Fenrir in Norse Mythology – Origins, Family, Meaning, & Power
Fenrir is the mighty wolf who acts as one of the staunchest opponents to the gods in Norse mythology. Commonly known as the Lord of Wolves, Fenrir is regarded as one of the most feared monsters in Norse mythology. This beast was fostered by the Norse gods in Asgard, as the gods had tremendous fear of the wolf. The gods, under the leadership of the Allfather Odin, believed that by raising Fenrir themselves they could keep him under control.
In the article below we’ll be exploring the origin story and major myths surrounding Fenrir, shedding light on his dark side as well as what he symbolizes.
Who is Fenrir?
In the book Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda, the mighty wolf Fenrir is described as the fierce creature who awaits for the onset of Ragnarok, at which point he will break free from the chains that hold him and wrestle with Odin, the chief of the Norse gods.
Birth story and family
According to the myths, Fenrir was born to Loki, the Norse god of mischief, and the giantess Angrboða. This means that he is one of three main children of Loki and Angrboða; the other two are Hel (queen of the underworld) and Jörmungandr (the Midgard Serpent).
It’s believed that the fates of Fenrir and his siblings were decided when they were born. Icelandic poet and statesman Snorri Sturluson writes in the Prose Edda, a 13th-century compilation Norse stories, that Odin seized Fenrir and his siblings from Loki. Odin then bestowed the realm of the underworld (Hel) upon Hel, making her queen of the realm. Odin and the gods then cast Jörmungandr into the world ocean as they were afraid of the bleak future that could be unleashed by the serpent. Finally, the gods adopted and raised Fenrir, who was by then a little wolf cub.
Read More: Top 10 Norse Gods and Goddesses
Fenrir’s explosive growth
Mindful of the prophecy, the gods hoped to instill in Fenrir very sound morals so as to nudge him off the destructive path that awaited him. Little did the gods know that there was nothing that they could do to stop the prophecy.
Similar to his other sibling Jörmungandr (the Great Serpent), Fenrir grew extremely huge and powerful, causing an already terrified Norse gods to become even more worried about the threat Fenrir would likely pose in the future.
The binding of Fenrir
Fearing for their lives, the gods took a bold decision to bind Fenrir in order to prevent the mighty wolf from causing chaos across the Nine Worlds. It’s also said that the Norse gods’ decision to bind Fenrir came as a result of the prophecy that stated Fenrir would be the one to kill Odin. Therefore, it was decided that the Norse dwarfs forge an unbreakable chain infused with magical properties. The dwarfs were revered as the most skilled craftsmen in all of the Nine Worlds.
The gods hoped that a chain as strong as that would be able to keep Fenrir in check and thereby averting the grim future that lay ahead for the gods.
In making the chain (Gleipnir), the dwarfs combined the following six items:
- the roots of mountain,
- the sinews of a bear,
- the beard of a woman,
- the spittle of a bird,
- the breath of a fish, and
- the sound of a cat’s footfall.
Upon completion, the Dwarfs presented Gleipnir, the unbreakable chain, to the Norse gods. The really difficult part was how the gods were going to bind a creature as wild as Fenrir .
The gods devised a plan to trick the Great Wolf. They began by showering Fenrir with a lot of praises, telling him how great he is and how there wasn’t any beast across the Nine Worlds that could rival him in the strength department. The gods then showed Fenrir the magical chain and asked if they could bind him in order to test how strong the chain was.
Owing to how light the chain looked, Fenrir began to get a little bit suspicious of the gods’ true intentions. With a lot of convincing, Fenrir ultimately agreed to the gods’ proposition, on one condition however. Fenrir told the gods that one of them had to place his/her hands in his mouth. This was to serve as a sign of good faith; a kind of security just in case the gods reneged on their promise to free him afterwards.
Fenrir vs Týr, the Norse god of war
With all the gods in on the ruse, none of the gods was willing to volunteer and put his/her hand in the mouth of the mighty wolf. None, except Týr , the god of war and justice. Týr was not only a just deity, but he was at times described as a selfless deity, the kind who was willing to put a part of his body on the line for the safety of everyone in all the nine worlds. The Norse deity also packed a lot when it came to courage.
Therefore, Týr stepped up and gently placed his right hand in Fenrir’s mouth. And just as Fenrir had suspected, the gods refused to unbind him. It was all an elaborate trick to get Fenrir chained with the unbreakable chain. With Týr’s right hand still in Fenrir’s mouth, the mighty wolf quickly ripped off Tyr’s hand. This myth is particularly significant as it explains how the Norse god Týr came to lose his right hand.
Once Fenrir was chained, the gods placed a sword into his jaws in order to stop him from howling.
Fenrir during Ragnarok
With Fenrir bound to an unbreakable chain, the gods left the mighty wolf all alone in a cold and isolated place (the island of Lyngvi), where he is fated to stay until the onset of Ragnarok (i.e. the demise of the gods).
Once Ragnarok begins, Fenrir’s brother, Jormungandr, will emerge from the ocean and cause the earth to tremble, many mountains and rocks will break as well, including the boulder to which Fenrir is chained to. Fenrir is fated to break free from his chains and run riot throughout the world. He will destroy everything that he comes into contact with.
Fenrir is also fated to team up with his two other siblings – Hel, the queen of the underworld; and Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent – in wreaking untold suffering and carnage on the world. The trio, along with Loki and scores of Jotunn (giants) and dark creatures from the underworld, will charge against the Norse gods.
How Fenrir kills Odin
Fenrir will face off against the Allfather Odin in a fierce battle in which Odin is fated to be killed and then devoured by Fenrir. The death of Odin shocks the gods. It’s described as Frigg’s, (Odin’s wife) second great sorrow, coming in after the death of her son Baldur.
Odin’s death will then be avenged by his son, Víðarr. The wolf’s jaws will be ripped apart by Víðarr before he is stabbed straight in the heart.
Thus Fenrir, along with many giants and gods, doesn’t make it beyond Ragnarok. His brother Jörmungandr and father Loki also die. Some of the Norse gods that don’t survive Ragnarok include god of thunder Thor, Freyr, Týr, and Heimdallr.
The children of Fenrir
In the Norse myths, Fenrir gave birth to two sons – Skoll and Hati. Those two offspring were as destructive as their father, with both of them consuming the sun and the moon respectively. They also laid waste to a number of stars in the cosmos.
How big was Fenrir?
Being the offspring of two jotunn (giants), it comes as no surprise that Fenrir became a super-sized wolf.
While Fenrir was held chained up to the giant boulder, his howls were so strong that the sound traveled across the land. According to the myths, lakes were formed from the drool that fell from Fenrir’s mouth.
Fenrir was so huge that his upper and lower jaws, when wide open, could touch both the ground and the sky. Also from from his jaws flowed the Van river.
Power and abilities
In addition to his limitless growth and sheer strength, Fenrir was very agile and uncharacteristically intelligent for a creature of his type. He put these abilities of his to devastating effect when Ragnarok began. The fact that Fenrir kills and devours Odin, arguably the most powerful Aesir god, is testimony to just how mighty and strong this wolf is.
Other interesting facts
- Much of what we know about Fenrir appears in the Prose Edda, the 13th century book written by Icelandic poet Snorri Sturlusson, and the Poetic Edda, a compilation of Norse stories and myths. The Prose Edda is also known as Snorri’s Edda.
- The word Ragnarök in Old Norse means “Twilight of the Gods” or “Fate of the Gods”.
He may have been born a slightly vain character as he liked to show off his immense strength and abilities; however, Fenrir was not completely evil. It’s possible that the manner in which the gods raised him did more harm than good. Growing up, Fenrir realized that Odin and his fellow gods, rather than accept him for who he was, feared him and schemed to eliminate him.
The gods were more concerned with trying to avert the prophecy than embracing Fenrir. In their futile attempt to avoid Ragnarok, they saw Fenrir as a foe that had to be controlled and chained up. After being chained for eons of years, it was only natural that Fenrir would take the destructive path that he was destined to take. Simply put, all that Fenrir ever thought about in those years of being held prisoner was to exact revenge upon the gods.