Residents in the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg, Germany, awoke on January first to discover that a local landmark had been defaced in a surprisingly impressive way. Sometime during the night, an unknown group managed to break into the locked park surrounding the Externsteine, reach the top of a nearly 130 ft. tall stone pillar, and plant a massive wooden Irminsul at the summit. Local authorities remain baffled as to how anyone managed to get the 20+ft. tall structure erected in the first place.
Externsteine is in a protected national park and has a rather interesting history. Often translated as “Stones of the Egge”, Externsteine has become a popular destination among modern Pagans. This is primarily due to the writings of Wilhelm Teudt, which theorized that Externsteine was a Saxon cultic site and the home of the original Irminsul. Even contemporary scholars at the time completely rejected this baseless claim, however, the theory caught the attention of one Heinrich Himmler. Himmler was the head of the Third Reich’s “Ahnenerbe”, and latched onto Teudt’s theories due to his desire to popularize the Irminsul as a German alternative to the Christian Cross.
While there are no significant leads regarding who is responsible for defacing the nationally protected landmark, local authorities state that it is almost certainly the work of illegal National Socialist radicals. The Irminsul was painted in black, white, and red; the national colors of the Third Reich. Unlike here in the USA, Germany has incredibly strict laws against displaying or supporting Nazi paraphernalia, which is punishable by up to three years in prison. Combined with breaking and entering, and the defacement of a national landmark, the perpetrators in this incident may be facing steep fines as well as a lengthy prison sentence.
A number of German Heathen organizations like Eldaring, Germanisches Heidentum, and Celtoi, have already come together to make a statement regarding the incident.
On the night of 31.12.2016, a stylized “Irminsul” in White, Red, and Black was erected at Externsteine; a rock formation in the Teutoburg forest in Lippe, by an unknown group in the manner of a ‘summit cross’.
The fact that the Irminsul imitation in question was painted in the imperial colors of the Third Reich suggests that it is most likely a politically motivated act from the right-wing extremist spectrum. Thus, our religious symbol has yet again been abused for a political purpose.
We condemn this act unequivocally and hope that the perpetrators will be identified and held responsible. Whoever is responsible for this action has committed a crime both against Germany as well as the Heathen community. We condemn the right-wing appropriation of Heathen symbolism, and vigorously oppose their attempts to seize our religious iconography.
The Irminsul – or Ermensul – is understood in Heathen circles as a symbol of the tree of life, and is often equated with Yggdrasil of the Icelandic tradition. Yggdrasil combines the nine worlds of Northern European mythology. In the course of the conquest of Charles the Great against the Saxons in the 8th century, an Irminsul, which was important for the cult of the Saxons, was destroyed by the Franks. In memory of the old Saxon Irminsul, a stylized Irminsul is used as a symbol of our religious identity by many Heathens today.
There is no evidence that the Externsteine were a site pre-Christian ritual or worship, however, they are an awe-inspiring natural monument and should be appreciated and respected as such. We absolutely reject any instrumentalization of the Externsteine for extremist productions.
The featured photograph of Externsteine used above is the unaltered work of Daniel Schwen