The Norse God Tiwaz or Tyr and the Origin of Tuesday

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Týr sacrifices his arm to Fenrir in a 1911 illustration by John Bauer.

“Tuesday” is a strange, arbitrary name for a day; just about as strange and arbitrary as “Wednesday”. So, why is Tuesday called “Tuesday”?

Tuesday is the day set aside for recognizing the ancient Norse god of war and law; Tiwaz. Tuesday is Tiw’s Day.

Who is Tiwaz?

Tiwaz is known by many names, including the Old Norse Tyr, Old English Tiw, Gothic Teiws, and Old High German Ziu. All of these names stem from the Proto-Germanic name Tiwaz. The Germanic alphabet was comprised of the letters called “runes”. The rune “T”, which looks like an arrow pointing up, is named after Tiwaz.

A rune found in Iceland was accompanied by a poem etched into it. It read: Tyr is a one-handed god, / And leavings of the wolf, / And prince of temples.

Tiwaz is the god of single combat, victory and glory. He is also the god of laws, and was often depicted as a man with one hand. According to the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, Tiwaz lost his hand as part of a deal with the monstrous Fenris wolf (also Fenrir). Up until the time when Tiwaz and Fenrir made their agreement, Fenrir had escaped numerous attempt to be shackled, and broke every chain the gods had tried to put on him. The gods were trying to capture Fenrir because their prophecies warned that he would continue to grow and would eventually wreak havoc on their world. (Sturloson)

However, a group of dwarves created a magical rope or ribbon made of silk, made of six fantastical ingredients; the sound of a cat’s footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, bear’s sinews, fish’s breath and bird’s spittle. The rope was named Gleipnir.

Fenrir agreed to allow himself to be bound by the magical rope if one of the gods would put his/her hand into his mouth. Fenrir probably thought he’d be able to escape the rope just as easily as all the other chains. Tiwaz, known for being brave, volunteered to put his hand into Fenrir’s mouth and Fenrir ate it. After the gods bound Fenrir with the magical rope, Fenrir found that he could not escape. Thus Tiwaz saved the world but lost a hand. Tiwaz is sometimes shown with both hands, which is intended to depict him prior to his meeting with Fenrir.

When Did Tuesday Become a Day?

During Roman times, the day that is currently known as Tuesday was called Martius, after the Roman god of war Mars. In fact, most Latin languages like Spanish still use the Roman god. In Spanish, for example, Tuesday is “Martes”.

In England and in Germania, Roman subjects equated their own god Tiwaz with the Roman’s god of war called Mars. So, they called the day Tiw’s Day. After the Roman Empire fell, the inhabitants of England, and most non-Latin speaking European countries continued to reference Tiwaz. For instance, Swedish call the day Tisdag.

Tiwaz in Modern Culture

Tiwaz has largely lost his significance. Of the old Norse gods, he has largely been superseded by Odin. But Odin too, has had his popularity suffer as most people within the regions that traditionally worshipped Tyr and Odin (i.e. Northern Europe), have either lost their religion or now follow one of the Judeo-Christian religions.

But Tyr’s place in history does allow for the occasional creative mention in modern day popular usage. For instance, Tyr is a god in the Forgotten Realms universe, in games like Baldur’s Gate. Another game, World of Warcraft, has a town named Tyr’s Hand, referencing the god’s missing hand.

Source:

  1. Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda