OK, so. I was going to skip this week because I had no idea what to write about. I still sort of don't, so I'm going with Irminsul because it is quick and easy.
What is an Irminsul?
The Irminsul is a symbol of Germanic Paganism. It's a symbol of Germanic Paganism generally, and is used by many Heathens, but it's also specifically important to the Saxons and Continental Germanic Paganism. We know only so much about the Irminsul - we know it was tremendously sacred to the Saxons and a focal point of worship. They were erected in a few places, but there was one large one in particular destroyed by Charlemagne. We know it was a pillar, and may have been a tree trunk - although some may have been made of stone also. We strongly suspect it was a representation of Yggdrassil, and that it was probably related to Oðinn, or maybe Tyr. It's not as popular in jewellery as the Hammer, but you still find it here and there, and some people erect their own pillars in their places of worship. There are large ones erected as well, such as this magnificent one in Lower Saxony in Germany.
But it has a sort of secondary meaning, and that's of the destruction of our religion by Christian forces - and its rebirth.
I don't often go into that sort of thing, because for many Pagan cultures, the switch to Christianity was more of a slow process. It wasn't like Christianity sprang into existence and then went on a millennium-long, Europe-wide killing spree until everyone was Christian. It's not a simple thing. And early Christians were themselves persecuted. On top of this, there's a tendency to blame modern Christians for the actions of historical Christians, which I think is unfair and attempt to avoid. So in general, I don't go much into the conversions. Besides, many were not bloody. In Iceland, for example, the conversion of the country was largely bloodless and a matter of arbitration (though there was certainly pressure from Norway). Frith was preferable to civil war; a goði was elected to decide matters, he went off and spoke with the gods and the deal was made that the people could practice in private how they pleased, and records were in time made of the myths. Our faith was preserved as much as it was through this arbitration. Had it come to war, perhaps more would have been lost.
Anyway. Peaceful as it was in Iceland, at least to begin with, shit went down in Scandinavia (I'm looking at you, Olaf. And you, other Olaf. Not cool.), and further south in Germany. The Irminsul is a symbol of the bloodiness of some conversions, and the destruction of the old faith, because of its treatment by Charlemagne.
Charlemagne was a dick. He was very gung-ho about forcing everyone to convert. To him, his Christian mission was tied in with his military power; you either submitted to him and to baptism, by force if necessary, or he was determined to kill you all. All or nothing. And Charlemagne, in his efforts to destroy Heathen religion, cut down a huge and very sacred Irminsul. It was a religious spit in the face that the Vikings would remember when they dug up and destroyed altars in raids of churches and monasteries.* It was desecration. The tearing down of the Irminsul echoed the tearing down of many Heathen people, their deaths, their forced conversions, their suppression.
In thinking of the Irminsul as a symbol we cannot overlook the way this one was destroyed, or what that destruction itself symbolised. The Heathens did not build in stone; the sacred places do not stand as they do in Greece and Rome - not even in ruins. The closest we get are Stave churches, which, while undoubtedly beautiful and remarkable buildings, are not the sacred buildings of our faith. The Irminsul, at least for me, is like a reminder of all sacred places that were desecrated, destroyed, or lost. It's something I and many others wish we still had.
And in a way, it's like a representation of our tenacity. It says "you tried to destroy us, but we have come back", like a sapling growing from the stump of a great tree. It says "dare you to try it again". It says "we haven't forgotten". It's a reclaiming of the old faith, and it's a way of claiming that aspect of our history, as well. It was a symbol of Oðinn and Tyr, of Yggdrasil, of Heathen faith - and it still is, but it is now also a symbol of our ancestors, of our strength and pride, of the fall and rebirth of the Old Tradition.