I have been wanting to explore into more of the imagery of the Northern/Western European ancient cultures, and so I finally sat down and started to work on some of the Irminsul, which is associated with the Norse God Tyr, who from my observations has been somewhat misunderstood and perhaps may have a farther influence than just Northern/Western Europe.
I started by looking for how the Irminsul was represented in traditional ancient art and then how it has evolved in the more recent versions of it. And when I looked for ancient versions of it on the Internet, I was hard pressed to see any that I thought were truly ancient. I saw a stone carving that appeared to be old yet during the Christian Era, so this could not be an honest representation of what an ancient Irminsul would look like since it was basically propaganda by a conquering force. I have read and been told that the Christian invasion removed and destroyed all the cultural artifacts and the Irminsul was one of those images destroyed with some rather aggressive zeal. This left me with the remaining more modern of images of drawings, pendants, and sculptures that seemed to have a couple of reoccurring themes; trees and phallic images.
Some artists and craftsmen would take the Irminsul and morph it into a tree with branches going up in the traditional wing like curve and having roots going down. While others gave it a strange phallic quality and it was not always consistent in the direction of where the phallus pointed. It was sometimes pointed downward as if hanging or going into the earth while others had it pointed upward as if it were penetrating the upward swirling portion of the Irminsul image. I found all of this imagery very odd considering that my first reaction to the image was that it looked like wings balancing on a pedestal, which after reading about Tyr and discovering he was considered the God of victory and often referred to as the Sky God or Sky Father- the penis and tree aspects seemed odd and an unexpected interpretation of the image.
Strangely enough while pondering this image and wondering what exactly it meant, I had a dream that Tyr explained to me that the Irminsul was a symbol of balance much like the Asian Ying Yang symbol. In the dream he stated that balance in life was very important and when anything was done in excess that could lead to difficulties and what people referred to as evil. Evil was anything that was done to an excess and would cause great harm. And afterwards I pondered this idea wondering how valid it was and tried to think of examples of things in excess that could be evil. It was obvious that excessive violence was evil. Shooting more buffalo than what one could eat leaving them to rot on the plains was a form of evil. There is an idea that money is the root of all evil, but that only works when someone values money more highly or excessively than they should. So then I thought – what about things that are considered good like food. Eating to excess creates great harm to the body and could be considered evil like the deadly sin of gluttony. Then I considered love, which most people would consider to be a positive emotion. If you love someone to the point of being obsessive or excessive, then that emotional state can cause harm to both parties involved, so the idea expressed to me in the dream really made sense to me.
So this dream inspired me to follow the imagery that the Irminsul is actually an image of balance and the wing like feature at the top is a representational item for Tyr, the Sky Father. The following images are of the first painting that I have attempted to construct concerning the Irminsul image. Hopefully as I do more of these like the Odin on Sleipnir traveling to the Nine Realms will improve as I practice.
G. Winkler © 2014