Of all the gods and goddesses of the Anglo-Germanic folk, there can be little doubting that Tiw was amongst the most highly honoured and furthest famed. Places once devoted to his worship can be found spread across NW Europe and include Tysoe, Tuesley, Tislea, Tewin, Tyesmere, and Tifield in England; Tisdorf and Zeisberg in Germany; Tystathe and Tuslunde in Jutland; Tisvalae in Zealand; Tistad, Tisby, Tisjo, and Tyved in Sweden; and Tysnes Island in Norway. Likewise, his name has survived in each of the three major Germanic language groupings (North, West, and South Germanic) and variations include “Zio” and “Ziu” in Old High German, “Tyr” in Old Norse, “Tius” in Gothic, “Tiw“, “Tiu“, “Tio“, and “Tig” in the various Anglo-Saxon dialects, and even “Teiw“ in Primitive Germanic. All of these variants, along with such other words as the Old Norse “Diar” (gods), Old Norse “Tivar” (gods and heroes), Anglo-Saxon “tir” (glory), and Old High German “ziori” (splendour), spring from a common Indo-European root (“deius”) meaning first “heavenly radiance” and then “god”. This same I.E. root also gave us the Baltic “Dievas”, the Latin “Jupiter“ and “deus“, the Greek “Zeus“ and “theos“, the Ancient Hittite “Sius“, and the Sanskrit “Dyaus”.
When the Romans first came into contact with our folk it is a curious fact that they did not liken our Tiw to their Jupiter. Instead, they likened him to their war-god Mars. Likewise, when the Anglo-Christians at last adopted the Roman system of time reckoning it was “dies Martis” (day of Mars) that became “Tiwes daeg” (day of Tiw). Given this, it is fair to say that, like Mars, Tiw had strong associations with organized warfare, and it is probable that he was once regarded as our “Glory-father”; and thus, as the supreme god of the cattle-/wife-raid. As such, his chief consort would undoubtedly have been the all-nourishing cow, called Audhumbla in the Eddas, and there is in fact an image of a god mating with a cow on one of the Anglo-Germanic rock-carvings that cropped up in Scandinavia during the Bronze Age. This coupling of Tiw and Audhumbla is further alluded to in the various Anglo-Germanic futhorc’s where we find the “Cow” rune standing at the head of the first aett, or “family” of runes, and the “Tiw” rune standing at the head of the third aett. In any event, whatever measure of martial supremacy Tiw may have enjoyed during the Bronze Age, the inscription (Germanic language/Etruscan script) found upon the Helmet of Negua suggests that from as early as c.300 B.C.E. our folk looked to two distinct gods for success in war; “Harigast [and] Teiwaz“. Who this other god was is made evident in the writings of the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, who tells of a territorial dispute that arose between two Germanic tribes, the Hermundurii and the Chatti, during the 1st century C.E. He relates that both tribes vowed to sacrifice all of the spoils of the war to “Mars and Mercury” if victory fell to them. And by the same virtue that identified Tiw with Mars, so to was Woden commonly identified with Mercury.
Regarding this custom of yielding up all the spoils of war; it is known to have begun sometime during the 4th century B.C.E., following hot on the heels of the climate shift that brought an end to the Anglo-Germanic “Golden Age”. It seems to have reached it’s height during the late 2nd century C.E., as shown by the Illerup find,
and then to have tapered off over the course of the 6th century C.E., by which time the sacrifices had become substantially smaller and entirely associated with Woden. Given this, it would appear that the custom encompassed a transitional stage in which Tiw uplifted, and then ultimately gave way, to Woden within the sphere of organized war; with Woden’s supremacy being made more than evident in the lore of the Viking Age. The custom would also seem to indicate that Tiw is a god that embodies selflessness and stands in sharp opposition to slavering greed; two Tiwic virtues which are borne out in the Eddic tale of the binding of the Fenris Wulf. One might further speculate that this sacrificed plunder went on to become the cursed treasure hordes of Beowulf and the Volsung saga.
In any event, for all that Woden’s rise to supremacy with the sphere of war is undeniable, Tiw nevertheless maintained some association with armed conflict right up until the close of the heathen period. In the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century C.E., we are told that Tiw is the boldest of the gods, that he has power over victory, and that it is good for men of action to pray to him. Likewise, the Eddic poem Sigdrifumal speaks of “victory-runes”, stating that one should carve them upon one’s weapon and then call “twice upon Tiw” for victory. Here it should be noted that Woden, in his role as war-god, was sacrificed to by the king, and on behalf of the entire army. In other words, Woden was the god of the army as a whole, and not necessarily the god of the individual combatant. As such, it would seem most likely that Tiw continued to be invoked on a personal level on into the Viking Age, and this would seem to be borne out by the clear individual orientation of both the aforementioned mentioned victory-charm and the “radiant glory“ that is the essence of the god‘s name.
It would also seem to be indicated by the title given to him in an early inscription carved by Frisian mercenaries on Hadrian’s Wall; “Mars Thingsus” or “Battle-God of the Legal Assembly”. Of course, within the context of the characteristically rough-and-tumble Thing, or “Maethel“ as the Anglo-Saxons came to call it, such a title as “Mars Thingsus” would mark Tiw out as the god that presides over the custom of “trial by combat” or “ritual duel“; in which two men square off in the eyes of God to determine the righteousness of whatever matter might be in contention. As we read in the 7th century Edictus Rothari, “...then let the case be decided by a judicial duel... so that the matter may be left to the judgement of God”. Usually this custom was invoked in regards to various accusations levelled against a man’s (male or female) good character, and thus it generally served to fetter the tongue of cowardly slanderers and those too quick to judge. It was further used, as Tacitus relates, to divine the outcome of a prospective war, and also as an alternative to war, with either rival kings or their chosen champions squaring off, with the fate of both kingdoms hanging in the balance. One telling example of the latter case is to be found in Paul the Deacon’s 8th century work “History of the Lombards”,
“See how many people there are on both sides! What need is there that so great a multitude perish? Let us join, he and I, in single combat, and may that one of us to whom God may have willed to give the victory have and possess all this people safe and entire.”
Similar examples can be in both Gregory of Tours 6th century “History of the Franks”, in which champions of the Vandals and the Alamanni square off, and also Saxo Grammaticus’ 12th century work “History of the Danes”, in which we read of King Offa of Old Anglia’s tirfast “duel” against two Saxon champions. While Tiw is not directly named in any of the above examples, the body of evidence clearly points to an association between the righteous Glory-father and the ritual duel. Perhaps the most glaring example of this association is the Fenris Wulf myth itself, in which Tiw squares off against the ever-ravenous son of Loki - according to the Old Norwegian Rune Rhyme “Loki brought the luck of deceit“ - with the fate of all existence hanging in the balance. In the end, the Wulf is bound to an island, and then gagged with a sword, by virtue of the same deceitful tactics his father had used to con the Tivar into giving him a place in Esegeard. This was only made possible however, because Tiw, of all the radiant gods, had the necessary measure of will, knowledge, and good judgement to offer up his sword-hand to the Wulf; as the legal, or agreed upon, compensation for the “trickery” involved in his binding. And as a result of this “one-handedness“ it is said in the Eddas that “Tiw is not a peacemaker“. Now, even as Fenris, who embodies greed, strife, and destruction, was fettered both on and to an island, so to was the ritual duel generally fought upon an island. Likewise, even as Fenris was gagged with a sword - Tiw‘s sword perhaps? - the very existence of the duel acted, as previously noted, as a gag of sorts for the slanderous. Finally, even as the binding of Fenris required the righteous participation of Tiw for the binding to be made complete, so to did the ritual duel. In short, the myth of the binding of the Fenris Wulf deals, at least on one level, with the establishment
of the ritual duel.
As the god of righteous combat, Tiw was also associated with certain protective female battle-spirits called “Alaisiagae” (All-Givers). These Alaisiagae were given such personal names as “Friagabi” (Giver of Freedom) and Baudihillie (Ruler of Battle), and seem to have been a Tiwic equivalent of the Wodenic waelcyrgen (Choosers of the Slain).
Beyond the direct association with the trial by combat, the title “Mars Thingsus” may also indicate a more general association between Tiw and the Maethel. According to Tacitus, it was the “priest” of the tribe that opened the proceedings of the Maethel, and this was, presumably, the same priest that Tacitus writes of as retrieving battle-standards and idols from holy groves, and carrying them into battle on behalf of his tribe. The Roman historian goes on to relate that no man could be flogged, imprisoned, or put to death, even on command of the drihten (warlord), without the permission of the priest; who was himself obliged to render his judgement in accordance to the will of that god whom accompanies them on their campaigns. Once again we find the idea of the “war-god’s“ righteous judgement in association with the Maethel. And given the early date of Tacitus’ writings, this “god of righteous judgement” was undoubtedly Tiw; while the priest in question was most likely the elder Germanic “priest-king” and a special devotee of the god. Thus, the association drawn between Tiw and the hof (temple) in the Old Icelandic Rune Poem; “Tiw is...the ruler of the hof“. As the highest authority of the Maethel, whose judgement was appealed to in all matters involving basic human dignity, it would not be too far reaching to suggest that Tiw was also its founder.
In the Eddic poem Voluspa, we read the following stanzas regarding the act of Creation,
“From the south the sun, by the side of the moon,
heaved her right hand over heaven’s rim;
the sun knew not what seat she had,
the stars knew not what stead they had,
the moon knew not what might he had.
Then gathered together the gods for counsel,
the holy hosts, and held converse;
to night and new moon their names they gave,
the morning named, and midday also,
forenoon and evening, to order the year.”
Voluspa, stanza 5 - 6
(trans. Lee Hollander)
In contrast to the Prose Edda, which identifies Woden and his two brothers as the sole shapers of Creation, here in the poetry we find the Tivar as a whole taking part; presumably, at the Maethel where judgements are rendered and measurements set. Given Tiw’s association with both the Maethel and godly judgement, not too mention the primal nature of his name and it’s association with the basic quality of godhood, it would be fair to suggest that he played a much greater role in Creation than suggested in the late Eddic sources. In the Old Norwegian Rune Rhyme we read, “Tiw...the smith has to blow often”, which identifies him with an act that epitomizes creativity and creation, while according to Tacitus, the ancient songs of the Germans hailed a god called “Tuisto” as the progenitor of all the Anglo-Germanic folk. While the god-name may have suffered some corruption as it moved from Germany to Rome, it undoubtedly springs from the same root as the German “zwei”, the Dutch “twee” and Swedish “tva”; all of which mean “two”, as in the quantity. And while there is no way of knowing for certain, “Tuisto” would seem to be cognate to such words as the German “zweist”, the Dutch “twisten”, and the Swedish “tvista”; all of which mean “dispute” or “conflict”, as in the Latin “duel“. This would seem to indicate that Tuisto is an elder title of Tiw’s, who “is not a peacemaker”, and it is worth noting here that the Romans not only hailed Mars as their “god of war”, but also as the father of Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome. This fact may have lent just as much to the association between Mars and Tiw as the association with warfare. Furthermore, it is not difficult to perceive how the “radiant light” that is the essence of Tiw’s name brought about the birth of “duality” in the beginning; when darkness and chaos reigned. This led in turn to the birth of “dispute”, and thus, to the sharpening of various definitions that make up reality. As for the idea of “duality” itself; both it, and basic Anglo-Germanic preference for the light over the darkness, can be found within the context of the Maethel, the customs of which dictate that the punishment for crimes should be displayed (light), the punishment for shames concealed (darkness), and that any crime engaged in after dark, or any killing left unclaimed, is a greater offence than one committed and claimed in the light of day.
In the Anglo-Saxon Creation poem “Caedmon’s Hymn”, which tells of the shaping of Middengeard, the creator god is referred to as both “Wulderfather” (Gloryfather) and “Metod” (Measurer). The former title has often been taken as an indication that the Anglo-Saxons knew of the North Germanic god UllR, whose name is cognate to
the A-S “Wuldor”, and this may or may not be the case. The latter title however, is given to one of the gods that appear in Saxo Grammaticus’ “History of the Danes”. Here we read of how “Mitodhinn” (Measurer) took Woden’s place for a time, forbidding the custom of making “indiscriminate” offerings to the Tivar, and appointing to each a special drink offering. In time it is said that Woden returned to overthrow him and re-institute the custom of indiscriminate sacrifice. While Saxo’s rendition of this tale is at least somewhat suspect, the association between Mitodhinn/Metod and the “special drink offering” would suggest that this god was associated with both the custom of heroic boasting, and that portion of the blot known as the fulls, in which individual gods/goddesses are honoured in the toast. This would indicate that Metod, not unlike Tiw himself, is a god very much concerned with the recognition/glorification of worth; in all it’s varieties and not simply in warfare. Such a name as “the Measurer” would also seem quite fitting for the god that gave us the basic framework of the Maethel - which is itself a storehouse of all sorts of various measurements (eg. value of various wounds, of human life, of the word of various men, etc.) - and who established it at the base of MjotvidhR (Measuring Tree). As such, it would appear that Metod is also one of Tiw’s titles, and that he was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons as one of the shapers of Creation.
It would also seem that the Anglo-Saxons associated Tiw with cremation and death, as his rune stave is found on more Anglo-Saxon cremation urns than any other symbol. It’s associated stanza in the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem reads as follows,
(Tir/Glory) is some token, it holds troth well
with aethelings, it is ever on course
over Night’s mist, it never switches.
The “token” referred to would seem to have been the North Star; a beacon of unfailing light and guidance that was renowned amongst our seafaring elderfolk. As the journey into the afterlife was itself often perceived as being a journey by water, it would seem most likely that the elderfolk called upon the power of Tiw at funerals; to guide the dead over the dark waters of death and then onward to heavenly glory. By simple extension this would also associate him with both the heroic ethic and the “name undying”; the latter of which is clearly “one helluva token” of human worth, ever shining forth, brilliantly and eternally, out of the darkness of death.
Finally, it would appear that Tiw was in some way associated with the horse, as there is a red horse cut of Edge Hill at the above mentioned Tyso in England. Also, in Tacitus’ “Histories”, a representative of the old German tribe called the Tencteri, who were renowned for their skill as horsemen, is said to have hailed “Mars” (i.e. Tiw) asthe greatest of the Tivar. In Tacitus’ Germania, we read of certain white horses that were believed to be intermediaries between men and the gods. Their neighs and snorts were interpreted as the words of the Tivar themselves, and this form of divination was used only in regards to matters of the utmost importance to the tribe.
Here one might think of the metaphor of the “horse” and it’s “rider”; that is, of “earthly vessel” on the one hand, and “divine consciousness” on the other. In terms of warfare, where either the death or mutilation of the physical form is such a strong possibility, this distinction between the “flesh” and the “spirit”, the “transient” and the “eternal”, would be especially poignant. And something of this insight can be seen in the gliding ease with which Tiw gave up his hand to the Fenris Wulf.
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