Tīw was obviously an important god to the Anglo-Saxons. They named a day of the week after him, and several places in England were named after him. Tacitus lists him as one of the three most important gods (along with Wōden and Thunor) to the Germanic tribes that would later become the Anglo-Saxons. So it may be surprising that we know so little about him. By the time the Norse myths had been written down, his Norse cognate Tyr barely ranked much mention beyond the stories where Fenrir bites off his hand and him accompanying Thor to Tīw’s Jotunn father. So what else can we deduce from him using the reconstructive methods we Heathens are best known for?
The Sky Father
As usual, I would like to start with the linguistic evidence. Tīw descends from the Proto-Germanic *Tiwaz, which descends from the Proto-Indo-European *deywos, which is derived from *Dyeus, the Sky Father of the ancient Proto-Indo-European pantheon. The fact that his name in Proto-Germanic literally means The God is an indication of the importance this god had in those days. His linguistic tie to Dyeus indicates that he, too, was the sky father of the Proto-Germanic pantheon.
A sky father, in comparative mythological studies, is the consort of the earth mother. Together they exercise parental roles of some kind to their pantheon of gods. Just as the earth mother is the earth itself, the sky father is seen as being the sky itself. In the Anglo-Saxon pantheon, the earth mother is Eorþe (or Eorthe), also known as Folde and sometimes thought to have also been called Erce from the prayer to her in the Acerbot Charm.
Based upon my understanding of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European pantheon, Tīw also has three children with Eorthe. We have the twin siblings Sunne the sun goddess and Mona the moon god, and their sister the dawn goddess Eostre.
The sky father is also generally the king of the gods (Like the Baltic Dievs, the Greek Zeus, and the Roman Jupiter), or at least the original king of the gods. This is not always the case, as Dyaus in the Hindu pantheon was the father of the gods but not the king of the gods.
Another attribute that the sky father tends to have is being all seeing, or at least seeing all that happens outside under the sky or in view of the outside (like seeing things through open windows). For example, Zeus was seen as having this attribute. This is an extension of him being the sky. If he is the entire sky, he can see all that happens under the sky. Most polytheists don’t believe in any of the omni attributes traditionally associated with the Christian god (omnipresence, omnipotence, etc), but I can see this all seeing attribute applying to a deity who is the sky. This attribute would also be a big aid to Tīw as being the god of Justice (see below).
The Greeks used to swear oaths under the open sky for this reason, so that it would be witnessed by Zeus. I feel this would be appropriate to carry over with Tīw.
The God of War and Justice
In Tacitus’s Germania, Tīw is associated with Mars. Mars was the Roman god of war. He represented military power as a means of securing peace. He was also seen as the father of the Roman people, because he was the father of the divine twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. Another connection between Tiw and Mars is the fact that the Anglo-Saxons named the third day of the week (Tuesday) after Tīw and the Romans named this day after Mars. Due to this connection with Mars, Tīw (as well as Tyr) is seen as a god of war. Tacitus also states that he was one of two gods that the Germanic tribes would appeal to for military victory (the other being Woden/Odin).
As a side note, Mars was also an agricultural god. If Tīw is the sky father, this would also make him a god important to agriculture.
Tīw is also associated with the Þing. This is because of an inscription that was found on Hadrian’s wall that reads Mars thincus, meaning Mars of the Thing. The Thing was a Germanic assembly that met to make laws, but who’s primary function was to settle disputes. This makes the Thing a precursor to modern courts. Due to this connection, Tīw was also seen as a god of Justice. These two aspects, war and justice, may seem contradictory to modern audiences. However, war was the primary means of achieving justice from foreign powers. Remember, Mars was seen as the god of military power to secure peace, unlike the Greek Ares who was seen as primarily a god of war for war’s sake.
The One Handed God
The story for which Tīw’s Norse counterpart Tyr is most known for is the story in which he sacrifices his hand for the safety of all the gods. This duty of sacrificing oneself for the protection of his people would have usually fallen to the king. While this is not evidence for Tīw’s kingship, it does give us another lead to try to further flesh out Tīw.
There is another god who loses his hand in another Proto-Indo-European mythology. It comes from the Irish, who were Celtic. We find in this mythology the god Nuada. Nuada was the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, which was a tribe of Irish gods. He leads his people to their new home, a divine land. In the war securing this land, Nuada loses his hand. He temporarily loses his throne due to this war injury, but is soon restored to the throne. He later passes on the kingship peacefully but continues to reside over the royal court.
Notice how well this story jives with the picture of Tīw we’ve painted so far. He leads his people into war (Tīw is the god of war), and loses his hand securing peace for his people (as Tyr does in the story with Fenrir). He is the first king of the gods. He resides over the court even after he retires from the kingship (bringing to mind Tīw’s role in leading the Thing).
The only other major story we get of Tyr in Norse mythology has him taking Thor to see Tyr’s father (who is a Jotunn) in order to secure a cauldron large enough to prepare a feast for the gods. Tyr is also called “son of Odin” as an epithet by Snorri, but I believe this is simply a reference to Odin being the All Father. Tīw being the son of a Jotunn jives with the worldview that many Fyrnsidere have (based upon comparative mythological studies of other Proto-Indo-European pantheons) that the first generation of the gods were born to the chaotic Ettins, and separated themselves from the Ettins in order to establish the order of the universe.
Is Tīw still the King of the Gods?
The question of whether Tīw is still the King of the gods or whether he was succeeded by Wōden (as in Norse mythology) is debated among Heathens who hold to Tīw being the Anglo-Saxon cognate of the Proto-Indo-European Dyeus. (There are also Fyrnsidere [Anglo-Saxon Heathens] who do not accept Tīw as being a sky father deity, or ever being the king of the gods.) The Fyrnsidu (Anglo-Saxon Heathenry) Discord server that I’m on is divided in their opinions on it. I plan to do a blog post about this at a later date, but I will give my opinion and a brief summary of why I hold that opinion here.
I believe that at some point Tīw retires from being king of the gods, and hands the throne over to Wōden. My reason for this belief is as follows:
- Tacitus tells us that Wōden (who he calls Mercury) is worshipped above all the other gods.
- By the Anglo-Saxon period, Wōden is listed as the divine ancestor of the royal families in 6 of the 7 kingdoms of the Heptarchy (the seven major kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxons). So it appears that the Anglo-Saxons connected him to kingship.
- Both of the major sources of Norse mythology that we have also has Odin as the king of the gods (both Snorri [Icelandic] and Saxo [Danish] affirm this).
- In the myth of Nuada, Nuada ends up retiring as king but continues to hold court (this is separate from the time after losing his hand and being forced to step down. He ends up regaining his throne after getting a silver prosthetic hand, but then also later retires from being king).
Taken separately, any of these points can be explained away. When taken together, however, I believe it paints an overall picture of Wōden being the current king of the gods.
Putting all of this together, I believe that Tīw is the first king of the gods. He led the first generation of the gods out of the primordial chaos and away from the chaotic Ettins they descended from. He leads them to where they establish Osgeard (Asgard). In the battle to secure Osgeard from the Ettins, he loses his hand but emerges victorious. During his reign, he establishes the Thing (assembly) of the gods. At some point, Tīw steps down from being king and passes the throne on to Wōden. He continues to preside over the Thing.
Tīw is the husband of Eorthe, the earth mother. Together they are the parents of the sun goddess Sunne, the moon god Mona, and the dawn goddess Eostre.
Tīw is the god of the sky, and so is important in agriculture. He is the god of Justice, and the god of just war. He represents law & order, so is a good deity to appeal to in legal and political matters. Many modern Heathens also see the fight for social justice to be within his domain.