Walking the Warrior Path: Part III - Tyr, Freya, and Svyatovit

Updated: Jul 10, 2019


This is Part III of a series. You can find the preceding parts here: Part I and Part II. Hope you enjoy!



Now let’s take a turn northward and discuss a few of the Nordic deities. While many of the Norse pantheon could be described as Warrior gods and goddesses—after all, the tribes now known collectively as Vikings certainly could be described as a Warrior culture—we only have time to go over a few, so let’s start with the actual North-Germanic god of war himself: Tyr.

Tyr was known for not only his bravery and battle-prowess, but also his willingness to sacrifice his own needs for the greater good. This dedication is the epitome of the Warrior, and is evident in the tale of how Tyr came to lose his hand, a tale which I will summarize for you now:

Back when the Norse gods decided to shackle Fenrir, the great wolf who will come to swallow Odin whole during the battle at Ragnorok, they were—understandably—having trouble keeping the wolf still. Fenrir broke every chain they placed around him, and so the gods tasked the dwarves to make a magical ribbon that Fenrir could not break. However, sensing the magic in the binding, Fenrir the wolf refused to be bound by it unless one of the gods would put his hand in Fenrir’s mouth first. None of the gods wanted to risk the wolf’s teeth, but Tyr bravely placed his arm in Fenrir’s jaws, allowing the other gods to bind the wolf with the magic ribbon. Realizing that he could not break his way out of this particular binding, Fenrir, enraged, bit off Tyr’s right hand, and so Tyr became known thereafter as the “Leavings of the Wolf,” which was—at least in the Nordic sense of the phrase—quite a compliment.

Tyr was also associated with justice, law, and heroic glory. He was sometimes portrayed as the son of Odin, and sometimes as the son of Hymir. Some legends imply that Tyr was actually the chief deity and father of the gods in the Norse Pantheon (rather than Odin); further evidence for this comes from the original Old Norse form of his name, which means, simply, “god.” However, at some point during the history of the Viking culture, Tyr began to cede some of his popularity (and association with war, justice, wisdom, and law) to Thor and especially to Odin.

Another deity of many works, Freya was the Norse goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility, gold, sorcery, death, and of course—war. Freya was such a Warrior, in fact, that she receives half of the worthy dead—those who die valiantly in battle and are so chosen by the Valkyrie—to reside with her in Folkvangr. Her name means, in Old Norse, simply “Lady,” from which we receive the modern German equivalent “Frau,” and in fact, Freya was known by many other names, such that perhaps the primary name remaining to us in the modern age began originally as a title, and the name itself was lost.

Freya appears in many Nordic-Germanic tales, riding in her chariot drawn by cats (and I do wish I could train my own cats to cart me around in a chariot, but thus far I’ve not been successful; perhaps one day). A common theme in Freya’s legends is that everyone—particularly the Jotnur—wants to marry her, and one way or another, she seems to come out victorious, usually as a result of her own cleverness (and a bit of stubbornness and violence, as well). Thus, through her cleverness, Freya represents versatility and adaptability; she epitomizes the flexible thinking that prevents the Warrior archetype from becoming stagnant or obsolete.

Freya was so beloved and so revered by the early Nordic Pagans that—despite substantial attempts to demonize Freya’s “harlotry” once Scandinavia became largely Christianized—worship and appeals to Freya, particularly in matters related to love and success, continued—and this is historic, mind you! Completely independent of the modern Pagan revivalist movements!—up until the late 19th century in parts of Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark. And now, of course, she is worshiped pretty widely again by modern Pagans, as are many of the Norse deities.

Now let’s take a quick tour toward the hearth cultures of Eastern Europe and talk about the Slavic god of war, fertility, and abundance: Svyatovit. Sometimes equated with the more popularly known Slavic sky-god Perun, and sometimes also with the god of hospitality (Radegast), Svyatavit was often depicted with a weapon in one hand (usually a sword or bow) and a drinking horn in the other. Sometimes Svyatovit was depicted with four heads, two of which look forward (toward the future) and two of which look back (toward the past). The four heads of Svyatovit have been compared by some scholars to the four directions or quarters, and upon occasion, to the four seasons of the year. Evidence of the cult of Svyatovit range from Croatia to Serbia to the island of Rugen in the Baltic Sea.

He was also frequently symbolized by a white horse, and the horse imagery was so important to him, that white horses were kept in temples devoted to Svyatovit and even used in a method of divination. His temple was the seat of an oracle, whose chief priest would observe the behavior of the white horse kept in the temple as means of predicting the people’s future (particularly before a battle). Thus, with his two faces looking forward and two looking back, Svyatovit represents the foresight and knowledge to choose one’s battles wisely.

As was the case with many a beloved deity, when the Pagan Slavs began to turn into Christian Slavs, devotion to Svyatovit could not be entirely wiped out; instead, Svyatovit’s qualities transferred to St. Vitus, and several mountain peaks throughout Croatia and Serbia bear remnants of this Warrior-God’s name.

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