Today is the first day of the fortnight (February 27 – March 13) governed by the rune Tyr, alternatively known as Tiwaz.
Its arrow-like form represents the quality of steady, reliable, positive, and purposeful regulation. It is associated with the deity Tyr (or Tiw), the sky god, the god of law and justice, and the ruler of the Thing (the ancient German assembly). Tyr is associated with the Northern Star Polaris (around which the fixed stars in the night sky appear to rotate). Ancient seamen used Polaris as their main navigational aid in their long journeys, and the symbol of an arrow pointing upward is perhaps made in reference to this.
The rune is also associated with Yggdrasil, an immense ash tree that is central to Nordic cosmology, the mythic axis mundi of the Germans (a world column which terminates at the northern pole star and around which the earth revolves). The gods were believed go to Yggdrasil daily to assemble at their Thing. It is said that Tyr guided the Thing to conform to the law and justice—the world order. The rune Tyr and Yggdrasil were merged in the Irminsul, pictured here as a silver pin from my collection. The T-like “wings” of the Irminsul suggest the vault of the heavens.
The rune teaches one that to achieve the greatest effect, we must concentrate our energies and resources in time and space. This is the essence of strategy and Tyr is thus known as the rune of victory.
To fully understand the rune Tyr, it is important to consider it in relation to its opposite, Rad, on the Runic Compass. Tyr and Rad in combination suggest something akin to Karma (looking backwards) and Dharma (looking forwards). The wisdom of Tyr urges focused purpose and progression through time into the future. (“It is always on its way,” as the Old English Rune Poem says.) I think of Tyr as representing the arrow of time.
Because of the rune’s association with the god Tyr, the concept of self-sacrifice is an important aspect of its lesson and ideal. Tyr is a one-handed god with a long history, and his hand was sacrificed to trick the wolf, Fenris, into being chained.
As the story is told in the Prose Edda, Fenris was one of Loki’s children by a giantess. From the time Fenris was a pup, the gods kept Fenris with them in Asgard and Tyr was the only god with the courage to feed and care for the wolf. However, as Fenris kept eating and growing, it became clear to the gods that Fenris might become so large and powerful that he would become a mortal threat to them all and might even threaten the stability of the world.
Not wanting to kill the son of one of their own, the gods tried various methods of binding and restraining the wolf, but Fenris broke free from every means of tether attempted.
Finally, the gods got the dwarfs to craft a thread-like binding made from six impossible things including the sound of a cat’s footfall, a mountain’s roots, a fish’s breath. When this binding was completed, they called Fenris to try it on him. The gods assured Fenris that he would be able to break free of this thread as easily as all the other bindings, but this time Fenris suspected their deceit. He refused to be bound unless one of the gods would place his hand in the wolf’s jaws as assurance. The only god who dared to do so was Tyr. When the dwarfs’ binding proved unbreakable and he realized he’d been tricked, Fenris snapped off Tyr’s hand at the wrist.
Tyr allowed Fenris to bite off his right hand in order to bind the wolf’s chaotic force and thus physically and spiritually saved his fellow gods and the world from destruction. Tyr thus proved he was courageous, fearless, the master tactician, and a consummate diplomat.
The story, and the rune itself, teach us that we must be prepared to accept self-sacrifice if we are to succeed in a role of leadership and service.
Groove of the Day
32° Cloudy and Windy