A Roaming HolidayJune 20, 2011
The Tirslundstenen, Brørup, Denmark
Medieval literary sources – and Snorri Sturluson’s tales of the north in particular – tend to portray Odin as the greatest and oldest of the gods. Such a view is simplistic, however, and open to misinterpretation, as in Norse mythology it is Tyr, not Odin, who was the original father of the gods.
It was only during the Viking age that Tyr was subordinated to the gods Odin, Thor, and Freya. There are still places today that serve to remind us of the worship of these gods – they remain sacred sites and sources of power and energy.
One such place is Tirslundstenen, in the middle of a forest near Brørup in southwest Jutland, where there is a granite boulder of impressive dimensions, almost 13 feet (4m) high and nearly 53 feet (16m) in circumference. Although there is no real proof, it is thought that this stone was once a place of sacrifice sacred to Tyr, the one-handed god of war, of courage, and of resolution. The muth relates how he alone among the gods opposed Fenrir the wolf, the monster who is to devour Odin at Ragnarok (the twilight of the gods and the end of the world).
Fenrir was initially raised by the gods at Asgard, but then grew wild and dangerous. Sensing what he would become capable of, the gods elected to restrain him to prevent him from wreaking havoc. The wolf easily broke the first two chains they tried to use, but the third was a fine-spun weave of all the secret and invisible things of the world – the call of a cat, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish, and the saliva of a bird – creating a magic chain to bind him.
Suspecting a trap, Fenrir consented to be bound only on condition that one of the gods placed his hand in the wolf’s mouth as a sign of good faith. Tyr alone was prepared to comply. The more Fenrir struggled, the tighter he pulled the magic chain. Biting off Tyr’s hand in fury, he remained caught fast and was consigned to a deep cave in the underworld.
It was thanks to these events that Tyr was dubbed “the one-handed” and he became a symbol of courage. Pilgrims still come to the mysterious site of Tirslundstenen to this day to try to recapture something of the strength, courage, and resolve of this ancient god.