Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Cult of Tiw

Woden is of course the All-Father, regarded as the highest of the Gods of the North. However this was not always the case. The position of All-Father was originally occupied by the apparently more ancient Tyr,Tig, Tiw or Ziu who we still recognise today in the 3rd day of the week, Tuesday. Tyr/Tig/Tiw/Ziu can indeed be directly traced back via the Proto-Germanic *Tiwaz to the Indo-European *Dyeus[meaning celestial being, God] indicating a very ancient origin. He was the original sky father, the lord of the heavens. At some point during the Voelkerwanderungenzeit[the age of the migrations of peoples] Tiw lost his preeminent position and gave way to the emerging Woden/Wodan/Wotan/Odin as Germanic society through necessity became more militaristic and aristocratic. However Tiw maintained His role as a God of battles alongside Woden and warriors would frequently scratch His rune, Tiwaz onto their swords to help give them victory in battle. Tacitus in his Germania equated Tiw with the Roman God of war Mars.
Tyr is the one-handed among the Aesir; the smith has to blow often.[Old Norwegian Rune Poem]
Tyr is the one-handed god and the leavings of the wolf and the ruler of the temple.[Old Icelandic Rune Poem].
In addition to being a God of battle He also presided over the Thing, the Germanic assembly, although Thunor/Thor/Donar eventually took over this function. This function is reflected in the Dutch and German names for Tuesday: dinxendach, dingsdag[Middle Dutch] and Dienstag[German]. Rudolf Simek in his Dictionary of Northern Mythology speculates that an alternative name for *Tiwaz was *Thingsaz, ie `Thing-god`. Other names for Tuesday include Tiwesdaeg[Old English, Tysdagr[Old Norse], tiesdi[Frisian], ziostag[Old High German], ziestac[Middle High German] and zistac[Allemanic]. He was thus a God who settled disputes and presided over justice.

The loss of His hand to the Fenris wolf also signifies that He is a God of self-sacrifice[for the greater good of His folk]. There is also evidence that He had some connection with the afterlife as the Tiwaz rune was frequently inscribed upon cremation urns during the Anglo-Saxon period. According to Jacob Grimm[Teutonic Mythology] Tiw may have had a consort, Zisa, the Goddess associated with the city of Augsburg.

 There are a number of myths associated with Tiw in the Eddas, namely the taming of the Fenris wolf, the journey to obtain Hymir`s cauldron and the final battle between Tiw and Garm. The Eddas refer to Tiw as a `son of Odin` but this is not necessarily meant in a literal sense for all the subordinate Gods were regarded as Odin`s sons. Also with the eclipse of Tiw by Woden it would have been a standard practice to relegate the ancient All-Father to being Woden`s son and thus to be seen as subordinate to Him.

According to Simek there is place name evidence for a cult of Tyr in Denmark[Tislund] and in Norway[Tysneso and Tysnes]. Place-name evidence for Tiw in England include Dewsbury[Tiw`s Burg], Tuesley[Tiw`s clearing] and Tysoe[hill of the god Tiw]. He is also represented in Sweden-Tivden and the South Tyrol[Tyr-Odal]. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but for illustration purposes only.

Tyr also features in many male Icelandic personal names such as Angantyr, Bryntyr, Hjalmtyr etc. This does not necessarily prove that there was a cult of Tyr in Iceland as the term Tyr also is a generic word for a pre-xtian God, eg Hangatyr-Odin, God of the Hanged. However it does give more force to the argument that Tyr was the original All-Father if His name is a generic term for `God`.

The relative silence regarding Tyr in the Eddas could also be interpreted as illustrative of the mysterious and transcendental nature of the God. I often get this impression when I meditate on the Tiwaz rune. This rune is not only the symbol of Tiw but also it stands for the polar Hyperborean concept. It is the pole star. This is reflected well in the Old English Rune Poem:  

Tir is a token, it keeps troth well with noble-men always on its course over the mists of night, it never fails. 

In Celtic mythology Tiw is represented by the Irish God Nuada and the Welsh Nudd. Nuada was the original chief God of the Tuatha De Danann until He lost His hand in battle. This blemish and imperfection caused Him to lose office to Bres. He was then fitted with a silver arm and became known as Nuada Airgetlam[Nuada of the silver arm]. Later He was fitted with one of flesh and then was able to recover His lost position. This story may in part account for the reason behind Tiw`s loss of position to Woden and may originate in an old Indo-European myth, preserved in the mythologies of the Celtic and Germanic peoples. A sword pendant may be worn as an amulet alongside a Thor`s Hammer or a spear of Woden.

 *Translation of the Rune Poems are taken from Edred Thorsson`s Rune-Song.

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