Fenrir, a huge wolf in Norse and Germanic mythology, was the son of Loki and Angurboda. His size was so great, the gods attempted three times to bind him. He easily broke two strong chains, but he mistrusted the magic silken cord, Gleipnir.
He insisted that Tyr place a hand in his mouth during the tying, and when he found himself securely bound, he bit the hand off. The cord will hold Fenrir until Ragnarok, when he will join Loki, devour Odin, only to be torn apart by Vidar, Odin’s son.
He was the brother of Hel, the ruler of the Norse Underworld, and of Jormungandr, the World Serpent.
Fenrir was so huge that when he opened his mouth, his jaws stretched from Earth to Heaven.
Fenrir also had two wolf-sons: Skoll and Hati. Skoll chased the Sun across the sky while Hati hunted the moon every night.
1. Who are Fenrir’s mother and father? How was Fenrir born?
Fenrir, as well as his brother Jormungandr and sister Hel, are the secret children of Loki and Angrboda, an evil witch-giantess.
For a long time, Loki managed to keep the existence of his bestial children a secret by hiding them in a cave.
However, the three monstrous children grew so quickly and so large that they no longer fit in the cave and had to come out into the daylight.
Odin, sitting on his all-seeing throne, Hlidskjalf, noticed the existence of Loki’s children and was disturbed by the speed with which they grew and the size they could take.
Odin was afraid Loki’s children would grow so quickly they could destroy the Asgardian gods themselves. As a result, Odin cast Jormungandr into the sea, where he became the world-serpent that holds Midgard, while exiling Hel to Niflheim and commanding her to rule it.
2. Why the gods chained Fenrir (and why Fenrir bit Tyr’s hand)
At first, the gods did not want to exile Fenrir as they did with his siblings.
Instead, they believed that through kindness and proper training, they could befriend the giant wolf and have him be useful to the Aesir gods.
Thus, Odin brought Fenrir to Asgard and put the fearless Tyr in charge of raising and taming the savage wolf.
From the beginning, Fenrir snapped and tried to bite the hands of all those who fed him, with the exception of Tyr, who over time earned the wolf’s trust.
Fenrir thrived upon Tyr’s food, whatever it was, and grew to an enormous size, not stopping to grow while becoming more savage by the day.
Afraid they could no longer contain the Fenrir, the Aesir gods met in council to decide what to do with the wolf.
It was proposed to kill Fenrir then and there to end the issue permanently, but Odin opposed this, saying that the giant wolf still had a role to play in the prophecies.
The final decision was to chain the beast and send him far away, where he could not cause any trouble to the gods or the inhabitants of Midgard alike.
3. What are the chains used to bind Fenrir?
It took three attempts and three chains to bind the mighty Fenrir. The first two chains, Laeding and Dromi, were made of iron, and Fenrir broke them easily. The third chain, Gleipnir, was magical in nature and succeeded in binding Fenrir.
The first chain, Laeding, was made of iron and produced by the smiths within Asgard. Once it was complete, the gods jokingly challenged Fenrir to see if he could break it.
After seeing the chain and finding it weak, Fenrir calmly accepted the gods’ tying him down with it, only to break the chain with the slightest effort.
The gods then tried to craft a second, much stronger iron chain called Dromi.
Fenrir became suspicious of the god’s intentions, especially when he saw how heavy the chain was, but he accepted to be tied once again after the gods challenged the wolf’s pride and strength. Just like with the first chain, Fenrir easily broke off Dromi’s binding.
The third chain, Gleipnir, was produced by the dwarves at the request of the gods.
It was a magical binding, made from magical materials:
- The sound of a cat’s paw
- The hairs of a maiden’s beard
- The roots of a mountain
- The sinews of a bear
- The breath of a fish
- The spittle of a bird
The gods then asked Fenrir once more to break out of a chain.
4. Why does Fenrir bite Tyr’s hand?
Fenrir refused to be tied after seeing the magical rope Gleipnir unless one of the gods was willing to put a hand into the wolf’s mouth as a guarantee he would be freed.
None of the gods was willing to step up to the challenge, with the exception of Tyr, Fenrir’s caregiver, and the one whom the wolf had learned to trust.
Once secured in Gleipnir, Fenrir could not break the bond. Fenrir then clamped down on Tyr’s hand and bit it off as punishment for his betrayal.
The gods tied Gleipnir to a heavy chain, Gelgja, and passed the chain through a hole carved in a rock called Gyott.
At this point, Fenrir kept howling in rage and demanded to be set free. To silence the wolf’s cries, the gods thrust a sword through Fenrir’s mouth so it could stay wide open.
And so Fenrir remains chained and gagged until the end of Ragnarock, when he will finally break free and kill Odin in a duel, only to be torn apart by Odin’s son, Vidar.
5. Is Fenrir a god or a Jotun?
Fenrir certainly has divine powers, but its nature is closer to that of a divine being than that of a god. Fenrir’s powers were equal to or greater than those of gods; his parentage was certainly divine, but despite this, Fenrir did not fulfill the role of gods among the Norse culture.
In terms of parentage, Fenrir’s mother, Angrboda, is a giantess, but Loki, the wolf’s father, has unclear parentage and may be more of a giant than a god himself.
However, in Norse mythology, giants (jottuns), elves (alfar), and the Aesir and Vanir were all supernatural beings with their own divine powers and responsibilities.
Generally speaking, the Aesir and Vanir (such as Njord, Thor, Frey, or Odin) were worshipped as gods because their powers brought stability and prosperity to mankind.
Thus, Thor brought rain and water. Njord bestowed riches, commerce, and wealth. Frey was the god of peace, harvests, and farm animals. Odin was the supreme god of war, bringing not only victory but also wisdom.
On the other hand, giants were thought to be personifications of the destructive forces of nature. The lightning that caused forest fires was thought to be the work of fire giants (and not Thor), while avalanches were the doing of ice giants, etc.
Another important aspect is that Fenrir succeeds in killing Odin during Ragnarock, which leads to the conclusion that Fenrir was more powerful than the supreme god of the Aesir, even if the Norse didn’t worship him as a proper god.
6. How big is Fenrir?
Throughout all Norse mythological sources, Fenrir is described as being the largest creature ever known. Its size is so great that it is capable of swallowing the earth whole, and it is said that during Ragnarock, Fenrir’s jaws will swallow all the sky between heaven and earth.
7. Are Skoll, Hati, and Garm the same as Fenrir?
Norse mythology contains numerous different wolves, probably influenced by the fact that the Norse themselves lived in or around forests that were teeming with real wolves.
Four of these Norse wolves, Skoll, Hati, Garm, and Fenrir, are very similar to one another, but they are each different divine creatures with separate, well defined identities:
Fenrir is the son of Loki and Angrboda and is the wolf that kills Odin during Ragnarock.
Skoll is the son of Fenrir with a giantess. Skoll hunts the sun every day, but only catches and devours it during Ragnarock.
Hati is also the son of Fenrir and brother to Skoll. Similar to Skoll, Hati hunts for the moon every night but only succeeds during Ragnarock.
Garm is either a wolf or a hound that belongs to Fenrir’s sister, Hel. At the beginning of Ragnarock he escapes his confines in Niflheim and fights Tyr in a final duel, where they kill each other.
In some mythological sources, Garm is said to be another name for Fenrir, but in most situations, Garm and Fenrir are separate beings.
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