- Education and Science»
- History & Archaeology»
- History of Europe
VIKING - 35: BINDING FENRIR - War God Tyr Loses A Hand In The Struggle To Fetter Loki's Troublesome Son
"Never leave home without axe or sword. In your bones you can neither foresee nor feel the fight ahead".
One day, at the dawn of Ragnaroek, Fenrir will break from his fetters
Sleipnir's mother also fathered three hideous creatures on Angrboda.
How does a mother father anything, you ask? I would thank you to bear with me. Have another drink, some finger food and listen closely - I shall say this only once.
Not satisfied with his faithful woman Sigyn, Loki would set off at times to the kingdom of the giants, Jotunheim. The nimbleness of the Sly One helped him across some of the most craggy landscapes that surrounded Midgard, with only one thought to draw him so far from Asgard. He dreamed for days on end, of spending time with the giantess Angrboda. They would while away the hours together, arms entwined until the sun's early rays lit the sky when - having fathered three offspring - he would make his way home... to Sigyn. Yet these offspring were cursed by the Allfather, punishment wrought on Loki for his roving eye.
Between them, Loki and Angrboda brought three of the worst creatures into being that a man could dream of. Eldest amongst them was the wolf Fenrir. Second of the vile creatures was Jormungand, mightiest of serpents. Third came a daughter, Hel. In a great throng Hel's looks set her apart. Face, neck, shoulders, breasts, arms and back were of a beautiful - if strange - young woman. Look down from her waist and try not to throw up! Her skin was that of a corpse that had long lain buried in the earth - slime-green and rotted or burnt black. Like a scorched lump of oak that had been thrown into a bog! She ever wore the same gloom-ridden look - and who could blame her with this curse her father had brought on her?
On learning that the Father of Lies had brought about these monsters the gods were understandably alarmed. They talked hour-long by the Well of Urd over what should be done with them. The Norns could offer little cheer,
'Their mother is an evil one', Urd told them nothing they did not know already.
'Their father is much worse', Verdandi, too, only told them what they had always known.
'Nothing but the worst can be awaited from them', Skuld was no better at trying to cheer them. 'They will do harm, and be there at the end'.
The gods were at one about what they should do. Loki's offspring had to be caught. Odin ordered some of the gods to cross into Jotunheim by night. They stormed into Angrboda's bedchamber, tied and gagged her before she could rub the sleep from her eyes and yell for help. Her children next were taken and borne back to Asgard.
Odin knew then what should be done with Jormungand. The serpent was hoisted and hurled into the sea around Midgard. He careened, twisting and writhing through the air as he fell, broke through the iron-hard mask of the sea and sank to the bottom. That is where he lived and grew. Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent grew so thick and long that he ringed the world and bit on his own tail.
The serpent's sister was dealt with next. He looked once at Hel, at her putrid lower half and threw her bodily from Asgard, so that she landed, dirty and grunting like a hog in the darkness of Niflheim, the netherworld we hope never to catch sight of. As she bumped head over heels over the hard rocks she heard the Allfather tell all that she would oversee the realm of the dead. Those in the Nine Worlds who died of old age, of illness, should share her world and her meagre food.
Hel saw to making herself comfortable, if anyone could in Niflheim, well past the steep cliffs known as Drop To Doom. She had high walls built around her domain. Her hall was Eljudnir, home of the dead, behind high oak gates fettled with iron studs and hinges. Her manservant and maidservant were Ganglati and Ganglot, who stirred so slowly, going about their business it was hard to see if they were indeed stirring. Her dish was Hunger, her knife Famine. She slept on Ailing Bed and her bed-hangings were known as Glimmering Bad Luck.
One-eye thought it best if the gods kept an eye on Fenrir. There was nothing in him that told them there was anything amiss about him, and he was allowed to wander the green glades of Asgard. Yet, such was Fenrir's being that of the gods only Tyr was brave enough to go anywhere near him. Tyr gave him great lumps of meat, flesh and gristle to keep him happy.
The gods soon thought differently of Fenrir when they realised that he was growing daily. When Urd, Skuld and Verdandi uttered their warnings once more they also foresaw him bringing about the Allfather's untimely death. They began to fear the worst and agreed that, short of staining the goodness of Asgard's pasture with Fenrir's unholy blood they could not kill him there. He would have to be caught and fettered. A heavy chain was made, of thick iron links, and its name was Laeding. A few went up to Fenrir, showed him the chain and asked,
'Do you think you are stronger than this?'
Fenrir looked closely at Laeding, telling them,
'This is surely a strong chain, but I think I am stronger', he said as they wound the chain around him, criss-crossing it over neck, body and legs until there was only just enough chain left for them to hold onto.
'I suppose you are done?' Fenrir snarled. He set his great paws well apart, drew in breath and flexed his muscles. Laeding's links burst apart and the gods leapt back in fear.
No time was lost making another chain. Dromi they called it, and it was twice Laeding's strength. The links were greater than any used to anchor ships. No mere man could move them.
'If you can break this chain you will be known for your strength in the Nine Worlds', the gods told him.
Fenrir looked Dromi over, thought it very strong, but then he added that he had grown stronger than when they tried Laeding on him,
'None will win renown without riskinbg life and limb', he sneered as the gods wound the chain around him once more. When they were down to the last few links he growled once more, 'Done? You should be!'
He shook with a loud clanking and grating, rolled over and arched his back, bashing Dromi on the ground. He rippled his muscles until they were as hard as Dromi's links, stood again and dug his huge paws into the earth. He strained mightily and Dromi snapped. Hundreds of links flew everywhere. The gods were now really afraid. Fenrir could never be fettered, they fretted.
'If anyone can make a chain too powerful for Fenrir it will be the dwarves', the Allfather promised them.. He sent Freyr's messenger, the bright Skirnir to Svartalfheim, the realm of the dark elves. Skirnir descended deep under Midgard through dark, dank twilit caves, He found there Nar and Nain, Niping and Dain, Bifur and Bafur, Bambur and Nori as well as many others. Each was as ugly as the last and next. Skirnir had been told to offer gold, and more gold if they would forge fetters for Fenrir. The dark elves' eyes gleamed like hot coals in the darkness. They whispered, mumbled and plotted, and set to. Fetters were forged as smooth and supple as silk ribbon. It was named Gleipnir.
On reaching Asgard again Skirnir was slapped on the back by the gods as if it were he who had forged Gleipnir.
'What is it made from?' asked the Allfather, thumbing the chain.
'Six things they used. The sound of a cat when it stirs and walks in the night, a woman's beard, a mountain's roots, sinews of a bear, a fish's breath and spittle from a bird'.
The gods were taken aback, doubtful of Gleipnir's strength.
'You might doubt it, as I did', Skirnir told them, 'but think on how cunning the dark elves are. Have you never wondered why a cat makes no sound when it walks, why a woman has no beard? It can never be proved that a mountain has no roots, but much that does not seem to be is in the dark elves' safekeeping'.
The gods went back to Fenrir and asked him to go with them to the isle of Lyngvi in mid Lake Amsvartnir. Once there they brought out Gleipnir and showed it to the wolf, daring him to test his strength.on it.
'It is somewhat stronger than you might at first think', one told Fenrir.
'As well-woven as the words of good poetry', another added. 'You will be able to break it, though, I do not doubt'.
The great wolf looked closely at Gleipnir and laughed,
'The ribbon is so slim. I would gain no renown in breaking it'. He stared at Gleipnir, 'Great cunning might have been used to forge this chain, and magic made with it. Slender as it looks, you keep it. I am not having this around me!'
'You have broken solid iron fetters and should find this no hardship', one of the gods told Fenrir.
'Should you be unable to break it, we will unfetter you. You can trust our word', another said, trying to convince the wolf.
Fenrir just bared his teeth and they all stepped back.
'If you can fetter me it will be long before I can hope for help from the likes of you!' He circled them. 'I shall not be bound by that magic ribbon, slight as it looks. Yet... nor will I be accused of being cowardly. While the others bind me, one of you should put his right hand into my mouth as a show of goodwill'.
Tyr took in the other gods, one by one. They all looked at one another, saying nothing. They were at a loss about what to do. Tyr raised his right hand and put it between Fenrir's strong jaws.
Straight away the rest of the gods wound Gleipnir tightly around Fenrir until it was all around his great, hairy body. Fenrir struggled, tried to kick, shrug and shake. He jerked and rolled about. The more he struggled the tighter Gleipnir bound him. Fenrir snarled and clamped his jaws shut on Tyr's hand. Bravest and most fearless of the gods, Tyr twisted and yelled out, unable to withstand the pain. Yet the other gods laughed that Fenrir was at last bound and unable to get away. Tyr was in no mood to laugh, having lost his hand.
The gods anchored the great chain Gelgja to the end of Gleipnir, passing the chain through a hole in the outsize rock Gjoll, looped it through again to fix it in place. Meanwhile Fenrir shook and writhed fruitlessly. He ground his teeth, gulped and opened his blood-reddened jaws wide. One of the gods drew his sword, drove the point hard into the roof of Fenrir's mouth and rammed the hilt into his lower jaw. The great wolf gagged.
Fenrir was bound, and Fenrir was gagged. He howled terribly, slavered. The slaver ran from the middle of the islet into the lake, Amsvartnir. The river of slaver was named Von, the river of Hope.
So just as the Midgard Serpent languishes on the ocean floor, coiled around the world; and just as Hel guards her dead in Niflheim, enshrouded in the death mist; so also, bound and gagged, Fenrir lies in waiting for Ragnaroek to get his own back....
"Loosen my fetters, for me to tear your gods to shreds!"
Tales of gods, heroes and kings woven together in a tapestry of myth - skalds (court poets) would weave their kingly or noble paymasters into a greater picture that saw them as godly and heroic (whatever the facts). Snorri Sturlusson gathered the tales together with a little Christian re-colouring in his Prose Edda
Disaster lay around the corner for the gods.
Loki, god of mischief was always on the look-out for gain - or to get revenge on the other inhabitants of Asgard, especially Thor. His last great trick would lead to his own downfall, and that involved Blind Hoder and the handsome Baldur. I've covered that aspect In VIKING - 38: 'Baldur's Dream'. I shall go on to Ragnaroek in time, there's no rush...