes among community members, there to be sorted in lieu of “the primal law” of violent recourse. Indeed, under specific circumstances, even men insistent upon violent recourse were given a more evolved recourse at Thing via the custom of “trial by combat”.

That a god associated with, according to conventional understanding, judging the outcome of war, might also be looked to by the warriors to judge equally dire matters within the context of the Thing requires no great leap in logic. Likewise, that such a god might be centered out as being “no peace-maker” or “incapable of settling disputes” is clearly born out in the short-term, real time functioning of the Thing as most clearly detailed in the Icelandic sagas, ie. among the very people who composed the Eddic references to his nature as being “no peace-maker”. As in war, so in law, where the loser is rarely happy, no matter his will (or those of his friends or family) to abide, which of course was, quite simply, not always the case.

Indeed, formal law takes up where the social fabric of thew has broken down. If thew hadn’t broken down, the situation would get sorted, on a social level, ie. the level of thew, and the case would never be taken to court to begin with. And law, in any day and age, is always a poor substitute for thew. To paraphrase Tacitus, “where good habits exist, strong laws are unnecessary“. A law, the reliance on an outside source to resolve conflict, is the gift “that ever looks for a gain“, and if given the chance tends to feed on thew to grow itself. And “its maw would open even wider still, if there were but more room between heaven and earth“.

That said, we would be simplistic in our thinking about the Thing, as with warfare, to fail to note the various distinctions that exist within its general category, and so to assign exclusive association of it to any one god. As we still see in modern law, the Thing was also an institute that contained lawyers, juries, judges and mediators; with the subtle distinction between judge and mediator being that the (Tiwic) judge doesn’t really care about either party, but rather about their actions in direct relation to the letter of the law, whereas the (Fositic) mediator is more inclined to seek social reconciliation, to reweave thew between the parties rather than judging winner and loser between them.

And Tiw “is the onehanded among the AEsir“, afterall.

Indeed, if one prays to Tiw in relation to legal issues, they better be in the right, technically so, ie. formally correct according to the customs of the court and the letter of the law, with all of their t’s crossed, their i’s dotted, if they are at all hoping for success. Which means one should probably pray to him for such attention to detail rather than for the legal victory itself. And even then, depending on the situation, you should be prepared to pay the wergild no matter the “larger issue”; even as Tiw paid the stipulated fine to the Wulf… and yet appears to be in nowise reconciled with Loki, Father of the Wulf, over the matter thereafter; for all that Loki cannot rebuke him on the point of the binding of the Wulf itself. “I lost my hand, Hrothvitnir thou!”, so eat it bog-scum! How does it taste? Loki – “a lot like the fact that I f–ked your wife must taste to you?”

Legally reconciled. But not socially.

Tiw is most precisely associated with legal judgement within the context of the Thing. And even more precisely with the judgement of exceptional crimes, crimes that undermine the common weal, and equally with exceptional punishments carried out by the “tribal state” in the name of the common weal; with such punishments having a taboo dimension, see the above comments on law and thew, that could potentially rank them as equally exceptional, in their ability to undermine the common trust, as the very crimes they were aimed at punishing. And so such judgements were handed out, as Tacitus relates, not on the command of the warrior-king, but only by the priest-king, and even then only in accordance with the will of “the god of the warrior ethos“.

So, what does warfare have to do with the sky? Well, Tiw is what warfare has to do with the sky. Our own inability to understand the association is entirely irrelevant to the observed fact of the association. But here it would be prudent to look at both Zeus and Jupiter for whatever light they might be able to shed on the matter.

In Hesiod’s work, Zeus is said to have been raised in Crete by an all-nourishing she-goat — reflective of both the primal cow Audhumbla, and even the goats of Thunor — where he was then surrounded by the dancing, stomping, and shouting of the Kouretes, a band of wild youths whose name stems from the P.I.E. root *koryos (see Kershaw) and indicates the initiatory wolf-bands that guided adolescent males into adulthood. While reflections of this cult can be found throughout the Indo-European world, the Germanic no exception, among the Romans the dancing youths were called the Salii and closely associated with the worship of Mars.

Among Zeus’ many epithets we find “Zeus Areius” (Warlike Zeus), but more interestingly Zeus Lykaios (Wolf Zeus), which again links him to the *koryos and the initiatory cult of adolescent males. His role in the cult’s associated myth however is peculiar, and involves Zeus striking down the “House of Lycaon” as a result of human flesh being introduced into a sacral feast, and a curse of lycanthropy, ie “werewolfism”. This is akin to the more typical Greek belief of the relationship between Zeus and Ares as expressed in Zeus’ words towards him in the Illiad,

To me you are the most hateful of all gods who hold Olympus.
Forever quarrelling is dear to your heart, wars and battles.

Jupiter’s connections to warfare are better represented, and reveal little of the Greek contempt for warfare. Beyond his association with the creation of the shields born by Mars’ Salii, this can be found in the history of such dedications to him as Jupiter Victor, Jupiter Invictus, Jupiter Stator, and most interestingly Jupiter Feretrius, where he was associated with Mars in the ritual of spolia opima and the offering of “the spoils of war”; which itself is a more limited form of the custom of mass disposal of the spoils of war, mentioned by Tacitus as associated with both the Germanic Mars (Tiw) and the Germanic Mercury (Woden), and represented in the historical record as early as the Hjortspring find (c.350 BC).

The spolia opima hearkened to the basic Indo-European battle aesthetic of a single combat fought between peers, and the claiming of the defeated’s wargear as tokens of the victor’s personal honour and glory.

As the Old English Rune Poem states, “Tir bith tacna sum“.

Among the Germanic peoples, the single combat was not simply the preferred mode of combat among the *teuta (proven men of the tribe), — which, at least prior to Caesar’s Gallic War, extended its influence into mass combat situations — but was also used by Tacitus’ Germans to divine the outcome of a potential war. And also as an alternative to war as we see in Saxo’s tale of King Offa of the Anglii and his duel against the Myging champions, or in that told by Gregory of Tours of an impending battle between the migrating Alemanni and Vandals, where the Alemanni-King said,

How long shall we allow war to make shambles of entire peoples? I beg of you; do not let the armies of both peoples perish. Instead, let two men meet on the battlefield with their war-gear and let each fight on behalf of his folk. Let that side whose champion wins take possession of the territory without contest.

The spolia opima. Very intriguing. Potentially significant to the topic at hand. But presently just distracting; to be dealt with further “at some future point”.


Now, as the Graeco-Roman sources show, Zeus and Jupiter did have an association with warfare. Relatively strong in regards to Jupiter, and relatively weak in regards to Zeus, but nevertheless visible.

Warfare and glory it would seem can be included in a cluster of ideas, along with heaven and weather, law and order, strength and power, that were closely associated in the Indo-European mind; manifest in different deities, in varying portions, in different times and places, and among the many different cultures and tribes that make up the Indo-European peoples.

Within Tiw, taking the broad Germanic body of lore in, irrespective of time or place, we see clear associations with heaven, warfare and glory, and law and order.

Of particular interest in regards to Tiw is Zeus Lykaios, as the one Eddic myth that we have of Tiw outside of the Hymskidha — and outside of Thunor and Woden, none of the gods have much more space devoted to them in the Eddas, and many don’t even have that much — involves him tending to Loki’s offspring, the Fenriswulf, and ultimately being the pivotal figure in the binding of the Wulf. Which, as with Zeus Lykaios, reveals an association with the adolescent males (*koryos) in training to become men (*teuta), for whom the wolf/dog is universally found as the “totem spirit” throughout the Indo-European world. The ambiguity found in Zeus’ relationship to the *koryos is also apparent within the context of Germanic culture, and specifically in the contrasting perceptions of the wolf within a specifically martial, indeed raiding context, in which wolfish traits are praise worthy and encouraged, and a specifically socio-legal context, in which the wolf was associated with the (second) worst kinds of offenders and offenses, and their most taboo form of punishment, execution, and most specifically death by hanging, which was generally performed on what the Anglo-Saxons referred to as “the wolfheadstree”.

A similar dichotomy can be found in the training of adolescent males among the Spartans.

The myth of Tiw and Fenriswulf can be dated as early as c.500 AD Sweden to a bracteate that depicts a long haired man, holding what appears to be a scale in one hand, while his other sits in the mouth of a wolf. In my opinion, the impetus for the evolution of this peculiar myth, which leaves us with a peculiarly one-handed (ahem) “Skyfather”, dates all the way back to the collapse of the affluent, clockwork Nordic Bronze Age (c.500 BC) and the first appearance of the equally peculiar custom of the mass disposal of the spoils of war (into lakes, bogs; c.350 BC); which, reminiscent of the spolia opima, was a rare custom that, as such, was only observed under very specific conditions; that, like the Fenriswulf myth, likely involved action that might otherwise be immediately self-denounced as dishonourable, if not for the fact that the very survival, not merely of the warrior, or warband, or fyrd — for whom killing and getting killed is both an honour and duty — but rather the survival of the tribe itself became a very real and imminent concern. After all, one’s honour and glory are of little value if the community (bestower, container, and carrier of personal honour and “the name undying”) it existed within ceases to exist.

In such situations, the spoils of war, the very tokens of personal honour and glory, the pursuit of which was the warriors main preoccupation, where thus cast into the bog of shame (where the tribes of Germania sunk the worst kinds of capital offenders), even as Tiw paid the Wulf the stipulated fine for breach of contract, and the warriors were “forced” to be satisfied with the continued existence of their people. And all that implies in terms of personal honour.

Whatever the case, this custom was associated not only with the Germanic Mars (Tiw), but also with the Germanic Mercury (Woden), the latter of whom has very strong associations with hanging and wolves and the *koryos.

From here, as we begin to move from a pan-Germanic context, irrespective of time, and into the lore born and reflective of the (Norse-Icelandic) Scandinavian Viking Age, where we run into more “points of friction” regarding Tiw, Woden and Thunor.

These points of friction are, that in the comparatively well represented North Germanic lore,

Woden appears as the predominant god of warfare, in myth, in history, in legend, while Tiw is barely given a nod in that capacity, and even then, it is a nod that is largely confined to myth. This can in fact be gleaned in the references to a Germanic Mars from the Migration Age forward, where such mention is surrounded by contextual details (eg. human sacrifice, kingship) that seem to betoken, not Tiw, but Woden.

Similarly, it was the image of Thunor that stood in the place of assembly in Viking Age Sweden (Adam of Bremen, History of the Bishops of Hamburg), while over in Iceland it was in the name of Thunor that grievous offenders were ritually executed in a legal context (Eyrbyggja saga).

While it is clear that the Viking Age Scandinavians and their descendants did not simply forget Tiw’s association with warfare, it is equally apparent that neither did they forget his association with the Thing; which is implicit in the very accusation Loki levels at him in terms of bringing peace between men. It is after all, entirely pointless to mock someone, say a biologist, for not excelling in some field that they are not associated with or otherwise KNOWN for, such as astrophysics for instance. And if this only referenced Tiw’s association with warfare the insult falls equally flat.

The insult (along with the entire aspect of legal compensation in the exchange) can only be taken as such, can only have bite, or even be understood, if Tiw did have legal associations and the audience of the poem was aware of those associations; which also speaks towards the fundamental purpose of the Thing over the long term, ie. to maintain the wholeness of the community.

The point being, that there does not appear to be any reason to believe that the Romans, or the Romanized Frisii mercenaries at Hadrian’s Wall — not to be mistaken for King Radbod’s Fosite-worshipping Frisians — were at all wrong in their estimations; even if they were were only rough generalizations, such as are common to comparative studies in which the associations tend to weaken on a point-for-point examination.

And so, we must assume that Woden and Thunor came to supersede Tiw in the respective fields of warfare and law; whether such occurred because one was better at the job than he was, or simply because beliefs about Tiw and his nature had grown beyond such functions, leaving the position vacant, and someone needed to fill them.

With out strong martial or legal associations (that we are aware of), Tiw is thus left with only his “sky” associations.

But even here we run into some difficulties, perhaps best gleaned from language, where the words for the “daylit sky” and the “Skyfather” are either synonymous or closely related, as we see in the Sanskrit and Latin. In the Germanic tongues however, the word *Day* springs from an entirely unrelated root, and is even personified in the Eddas (and possibly the O.E.R.P.).

Indeed, when we take a closer look at Tiw’s name, we see that it stems less from the Dyaus root, to use the Sanskrit, and more from the closely related deva root, and does not yield “sky” precisely, but rather the closely related notion of “god”, or more accurately, on its own terms, “paragon, shining example, glory”.

This certainly matches the word used to substitute his name in the O.E.R.P. (tir = glory). It also matches the most famous of his by-names, the Leavings of the Wolf; the wolf being a metaphor for the ravenous grave, which consumes all, except a man’s good name, a man’s “glory”. It also matches what Snorri stated regarding men of particular courage and wisdom, that such are called tyr-bold and tyr-wise respectively, in honour of the god, which also fits the general application of his name to gods, priests, and heroes (tivar, diar).

This is likely the root of of the reference to him in the Old Icelandic Rune Poem as, “Ruler of the Temple”.

It is also significant that the O.E.R.P. associated Tiw with the sky at night, albeit with the radiance of the night sky, ie. the stars, in specific — reminding one of the Greek association of gods and heroes with the planets and constellations — which fits comfortably with the notion that the name of his father, Hymir, means “twilight, dusk”.

In regards to the above, one might also note the presence of his rune on Anglo-Saxon cremation urns, where it appears more often than any symbol other than the swastika.

And so in Tiw, we do not see so much of a “Skyfather” (to whatever extent that can be found in any of the attested Indo-European pantheons), but rather a Gloryfather.

It is tempting to associate Tiw with the Eddic figure Delling (Shining), said in passing to be “of the race of the AEsir“, who coupled with the swarthy etinwife Night (Nott) to produce Day (Daeg).

In the Old English Rune Poem, Day falls within the aett (family of eight runes) of Tir, and in the stanza associated with his rune Day is said to be “sent by the Drighten” (Leader of the Warband, King, God) and to be the “Metod’s light” (Measurer, Judge, God).

The possible association of Tiw with the kingly and deific title, Drighten, at least prior to the Viking Age, perhaps even prior to the Migration Age, really needs no explanation. Though with the caveat that, much like Mars, the title most likely came to be associated with Woden, both as war-god and predominant god of kingship from the Migration Age forward, but which ultimately hearkens back to the dual rulership of a warrior-king (whose position was based on merit, and ensured by continuing proofs of merit) and a priest-king (or frea/frey), who required a sacral bloodline to even be considered for the position and held the position for life. The Wodenic kingship combined aspects of both of these offices, as something more encompassing than either the office of the drighten or that of the frea, without entirely doing away with the offices of high-priest or warlord.

It is also tempting to associate him with the deific title Metod, foremost in his capacity as judge of war and capital offense, but also in the general nature of the Thing, which was a veritable trove of various measurements … of various sorts of crimes and their legal value, of various sorts of injuries up to and including death, of the worth of various men, of the passage of the months and year.

In Saxo’s Gesta Danorum, he tells of a god named Mitodhinn who once governed the heavens, and assigned to each of the Tivar their own individual drink offering. As we might expect of a Gloryfather.

Such a title also sheds light on the relationship between the Thing of the Tivar in Upper-Heaven, the laws layin by the Great Mothers, and their relation to Wyrd, the Spring of Wyrd, and the World Tree.

There is a fine line between the collective judgement of the Tivar at Thing and the workings of Wyrd, owed mostly to the fact that, contrary to popular heathen thought, the Tivar mastered Wyrd… which is best likened, in sense, to a sailor mastering the ocean rather than anything too rigid and absolute. The un-mastered Wyrd, and the fundamental nature of Wyrd, can be gleaned in the activity in and around Hvergelmir.