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

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