107 - Norse Myths 07 - The Sword of Tyr

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In this, the seventh Norse Myth of ten, the mighty sword of the Viking God Tyr grants victory and death in equal measure across great empires...

Tyr’s Sword Carves Destiny and Victory.

Tyr, Tiu, or Ziu was the son of Odin, and, according to different storytellers, his mother was Frigga, queen of the gods, or a beautiful giantess whose name is unknown, but who was a personification of the raging sea. He is the god of martial honour, and one of the twelve principal deities of Asgard. Although he appears to have had no special dwelling there, he was always welcome to Vingolf or Valhalla, and occupied one of the twelve thrones in the great council hall of Glads-heim.

Tyr, whose name was synonymous with bravery and wisdom, was also considered by the ancient Northern folk to have the white-armed Valkyrs, Odin’s attendants, at his command, and they thought that he it was who designated the warriors whom they should be transferred to Valhalla to aid the gods on the last day, the end of the world, Ragnarök.

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As the God of courage and of war, Tyr was frequently invoked by the various nations of the North, who cried to him, as well as to Odin, to obtain victory. That he ranked next to Odin and Thor is proved by his name, Tiu, having been given to one of the days of the week, Tiu’s day, which in modern English has become Tuesday. Under the name of Ziu, Tyr was the principal divinity of the Suabians in the first century region of the Upper Rhine and Danube, who originally called their capital, the modern Augsburg in Bavaria, Ziusburg. These people, venerating the god as they did, worshipped him under the emblem of a sword, his distinctive attribute, and in his honour held great sword dances, where various figures were performed. Sometimes the participants forming two long lines, crossed their swords, point upward, and challenged the boldest among their number to take a flying leap over them. At other times the warriors joined their sword points closely together in the shape of a rose or wheel, and when this figure was complete invited their chief to stand on the navel thus formed of flat, shining steel blades, and then they bore him upon it through the camp in triumph. The sword point was further considered so sacred that it became customary to register oaths upon it.

A distinctive feature of the worship of this god among the Franks and some other Northern nations was that the priests called Druids or Godi offered up human sacrifices upon his altars, these sacrifices were made upon rude stone altars called dolmens, which can still be seen in Northern Europe and parts of the British Isle. As Tyr was considered the patron god of the sword, it was deemed indispensable to engrave the sign or rune representing him upon the blade of every sword—an observance of which was said to be essential to those who were destined to be victorious.

Tyr was identical with the Saxon god Saxnot (from sax, a sword), and with Er, Heru, or Cheru, the chief divinity of the Cheruski one of the early Germanic tribes, who also considered him to be a god of the sun, and deemed his shining sword blade an emblem of its rays.

According to an ancient legend, Cheru’s sword, which had been fashioned by the same dwarfs, sons of Ivald, who had also made Odin’s spear, was held sacred by his people, to whose care he had entrusted it, declaring that those who possessed it were sure to have the victory over their foes. But although carefully guarded in the temple, where it was hung so that it reflected the first beams of the morning sun, it suddenly and mysteriously disappeared one night. A Vala, druidess, or prophetess, consulted by the priests, revealed that the Norns had decreed that whoever wielded it would conquer the world and come to his death by it; but in spite of all entreaties she refused to tell who had taken it or where it might be found. Some time after this, a tall and dignified stranger came to Cologne, where Vitellius, the Roman prefect, was feasting, and called him away from his beloved dainties. In the presence of the Roman soldiery he gave him the sword, telling him it would bring him glory and renown, and finally hailed him as emperor. The cry was taken up by the assembled legions, and Vitellius, without making any personal effort to secure the honour, found himself elected Emperor of Rome.

The new ruler, however, was so absorbed in indulging his taste for food and drink that he paid but little heed to the divine weapon. One day while leisurely making his way towards Rome he carelessly left it hanging in the antechamber to his pavilion. A German soldier seized this opportunity to substitute in its stead his own rusty blade, and the besotted emperor did not notice the exchange. When he arrived at Rome, he learned that the Eastern legions had named Vespasian emperor, and that he was even then on his way home to claim the throne.

Searching for the sacred weapon to defend his rights, Vitellius now discovered the theft, and, overcome by superstitious fears, did not even attempt to fight. He crawled away into a dark corner of his palace, whence he was ignominiously dragged by the enraged populace to the foot of the Capitoline Hill. There the prophecy was duly fulfilled, for the German soldier, who had joined the opposite faction, coming along at that moment, cut off Vitellius’ head with the sacred sword.

The German soldier now changed from one legion to another, and travelled over many lands; but wherever he and his sword were found, victory was assured. After winning great honour and distinction, this man, having grown old, retired from active service to the banks of the Danube, where he secretly buried his treasured weapon, building his hut over its resting-place to guard it as long as he might live. When he lay on his deathbed he was implored to reveal where he had hidden it, but he persistently refused to do so, saying that it would be found by the man who was destined to conquer the world, but that he would not be able to escape the curse. Years passed by. Wave after wave the tide of barbarian invasion swept over that part of the country, and last of all came the fiercesome Huns under the leadership of Attila, the “Scourge of God.” As he passed along the river, he saw a peasant mournfully examining his cow’s foot, which had been wounded by some sharp instrument hidden in the long grass, and when search was made the point of a buried sword was found sticking out of the soil.

Attila, seeing the beautiful workmanship and the fine state of preservation of this weapon, immediately exclaimed that it was Cheru’s sword, and brandishing it above his head he announced that he would conquer the world. Battle after battle was fought by all-conquering the Huns, who were everywhere victorious, until Attila, weary of warfare, settled down in Hungary, taking to wife the beautiful Burgundian princess Ildico, whose father he had slain. This princess, resenting the murder of her kin and wishing to avenge it, took advantage of the king’s state of intoxication upon his wedding night to secure possession of the divine sword, with which she slew him in his bed, once more fulfilling the prophecy uttered so many years before.

The magic sword again disappeared for a long time, to be unearthed once more, for the last time, by the Duke of Alva, Charles V.’s general, who shortly after won the victory of Mühlberg in 1547. The Franks were wont to celebrate yearly martial games in honour of the sword; but it is said that over 1200 years before, when the heathen gods of the Swabian’s, the Cheruski, the early Franks, the Danes and the Saxons, were slowly renounced in favour of Christianity, the priests transferred many of their attributes to the saints, and that this sword became the eternal property of the Archangel St. Michael, who has wielded it victoriously ever since.

The next story tells of the Birth of Sigurd.

The first Norse Myth is Creation

The second Norse Myth is Odin and Frigga

And the third tells of the Valkyrie

The fourth Norse Myth tells how Thor Gained his Hammer.

The fifth tale is about Loki

The Sixth focuses on the God Heimdall, the guardian of the Bifrost

The Seventh myth covers the story of the Tyr and the Sword of Destiny

The Eighth story tells of The Volsungs

Part of a series on world myths and legends, released through Libsyn, on These Fantastic Worlds SF & Fantasy Fiction Podcast on iTunes, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Vurbl and Stitcher and more. Also on this blog, These Fantastic Worlds. RSS feeds available on request by email.

Text based on Norse Myths, General Editor Jake Jackson. Copyright © 2014 Flame Tree Publishing Ltd. ISBN: 9780857758200. This and other books on African, Indian, Polynesian, Aztec, Greek, Celtic and mythology are available online at flametreepublishing.com and in store worldwide, including Amazon, BookDepository, Barnes and Noble, Indigo, Blackwells and Waterstones.

Online production, images and audio © 2021 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam and Elise Wells, Logic ProX, Sound Studio, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, and Scrivener.

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