Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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Novel Gnosis part 34: Tyr and Zisa

Tyr is the original skyfather in heathen mythology. His major sphere of influence is justice. Zisa is his wife. Her symbol is the war boat, and she was identified by Tacitus as being the same goddess as Isis.

The Fireverse uses the names of gods as recorded in the Icelandic / Norse sources, unless the name is not recorded there. In the Icelandic, the name of Tyr's wife is not written down. However, Tyr is the same god as Ziu, and Ziu's wife's name is Zisa, so in both my novel Some Say Fire and in my personal practice I call them Tyr and Zisa.

Tyr and Zisa are Fenris’s foster parents. Tyr did what he had to do in the binding of Fenris, but it was a personal tragedy for him in a way far past losing his hand and his throne. When Fenris became “too big,” he was “too big” in the same way that Ymir was “too big” when Odin killed him. Both Ymir and Fenris would have continued to eat the universe until nothing was left if they had not been stopped. It was for this reason that Tyr participated in the binding of his beloved foster son, like any father who might send his dangerous adult child to an institution as a third option between killing him and letting him kill others. They were not enemies, and for his part, Tyr is still not his enemy, though of course Fenris feels betrayed and dreams of revenge.

In the Fireverse, Zisa is a mother goddess with no known children (except wolves / dogs, which is not quite the same.) She is ancient, the old queen, who has given way to the new queen (Frigga) with whom she is friends. Sigyn is a mystery child, a child of no known parents, who simply appears in Asgard in a magical house with magical bird and animal servants, acknowledged as Asynja by Odin which implies he might actually know who her parents are, but it is never revealed in the story. There is somewhat of an implication that Sigyn might be Berkana’s daughter, but it’s not confirmed and Berkana isn’t in the story very much. Berkana might be a name for a goddess we know by another name.

Tyr is not the only god in any mythology who has one hand. In Celtic mythology, Nuada lost his hand and therefore his kingship. He got a replacement silver hand and then eventually a functional human hand.

One thing I have learned, in writing the Fireverse and in comparing with other mythologies after that experience: the collection of symbols and images in these stories are often more important than the plot, even when the plot is transparently allegorical. Sometimes the plot is there to try to loosely connect disparate visions. Imagine if you took 10 single frames from a superhero movie, with no context or dialogue, and assigned each film frame to one side of a 10 sided die, and selected 8 different but related cultures, and 3 different visionaries in each culture, and took that 10 sided die and rolled it 7 times for each visionary and showed them those slides. Then each visionary told a story about the pictures.

The Norse and Celtic cultures both got a one handed god. In both those cultures this god was a king who lost his throne when he lost his hand. The rest of the stories of these two gods are quite different from each other, but perhaps that isn't as important as we may think.

Image: Tyr from an 18th century Icelandic manuscript, public domain via Wikimedia Commons


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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, and the updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path. Erin has been a gythia since 1989. She was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. She also writes science fiction and poetry, ran for public office, is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.


  • Victoria
    Victoria Wednesday, 19 August 2020

    Zisa is not mentioned by Tacitus, in Germania Tacitus mentioned that 'some of the Suevi also sacrifice to Isis' , Tacitus does not connect Isis to Zisa or state that Zisa was wife to Tyr. Zisa is attested much later in the Nuremburg Chronicle as a Swabian goddess:

    "And they chose for themselves the goddess Ziza, whom they believed to be Ceres. After the same goddess the city was named Zizaria. Her temple remained there intact until the time of the Romans, when it fell into ruin";cc=nur;view=text;idno=nur.001.0004;rgn=div2;node=nur.001.0004%3A7.60

    In Norse mythology it is mentioned in Lokasenna that Tyr has a wife but not specifics are not given. It was Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology proposed that Zisa was Tyr's wife based on nothing more than etymological speculation. Grimm is a flawed source, do you have another source?

    Where is it attested that Zisa's symbol is a war boat?

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Tuesday, 06 July 2021

    The war-boat as a symbol of Isis who was worshipped by the Suebi is from Tacitus’s The Germania. The Ziu / Zisa connection is linguistic but it has been widely adopted, especially by Urglaawe, who sacrifice to Zisa on Sept. 28th. As noted in the intro post to the Novel Gnosis series, this series of posts is about my gnosis received via writing a novel.

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