F is for Fenrir

Fenrir (pronounced “FEN-reer;” Old Norse Fenrir, “He Who Dwells in the Marshes”[1]) is the most infamous of the many wolves in Norse mythology. His importance for the pre-Christian Scandinavians is demonstrated by his being depicted on numerous surviving runestones, not to mention his ubiquity in Old Norse literary sources.

He’s the son of the god Loki and the giantess Angrboða, which makes him the brother of the serpent Jormungand and the underworld goddess Hel.

–from Norse Mythology for Smart People by Daniel McCoy

Fenrir, the wolf, contrasts with a number of other named wolves in Norse mythology. For instances, the wolves Geri and Freki (Old Norse, both meaning “the ravenous” or “greedy one”) accompany Odin and are often depicted at the side of his throne, as his protectors.

Fenrir, on the other hand, is no friend to Odin. Neither were Loki’s other two children.

The gods tried to banish Loki’s children in an attempt to escape the foreboding destiny they feared from them. They threw the Jormungand serpent into the sea where he then encircled Midgard, the land of humans. They relegated Hel to the underworld, also called Hel, one of several final destination for the dead. Perhaps they hoped she would be satisfied ruling over that portion of the Norse cosmos.

But Fenrir was scary. They decided they needed to keep him close, in Asgard. Fenrir grew quickly and soon became so large the gods feared he would destroy wherever he was kept. Binding him and locking him away seemed the only answer.

The gods used trickery and Fenrir’s vanity by telling Fenrir they wanted to challenge his strength by wrapping him in chains which he then would break free from. Over and over, they wrapped Fenrir with ever stronger chains, and each time Fenrir broke loose.

Eventually, the gods turned to the dwarves, the master craftsmen of the cosmos, and asked them to create a binding so strong that Fenrir couldn’t break free. The dwarves used ingredients that do not exist, such as the sound of a cat’s footsteps, the beard of a woman, the roots of mountains, the breath of a fish, and the spittle of a bird, to create a ribbon they named Gleipnir. Since the materials used in the binding do not exist, there was no point in resisting it.

When Fenrir saw the lightweight ribbon, he became suspicious and only agreed to be bound with it if one of the gods would place his hand in Fenrir’s mouth while the gods bound him. Only one god, Tyr, was brave enough, though he knew he would lose his arm when Fenrir realized he couldn’t break free.

Once Fenrir was bound, the gods moved him to an isolated spot and held Gleipnir down with a large boulder. They also forced Fenrir’s mouth open with a sword to keep his jaws open.

And that should have been that. But this is mythology. More dramatic events must follow. Watch for R is for Ragnarök later this month.

The full story of the binding of Fenrir can be found in Norse Mythology for Smart People.

Tales of Fenrir are mentioned in the Poetic Edda, stanzas 40, 44, 47, and 51-53 of Voluspo, The Wise Woman’s Prophecy.

Geri and Freki are mentioned in the Poetic Edda, stanza 19, of Grimnismol, the Ballad of Grimnir.

[1] Simek, Rudolf. 1993. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. p. 81.

Image credit: By George Wright (1872-1951) – Mabie, Hamilton Wright. 1908. Norse Stories Retold from the Eddas. Dodd, Mead and Company, New York. Frontispiece. Digitized version from the Internet Archive., Public Domain, Link

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5 thoughts on “F is for Fenrir

  1. Pingback: L is for Loki – Sandra Yeaman

  2. Pingback: O is for Oðinn – Sandra Yeaman

  3. Pingback: R is for Ragnarøk – Sandra Yeaman

  4. Pingback: T is for Týr – Sandra Yeaman

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