Introduction to Irminism: The Forgotten Faith

irminsul_horns

At a mysterious rock formation known as the Externsteine in Western Germany, there is a relief depicting the overthrow of Wotanism by Christianity, which features a strange pillar that has been bent over to one side. This depicts the ‘Irminsul’, the Saxon cognate to ‘Yggdrasil’ of Norse mythology and it represents the World Tree, the cosmic axis that holds up the cosmos. Its bending by the victorious Christians signifies their overturning of the natural order and the imposition of their foreign creed over the German folk.

irminsul_relief

Even though I have included Irminism as one of the spiritual paths explored on this blog, I have not yet gone into detail about what it is and how it differs from Wotanism. Irminism not only references the Irminsul, but also a figure known as Irmin, who was known as Eormen in Old English and Jormun in Old Norse. It means “strong, mighty, all-encompassing” and generally implies greatness. According to the Roman historian, Tacitus, The Germanic peoples are all descended from a figure known as “Tuisco” or “Tuisto“, who’s son was “Mannus” or ‘Man’, who himself had three sons: “Irmin”, “Ist”and “Ing.” It is difficult to know exactly who their descendants were supposed to be, though their names are used to classify sub-groups within the Germanic languages. We know that Ing, from whom the kings of Sweden claim descent, has strong links to to the fertility god, Frey. However, Irmin was the eldest of the three sons, and it is he that was most likely the ancestor of the Germans, including the Saxons, many of whom settled in what is now Southern England.

Most of the information we have concerning Irminism today comes from the writings of Karl Maria Wiligut, who was an Austrian veteran of the First World War and an officer in the SS prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. As part of his position, he acted as a spiritual advisor to Heinrich Himmler, who incorporated Wiligut’s teachings into SS rituals. In Wiligut’s conception, the universe was created by a supreme being that he named “Got” or “Gotos” (whom I will refer to from now on simply as “God”) and that the Ancient Teutons had a panentheistic (“all within God”) conception of the cosmos, as opposed to the polytheism (“many gods”) of Wotanism. The discovery of this truth was attributed by Wiligut to “Teut” (possibly another name for Tuisto), the ancestor of the Teutons, and he claimed to have inherited the tradition from his grandfather. This tradition stretched back presumably to the Late Neolithic, when the Aryans entered Central Europe. According to Wiligut, the Ancient Teutons prayed only to God and to their ancestors, and that this was mistaken by the Christians for idolatry, as the Greeks and Romans had a tradition of hard polytheism and viewed their gods as separate beings.

The purported ‘conflict’ with Wotanism would have come about through the influence of foreign traditions, which altered the Teutonic conception of the universe such that, by the time the Norse myths were written down in Iceland, they no longer came to recognize the existence of God. Instead, Odin was seen as the supreme being most worthy of reverence, emphasizing his role as a ‘Demiurge’ or creator of Earth. This is not to deny the importance of Odin as a Demiurge (as I do not see such a being as evil as the Gnostics tend to), but I do feel that the fact he came to eclipse an ever higher being in our traditions represents a degeneration of our ancestors’ original cosmology. It is likely that the type of hard polytheism that was practised among the Greeks and Romans was imported to Europe by Celts who had previously been settled in the Middle East and were returning to Europe (and are known to us today as the “Sea Peoples” of the Late Bronze Age). These represent the ‘Wotanists’ that Wiligut claims distorted our ancestors traditions, as they brought with them a corrupt priesthood that purposely hid esoteric knowledge in order to deceive the masses.

The main cultural manifestation of this foreign importation came in the form of what is known today as the Urnfield and Hallstatt archaeological cultures, which display strong influences from Greece and Thrace (modern Bulgaria), suggesting a move northwards from the Mediterranean. However, this is not completely equatable with ‘Celtic’ culture, since Celtic-speaking peoples already existed in Europe prior to this migration, and indeed, the druids were the ones who tried to retain Aryan wisdom in the face of an alien priesthood that was infiltrating their orders (since it was probably the existence of religious orders that made infiltration easier, as opposed to the decentralized priesthood among the Teutons).

urnfield

Prevalence of Urnfield culture based on archaeological finds

The subsequent decline in European society led to what we know today as the Iron Age, when honour began to wane and polities such as the Roman Republic could emerge and conquer peoples like the Gauls, who, despite their bravery in battle, had become decadent and petty and fought amongst themselves. However, the Germans to the East of the Rhine (who had expanded southward from Scandinavia at the beginning of the Iron Age) and other peoples like the Picts had retained their traditions against the encroachment of foreign influence, and so were able to repel the Romans well enough that they were never conquered by them.

Unfortunately, interaction between the Germans and the Romans on the frontier led to the adoption of Roman cultural practices, and so by the 5th Century AD, the ‘Wotanists’ had appropriated the previously mentioned Externsteine for their own rituals. It is, therefore, my belief that the changes in religious practice from the Late Bronze Age onwards are what helped to pave the way for the Christianization of the European peoples. However, the conversion of the Teutonic folk was indeed difficult, and they were slow to accept Christianity due to their stubborn nature and lack of exposure to organized religion. Unfortunately, the loss of references to God in Teutonic mythology led to this void being filled by the Judeo-Christian ‘God’, as the nobles in particular may have come to regard Christianity more highly than Wotanism for this reason.

Having given an alternative view of history surrounding the pre-Christian beliefs of our ancestors, what exactly distinguishes ‘Irminism’ from the more commonly-known form of Wotanism/Odinism in practice? In some ways they are similar, but the main differences are the emphases placed on certain aspects of belief and spiritual practice. To start with, Irminism acknowledges God as a being above Odin in importance, which cannot be said for most interpretations of our ancestors’ beliefs (though some Wotanists, such as Ron McVan, acknowledge the existence of such a being, little focus is given to this aspect). Also, the ‘gods’ are seen more as aspects of God, somewhat similar to archangels  than as distinctly separate divine beings, and that they are not all simply “different aspects of Odin,” though he is clearly the most important of the Seven.

Another crucial difference is the lack of ‘temples’ or indoor places of worship. Reverence of God or of the ancestors would have generally taken place outdoors or, if the weather was poor, inside the home. Temples as we are familiar with them today (which includes churches) are an importation from the Mediterranean and only appear in Teutonic lands from the 3rd Century AD. Prior to this, Tacitus wrote that: “the Germans do not think it in keeping with the divine majesty to confine gods within walls or to portray them in the likeness of any human countenance. Their holy places are woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to that hidden presence which is seen only by the eye of reverence”. This reflects the earlier practices of the Irminist Germans, although they did utilize wooden statues in order to venerate their ancestors (as opposed to divine beings). Generally, the focus of Irminism is towards the individual and the family, in contrast to the communal tendencies of Wotanism/Odinism. Though there were clearly acts of collective, tribal veneration among the Irminist Teutons, the character of the rituals would have been somewhat less complex than those led by priestly orders, since the latter tend to focus on utilizing the power of a group of souls for achieving magical aims.

Just to be clear, I am not disparaging the practices of Wotanists/Odinists and suggesting that such people should adopt Irminism instead. I am merely presenting an alternative way of recovering our ancestral traditions, one which is more all-encompassing in nature and is more suited to individuals who may be uninterested in engaging in organized religious orders, or who feel that Wotanism/Odinism in its present form is not enough to satisfy the need for a more complete cosmology. Also, due to the emphasis placed on “Krist” (known in Norse mythology as “Balder”) as a dying and rising figure, Irminism may potentially have some appeal to disaffected or former Christians. However, Irminism is, at the same time, quite distinct from Christianity, and it could be said that it stands somewhere between Christianity and Odinism without really being either.

It is also something which is very obscure, and can only really be perceived of as a distinct spiritual worldview within the scant writings of Karl Maria Wiligut. It has its own rune system and is fundamentally based on the concept of integrating geist (“spirit”), stoff (“matter”) and kraft (“energy”) in order to facilitate personal growth. Therefore, Irminism is a path of self-empowerment without much in the way of the magical practices typical of the Left-Hand Path. It is of an esoteric nature and, as such, will not appeal to most people. Therefore, I recommend Irminism only to those who have a deep interest in esoterica and who find that Wotanism/Odinism is not enough to satisfy their quest for knowledge. I have found that it is not too difficult to integrate the lore of our ancestors into this, but as a supplement to rather than the basis of understanding. More important than most aspects of the lore are the three Norns (or ‘Fates’), who serve as a means by which an Irminist can seek to understand the workings of the cosmos and contemplate the nature of God.

Irminism is essentially for those who have become disillusioned with priesthoods and organized religion in general, but who still wish to maintain our ancestral traditions without simply relying on what is found within the lore. Irminism, like Wotanism and Odinism, is still folkish, and thus is only truly appropriate for those who claim descent from Teut (which also includes the Celts, who knew their progenitor as Teutates or Toutatis). Every culture has their own conception of a supreme being in addition to lesser divinities, though some aspects may be more obscure than others. It could be said that Christianity has a monopoly over the reverence of God in the West, while Wotanism/Odinism is more concerned with the veneration of ancestors and the ‘gods’. Irminism is an attempt to incorporate both, and I wish to present it as a tangible alternative to both Christianity and ‘paganism’ as it is often understood today.

Wulf Willelmson

7 thoughts on “Introduction to Irminism: The Forgotten Faith

    1. You are correct, “Armanism” is a term that Guido von List came up with to describe the esoteric aspects of his beliefs about pre-Christian “Wotanism.” I used to work with this system based off his book “Das Geheimnis der Runen (“The Secret of the Runes”), which includes his interpretation of symbols not only in the runes, but in masonry used throughout Medieval Europe.

      It’s an interesting read for sure, and I would recommend it if you want to know more. However, List was working almost completely from his own personal interpretations, and so at best his assertions should be taken as his own insights, at worst they may provide examples of “fakelore.” Karl Maria Wiligut was involved in the persecution of List’s followers under the Third Reich, and while I personally don’t agree with such an approach, I do believe that Wiligut had a more authentic understanding of pre-Judeo-Christian Germanic spirituality, even if he too added his own interpretations. Therefore, I opt for the term “Irminism” so as to indicate a stronger sense of concordance with the interpretations and worldview of K.M Wiligut.

      As far as those who practice “Armanism” in the current era, there is the Armanen-Orden, who are based in Germany and claim to carry on the esoteric traditions of Guido von List. However, I wouldn’t recommend getting involved in such an organization, since “magical orders” have a lot of similarities with Freemasonry and can tend towards cultism.

      Hope this was helpful to you,

      Wulf Willelmson

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      1. nocturn.cult@gmail.com

        Thanks for your answer. Undoubtedly, I find it interesting enough about irminism and armanism. I also read the secret of the runes and the religion of the Germanic Aryans of Guido Von list. and I would like to continue getting more information about irminism.
        Thanks for your time, greetings from Chile.

        Alvar

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Sean Jobst

    This was very informative, thank you! I’ve been drawn to Heathenry/Germanic Paganism and studying the folkways for the past two years but just recently came across Irminism and hence this introduction. It makes the most sense for me, being mostly of South German heritage (directly through my father), whereas I’ve been personally off-put by the Norse/Scandinavian focus of the primary expressions of Heathenry.

    So I have been doing such meditations as the blots and prayers to Wotan and Donar but removing those elements that come from the Scandinavian and not continental German sources, and also some rituals to Perchta who was attested among the South German records but otherwise ignored in Heathen circles. But aside from that, studying and absorbing whatever I can of our folk traditions and mythology.

    I also have an interest in the Occult and Esoteric, and indeed it was while researching the esoteric symbolism of the Irminsul and its relation to Ziu/iTiwaz that I came across the ‘rabbit hole” of Irminism and I’m taking this as a sign from the gods. Rather than being a lot of latter-day UPG smoke in mirrors, the way you break down Irminism is very comprehensive and makes a lot of sense about our nature (for example, the Germanic mistrust of organized religion and aversion indoor “temple” worship, etc.).

    I am a little confused though, because having rejected Abrahamic monotheism I’ve naturally been wary of anything that seems monotheistic. Could this supreme being as conceived of by Wiligut be the Sky Father attested in all Indo-Aryan traditions? When we look at the lore about the gods, they could appear to be various manifestations of that supreme being?

    At first glance, it would seem like Wiligut seeing ‘Wotanism’ as something negative would mean he also disavowed veneration of Wotan, which would obviously not sit right with me and others – but you resolved that well. Its interesting that “Krist’ is mentioned, because the earliest Germanic “Christians” – perhaps followers of the old ways who had to hide their secrets within the new religion – seemed to elevate such as ‘Krist’ and encoded much solar symbolism into their churches and imagery. Perhaps an ancient Sun worship? Thanks again, from the United States.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sean, thank you for you comment. I’ll try to answer your queries as best I can.

      Much of what I’ve been looking into over the past year seems to be suggesting that there is an inherent split between two distinct cultures within Germania. The first being the more apparent, Indo-European (Aryan) culture that is the primary source of our spirituality, and ultimately I believe that Irminism is an expression of this (though admittedly only one part of a broader tradition). In an archaeological context, this is expressed through the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures that met in Germany (being representative of two distinct Indo-European lineages, R1a and R1b respectively, the “Istvaeones” and “Irminones”).

      The other is an earlier Stone Age culture that existed before the Aryans arrived, which was very different and is the root of practices such as seithr. This strain can be attested through the Neolithic Funnelbeaker culture, and were primarily characterized by haplogroup I1 (“Ingvaeones”), with some input from G2a, a lineage which brought agriculture to Europe from Anatolia. I suspect that part of the reason that you may feel less connection to ‘Nordic’ spirituality is because the peoples of Scandinavia take a lot from this earlier culture (genetically and spiritually), which seems foreign and at times “ergi” to those of us who feel more in touch with Aryan spirituality.

      As far as the theological stuff goes, I also thought at first that Wiligut’s concept of “Got” referred to the “Sky Father,” although I now think that this concept probably goes beyond that. I think that the concept of Tiwaz as the “Sky Father” represents an earlier form of thought, while “Got” is something even more primordial and all-encompassing, being the source of all (the true “Allfather”), rather than just one god among many. Of course, I understand your suspicions with regards to Abrahamic monotheism, but that is why I use the term “panentheism,” which allows for the ‘gods’ such as Wotan, Donar and Ziu to exist as expressions of “the one” in many forms. In this way, singularity and multiplicity are complimentary rather than in opposition. The Judaeo-Christian concept of monotheism is that of a jealous god who will tolerate no rivals, rather than the source of all creation that expresses itself through many different forms.

      This is where things get a bit weird, since much of what is attributed to Wiligut came not from his own writings, but from what he was supposed to have shared his fellow SS officer, Rudolf Mund. Much of this includes the conflict between the Irminists and Wotanists and the concept of “Krist” in this context. Apparently, Wiligut was said to have claimed that the Bible testified to an Irminic faith. I now think there is good evidence that much of what we know today as “Christianity” has been stolen and ‘Judaized,’ giving us a religion that is detestable to anyone who holds Aryan values. However, I do believe that this is a way of obscuring the true origins of “Kristianism” as an expression of Aryan spirituality, which is probably very different from the priest-based religion we are more familiar with.

      This is the main reason that I turned away from Wotanism, because it is a religion, just like Judaeo-Christianity, which has its basis in priestcraft and with a henotheistic focus on Wotan. As I wrote in the article, this sort of thing started to infiltrate Europe during the Late Bronze Age, and it is also quite likely that it was already here since the Stone Age too. I didn’t realize this when I wrote this article, but the figure known as “Baldr” is actually cognate to the Canaanite god “Baal” and that the figure of a “dying and rising god” is typical of agricultural religions, which is actually not compatible with the Aryan concept of “Krist.”

      Again, much of that was absorbed into both Judaeo-Christianity and “Norse paganism,” reflecting the fact that they are both bastard religions which need to have the Aryan elements extricated from them in order to achieve something workable.I’m still trying to work out the distinctions, but I’m getting the sense that “Krist” is something which has an eternal presence on Earth, it doesn’t “die and rise from the dead” like a spiritual zombie, but cannot die because it is immortal.

      Hope this makes sense, I think that a lot of us are waking up the fact that the “Christianity vs paganism” thing isn’t as simple as it seems, and the first point of call appears to be a dissatisfaction with “Asatru,” “Wotanism” and the like.

      Wulf Willelmson

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  2. I am grateful to have read your post.

    I myself have been guided by the idea that a modified Odinism must be resurrected and sublimated to restore the imbalance in the Folk Soul of the White tribes.

    I have read several of List’s works, and while fascinating and enlightening… I found them convoluted.

    I have always felt Henotheism was a suitable arrangement. And I find your thesis rather comfortable. I have long viewed Odin as an avatar, a beacon for a higher being. As with the other Gods as well being archetypes of mystery cult fashion.

    At any rate, forgive my rambling, but it is good for me to read such words. They stimulate considerable thought.

    Blessings,
    Seax

    Liked by 1 person

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