Many creatures existed according to Norse mythology, from giants to elves and wolves. The wolves, however, have proven to play important roles in the mythology, beginning with Odin’s wolf pets, Freki and Geri. But out of all the wolves ever mentioned, Fenrir is the most famous and powerful one that there is.
People today have taken interest in Fenrir after his introduction through pop culture TV shows and movies. The only issue is that their contradictory stories about who he is and the role that he truly plays in Norse mythology. This article, therefore, aims to clarify, who Fenrir is, his role, and what he symbolizes.
What Is The Fenrir In Norse Mythology?
Fenrir is the largest monstrous wolf beast in Norse mythology. He was dreaded by the Norse deities not just for his wild strength but also for his direct link to Ragnarok which would see to the end of the cosmos. But who was Fenrir? He was the son and first child of Loki with the giantess Angrboda, who was the mother of the wolves and the leader of the Iron Wood Wolf clan. He is also the elder brother Loki’s other two children, the great serpent Jörmungandr and Hel, the goddess of the underworld, both of whom are also linked to Ragnarok.
Fenrir’s name roughly translated to ‘the marshes dweller’. He was described as the devil monster who could shake the world. His mighty jaws could be opened wide enough to carry the entire earth and sky. His strength was also unmatched by any creature in Norse mythology. What most people may not have known, or choose to overlook, is that despite being a monster, Fenrir was also a father. According to the myths, he had two sons, Sköll and Hati. Sköll is described as the wolf who chased after the sun. His brother Hati is described as the wolf who chased after the moon. It is believed that during Ragnarok, the two swallowed the sun and moon, which may have helped their father Fenrir escape from his captivity.
Tyr And Fenrir
Fenrir and his two siblings were all linked to Ragnarok as we mentioned earlier, and so in an attempt to prevent its occurrence, Odin thought it wise to separate them. He had the giant serpent thrown into the deepest part of the sea and made Hel the goddess of the underworld. As for Fenrir, Odin brought him to Asgard where he was to be raised by the Aesir.
He believed that by doing so he be able to bring him under control and prevent him from causing havoc in Ragnarok. This is especially because Fenrir was destined to end Odin’s life at that time by swallowing him. Initially, they raised him almost as a pet dog, allowing him to roam around. But soon enough, Fenrir had grown to become an enormous beast, and the gods became scared of his strength and wildness.
All the deities feared him apart from Tyr, the god of war and law. Tyr was the one who brought him food and showed him kindness which allowed him to grow so rapidly. The two, therefore, formed a special bond, one that would prove to be useful to the gods when it came time to bind the beast.
What Binds Fenrir?
Given his rapid growth, the gods felt that Fenrir could no longer be left to roam around freely. They decide it was time to bind him and tricked him into thinking that the binds were a game to see how strong the wolf was. Having managed to convince him, they bound him using the first bind called Leading. It didn’t take any effort for the wolf to break loose from the chains. So, in the second attempt, the gods used a bind that was twice as strong, called Dormi. Promising Fenrir immense wealth and riches if he managed to break it, they managed to bind him again. This time there was a little effort required but Fenrir still managed to break free.
At this point, the gods knew that they would need a special bind if they were to win over the beast’s strength. That was when they enlisted the help of the dwarves, known for creating flawless magical items. The dwarves ended up creating Gleipnir using six of the most peculiar ingredients. These ingredients included the sound of a cat’s footfall, a mountain’s root, a bird’s spit, a woman’s beard, and the sinews of a bear. With that combination and the dwarves’ magic, the Gleipnir turned out to be the strongest and most famous bind in Norse mythology despite its ribbon-like appearance.
Although they finally had the perfect bind, the gods had lost Fenrir’s, and he no longer believed in their intentions nor was he willing to participate in their game. It was hard to earn his trust, but after several attempts, they managed to lure him to a remote island called Lyngvi. There they challenged his strength again, but this time Fenrir was reluctant. It is as of he could sense that he would not be able to break free from the bind. Still, he did not want to seem like a coward, so he put forward a condition, that for him to allow the bind to be put on him, one of the gods had to be willing to put his arm between his jaw. This was meant to be as a pledge that their intentions were pure.
Being the bravest and the closest to the wolf, Tyr came forward and placed his arm in Fenrir’s jaws. He knew that he would lose his arm but it seemed like a small sacrifice to prevent the end of the universe as they knew it. When the gods managed to put on the bind, Fenrir immediately realized that he would not be able to break free and so he bit off Tyr’s arm. The gods also put a sword in his mouth to keep his jaws open. His drool formed a river of foam that would later come to be known as Ván, meaning expectations. He was to lie bound in a cave deep beneath the mountains of the island, waiting for Ragnarok. Then he would be free to wreak havoc on anything in its path and ultimately kill Odin before being killed by Odin’s son Vidar.
What Does The Fenrir Symbol Meaning?
The Norse mythology is filled with symbolism and Fenrir is no exception. His symbol is often depicted as him biting on a chain. He is destined to be freed when the moon and the sun are swallowed so he can fulfill his destiny at Ragnarok. Although he is normally painted as the fearsome villain in most stories, there is a thing or two we can pick from him. The following are the symbols which Fenrir stands for and what they mean:
Justice – although feared for his strength and link to Ragnarok, he can be viewed as a creature wrongfully chained and prevented from fulfilling his destiny. So, in a way, him killing Odin and the Norse deities, could be seen as just since they betrayed his trust.
Vengeance – despite trusting the Norse gods’ intentions when they tricked him, they ended up betraying him and locked him up despite him not having done anything wrong at the time. So when he was finally freed, it would seem right that he would seek vengeance from them for their betrayal.
Strength – by breaking the first two binds, believed to be extremely strong and based on his size, Fenrir displayed the extent of his strength and power. His strength was unmatched.
Destiny – regardless of the gods binding him, Fenrir still managed to break free in the end and fulfill his destiny. He is prove that fate is inevitable and will eventually come to pass.
Fearlessness – despite knowing that he wouldn’t be able to break free from the third bind, he still accepted the challenge the gods put forth. This was a show of his courage.
Ferocity – during Ragnarok, it is said that Fenrir would devour everything in its path without any mercy. He would face his enemies and kill them including Odin who he swallows whole.
In hindsight, it would seem that the actions of the gods are what led Fenrir to seek vengeance against them, especially Odin, during Ragnarok. Perhaps if they had refrained from binding him and instead shown him kindness he would have been subdued. Alternatively, they could have opted to kill him then, seeing as he would eventually die. But there are speculations that the gods didn’t want to taint the land with the blood of the Norse wolf. Or possibly, they were just afraid that he would have overpowered them. In any case, as the saying goes you cannot outrun fate, eventually, it will catch up. Although Fenrir is portrayed as the villain, we can choose to see his actions at Ragnarok as his form of Justice for how he was treated by them.