Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wargod

What civilisation would have a one-handed god of war? The answer, of course, is the Norse.

I've always wondered about that symbolism: the Norse god Tiw, for whom Tuesday is named, is said to have surrendered his right hand to the Fenris-wolf as a pledge of good faith (which his pantheon immediately broke). The wolf bit down, the god lost his hand, but the great chain of being that would hold Fenris till the end of the age was in place.

The lesson to me, the one I think about on most Tuesdays, or Tiw's days, is that sometimes war can be seen as a needful sacrifice. A war that does not help to keep chaos at bay is a worse war than one which does, although all war has an intrinsically serious moral burden.

In Tiw's case, the loss of his master hand in Norse society would have disqualified him from leadership; indeed, it should have disqualified him from godhood. And yet... there he stands, with a silver hand, much like his Celtic counterpart Nuada.

Tiw, also known as Tyr, faded early from Norse myth. He was seen as the organised face of war, much as Athena was in comparison to Ares. Wise and self-sacrificing, Tyr apparently had little place in later Norse myth. His name is absent from the Eddaic poetry about Ragnarok, the last battle of the world.

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