Is it Time to Abandon the Irminsul?
Oh, boy howdy. I know I’m going to get flack for this post, but the question has been brewing in my mind for some time. Every time I see stylized depictions of the Irminsul, I feel uncomfortable. Not because of the original meaning of the Irminsul, but what it has grown to represent due to the blatant misappropriation by the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists.
So, before I get into the reasoning behind my question — and with all honesty, I do not have an answer to the question — let’s get into the history behind the Irminsul and why it is important to heathen beliefs.
Where the Irminsul Comes from
The Irminsul or Ermensul comes straight from the Saxons. Arguably it’s named after Irmin, a
presumably main Saxon god who is linked either with Tyr or Odin, according to early 20th century historians.This is a largely reconstructed god and may or may not have existed. Many later scholars do not think there was such a god, instead thinking that the Irminsul was more likely a representation of Yggdrasil or the World Tree.
Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried mentions the destruction of the Irminsul in this post, and also notes that the author who writes about it wrote the account 88 years after the fact. He furthermore adds:
“The Saxon Poet writes that the Irminsul “was fashioned in the form of a huge column and contained a corresponding wealth of adornment,” but his account was written nearly 120 years after the destruction of the site. Such later sources must be treated with caution; sources contemporary with the Saxon war do not clarify whether the Irminsul was a carved column or a natural tree.”
So, not only do we have a questionable god, but also we don’t know if the Irminsul was a post or a tree. And while it had a huge temple surrounding it, we really don’t have any archaeological evidence determining what it was. While we do have one possible image of it, it is a Christian depiction and not pagan art. This piece of art appeared somewhere between the 9th and 12th centuries, most likely by an artist who had never seen an Irminsul.
The Axis Mundi, or Pillar of the World
The Irminsul, and Yggdrasil, for that matter, is a form of the axis mundi, or the pillar of the world. The concept appears time and again throughout most religions. The axis mundi is the link between the heavens and the earth, forming a bridge like the bifrost from the mundane to the supernatural. Too many religions to name have this conduit, and the Irminsul appears to be a representation of the conduit. I agree with later historians, (rightly or wrongly), that it was the Saxons’ form of the World Tree.
Corruption by the Nazis
It didn’t take long for the Nazis to point to Irminism and Wotanism as their own religions due to the evolution of Heathenry in northern Europe. A great deal of emphasis was placed on the site of Externsteine where, I kid you not, a psychic Nazi archaeologist, claimed there was an Irminsul, even though there is no physical proof of one. Look up Karl Maria Wiligut sometime. This guy created the SS logo and was a spiritual counselor for Himmler. Fun times.
The sign of the Irminsul and the meaning had been adopted by men such as Heinrich Himmler, who was big into the occult. During these dark days, heathens saw their images such as teiwaz, othala, algiz, and sowelu become part of the Nazi symbols. The Irminsul was offered as an alternative to the Christian cross.
Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist Symbols
If you check out the JDL’s hate symbol database, you’ll be dismayed to find images such as othala, teiwaz, and other heathen runes to be part of the neo-Nazi symbols. You also may see something that looks like a skinhead crucified on a teiwaz rune.
Oddly enough, it looks like an Irminsul. And I suspect it’s intentional, as is the crucified skinhead looking like a mockery of the White Christ. Although I have no love for Christianity, the blending of the two images from two different beliefs, combined with the overall hate message has left me uneasy. (Yes, I know Odin hung himself on the World Tree for nine days, but that was upside down. I really think this is a Heathen and Christian blending in a perverse way.) This combined with the obvious Nazi history of the Irminsul has corrupted it to the point where I’m not certain we can ever win it back without the soiled context. Look at the swastika and tell me that it is free from the Nazi taint, even though it was an ancient rune and symbol. It’s foolish to think otherwise.
If you don’t think it is still considered by the Nazis as part of the symbolism, I’ll point to the recent vandalism at Externsteine by the neo-Nazis. They consider it part of their beliefs in a big way.
So, Where Does that Leave Us with the Irminsul?
So, where does that leave us with the Irminsul? With all honesty, I haven’t a fucking clue. It’s the World Tree, the axis mundi, and a symbol of the Saxons. But do we use the stylized Christian depiction, or go with something else? Do we even bother with the term Irminsul and call it the World Tree? Given the shaky ground we’re already on historically, do we even bother with it? Or do we take it back somehow? Maybe others will have a better idea which way to go with it, I sure don’t.
My own instinct is to let it die and stick with the World Tree. It may not be the best solution, but it is one I am more comfortable with. Either that or come up with a better depiction of the Irminsul which may be more historically accurate, and less, well…, Nazi.
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10 thoughts on “Is it Time to Abandon the Irminsul?”
Ridiculous. If we give up things just because “white supremacists” use them…we will be giving up a lot. The ADL wants us to stop using the okay sign! Enough is enough! Stop being so PC.
Actually I’m far from PC. But I think that the symbols the Nazis stole can’t be reclaimed for a very long time. And if we want Heathenry to continue and not be labeled “Nazi,” we’re going to have to forego some of those symbols. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to reclaim the sun sign — the swastika — because of the damage. I’m thinking the Irminsul is the same way.
You raise an interesting and very valid point. It is my opinion that those symbols not be given up to persons who follow the ideology of hate!
Yes people will judge you if you was to wear a swastika charm, but this would mostly be due to their ignorance and mostly a knee jerk reaction. Is it not an opportunity for the person wearing the symbol to educate others as to the symbols positive spiritual aspects that are shared by many spiritual traditions around the world?
That way the symbol is reclaimed as people become more educated to the different nuances and deeper meanings of the symbol. In most cases I find that hate ideologists use the symbol in a most basic and superficial manner. They have no idea as to the deeper meaning associated to the symbol.
They pervert it in their own image. Which invariably is superficial in nature but highly provocative in image.
That is the key difference between those who follow an ideology of hate, their usage of symbols is superficial, narrow minded and one dimensional. Whereas those who use the symbols for more spiritual purposes have a Moore deeper more significant connection to the symbol.
It would be remiss of me to advise caution though if you decide to wear (tattoo/jewellery etc) a symbol that has been subject to the corrupting influence of hate preachers and the media’s seeming fascination with focusing on such haters (and thus their version/interpretation of the symbols they use).
A national claim back the Swastika day or Irminsul day would be very good in educating the Western world as to the deeper nature of these ancient symbols, which contrary to popular belief have nothing to do with hate!
Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. As a person who still has a bad reaction to the swastika, all I can say is that it’s a tough uphill battle, especially given the white supremacist asshats who insisted on taking over the Capitol building. I understand the value of educating the public, but it’s hard to reach people when those symbols still have a very visceral reaction. Maybe someday when the Nazi movement in the world is finally dead and buried, we can reclaim the symbols. But right now, I’m not sure we can. It will take a lot more work and a lot more Heathens before one can not get lumped in with the haters. And as much as I would prefer to have the Nazi movement marginalized, this is not my call. Dangerous and hateful people are still out there using images and perverting them, and that perception is what Heathens have to deal with.
The Nazis perverted own god’s symbol, Teiwas. They perverted several of the runes and signs. And the Nazis have unfortunately corrupted the sun sign by using it as a symbol of Nazi Germany. Again, I don’t think you’re going to get through to people through education. At least not in our lifetimes.
Having just discovered the word I’m reluctant to surrender it or representations of it to Nazis.
They are welcome to their crooked cross and twisted ideology but I reckon I can rehabilitate the irminsul.
Hey, i have found the place of the Irminsul. (In an old French priest book )
Respond if you wanna know more
Do tell. I am drawn to the Irminsul. I wear it instead of mjolnir.
My effort to reclaim it.
But something tells me that it is far too obscure, in western culture anyway, to be of any concern. I had never heard of it until about six months into heathenry and only when I searched and wanted to learn my germanic ancestry further.
I found the most used depiction of the irminsul weird too! It would make so much more sense if it had like any of odin or tyr’s imagery attached to it but it doesnt… And irmin or hermin was likely a germanic name for an odin figure, since it’s linked to jörmunr which is another name for odin.
Personally the one i made is just a simple pillar with a suncross engraved along it.
makes it more of an abstraction, but still holds meaning to me personally. And thats all that really matters.
Kinda sick of these racists sullying all imagery related to our lost cultures…
Yes, I agree. Thanks for your insights!