Binding of Wolf Fenrir: Did Gods Treat Fenrir Wrong

The Binding of Wolf Fenrir is among the most interesting pieces in Norse mythology. Many thoughts will pop up in our mind when we finish reading the Binding of Wolf Fenrir. Did Fenrir do something wrong to receive such treatment? The story revolved around Fenrir on one hand. On the other hand, it focused on the good qualities that Tyr God of Justice and Honor embodied? Why Gods didn’t just kill Fenrir? After all, was Fenrir that evil?

Gods raised Fenrir

Loki the Norse trickster, who was not a god but could live among the gods, once stepped out on his wife, Sigyn. He had a love affair with another giantess – Angrboda “She Who Gives Anguish”. Together they had three children: Fenrir the little pup, Jormungand small snake, and Hel the cute girl with half blue half flesh skin color. The Norns (who created the fates in Norse mythology) prophesied that Ragnarok would come because of Loki’s children and Fenrir would swallow Odin in his final battle.

Learning this prophecy, Norse gods took great cautions to prevent Ragnarok. They took Loki’s children, not to say kidnapped, and banished them into different places. Gods raised Fenrir up in Asgard, Odin cast Jormungand into the deep ocean, and banished Hel into the land of the dead. Inevitably, three children of Loki dominated the three major worlds in the Nine Worlds: Fenrir in Asgard, Jormungand in Midgard, and Hel in Helheim (land of death).

Hel Queen of Dead sister of Fenrir the Wolf
Among Loki’s children, Hel was the only one who looked similar to a human

Up in Asgard, no one dared to approach the little pup except for Tyr God of Justice and Honor. Tyr was the only one that befriended Fenrir and fed the little pup. But this pup grew up at incredible speed and he quickly became a giant wolf. This made gods decide that Fenrir could no longer live in Asgard but they did not want to free him.

The Binding of Wolf Fenrir in Norse mythology

Then there came a test of strength for Fenrir. Gods bound him with massive chains to “test the wolf’s strength” but two times gods tried to bind Fenrir, two times he broke free easily. Then they asked for the help of the dwarves the most talented craftsmen in Nine Worlds. Dwarves sent back the Gleipnir ribbon.

The material to make the Gleipnir ribbon was one of a kind. The beard of a woman, a sound of cat’s footstep, the roots of the mountain, the sinew of the bear, the spit of the bird, and the breath of the fish.

Smelling something wrong with the magical ribbon, Fenrir refused to join this test. Fenrir required one god to put his/her hand between his jaws. He wanted gods to swear that they would release him if he couldn’t break the chain. Then gods agreed and Tyr was the only one that volunteered to put his hand in Fenrir’s mouth.

Fenrir and Tyr in the Binding of Wolf Fenrir
The Binding of Wolf Fenrir

And Fenrir couldn’t break himself free this time. He realized that gods would not release him and within a second, Fenrir bit and swallowed the hand of Tyr. Then Fenrir was taken to an isolated land and bound to the rock. A sword was thrust between his jaws and everytime he howled, a river “Van” (“Hope”) would flow from his mouth.

Question Time

Why no one dared to put their hand in Fenrir’s mouth?

It’s not the losing-one-hand matter that mattered. Rather, gods were afraid of their oath-breaking deed. Norse culture didn’t allow anyone to break their oath. They believed that nothing good would happen to those who broke their solemn vows. Odin created the world and the humanity. Growing a hand out of a god’s body was not a big deal. But breaking an oath was.

Why Tyr didn’t pull his hand out?

Two theories: First, he didn’t have enough time because Fenrir was quick. Second, he was ashamed of the oath-breaking deed of his clan. It is important that we remember Tyr was God of Justice and Honor. He presented for many good values of the Norse Pantheon. For now his clan carried out such an ashamed deed, he had to do something to make up for this. And he did. Tyr sacrificed one hand for the good of his clan. The sacrifice of Tyr was different from that of Odin. If Odin sacrificed to gain something for himself (he sacrificed eye for wisdom), Tyr sacrificed for the good of his clan.

Did the gods treat Fenrir wrong?

This question is hard to answer. Because from the beginning, Fenrir had done nothing harm to Norse Pantheon. He was just a little pup when gods separated him from his family. Interestingly, Loki who was Fenrir’s father didn’t take any responsibility for caring for his child.

From the beginning, Fenrir had done nothing harm to the Nine Worlds. All of his fault was just his appearance in the prophecy of Ragnarok. Some scholars believed that this was the self-fulfilling prophecy which one individual would reap what he/she sowed.

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