A Prayer to Tyr

Tyr & Fenrir by Meredyth (DeviantArt)
Tyr & Fenrir by Meredyth (DeviantArt)

Holy Tyr, may my love for my community always be stronger than my fear of loss.

On Tuesdays I light a candle before in image of Tyr (also known as Tiwaz or Tiw), a Northern god of war and justice. My late partner was a Tyr’s-man, and at first I honored his god as part of my household pantheon even though He is not one of my own patrons. But the longer I’ve offered my devotion and meditated on His story and attributes, the more I have been drawn to Him. Tyr isn’t simply a “god of war.” He is a god of defending the community, a patron of guardians and champions.

The most famous story of Tyr is The Binding of Fenris, the giant wolf who will help destroy the gods at Ragnarok. Fenris, a child of Loki, started out as a normal cub, but over time he grew larger and stronger and wilder – and far more intelligent – than any normal wolf. The larger he grew the more afraid the gods became. They decided he had to be trapped and imprisoned before he could wreak havoc on Asgard and the worlds beyond. They proposed a game, flattering his strength, challenging him to allow them to bind him so he could break free and demonstrate his might. At first Fenris went along with the game, easily snapping a heavy rope and then chains. But when the gods brought out what appeared to be a simple ribbon he became suspicious. “I will let you bind me with the ribbon if one of you will place his sword hand in my mouth,” he told them.

The gods drew back in consternation. The ribbon was magic, forged by the dwarves expressly to contain Fenris. If they didn’t bind him, disaster was sure to follow, but if they did bind him one of them would lose a hand.

Tyr stepped forward and held out his right hand to the wolf.  

Fenris took it carefully in his mouth. The two of them had been friends in the past, and the wolf had no reason to injure him. Maybe this really was a game after all. Tyr was famous for His honor. Mortals opened their law sessions by making oaths in His name.

But once the ribbon was wrapped around him, binding his legs and paws and neck, Fenris could not break free. The gods – except for Tyr – mocked him and laughed. Tyr remained silent and steady, meeting the wolf’s gaze. Fenris bit down, severing Tyr’s hand, taking it as wergild, compensation for his betrayal.

Like every myth, this simple story holds many rich ideas and implications. The aspect which has been monopolizing my meditations for the past few weeks is the example Tyr sets of placing the welfare of the community above one’s personal needs.

This is not an area I am particularly good at. I have very strong boundaries and have always found it easy to say “no” when others have sought to place obligations on me. This is a strength in many ways, but like all strengths it can be taken too far. It can become selfish isolationism – just as the virtue of service can be taken too far and end up robbing someone of their health, resources, and peace.

But our world is at a critical juncture – the greatest humanity has ever faced – and my personal habit of standing back and protecting my solitude and reserving my strength for myself has been feeling less and less justifiable. Less and less moral. I want to be part of the effort to resist climate change, to help transform our way of life into something sustainable, put my gifts in service of humanity and world.

But stepping out, stepping into activism, into community, into accepting obligation, into being someone others can depend on to share the load, scares me. The only thing that scares me more is the prospect of what will happen if we all don’t step up.

When I get scared I think of Tyr: a warrior whose most important victory was achieved through the surrender of His honor and His ability to wield a sword. I don’t think He could have lost anything more precious. But He did it because if someone didn’t step up and make that sacrifice their whole community would perish, and whole worlds beyond that.

I could pray for courage, but I don’t. Courage is meaningless without a purpose, without a cause.

And so I pray for love. I pray that my love will outweigh my fear. That my love will be stronger than my shyness, my introversion, my lack of self confidence, my desire to hide under my bed and let other, stronger people do the work. That my love will be stronger than my fear of losing my time, my energy, my privacy, my separateness.

Holy Tyr, may my love for my community always be stronger than my fear of loss.

This is an heroic prayer.
It has helped me begin to find heroism within myself.
I offer it to you, with a prayer that it will help you as well.

Hail Tyr!
Hail to the leavings of the wolf!
Hail to the one-handed warrior!
Hail to the One who loved!

3 Threads of Spirituality

What is the purpose of religion and spirituality? Ask a dozen people and you may get a dozen different answers, but three major themes come up again and again: 1. To cultivate a right relationship with the Divine, 2. To become a better person on a deep level, 3. To become better able to serve in the world.

When I was growing up as a devout girl in a non-denominational Protestant church, these three aspects of spirituality were presented as interlocking parts of a complete system. Through cultivating a right relationship with God, I became a better person, and a result of that I was inspired to behave ethically in the world. But when I got older and found myself outside the church, I seldom found those three aspects presented in such a neat package. In fact, it was rare to find all three elements in one place, which confused and sometimes frustrated me. It has only been during the past few months that I have come to understand that they are in fact distinct areas of focus.

Each of these elements and the practices which support them are complex and rich enough to take a whole book to discuss them. I don’t want this post to be too long, so I’m going to provide some introductory thoughts for now and address each in more detail in future entries.