Some time ago, a friend after reading my article about Odhinn, had a nice suggestion. What if the missing arm is supposed to be missing and what if there is a big significance in the fact that Odin misses his left arm, and Tyr his right hand? I was already aware of the ‘pair’ Tyr/Odin, but hadn’t given this idea a thought. The suggestion soon proved to be just a suggestion. Another image clearly shows breaking-traces on the arm and hip, so it is clear that this particular image of Odin originally has two arms. The start was there, though, because for some time I had the idea to write something about Tyr and Odin.
Tyr or Odin?
Before my interest shifted towards the prechristian religion of Northern Europe, I was much interested in Hermetism, Renaissance esotericism, etc. and always had some kind of ‘attraction’ to Thoth/ Hermes/ Mercury; the scribe of the Gods, the God of knowledge, etc. Hermes can very well be compared to Odin, so it is not strange that Odin somehow appeals to me too. Somehow I also am very interested in the ‘underdog’ Tyr about whom you don’t hear so much in Germanic mythology. According to some ‘Germanists’, Tyr used to be the high God, the sky God (“Tyr” even means “god”), but he was surpassed in popularity by Odin before the texts that we have now were written down. This should explain the small part of Tyr in the texts and studies. Tyr is said to be the God of war, but this is too simple, because Odin is also a God of war (yet Tyr is compared to Mars and Odin is less often). Tyr is also the God of justice and law.
It again took a while before I came to read Georges Dumézil, the famous scholar of comparative religion and mythology. He influenced several ‘Germanists’ (after first had been ignored), including the most famous of them all: Jan de Vries who rewrote his massive Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte in a ‘Dumézilian’ line. Dumézil’s idea sure have passed me before I started to read his books through writers influenced by his ideas. A mighty interesting suggestion was that Tyr and Odin form some kind of pair. Does this explain my hard ‘choice’ between the two? This definately was something to investigate further.
Without trying to fully explain you Dumézil’s ideas on the subject, I want to roughly sketch out for you the idea.
The biggest credit of Georges Dumézil is the discovery of a tripartite division of the overworld, and often also the underworld. The first is in the Northern case: Odin, Thor and Freyr, or “wisdom”, “strength” and “beauty”, “kingship”, “knightlyhood”, “fertility” (etc., etc.). As a ‘social division’ you can think of the Hindu castes or simply “king”, “knight”, “farmer”.
The “first function” (a term of Dumézil) also refers to the “priest/kings” of old, a function that was later ‘split in two’ when we got a ruler of the ‘overworld’ and a ruler of the ‘world below’ (Pope and emperor for example), a double function in itself. The first function also refers to ‘law and order’, or with a nice word “sovereignty”.
When I read Dumézil’s Mitra-Varuna I thought that the writer found this double function in the Northern myths in Tyr and Odin, but it seems that Tyr/Odin actually gave Dumézil the idea to look for the ‘double sovereignty’ elsewhere and found the best example in the Indian Mitra/Varuna. In both cases you can say that the first (Tyr and Mitra) are the straightforward justice and the second (Varuna and Odin) are more of the mysterious, dark, unpredictable kind. It is Tyr who offers his hand for the sake of mankind (to bind the Fenris-wolf) and Odin who picks the best men in battle to have them for his own army and it is Odin who offers up his eye in the well of Mimir to get knowledge, for himself, or…?
So here we come back to the beginning, the mutilation of Tyr and Odin, not as missing a hand and missing an arm, but missing a hand and missing an eye. Dumézil writes about this rather lengthy in his Mitra-Varuna
The bottom line is well described by Philip Quadrio, which I will quote for the purpose:
So whilst Odhinn assists in maintaining cosmic unity (*Hailagaz) his sacrifice increases the degree to which his own being is separate (*Wihaz) as this act of sacrifice increases his personal power and adds to his personal capabilities. Tyr’s sacrifice is for the benefit of the community of gods, it is the jurist’s sacrifice, giving of the self to protect society.
More about Tyr in the words of Dumézil in his Gods of the ancient Northmen
The function of the god of the thing and his mutilation thus agree closely with the function of clairvoyance and the mutilation of Odin. It is the loss of his right hand in a fraudulent procedure of guarantee, as a pledge, which qualifies Tyr as the “god of law”-in a pessimistic view of the law, directed not toward reconcilition among the parties, but toward the crushing of some by the others.”
And so here you have the rough scetches of an intruiging theory. If you want to read some more, I can refer to the excellent article Odhinn & Tyr: two modes of sovereignty by Philip Quadrio, online on the Rune Gild website. And of course Dumézil’s Mitra-Varuna, Gods of the ancient Northmen and other titles of the Frenchman.