Tag Archives: Odin

Rebuttal: The Role of Tyr (by Mark Puryear)

I came across this article on Tiw (Tyr) recently,

The Role of Tyr

I’ve heard of the man who wrote it. Good people have good things to say about him. And I have due respect for his handling of the subject. Simply, some things are open to debate, and should be debated. And on such matters as these I’d prefer that a person disagree with me for the right reasons rather than agree with me for the wrong reasons.

That said, I disagree with much of what is written, and so was prompted to write this rebuttal.

So, my quotes of the author below are partial text. I encourage you to read the article in order to receive the full context and weight of the author’s argument. And so on to it,

The idea that Tyr was the original sky-father seems to have originated with Jacob Grimm. The flaw in his reasoning is that it is solely based upon etymological conclusions, which do not coincide with any other evidence known to us.

In fact, the Old English Rune Poem clearly establishes a link between Tiw, glory, stars, and the heavens. The sentiments find parallel in the ancient Vedic perception of Dyauspitar as a black horse (the night sky) draped in a necklace of pearls (the stars). It is also echoed in the Greek custom of naming the heavenly bodies, particularly the stars, planets and constellations, after the gods and heroes of their pantheon.

We also have the Abecedarium Nordmannicum and it’s cosmological reference “Tiu (Heaven), Birch (Earth), and Man in the middle”.

And of course we also have the Hymskvidha and it’s abundance of “sky references”; from the name of Tiw’s father, Hymir (dusk, twilight); to the name of Hymir’s best ox (Heavensbellower); to placement of Hymir’s hall at “the edge of heaven” (ie. the horizon).

All of this fits in quite well with the etymology of Tiw’s name, which itself goes back to a Proto-Indo-European that references the heavens and their brilliance.

A better argument against Tiw as Skyfather would focus on the slight distinction that exists between the P.I.E. root that gave us the god-name Tiw and that which gave us such other Indo-European god-names as Dyauspitar (Sanskrit), Sius (Old Persian), Zeus (Greek), and Jupiter (Latin). As I understand it, these P.I.E. roots are “siblings”, themselves both deriving from a deeper, common root, but they are not identical. The root that gave us the god-name Tiw yielded, instead, deva (Sanskrit), daeva (Avestan), deus (Latin), dia (Old Irish, reflective of pan-Celtic), and Dievas (Lithuanian, reflective of pan-Baltic). All of these words mean, to the modern Western understanding, “god”. More precisely, they mean “excellent, shining, glorious, renowned one; paragon”.

Only in the Germanic tongues, and possibly the Baltic tongues, did this precise root develop into the proper name of an individual god.

And interestingly, only in the Germanic tongues did the word for day stem from an entirely unrelated root.

One might thus reason that Tiw is not so much the “Skyfather” of the Germanic peoples, as he is the “Gloryfather”, a refinement of a basic concept, similar in some regards to what we see in the relation between the Greek Aether, Uranus, Hyperion and Zeus.

But where then is the “Germanic Skyfather”?

Some might be inclined to answer that with Woden; though Woden stands up as quite distinct and peculiar when measured against his fellow Indo-European Skyfathers. Others might, with far more justification, say Thunor, but this conclusion comes with it’s own problems which are beyond the scope of this writing. But here, it is interesting to consider the ancient Vedic belief that Indra killed Dyauspitar by pulling him out of the sky.

At the end of the day, while pan-Indo-European research is very enlightening and valuable, there is no shoehorning specific beliefs into a theoretical Proto-Indo-European model. And if Woden’s nature and place in the later pantheon is any indication, this goes double with Germanic belief.

It might very well be that there is no memory of the P.I.E. Skyfather in the Germanic beliefs of some 4,000 years later; that their perceptions had evolved away from that concept. It might be, as we see with his offspring the Divine Twins in relation to the Eddic lore, that he was dissembled, Ymir-like, and his attributes shared throughout the pantheon, living on only implicitly (or in minor form) in the surviving lore, eg. Daeg (Day).

This author continues,

There simply isn’t any proof that points to a major change of religion in Northern Europe between the time of Indo-European unity (before they branches off to become the Teutons, Greeks, Slavs, Mediterraneans and East Indians) and the coming of Christianity.

In fact, the variety and variance found within and between concrete Indo-European cultures (Persian, Greek, Roman, Celtic, etc.) provides us with ample evidence of change/evolution between the time of Indo-European unity and the coming of Christianity. This is why Germanic belief is not Celtic belief is not Slavic belief is not Greek belief is not Hindu belief, etc. It is also why the relationship between these cultures had to be deduced to begin with.

The study of the Indo-Europeans is as much a study of change as it is of continuity.

Within the context of Germanicism we have the end of the Nordic Bronze Age (c.500 BC); which witnessed a fouling of the climate, the breakdown of the trade networks that linked southern Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and the Near East, and of course the highly peculiar “bogging” of highly prized ritual paraphernalia associated with the cult of Sunne and her brothers, the Divine Twins. See Kristian Kristiansen’s and Thomas Larsson’s work “The Rise of Bronze Age Society: Travels, Transmissions, and Transformations“. These acts find parallel in only one instance in all of the lore; the conversion of Iceland and the casting of the idols of the gods into the waterfall that has since become known as “the Waterfall of the Gods”.

And in the wake of these profound changes, in what might by this point be called “Proto-Germanic” culture — where populations continued to burgeon, but both land and trade resources shrank — we have the migrations that would eventually give rise to Germania; spread out over what was once Celtic territory. And also the custom, no less peculiar than the offering of high quality ritual gear, of the mass disposal of the spoils of war.

Why is the “sun cult” so diminished in the Eddas (or the archaeology of the Viking Age) as compared to what we see in the archaeological evidence of the Nordic Bronze Age?

The reason why, once again, is change. Things changed. As per the nature of Wyrd.

The author continues,

It is most likely that Tiwaz, or Tiva was once a name of Odin that was also given to his son.

In line with the basic etymology of the name Tiw, Snorri Sturlusson’s own assertions regarding the usage of the word relate that any god could be called a tyr. The word could be used poetically to refer to some god other than the god named Tyr by affixing some attribute of the intended tyr with the word itself, eg. Hangatyr or God of the Hanged (Odin).

As such, tyr was once a word that could be used of any “god”. Woden included. But when we look out across the vast landscape of the Indo-Europeans, the gods whose names bear some semblance of the name Tiw do not at all resemble Woden.

The belief that Tiw was “most likely” a name of Woden seems almost as reaching as the casual presumption of Tiw’s Eddic ancestry. Certainly, Woden is the father of all the gods in Snorri’s Edda, but in the older poetic material one finds the etin Hymir named as his father.

That being the case, there really is nothing substantive that makes this theory “most likely”. From a more speculative point of view — looking at the issue less as one of Tiw and Woden, and more as one of hero (Tiw) and poet (Woden), or even of tiv/sacral glory (Tiw) and ve/sacral mystery (Woden) — one can see how sound arguments can be made in either direction, representing something of a Germanic yin-yang equation. A riddle that is intended to be entertained, but never solved. An honouring of the mysterium tremendum even as we happily engage in the inevitable product of the et fascinans.

Similar theories have been proposed in the past, that Woden and Tiw are in fact not separate deities at all, but one and the same; which of course runs counter to everything we know from the Norse-Icelandic Eddas to the interpretatio romana and interpretatio germanicum, to Tacitus’ clear delineation of the Germanic Mercury (Woden) from the Germanic Mars (Tiw) in terms of sacrifice, and his placing them side-by-side in his Annals as the two gods at the heart of the aforementioned custom of the mass disposal of the spoils of war.

I can appreciate an argument that Tiw is the son of Woden. Afterall, do we not know what we know of him because he is extolled in language and song? The very gifts of the appropriately named Allfather Himself? But as for one and the same — neither here nor there in the subject of this critique I suppose — that’s just not palatable. Not without more evidence and stronger reasoning anyway.

The author continues,

One of the favored ideas related to Tyr as sky-father is the connection between him and the Irminsul, because it looks like his run, Tiwaz.

The author goes on to refute this connection via his own line of reasoning; which I won’t get into as a result of the fact that I entirely agree with the sentiment that Tiw is not identified with the Irminsul. By my own line of reasoning , the god Irmin is associated with the Irminsul as per Widukind of Corvey. And of course, the Old Norse form of the name Irmin is Jormun, which is itself listed as one of the by-names of Woden in the Prose Edda. Furthermore, Widukind of Corvey also described Irmin, in so many words, as a “Marslike Mercury”. That is, he described him in terms very much befitting what we know of Woden. And finally, even as the Irminones were the predominant people of Tacitus’ Germania, so to does Snorri relate (Prose Edda) that Woden was first known in Germany and only from there made his way up into (Ingvaeonic) Scandinavia.

Now, if people like the bent palm tree image found on the Extersteine relief in Germany and want to use that image as an expression of their beliefs in modern times, no problem. But this image does not match the terms Rudolph of Fulda used to describe the Irminsul, and it is not likely that the actual Saxon Irminsul resembled this. This is not to say that the monk who carved the image did not intend it to represent the Irminsul, which is another argument altogether, only that the Saxon Irminsul did not look like this “palm tree”.

The author continues,

If you really… still think Tyr is the original sky-father and was once the highest god of our pantheon, just consult the lore. Odin is the creator of Midgard and of humans, teacher of runes, the one who grants wishes and gives success in all endeavors. Could there really be a higher duty than these? You can’t usurp the role of creator-god, you either created the earth and our folk or you didn’t. If we had to accept that Tyr once held all of these positions then Odin, who many have named our faith thereafter, would be a fraud and a liar and Tyr a defeated weakling subservient to the god that stole his position.

There is a lot to unpack in this statement. Such as the conflation of the Skyfather with the creation of “Midgard and of humans”. Our lore is certainly clear that Woden (and his two “brothers”) engaged in the killing and dismemberment of Ymir, from whose body parts the world was formed. And yet, from a broader Indo-European perspective, while we certainly find likenesses of Ymir, eg. Atlas, Purusha, we do not see those gods whose name literally translates to and gave us the title Skyfather (Dyaus, Zeus) engaging in it’s death and dismemberment. Such Skyfather gods tend to unite with an “Earthmother” so as to produce the flora and fauna and to populate the heavens with stars. And ultimately, this seems to occur/continue as a collective effort. This is reflected in the Voluspa,

“Then gathered together the gods for counsel, the holy hosts, and held converse; to night and new moon their names they gave, the morning named and mid-day also, forenoon and evening, to order the year.”

The same can be said for the creation of man, ie. is not definitive of the role of Skyfather. In the Greek belief this was the role of Prometheus and only indirectly of Zeus, while more poignantly, in Indic belief the first men came from their namesake Manu rather than Dyaus. And of course, according to the AD 1st century Irminonic beliefs of the tribes of Germania, mankind issued, not from Woden, but from their own divine namesake, Mannus, whose name is of course cognate to that of Manu.

Once again, we find that the achievement of the creation of man is not requisite to the role of Skyfather.

And this is to say nothing of the runes.

The notion of a single creator god simply is not at all apparent in the greater cultural weave of Indo-European beliefs; though once again Germanic belief cannot be shoehorned into a theoretical proto-Indo-European model and as the god of language, I see every reason to be sympathetic to the notion of Woden as “creator-god”, for all that all gods would seem to also engage in the ongoing process of Creation. Nevertheless, that is speculative and not evidence of an ancestral belief.

As for the notion of some god usurping the position of another, and how that would make one a fraud and the other a weakling; this is just coming at the matter from entirely the wrong perspective. This as a result of a very poor use of semantics on behalf of the scholars that first advocated the theory of Woden’s ascension. And also a lack of awareness of the evolution of human knowledge; in which one thing can seem primary for an extended amount of time only for it ultimately to be discovered that it is in fact secondary and itself a mere product of a formerly unknown primary. And so, the theory, the myth, grows to encompass the new awareness, as though it had ever been. Because human ignorance aside, it had ever been. Now, one could call that a “usurpation”, but on that note, this is like calling a king’s successor a usurper, or more appropriately, like calling Konungr a usurper of Jarl’s position, ie. Rigsthula, when in fact he just reached more encompassing heights than his predecessor; such as an Allfather in contrast to a Skyfather. More encompassing, more “irminic” one might even say. There is no weakening required on anyone’s behalf, only an acknowledgement of the stronger or more able, and so a strengthening of the overall whole.

Whether the issue is one of Tiw having been the original Skyfather that gave way to Woden and/or Thunor, or one of Tiw, Woden and Thunor all being the mutual heirs of the functions of the original P.I.E. Skyfather, I see less a Veda-like usurpation involved, ie. Indra and Dyaus, and more of a passing of the torch and an acknowledgement of the better suited. Even as we see in the myth of the war between the AEsir and Vanir, in which the Vanir reduced the walls of Asgard to rubble and ruled the field, and even beheaded one of the hostages sent by the AEsir as part of the truce, but, without any subsequent hostilities, the AEsir still ended up as the ruling powers, the one’s calling the shots.

There is no usurpation. Ultimately, there is only the natural evolution of mortal understanding of the “divine mystery”; a thing our mortal minds are entirely unfit to deduce the ultimate reality of.

As the Havamal states, “the minds of men are small, and not all men are equally wise”.

The author continues,

Tyr is the god of war, period. We know this from the Prose Edda, mainly. As Snorri attests (Gylf.25), the story of his hand lost as a pledge so Fenris could be bound is a testament to his bravery, and that is it. All sorts of guesswork has been used to give him several other duties among the gods based on this story alone, but the passages in Gylfaginning simply relate to us the divine image of what military generals should aspire to: cleverness and bravery.

Certainly, the Romans equated their Mars to our Tiw, and our ancestors accepted and maintained that association. But we know from Tacitus that Woden was also associated with warfare as the recipient of sacrificed battle captives; and directly in conjunction with Tiw in regards to the custom of the mass disposal of the spoils of war, which of course battle captives were a part of. We must assume, given the attribution of Mars to Tiw (and Mercury to Woden) that Tiw was the primary “god of war” among the peoples of Germania at that time. Woden it would seem existed as a secondary figure within the Irminonic cult of warfare. We might imagine the relationship between the two, in the context of war, being one of the *teuta (Tiw) to the *koryos, of glory and martial aesthetics (Tiw) to death and martial necessity (Wod).

According to Kris Kershaw (The One-Eyed God),

Razzias (raiding) was the business of the adolescent boys, who functioned as highly mobile guerrilla bands and at the same time learned hardiness, self-control, stealth and strategy, and other warrior qualities … The *koryos was the band of these warrior-novices. It was a cultic warrior-brotherhood, that is, the youths’ formation was as much religious as it was martial, and the ties that bound them were as strong as blood.


In opposition to the *koryos is the *teuta, “stamm”, the tribe, the totality of the people. And who are “all the people?” Why, the adult males of course! In other words, the *teuta are also warriors, adult warriors

Of course, as we move into the Migration Age, our descriptions of the “Germanic Mars” become increasingly Wodenic (ie. associations with human sacrifice, kingship, etc.), while by the Viking Age, and despite the veritable horde of data we have at our disposal in comparison to earlier centuries, Tiw is virtually absent in the overwhelmingly Wodenic martial lore. There is the Sigdrifumal reference, that counsels one to carve the Tiw rune upon their weapon and call twice upon Tiw for victory, but even here, the physical evidence for such a custom is virtually non-existent or, at best, subject to considerable doubt.

If indeed Tiw was “the god of war, period”, the evidence, such as it is, would seem to leave him all dressed up with no place to go. Little more than a mythic figure. As much an obsolete product of a by-gone era as the P.I.E. Skyfather himself. But the evidence, such as it is, shows us that this is certainly not the case.

While Snorri credited Tiw with both great boldness and great wisdom; and while the story he related, regarding the binding of the Fenriswulf, while it certainly demonstrates boldness, I don’t think you could use it as testimony to any sort of cleverness on Tiw’s behalf. It was afterall the collective gods that came up with the idea to meet deception with deception (ie. Loki, the Father of Lies) and bind Fenris with a magical fetter. And it was the svartalfar that forged that fetter. Both very clever. Nor was it Tiw that spelt out the terms of the contest, ie. that if the Wulf could not break the fetter either the gods would remove it or one of then would pay with a hand. And once the fetter was laid upon the Wulf, and it proved unbreakable, ie. mission accomplished, Tiw, who alone of all the gods stepped up to do what was necessary for the sake of honour, did not display even the simple “cleverness” of pulling his hand out of the maw of the Wulf.


The Gloryfather was not at all concerned with demonstrating any sort of cleverness. Rather, he lost his hand. As per the stipulations of the contract that was drawn up between the gods and the Wulf. He anted up the “wergild”, paid the fine, as per the basic functioning of crime and punishment within the context of the Thing system.

If the myth could be said to reveal any one association of Tiw — and there is a lot to unpack in the Fenriswulf myth — it would be found in the by-name for him that grew out of this myth (or vice versa, ie. that this myth grew out of), the “Leavings of the Wolf”. The meaning of this by-name becomes evident when one understands the association of the wolf with death and the grave in Germanic thought.

And so, to paraphrase the Havamal,

Cattle die, kinsmen die, and the wolf of the grave shall eat it’s fill, but I know one thing that shall endure, the righteous renown of each man dead.

The by-name, as we see reflected in the etymology of the very name Tiw, means nothing other than Glory itself. The Leavings of the Wolf. And as already been noted, Tiw shares his  name with both gods and exceptional men alike. This might gives us some insight as to why he is praised, not only as the Leavings of the Wolf in the Old Icelandic Rune Poem, but also as as the “ruler of the temple”.

To my thinking, whatever the origins of Tiw in ancient times, we see less of a diminution of him in the Eddas and more of an ascension of his own; taking on a likeness similar to what is known of the Baltic Dievas, and best known himself, in the fullness of his glory, when “the gods gather together for counsel” to shine their collective light on existence. He personifies the quality of tiv that is part and parcel with godhood and heroism, even as Woden personifies the quality of ve that is suggestive of mystery and used similarly to tiv in reference to god and the collective gods, ie. Ve (god), Vear (the gods).

The author continues,

There is only one piece of hard evidence I have seen that could possibly link Tyr to the Thing. This is an inscription from the 3rd century C.E. on a votive altar set up by Frisian legionares stationed at Housesteads on Hadrian’s wall (North England). The inscription mentions a god by the name of Mars Thingsus (Deo Marti Thingso). Of course, Mars is typically identified with Tyr, but I believe there is reason to suspect that, in this instance, another deity is intended.

The connection between Tiw and the Thing stands, primarily, on three legs. The first is Tacitus’ reference in Germania in which the doling out of capital punishment (as well as imprisonment or flogging) was pronounced “in accordance to the will of the god they believe accompanies them to the field of battle.” In other words, the “Germanic Mars”; of who the same author if we recall makes a clear and present delineation of in relation to the “Germanic Mercury”.

The second is of course the Frisian votive stones mentioned in the quote above, which links the “Germanic Mars” to the Thing. Also of peripheral interest here is the inscription’s grouping of Mars Thingsus with two female spirits, as there is a recurrence of “twos” in the lore regarding Tiw. We see this is the Hymskvidha, where Thunor and Tiw are paired up in a duo — while the gods generally travel alone or in groups of three — and also in the two attempts Tiw made to lift the cauldron of Hymir. We also see it in the Sigdrifumal and the counsel to call twice on Tiw. More philosophically, we see it in the dualistic, adversarial nature of martial and legal conflicts, as well as in competitions of all forms. 

It is indeed very fair to say that Tiw is both “no peacemaker” and ultimately “the onehanded of the gods”, as there are always two parties to any competition, but only ever one winner.

He is not a peace-maker, but rather an “edge-whetter”.

The third leg that Tiw’s association with the Thing stands on is the name given to dies Martis in German, which alone of the Germanic tongues did not name this day after Tiw, as per the standard interpretation. Rather, it is, for whatever reason, named Dienstag, which is generally interpreted as “Day of the Thing”.

A fourth leg could be added via Tiw’s ancient association with warfare among the Germanic peoples. Particularly his association with the *teuta, the men of which, beyond comprising the body of the army, also comprised the body of the Thing; which is also were they were recognized as men.

All of that said, it is worth pointing out here that, in variance to what Tacitus had to say about capital punishment among the 1st century tribes of Germania, it was upon the “Rock of Thor” that capital offenders had their backs broken in Viking Age Iceland; which, if indicative of a general phenomenon among the Viking Age Norse (which it need not be), could point to Thunor taking over aspects of Tiw’s old portfolio in terms of legal judgement, much as Woden did in terms of war.

The author continues,

There is a deity known among the Frisians who is particularly devoted to law and justice, by the name of Fosite

There is no doubting the role of Fosite in relation to the Thing. All we know of him speaks towards this. He is however no Mars of the Thing. And he has no martial associations other than those we might find among any of the gods, and even among more than a couple of the goddesses.

The author continues,

The idea was that conflicts were ended and peace was restored by the Thing, even if a dispute had to end in battle. The holmgang, or “island-going”, was a form of single-combat that may or may not have ended with the death of the defeated. No matter who won, the case was then settled, with the victor having his way in the proceedings. This use of battle to settle some disputes has been used as a justification for Tyr being considered the god of the Thing. But Tyr is the god of war, not of duels.

This estimation fails to note the Germanic martial aesthetic, the ideal mode of combat, as being precisely that of the duel, engaged in by equals; even where two opposing forces road out to the battle en masse. This ideal continued to be preserved long after it’s practical limitations were shown up — by the martially collectivist Imperial Romans in their conflicts with the martially individualist Celts — in the Viking Age name for the denizens of Woden’s Valhalla; the einherijar or single combatants.

That a martial god was associated with the Thing is demonstrated in the title Mars Thingsus, while Tacitus relates that a martial god was associated with divine judgement in cases involving life and liberty. The implication would seem to be that even as Tiw acted as divine judge of warfare, he also acted, via direct appeal, as divine judge within the Thing (in regards to exceptional cases and their punishments), and perhaps also associated in a more general sense with the institutions fundamentally adversarial nature, and even the general judgements of the Thing in regards to it’s more usual functioning, ie. cases involving fine.

That the judge of warfare, who is also the judge of capital offenders, might also have been considered the judge of judicial combats is of course completely reasonable.

And one need but read through a couple of the Icelandic sagas to know that, not only was there was a poignantly adversarial aspect to Thing disputes, but moreso that the settlement of a case did not always ensure any sort of peace; though peace was of course the overall, long term purpose, not to mention the clear historical achievement, of the Thing-based system of law, crime, and punishment. Call it a “nurturing adversarialism”, the fruits of which might be less evident in the details of any particular case — and of course the sagas only relate to us the most prolific and dramatic of cases and feuds — and more evident in the organic evolution of the community over the long term; as the community works through it’s internal problems, organically, to inevitably come to organic solutions that make for a sincere and lasting peace, and a strengthening of a common identity.

That the spirit of judgement and adversarialism and mediation all exist within the context of law seems to me a moot point. No big surprise. Each play a role in it’s overall function and mission. Likewise the common purpose of both law and war in preserving the peace of the community is fairly evident. These things are not mutually exclusive.

The author continues,

If we were going to label a god as a representative of duels, it would have to be Thor. After all, in the myths Tyr is never known to actively participate in or represent duels, whereas Thor engages in them time and time again, making up the bulk of his adventures.

A fair argument, made much more poignant by the fact of Thunor’s Viking Age Norse-Icelandic association with divine judgement in the context of the Thing. And of course his possible association with legal oaths under the ambiguous by-name “Almighty Asa”.

Nevertheless, as far as our evidence goes, Thunor was never a god that mortal men looked to for victory in martial conflicts of any kind. He was always looked to as a defense against the hostile forces of nature, ie. the thursar and etins. As a result, none of Thunor’s mythic duels took place within the context of the Thing and/or the presence of the collective gods at council, ie. none represent a trial by combat.

Indeed, as far as the evidence goes, the Prose Edda states of the obscure North Germanic god UllR that, “It is also good to call on him in duels”.

This UllR is said to be the step-son of Thunor via his wife Sif and an otherwise unnamed god from a prior union. It is a curious fact that his name, not unlike that of Tiw, means glory.

In the Danish sources, Ollerus (Latinized UllR) was said to have taken Woden’s place while he was in exile.

While there is no mention or indication of Ullr, places name included, outside of Viking Age Scandinvia, the word that forms his name can be founded in such deific titles used by the Anglo-Saxons as wuldorfæder (gloryfather).

Some have speculated that UllR is another name for Tiw. And certainly the association between the two, ie. glory, is clear and evident. Alternately, he might have taken up part of the mantle left by Tiw as he shed his martial (and perhaps his legal) associations of other times and/or places. Perhaps as much Tiw’s son as Thunor’s step-son?

From here the author’s arguments either become fanciful or circle back around to the case of Fosite. An example of the former can be found in the argument,

No other deity better exemplifies this ideal than Balder. It may seem romantic to have the valiant god of war representing the Thing, but consider the possibility of being a defendant in a criminal case brought against you. Would this be a time when you would want to pray to a god of war, or a god of compassion?

One might well reason the same in terms of an invading army (rather than a law suit) being brought against one; in which case a god of compassion could conceivably be, by the same merit, equally preferable. That merit, in either context, presumably being a conviction in one’s own inferiority and inability to adequately defend one’s self. But our ancestors show no signs at all of any such inclination, be it in law or war or any endeavor, to concede victory to another without proofs of superiority, as provided by the best judge of all… competition, adversity, ordeal.

As the Bard said, “Bid them achieve me and then sell my bones.”, itself echoed in the Old English poem the Battle of Maldon centuries prior, “It seems a great shame to let you go to your ships with our treasures unfought — now you have come thus far into our country. You must not get our gold so softly. Points and edges must reconcile us first, a grim war-playing, before we give you any tribute.”

And truly, would you want compassion, beyond that implicit in the very nature and functioning of the Thing (ie. alternative to feud, predominantly fine oriented) shown to a man proven to have stolen or otherwise damaged your property or person or people? Should they pay less than the law stipulates you are owed? As a matter of mercy or compassion? Should you leave yourself impotent and reliant upon nothing more than “mercy” in the case of false accusations brought against you? Should we have compassion for the slanderous? Is that really the god you want to pray to? Or do you want to pray to a god that inspires you to rise to the righteous defense of you and yours, no matter the personal costs, able and confident that when the harsh fires of ordeal subside, only the truth shall remain? A god who yields, perhaps not the “compassionate” judgement, but rather the RIGHT judgement, in which you get your due, even in the most unclear and precarious of situations, as we see in Tiw’s righteous dealings in the dispute that existed between the AEsir and the Fenriswulf?

By the Tiwic ideal, rooted as it is in warfare, the very act of bringing a matter before the community, before the Thing, even if only to invoke the trial by combat, was an act of mercy and compassion in one regard or another.

The mediation of Fosite was always a remedy available to those involved in disputes, be it socially prior to filing suit or legally after filing suit, but such mediators played a largely reactive role and had no right to impose itself on men. One need but look to the official conversion of Iceland, where a mediator was chosen to decide the matter out of fear that the dispute would tear the country apart.

Tiw and Irmin: Mistaken Identity

There is a wide-spread theory that has been around … for a long time now — at least since I first started to seriously research native Germanic belief back in the early 90’s — that links Tacitus’ Irmin to the better known Germanic god Tiw (Old Norse – TyR). As I was strongly drawn to Tiw in my early years, I was initially as hungry as a wolf for whatever lore I could muster on him; Irmin, Seaxneat, the Suebian “God and Ruler of All” … you name it, I was an eager-beaver when it came to anything that could be even remotely connected to him. No matter if it be by actual evidence or mere authoritative suggestion. Of course, as the information continued to flow in I constantly went back to reevaluate various pet notions that ultimately gave sincerity the upper hand over zeal, and led to a reevaluation of my opinion on the matter.

In the end I had to conclude that it was, at best, unlikely that Irmin was one of Tiw’s by-names. Why, you ask?

Well, for one, the Norse-Icelandic Eddas make a concrete connection between Irmin and the god Woden; ranking the former’s Old Norse cognate, ie. Jormun, among the latter’s many, many by-names.

Disputing this, people will often cite the theoretical ascension of the cult of Woden and it’s absorption of various elements of the cult of Tiw. And while I do happen to agree with the gist of this theory, I really don’t like to reach when a more viable answer is right at hand. I certainly don’t mind well-founded theories, but when one starts formulating theories based on theories, and offering it up as ancestral belief, I begin to get a little shy.

Getting back to the actual evidence left to us by the ancestors, we have the 10th century writings of the Old Saxon monk Widukind of Corvey, who references the Saxon Irminsul and states that it was erected in honour of Hermes, whom the Saxons call Hermin, ie. Irmin,  but whom they worship as Mars. Now, it was Woden who was equated with the Roman Mercury, who was in turn equated with the Greek Hermes. Mars on the otherhand was the customary gloss for Tiw, but we do know that as early as the 1st century AD the Germanic Mercury, ie. Woden, was being worshiped alongside the Germanic Mars, ie. Tiw, in the “cult of war”, and so must even then have had a clear martial association. Indeed, from the Migration Age forward we can plainly see that it is Woden who dominates the lore of warfare, the “port of Mars”; with Tiw’s continued association with war being limited to a mere mythic reference or two, but never actually seen or heard of in history, legend or the archaeological record. It seems to me that Widukind’s “befuddlement” of Hermes and Mars in regards to Irmin strongly suggested an association with the “Marslike Mercury” of the Germanic peoples. Namely, the Marslike Mercury that is the god Woden.

One might also observe that, as one of the noble sons of Mannus, Irmin was — like his elder brother Ingui and the Ingvaeones — a patron of the Irminonic mega-tribal-grouping of the Folk. As such, both sons of Mannus were most likely gods/progenitors of sacral leadership. This latter point is clearly “reflected” in, ie. spun out of, the clear association of their Migration and Viking Age “counter-parts” with kingship; Yngvi-FreyR and his association with the Bernician line of Anglo-Saxon England, the Danes, and the Ynglings of Sweden and Odhinn with … virtually every other kingly house in NW Europe. In contrast, Tiw himself has no direct association with kingship or the founding of kingly lines.

Finally, it is also worth a mention in passing that the Irminonic tribes occupied the interior of Germany, in relation to the seashore dwelling Ingvaeones of southern Scandinavia. According to Snorri Sturlusson, in his preface of the Prose Edda, Woden came first to Germany, and there founded lines of kings before moving up into the Northlands and his meeting with the Yngling-King, Gylfi of Ingvaeonic Sweden; which might well be a mythologization of the evolution of the cult of Woden among the tribes of Germania and the spread of these revised, Roman influenced and Woden centered beliefs, back up into the cradle of Germanicism.