Re-Examining Irmin and the Irminsul




–by A Crandall
Much has been speculated about the Irminsul over the years and every so often a new article is put forth which suggests a connection to a specific deity (the most popular being Tiw and Odin). This seems only natural, as any symbol so magnificent seems to trigger an innate desire to decode its hidden meanings. It is my intention to add to that speculation, but also to hopefully clarify all of the various perspectives. Who is Irmin, the eponymous god of the Irminsul? That is the question this paper is meant to address. We will progress step by step with distinct sections for the major pieces of evidence that have been left to us. We will also explore the two primary theories that have been put forth, as well as a third, lesser known hypothesis.
While there are many theories about who the name might refer to; I would like to begin by giving a quick review of the name and limited facts we know.
First we should point out that the very word Irminsul is in fact, a compound which is comprised of two distinct words. “Irmin” is a Germanic adjective that means “great, powerful.” As such, irmin need not refer to any deity in particular. The Old English Glossary for Beowulf[i]provides additional information on the term eormen as meaning “immense” and “wondrous.”
In his classic work, Grimm states:
"Attention is claimed by the names of certain animals and plants: the ON. Iörmungandr is a snake, and Iormunrekr a bull, the AS. Eormenwyrt and Eormenleaf is said to be a mallow, which I also find written geormenwyrt, geormenleaf." ... "In these compounds, especially those last named, irman seems to have but a general intensifying power, without any distinct reference to a god or hero." [ii]
The latter part of the name is “Sul”, meaning “pillar” in Old High German (OHG). Other forms are “zuil” in Dutch; “sula” in Old Norse (ON); “syl” in Old English (OE); and “saule” in Modern German.
Thus the standard (secular) interpretation would be “immense/wondrous pillar”.
Unfortunately, we do not know precisely what the Irminsul looked like. No such column has been uncovered and clearly identified as an Irminsul. There is one possible depiction which can be found within a rock carving at Externsteine. The carving depicts the Biblical scene known as “the descent from the cross”, wherein Jesus is lowered from the cross. The normal image shows someone (either Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea) on the right side of the image, standing atop a ladder. At Externsteine, the person stands atop a bent over structure which is clearly no ladder. It is this structure which is believed to display a fallen Irminsul. 


zooming in we see


Thus if we straightened the structure back upright, the Irminsul would look like.
Of course this is all based upon the stone relief which represents only one person’s perspective of the Irminsul, if that is indeed, what it portrays.
Rudolf of Fulda[iii]describes the Irminsul as a great wooden pillar erected and worshipped beneath the open sky and that its name, signifies a universal all sustaining pillar.
“Truncum ligni non parvse magnitudinis in altura erectum sub divo colebant patria eum lingua Irminsul appellantes quod Latine dicitur universalis columna quasi sustinens omnia.”
This entire entry may be translated as:
“The Saxons also worshipped a shaft of wood of no little size which was set up aloft in the open. In their own language they called it Irminsul which in Latin would be the universal column which sustains everything.” 
The key phrase is "universalis columna quasi sustinens omnia” – which basically describes the notion of the Axis Mundi; the pillar located at the center of the world, which serves to connect or hold apart the earth and sky.
As we know that the basic interpretation of Irmin-sul simply means “great/divine pillar,” and that our first quote describes it as the universal column sustaining everything, I don’t think there can be any doubt that it was at the very least seen as an axis mundi.
Additional support for the perspective of the Axis Mundi might be found in the fact that Ermine Street was one of the four major roads in England. It is believed that Ermine Street stemmed from Irmin’s street and that the north-south orientation of the road supports the Axis Mundi interpretation of the Irminsul. (The other three roads are Watling Street, Ikenild Street, and Fosse Street.)
These roads are described in the Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester, circa 1300:
"Fair weyes many on ther ben in Englond,
But four most of all ben zunderstond ...
Fram the south into the north takit Erming-strete;
Fram the east into the west goeth Ikeneld-strete;
Fram south-est [east] to North-west (that is sum del grete)
Fram Dorer [Dover] into Chestre go’th Watling-strete;
The forth is most of all that tills from Totëneys -
Fram the one end of Cornwall anon to Catenays [Caithness] -
Fram the south to North-est into Englondes end
Fosse men callith thisk voix."
Obviously, this single quote, and the word root analysis above, do not give us much support for the concept of an axis mundi, but when combined with the quote by Rudolf of Fulda, it certainly does provide one more small piece of evidence. However, there is additional evidence for the axis mundi conclusion, explored in more depth throughout this paper.
For now I would like to change direction and explore the attempt to form a relationship between the Anglo-Saxon rune Ear and the term irmin. This will involve a complicated aside into the realm of linguistics, however I ask the reader to bear with me as the fruit of the discussion is quite important.
The rune visually depicts a shape similar to the Irminsul, while representing the sound ear or simply ea - as evidenced in its use as the second letter of the name Beagnoth upon the Thames scramasax.[1] In the field of linguistics, the rune and its sound are depicted as ēar or e:ar where the colon serves to mean there is a macron (overbar) above the letter e.
The rune is generally taken to mean “grave”. The word e:ar itself, is a cognate of ON aurr “wet clay”, and eyrr “gravelly bank near water”; Danish ör “sandbank”; and Gothic aurahjons “tomb”. This also explains the poetic expression "hylja auri"; “to cover with earth, lay in the grave” - found in Kormak’s Saga.
Upon perusing Koebler’s Old Norse etymological database, one will see that the etymology of all of these terms is given as deriving from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic (PGmc) root *aura-, *auraz.[2]
Now let us turn to the terms of OHG irmin; OE eormen; and ON jörmun. In these words, the OHG Ir-, OE Eor-, and ON Jör- can only come from what are described as “conditioned variants” of *Er- with short *e.[3]
The essence of the above explanation is that OHG irmin, OE eormen, and ON Jörmun must derive from the same PGmc root; which has to be *ermana-. There is no way irmin can be linguistically related to *aura-/*auraz , because *aura- cannot develop into anything like OHG Ir-, OE Eor-, or ON Jör-. To reiterate, there is no etymologic relation at all between Irmin and the rune Ea(r). This means that while there may be an unusual visual similarity between the shape of the rune and the depiction of the Irminsul at Externsteine, there is no linguistic relation between the two terms. Thus Grimm’s theory that Irmin = Ear-min, must be viewed as false, unless further support can be found later on.
Having reviewed the impersonal meaning behind the name, I would like to close this section with another quote by Grimm, mentioned only a few lines after the one given above:
"This is all very true, but there is nothing to prevent Irmino or Irmin having had a personal reference in previous centuries."[v]
In fact, there are those who have suggested Irmin refers to Arminius, who in 9 AD, lead the Germanic forces in their victory over the legions lead by Varus. The fact that Externsteine is located near the southern edge of the Teutonburg forest (where the battle took place) would lend itself to this view.
However, the Irmin-Arminius link is highly unlikely given that Tacitus wrote the Germania in 98 AD, only 89 years after the battle of Teutonburg. In the Germania, it is told how the three sons of Mannus give rise to the Germanic tribes of Ingaevones, Herminones, and Iscaevones. It does not make sense that one third of all Germans would claim descent from one man who lived only 89 years before. That would be like one third of all Americans today claiming direct descent from Teddy Roosevelt. Indeed, it is far more likely that the name Arminius was based upon Irmin; either to convey a sense of “greatness”, or to imply some connection with the pre-existing deity.
It is to the discovery of that deity that the rest of this paper is devoted. Below we shall examine the relations between Irmin and Tiwaz, Odin, and Thor.
The first major contender for the title of Irmin, is the god Tyr, or more accurately, the Old English Tiw and PGmc Tiwaz. The topic of Tiw (and his predecessor Tiwaz) has garnered massive speculation over recent years. The problem is that much of the information being put forth is of dubious value.
The general theory is that the PGmc Tiwaz was the original sky god and, as such, is the deity associated with the axis mundi. This assertion is based upon the following beliefs:
1) Tiw (and Tyr) are the linguistic descendants of PGmc and Indo-European terms designating the sky god, and thus the god of the axis mundi.
2) Tyr is the general term that means “god”, thus Tyr must have been the head deity.
3) The OE “Tir” (glory) and Old High German “Ziori/ziari/zieri” (splendor/adornment) both carry associations with the day or sky, and are cognates of PGmc Tiwaz, thereby again providing evidence that Tyr/Zio is a demoted Sky Father.
4) The OE rune poem describes Tyr as the god of the pole star, and thus he is likely the deity of the axis mundi.
5) Widukind makes mention of Mars when explaining his description of the Irminsul, and Tyr is the Norse god of war.
6) The Gmc Irtag “Tuesday” is linguistically associated with Irmin.
7) Tyr is the correlate of the one handed Irish deity Nuadu. Nuadu was the chief of the Irish gods, and thus Tyr must have once been chief of the Germano-Norse pantheon.
8) Minor other arguments to be covered briefly.
Let us work through these assertions one at a time.
1) Tiw is the Sky God Tiwaz, god of the axis mundi.
The first issue here is that of the name Tiwaz itself. This is a reconstructed term, meaning that the word Tiwaz is not directly found to exist but can be determined based upon our understanding of linguistics. Tyr, Tiw, Tio, and Zio are all known names for which there is hard evidence. From all these related names we know that common linguistic ancestor (Tiwaz) existed; because there needed to be some source from which these disparate terms evolved. It is rather like assuming and reconstructing that there is a shared ancestor from which various primates descended. We know that Tiw, Tyr, and Zio existed. We reconstruct the Proto-Germanic form of Tiwaz via linguistics.
Tiw is the documented Old English form of the name. A simple explanation is that the grammatical ending "-az" was dropped, which is a very common development in languages, for example as the Latin name "Marcus" becomes English "Mark" or "Marc".
Additionally, we find that in High German, an initial “t” usually shifts to a “ts” sound, which is usually written “z”. This sound shift from "t" to "z" is part of what is called the "second High German sound shift". Thus we end up with the Old High German name Zio.
During the linguistic evolution from Proto-Germanic to Proto-Norse, the final “z” becomes “r”, which thereby gives us the Norse name of Tyr. This clarifies that the split from PGmc Tiwaz to Proto-Norse Tyr is likely to have occurred prior to PGmc Tiwaz having dropped the “-az” (and then subsequently transitioning to the West Germanic Tiw and subsequent OE Tiw and OHG Zio).
PGmc Tiwaz -> Proto-Norse shift from “z” to “r” thus creating Tyr.
PGmc Tiwaz -> drop the “az” and create the West Germanic and eventually OE Tiw.
PGmc Tiwaz -> West Germanic Tiw -> OHG shift to Tsiw -> Zio.
So let us now explore where the root name Tiwaz stems from. This question leads to the first piece of evidence which supports Tiwaz as the sky god.
It is generally believed that Tiwaz derives originally from the PIE root *dyeu- and that through this shared root, people link Tiwaz to the Greek Zeus, Latin Jupiter, and Sanskrit Dyaus Pitar. Thus the proponents of the Sky God theory assert that the name Tiwaz is a cognate of the other above mentioned sky gods; and therefore Tiwaz was originally a sky god. Sadly this is not entirely accurate.
The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots has the following information (italics held, and entry abbreviated for clarity)[vi]:
Entry: dyeu-
To shine (and in many derivatives, “sky, heaven, god”). Zero-grades *dyu- and *diw-.
   I. Basic form *dyeu-, Jove, the name of the god of the bright sky, head of the Indo-European pantheon. Also; Jupiter, Dione, Zeus; dianthus, Dioscuri.
   II. Noun *deiwos, god, formed by e-insertion to the zero-grade *diw- and suffixation of (accented) -o-. 1a. Tiu, Tuesday, from Old English Tiw; b. Tyr, from Old Norse Tyr. Both a and b from Germanic *Tiwaz. 2. deism, deity, Deus, deific, from Latin deus, god. 3. Diva, divine, from Latin divus, divine, god. 4. Dis, Dives, from Latin dives, rich (< “fortunate, blessed, divine”). 5.Suffixed zero-grade form *diw-yo-, heavenly. Diana, moon goddess. 6. Devi; deodar, Devanagari, from Sanskrit deva(h), god, and deva-, divine.
Here we see that Tiwaz is actually derived from the *Deiwos form rather than directly from *Dyeu-. Thus cognates of Tiwaz are NOT dyeu derivatives such as Jove, Jupiter, Zeus, Dione, and Dyaus; but rather *deiwos derivatives such as Sanskrit Deva “god”, Latin Diana (moon goddess), and the Latin deus.
This is a crucial point and bears repeating, cognates of Tiwaz are: Diana, Dis, deva, deus. The assumption that Tiwaz must be the Sky Father due to originally deriving from *dyeu- is specious at best. Based on the flawed linguistics that proponents of the Sky-God theory utilize; one might just as validly claim that the Greek Diana is a sex changed version of Zeus!
Indeed, based upon the arguments put forth by the Sky-God theorists, the Roman Dispater (a chthonic and possible fertility deity, with absolutely no evidence of any celestial function) must be Dyaus Pitar. This, can be explained as follows:
We know that Dis derives from dives “riches, wealth, blessed, divine”; thus giving Dispater the meaning of “Father of riches”. However dives in turn stems from PIE *deiwos and thus has the same linguistic lineage as Tiwaz. Moreover, Dispater contains the second element of the Sky God’s name, pater – meaning “father”. Thus from a purely linguistic argument, Dispater has a stronger claim than that of Tiwaz.
Of course the claim that Dispater is the Sky-God is sheer nonsense. However, it hopefully clarifies the weakness in the linguistic support offered by those who rely upon a misguided etymology in order to make their claim, and reveals why the linguistic argument is not as strong as it appears at first glance.
A final note on linguistics needs to be made on this topic. People often assume that the name Zio gives blatant evidence of the connection to Zeus and other such deities such as the Hittite Sius. In truth, we have already shown that the OHG Zio was a late linguistic mutation. As explained above, Zio develops only as the name Tiw undergoes the second High German sound shift. This shift occurred sometime between the 3rd and 7th centuries CE. In other words, Tiw is the older version of the name, and the greater similarity between Zio and Zeus (as opposed to Tiw and Zeus), is purely coincidental.
2) Tyr means “god.”
 It has also been pointed out that beyond being the name of a specific deity, the name Tyr is used in ON as the basis of the generic term “god”. Other gods are called Wagon-Tyr, and Cargo-Tyr. Furthermore, the plural of Tyr is tivar, and tivar is one of the terms used to describe the plural group of gods in general.
The fact that Tyr and Tivar are generalized terms for god and gods, reportedly strengthens the argument that Tiwaz was the original head of the pantheon; just as Asura could be applied to a category of Vedic deities, but “The Asura” meant the head of that pantheon.
This argument is not without merit; there are, however, some caveats of which we should be aware.
Those who have studied the Slavic myths are no doubt, familiar with the Slavic term bog, which means “god”. The term is part of the names for Chernobog, Dazbog, and Stribog. Bog in turn, derives from the same root as the Vedic deity Bhaga. The PIE root *bhag- seems to convey a meaning of “to share, apportion”; and so the names convey an original essence of “he who gives us good things.”[vii]Yet despite the fact that bog is used for a generalized term of “deity” in the Slavic language, no one would suggest that Bhaga was the supreme deity of the PIE and Vedic peoples. So too, we must be careful not to leap to conclusions when we see that Tyr and Tivar are used as generalized terms to describe deities as a whole. Furthermore, the linguistic cognate of Tiwaz (and thus Tivar) is the Sanskrit term deva. This word is a general term used to describe a Vedic deity or group of deities, but it does not specifically refer to any distinct sky god. Therefore, in the end, the fact that Tyr is a term meaning “god” is suggestive, but it is only a hint, one circumstantial piece of evidence for which counterarguments exist.
3) OE Tir  “glory” and OHG Ziori/ziari/zieri   “splendor, adornment” are cognates of PGmc Tiwaz and reveal his traits as the original Sky Father.
The etymology and linguistic relation behind this claim is false. Both OE tir and OHG ziari have no connection to PGmc tiwaz.
Etymologists Nikolaev & Starostin, Koebler, and Pokorny uniformly state that the related terms of OE tir, ON tirr, and OHG ziari all stem from PGmc *ti-ra-/*tei-ra. On the other hand, we have already pointed out that Tiw, Tyr, and Zio all derive from the PGmc *tiwaz (where the “r” in Tyr is a much later inflectional development that occurs only during the transition to Old Norse). Thus these two groups of words arise from entirely different PGmc roots. The closest that these two groups come to being related is that PGmc *tiwaz derives from *deiwos and thus way back has its origin as a variant form of *dyeu- ; while PGmc *ti-ra- appears to stem from PIE *deiӘ(also written as deih2) - which is another different variant form of *dyeu-. Therefore all the remarks about “glory” being linguistically related to the god Tyr, are actually based upon yet another etymologic misinterpretation (as we can now see that the two word groups have distinctly different PGmc origins). This negates the whole issue of OE tir and OHG ziori as having any input whatsoever in regards to the attributes of the deity Tiw.[viii]
Additionally, there is also the occasional mention of the Persian deity Tir. This deity’s name was originally Tishtrya and the similarity between Tyr and Tir has no relevance unless we can determine identical laws for sound changes which would explain Deiwos -> Tishtrya -> Tir in the same manner as Deiwos -> Tiwaz -> Tyr. As it stands, no such evidence exists, and any similarity between the names is no more meaningful than that the German baum (tree) and English bomb (explosive), sound alike.
4) The Old English rune poem describes Tyr as the god of the pole star, and thus deity of the axis mundi.
This “evidence” is based upon the Old English Rune Poem (OERP) describing Tir as a star, and that the star in question is the Pole Star (often conceived as being situated atop of the axis mundi). The problem is that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the star of Tir is Polaris; rather, there is evidence directly to the contrary.
The original poem reads:
Tir biþ tacna sum, healdeð trywa wel
wiþ æþelingas; a biþ on færylde
ofer nihta genipu, næfre swiceþ.
This is generally interpreted as:
Tiw is a guiding star; well does it keep faith with princes;
it is ever on its course over the mists of night and never fails.
The key issue is that Tir is described as a “tacna” and this is usually interpreted as being a star.
However, Bosworth & Toller never give “star” as a meaning for “tacna”, but rather they give the definition of “sign”, including “sign of the zodiac”.[ix] It is this last definition which appears to be used in the Old English translation of the Herbarium of Apuleius, and by Bede himself.[x]
This view of Tir as a constellation rather than a star is reinforced by the phrase “a biþ on færylde” which translates word for word as: “ever is on”, and the final word færylde translates variously as: “a way, going, motion, journey, course, passage, progress, expedition”. Thus we get the statement that Tir “is ever on its course/journey”.
Bosworth & Toller actually translate the line as: “it is ever in motion.”[xi]
The problem is that Polaris, as the Pole star, has no course, no motion, no journey or progress. I find it hard to imagine how Polaris could warrant the term færylde. Rather, if discussing the Pole star, one would expect a phrase such as: “ever stands fast/holds its position” or some such. In light of the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the star of Tir IS Polaris, and we see that there is in fact, some evidence to suggest it is any star but Polaris, we should thus err on the side of caution and assume that the OERP is not referring to Polaris.[4]
5) Widukind mentions Mars when describing the Irminsul, and Tyr is the Norse god of war. Widukind, in his famous Saxon chronicle (970 AD), describes the Saxons erecting a pillar in honor of their victory over the Thuringians.[5]The problem with this testimony is that Widukind mentions at least three different deities in describing Irmin: Mars, Hercules, and Hermes. Widukind also makes reference to Apollo, though that may only be a reference to the sun.
The actual quote is as follows:[xii]
XII. Saxones capta urbe deponunt aquilam
After the capture of the city, the Saxons lowered the eagle (the Roman standard).
Mane autem facto ad orientalem portam ponunt aquilam, aramque victoriae construentes secundum errorem paternum sacra sua propria veneratione venerati sunt: nomine Martem, effigie columpnarum imitantes Herculem, loco Solem, quem Graeci appellant Apollinem.
When it was morning, they put the eagle by the eastern gate.  They built an altar to victory, and, following the error of the previous generation in their own religious rites, with appropriate acts of worship they honored a god they called Mars, but in the form of pillars, making it like Hercules, in the place of the Sun, whom the Greeks call Apollo.
Ex hoc apparet aestimationem illorum utcumque probabilem, qui Saxones originem duxisse putant de Graecis, quia Hirmin vel Hermis Graece Mars dicitur; quo vocabulo ad laudem vel ad vituperationem usque hodie etiam ignorantes utimur.
This is the probable source of the theory held by those who believe the Saxons derive their origins from the Greeks, because Mars is called Hirmin, or in Greek Hermes, and even today we ignorantly use the same word, whether for good or bad.
In the second sentence Widukind states that the image is set up to honor the victory, and is dedicated to a god which Widukind believes is Mars. This may well suggest some sort of martial function. The image is put in the place of the sun – suggesting the additional possibility of some form of solar association.
The phrase “imitantes Herculem” can be interpreted as: “imitates Hercules”. The translation gives the impression that the image imitates Hercules in that it is a pillar, yet I have been unable to find any tradition of Greco-Roman images where Hercules is depicted as a pillar. There are only the so-called pillars of Hercules, which are supposedly the hills on each side of the strait of Gibraltar (or perhaps those at the strait of Bosporus); and these have no clear connection to the concept of the deity being placed atop a pillar. There is only one known idol of Hercules which is depicted with pillars; and this was that at the Phoenician temple to Melqart (a god associated with Hercules by the Phoenicians) in Gades/Gadeira.
With that revelation in mind, we cannot conclusively say that the imitation of Hercules is purely in that it is a pillar (as the evidence of Hercules being depicted with/as a pillar is minimal), we must then ask how else the effigy might “imitate” him. The definition of imitate means to mimic, replicate, copy, or reproduce someone’s behavior or looks. Thus we can only conclude that while the remark about Hercules might have simply meant it was a pillar, it is also quite possible that the comment was made in relation to the actual figure atop the pillar.
Without more information, the only conclusion we can draw about the deity in Widukind’s quote, is that it appears to be a mix of Mars, Hercules, and Hermes, with a possible additional solar element. Even if we could rule out one of the above listed deities (as we shall in a future section), we would still be left with two gods (or possibly three – depending upon the solar aspect) who are candidates for Irmin. As such, the god cannot be associated with Tiw conclusively, although that remains a distinct possibility.
6)  The Gmc Irtag (Tuesday) is linguistically associated with Irmin.
Attempts have been made (most notably by Grimm) to link Tiw’s day with Irmin via the intermediary of the Bavarian name for Tuesday, Irtag. This is incorrect. The true origin of Irtag is to be found in the reconstructed Gothic Areindagor Arjaus-dag; deriving from the Greek hemera Areos (the day of Ares). While Grimm was certainly a genius, one need only examine the rest of the Bavarian weekdays in order to see how his theory was flawed. The Bavarian Pfinztag (Thursday), is generally held to derive from a Gothic *pintadags, which in turn arises from the Greek Pempte Hemera – “the fifth day.” Likewise the Bavarian Pferintag (Friday) is based upon the Gothic Paraskaiwe, which again is based upon the Greek Paraskeue; meaning “preparation (for the Sabbath).” Additional Greek influence can be found in the OHG Sambaztag (Ger. Samstag) (Saturday). This is traced back to a Gothic *sambato, which again arises from the Greek Sambaton, Sabbaton, Sabbatou Hemera – “day of the sabbath.” Lastly the holiday of Pfingsten is derived from OHG Fim(f)chustim which again derives from the Gothic Paintekuste, and originally the Greek Pentekoste – “the 50th day.”
Thus we see that the Bavarian weekday names derived from Gothic versions of what were originally Greek terms. Irtag, in this example, derives from the Gothic Areindag and so relates to Ares, rather than Irmin.[xiii]
7) One-handed Tyr is the correlate of the Celtic one-handed Nuadu.
The Sky-God theorists (including Dumezil)suggest that just as Nuadu was chief of the Tuatha De Danaan, so too was Tyr likewise, at one time the head of the Germano-Norse pantheon.
Let us explore this belief further. Unfortunately, it will take a long aside into Celtic myth, but unless we are thorough, we do a disservice to the facts.
For those who don’t know, Nuadu was an insular Celtic deity who served as king of the Tuatha de Danaan (the Celtic pantheon). Nuadu lost his arm in combat in an event that triggered the formation of a truce between two tribes of beings (the Tuatha and the Fir Bolg). Thus Nuadu is often viewed as a correlate to the Norse Tyr (who also lost his hand in the act of binding/postponing violence). 
Our information on Nuadu comes from Irish and Welsh literature of the Early and High Middle Ages. However, before delving into the details of Nuadu, we should discuss the character of his prior incarnation. It is generally agreed that Nuadu is related to an earlier Celtic deity known as Nodens who was worshipped during the days of Roman Britian. Green states the two are “etymologically related” and calls Nodens a “counterpart” to Nuadu.[xiv]Likewise, MacKillop says “Nodons is a cognate of and perhaps an anticipation of the Irish Nuadu Airgetlam; additionally, his [Nodens’] personality contributed to the Welsh figure Nudd” who MacKillop believes is clearly associated with Nuadu.[xv]Nodens was a god associated with water and healing. It is also a fact that Nodens was linked with Mars; however, this was not the standard Roman view of Mars as a warrior – but rather the decidedly Celtic concept of Mars as a healer. Nodens is further associated with Silvanus, the Roman god of woods, vegetation, hunting, and fertility.[xvi]
In the temple of Nodens at Lydney, (England) were found images of a fisherman hooking a salmon, the god crowned with a diadem and driving a horse drawn chariot, tritons, tritons with the forefeet of horses, oars, and shell trumpets. So here we see the connection to both horses, tritons, and all things aquatic (akin to the Greco-Roman sea God). Additionally, Miranda Green mentions a fragmentary altar inscription at Cesterholm (Vindolanda) that may equate Neptune and Nodens.[xvii]
Turning to the linguistic origin of Nodens (and thus his successor Nuadu), we can examine the epigraphic evidence and find the name expressed as: Nodonti, Nodenti, and Nvdente, in England; while at Mainz we have an inscription to Noadatus.
Anne Ross proposes that the names Nuadu and Nodens stem from *(s)neudh- “mist, cloud”, hence the name meaning "Cloud Maker".[xviii] This does not appear to be correct. Neither Pokorny nor Watkins list the root (*sneudh-) as having an optional initial s-, reconstructing it instead as *sneudh-. Since Irish preserves s- and Welsh loses s- in initial clusters like this, the root *sneudh- should give us Old Irish (OIr) *snuad and Old Welsh *nud. Pokorny suggests that *sneudh- may be a derivative of *sna: "to flow" and in fact we find in OIr the words snuad "blood" and snuad "stream". Thus it becomes increasingly clear that the etymology and meaning suggested by Ross, is false, and so we must look elsewhere for and explanation.[xix]
Pokorny and Tolkien (he was a linguist remember) give the source of the various Celtic names (Nodonti, Nodenti, Nvdente, Noadatus) as deriving from the proto-Celtic *Noudant/*Noudont.  *Noudant, in turn derives from the Proto-Indo-European *neud. This is the same PIE root also gives us the Proto-Gmc *Nautam “thing of value, possession”.
Tolkien also states regarding *noudont:
“The stem is extremely common in Germanic… there is in each of the chief older dialects a verb *neutan, in Gothic niutan, Old English neotan, Old Saxon niotan, Old High German nio3[ts]an (German genießen), Old Norse nióta. In all these languages, and therefore perhaps in common Germanic, the secondary senses ‘acquire, have the use of’ are the usual ones.
These senses are none the less probably not original. In Gothic, the earliest recorded of the Germanic group and preserved in a form spoken at a time when Nodens’ temple possibly still had votaries, clear traces remain of an older sense. There ga-niutan means ‘to catch, entrap (as a hunter)’…” [xx]
So here we can now see that Nodens (and thus Nuadu) derives from the PIE root (*neud-); and carries an association with meanings such as “to catch, entrap, acquire, possess, use, enjoy”, and possibly “go fishing”.  Thus Nodens/Nuadu likely carried a meaning akin to “The catcher” or possibly “The fisher”.
Another possibility is that, being cognates of the Gmc *nautam, the names Nodens and Nuadu could be interpreted to mean simply “God of valuable possessions” – which might then be perceived as a deity of fertility and abundance.
Sadly, at this point we cannot be certain as to the implied meaning of the name. We can only state that originally Nodens (and thus Nuadu) was likely to have been an aquatic deity associated with healing; and that his name may have meant something similar to “The catcher” or  “God of valuable possessions”. However, even that much is enough to tell us that Nodens is not really looking like a Celtic correlate to Tiw.
Moving on to the later development of Nuadu, the tale generally runs like so:
Nuadu is the king of the Tuatha de Danaan and possessor of one of the four treasures of the Tuatha de Danaan; specifically, a magic sword from which none could escape. Nuadu loses arm in the First Battle of Mag Tuired (against the Fir Bolg), and thus loses his kingship due to the blemish. Bres becomes king and rules poorly, Dian Cecht makes Nuadu a silver arm – thereby granting him the name Nuadu Argatlam (Nuadu silver hand), and allowing him to reclaim the kingship. Nuadu is then slain during the Second Battle of Mag Tuired by Fomorian Balor; though Bres’s capture results in the Tuatha de Danaan gaining the secrets of plowing, sowing, and harvesting.
James MacKillop has associated Nuadu with another deity known as Nechtan.[xxi]Miranda Green points out that Nechtan is the husband of Boand (the personification of the river Boyne).[xxii]"The Colloquy of the Two Sages" lists Boand as the wife of Nechtan in one line, but then makes her the wife of Nuadu Necht on the very next line. Elsewhere in the Metrical Dindsenchas, a section of the river Boand is called the “forearm of Nuadu’s wife”; thereby providing a second reference to Boand as the wife of Nuadu. With all this evidence in mind, it seems fair to state that Nechtan and Nuadu appear to be the same individual.
Nechtan, along with his three cupbearers, is the keeper of Connla’s well - where nine hazel trees drop the nuts of wisdom and inspiration into the well (where the salmon of wisdom eat them). The salmon imagery at Lydney might also be seen to reinforce the link between Nodens and Nechtan (without requiring Nuadu to play the middleman). In the Dindshenchas (the Lore of Places), the father of Nechtan is given as Labraid Loingsech (meaning seafarer, mariner). Nechtan is also a likely cognate to the Roman Neptune and Vedic Apam Napat.[xxiii]
At this point we can clearly state that Nuadu is obviously not a sky deity; but rather he has blatant aquatic associations.
We can take this watery element even one step further. In the De Gabail in t-Sida, the husband of Boand is given as Elcmar (rather than Nechtan or Nuadu). This should not confuse us as it seems Elcmar is none other than another name for Nechtan.
Remembering that Nechtan guards Connla’s well and the salmon therein, we will find Elcmar in an identical role as he tries to protect salmon of the river Boyne (in the tale of the Ces Ullaid).
This is clarified further when we see that Connla’s well is all but identical to the well of Segais, which is the source of the Boyne.[6]
Upon reviewing the matter, we see that Nuadu is married to a river goddess (Boand), is etymologically linked to the earlier aquatic deity Nodens, is equated with the other aquatic deities Nechtan and Elcmar, and seems connected to the concept of sacred wells. Furthermore, the name Nechtan appears to be cognate with both the Roman and Vedic water deities.
Of course even after reviewing all the connections and noting how strong the aquatic element of the deity”s character is – we are still left with the two main issues that are involved in the Tiwaz theory. Namely the position of Nuadu as king of the Tuatha de Danaan, and the matter of Tiw and Nuadu’s shared one-handedness.
As to the former, we must consider that Nuadu, Lugh, Dagdha, and Bres all take turns being the leader of the Tuatha de Danaan[xxiv]. In light of this, we cannot assume Nuadu’s stint of rulership to be absolute proof of the sovereign function. Indeed, if anything, the myths might be seen to suggest otherwise, as Nuadu  intentionally gives up leadership to Lugh in The Second Battle of Mag Tuired.
Let us then, finally turn to the matter of the one-handedness.
The very first problem with this comparison is that only the Norse Tyr is known to have lost an arm, there is no evidence suggesting that Tiw, Zio, and Tiwaz were perceived as being one handed. In light of this, the most likely solution is to view Tyr’s loss of hand as being a fairly recent mythic development, rather than something from a shared Proto-European phase. If the loss of hand were not present in Tiw and Zio, then that would serve to show that Nuadu and Tyr expressly do not have a shared origin.
However, we cannot conclusively say that Tiw & Zio had both hands, we simply do not know. Therefore, let us explore the possibility further.
Examining the myths, we see that both Norse and Irish deities lose an arm in a way that results in the binding of violence, for a time. Here however, the two situations are quite different in results. Tyr’s loss of a hand produces a beneficial situation for the Aesir (the binding of Fenrir). Whereas the loss of Nuadu’s hand produces a negative situation for the Tuatha de Danaan (they must compromise with the Fir Bolg, give them Connacht, and eventually allow Bres to become King). Noting the drastic difference in outcomes, perhaps the two tales are not cultural equivalents.
Bruce Lincoln proposes a different way to characterize the loss of a hand[xxv]. Lincoln states that various wounds correspond to the specific Dumezilian functional roles. Lincoln puts forth that the loss of eye or speech, or wounding to the head is emblematic of the sovereign first function. Wounds to the belly or leg correspond to the victim belonging to the third (agrarian) function. Whereas loss of an arm/hand is the characteristic wounding which is suffered by those who are of the second (martial) function.
One example can be found in the various injuries mentioned in the Irish tale of “MacDatho’s Pig.” In this story, the opponents of Cet mac Matach are mentioned and while not every wound is perfectly explained, the injuries do seem to follow Lincoln’s schema: A) Angus mac Lamh Gabuid (Oengus Mac Lama Gabuid) is an Ulster hero and warrior who lost his hand in combat to Cet; B) Eogan mac Durthacht is another hero, but also king of Fernmag, who lost an eye to Cet; C) Cuscraid Mend Macha is the son of king Conchobar (thus a prince) who is wounded in the throat; D) Mend mac Salcholcan (Menn mac Salcholean) is described as the son of a “rustic”, and it is this rustic father who lost a foot to Cet.
In another Irish tale we have the demise of Cuchulainn, the greatest of the Ulster warriors. Upon his death, Lugaid mac Con Roi cuts the right/sword hand off Cuchulainn’s body; yet as he does so, Cuchulainn’s own sword falls and strikes off Lugaid’s hand. Lugaid is then pursued by Conall Cernach who, upon seeing the wound, challenges Lugaid to an even match by tucking his own hand into his belt (or having it bound to his body).
Lincoln gives further examples from Egil’s saga, Beowulf, and Waltharius; not all seem to be perfect matches in that occasionally the wound doesn’t fit the birth status of the individual, but Lincoln argues the wound may exemplify the character of the victim.
“A wound to the head or eye marks those who are sovereign (by virtue of royalty, sacrality, knowledge, magic, and/or righteousness); a wound to the hand or arm, marks those of martial power; and wounds to the lower body mark low-ranking persons, whose appetites for food or wealth may be perceived as ignoble or dangerous, and who are reduced to positions of servile captivity.”
After explaining his theory, Lincoln states that Tyr’s role “is defined by his courage and is limited to doing that which no one else dares: putting his hand in the mouth of the beast.” Furthermore, he writes, “Snorri explicitly frames his account as an example of Tyr’s courage, not his fidelity or legal acumen.” Courage is the proper trait of the warrior class, and Lincoln believes that is precisely what has been mythologized, rather than some long lost concept of sovereignty.
Moving beyond Lincoln’s realm of myth, to actual history, we see time and again that the loss of a hand is indeed the wound suffered by the warrior.
·      In 137 BC Sextus Aurelius Victor cites a specific period during which the Numantines had to marry off their daughters. If a girl had two suitors, her father would give her to the first one who succeeded in cutting off the right hand of an enemy.[xxvi] 
·      Likewise, during the Numantine War in Spain, Scipio Africanus cut the hands off 400 Lutian youths as punishment for their decision to aid Numantia.[xxvii]
·      During the conquest of Gaul, Caesar had the hands cut off of all those who bore arms against him at Uxellodunum.[xxviii]
·      Florus gives us two examples: first regarding the Iberian Celts:
“The Numantines had sheltered certain Segidians, some of their own allies and relatives, who had escaped from the hands of the Romans. The intercession which they made for these refugees had no effect; and when they offered to withdraw themselves from all concern in the war, they were told to lay down their arms as the condition of a treaty on fair terms. This was understood by the barbarians to signify that their hands were to be cut off.” [xxix]
·      The second example by Florus is concerning the Thracians:
“Nor were these most savage of enemies subdued by any other treatment than such as they exercised on others; for cruelties by fire and sword were inflicted on all that were taken prisoners. But nothing seemed more horrid to these barbarians than that they should be left with their hands cut off, and be obliged to live and survive their sufferings.” [xxx]
·      Plutarch provides further support:
“The ambassadors of Mithridates arriving and declaring that they accepted of the conditions, only Paphlagonia they could not part with; and as for the ships, professing not to know of any such capitulation, Sulla in a rage exclaimed, ‘What say you?  Does Mithridates then withhold Paphlagonia? and as to the ships, deny that article?  I thought to have seen him prostrate at my feet to thank me for leaving him so much as that right hand of his, which has cut off so many Romans.’ ” [xxxi]
·      Herodotus reports (regarding the Scythian deity identified as Mars) "the right hands and arms of the slaughtered prisoners are cut off, and tossed on high into the air." [xxxii]
·      The writer Lucian of Samosata (circa 170 AD) reveals more when the Scythian character of Toxaris says: “Mighty issues are at stake: I for my part would rather be worsted in single combat, and lose my right hand, as the Scythian custom is, ….” [xxxiii]
·      And lastly we come to Strabo’s quote: "The Lusitanians are given to offering sacrifices…. And they cut off the right hands of their captives and set them up as an offering to the gods." [xxxiv]
These remarks again clarify that prisoners of war, losers in combat, and those connected with the God of war, are the ones who have their hand/arm cut off. When reviewing the preponderance of historic and mythic evidence, it seems likely that Lincoln’s explanation for the loss of hand is far more accurate than that of Dumezil and the Tiwaz theorists. Therefore, we can tentatively conclude, that Tyr’s loss of hand (and Nuadu’s) is due to his martial aspect, rather than anything implying a sovereign function.
This should clarify that Nuadu need not be viewed as a Celtic correlate to Tyr, but rather as simply another deity who contained some martial aspect and lost a battle.
Regardless, this exploration into the Celtic pantheon has revealed that: A) Nuadu bears a strong aquatic element (rather than a sky/atmospheric aspect) that is not shared with Tiw; B) Nuadu is only one of several rulers; and C) that the one-handedness of both gods can be explained more logically as associated with the warrior function and lost battles than by requiring some shared Bronze Age origin. Furthermore, even if one were to still view both deities as cultural expressions of the same Proto-European deity,[xxxv]then the strong aquatic element of Nuadu would further preclude the view of Tyr as any sort of sky god.
Additionally, we must remember that there is a complete lack of indication for Tiw & Zio having been one handed.
As such, to insist that Nuadu reveals Tyr’s sovereign function, would require the reader make a leap of pure speculation that flies in the face of all the preceding evidence. 
8) Minor other arguments put forth as support for the Tiwaz theory.
People sometimes attempt to list Teutates and Saxnot as correlates or pseudonyms of Tiw and then somehow connect them with Irmin. Regardless of whether Teutates or Saxnot equate to Tiw, neither of the two beings has any link to Irmin whatsoever, thus they are immaterial to our present discussion. (Additional information on Teutates and Saxnot may be found in the Appendix)
It is sometimes brought forth that the temple of Mars Lenus at Trier was known as “Irminwingert”. While this would seem quite strong grounds for the Tiw argument, a bit of digging reveals this is not the case. Dr. Sabine Faust of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Trier has informed me that Irminenwingert is the name of the modern street which cuts through the sacred site. This road has no direct connection with the temple site, nor was the site named Irminenwingert. Rather, the creation of the street and its name giving took place in the year 1913. The street name derives from the vineyard (wingert) which belonged to the cloister St. Irminen in the city Trier. This cloister was in turn, named for the first abbess Irmina.
Francis Palgrave believed there was a connection between the Irminsul and the Vehmic courts. Palgrave speculated that the 13thcentury fehmgericht/vehmgericht were ancient holdovers from heathen times and then, without any evidence, stated that the original courts were ruled by the heathen priesthood of Eresburg and convened on Tuesdays. Upon review, this seems based solely on the fact that there was an Irminsul not too far from Eresburg, and that the Vehmic courts existed in that area 400 years later. Beyond that, there is no support for the man’s opinion that the courts were a carryover from pagan days.
Having reviewed where the theory is based upon misconceptions and false suppositions, let us now look at the actual evidence for linking the pillar with Tiw, which is as follows:
1) The Old Icelandic Rune Poem lists “tiggi” (ruler, king, governor, director) at the end of the entry that describes Tyr as the “ruler of the temple”. While there is no direct connection to Yggdrasil or the Irminsul, this is some of the best evidence for the high standing of Tiw. On the other hand, it may refer to Tyr’s role as patron of the Thing (as both a religious and political gathering) and thus not have any impact upon the Irminsul issue.
2) Mars Thingus/Tiw is linked with the goddess Friagabis. Both Frigg and Friagabis derive from the same PGmc word root: *frija(z)- , meaning “dear, beloved, free”, and may share a much more extensive connection. IF it turns out that Frigg (also found as Frea in Paulus Diaconus and Frija in the Second Merseburg Charm) and Friagabis are, in fact, one and the same deity, then this would suggest that Odin may have supplanted the original partner of Friagabis/Frigg (Mars Thingus/Tiw).
3)  Tiw is the patron of the Thing and thus has some aspect of leadership. The assembly of the gods themselves occurs under the boughs of Yggdrasil[xxxvi], and so hypothetically, the patron of the assembly (Thing) might be connected with the World Tree. Again, the evidence is weak, as there is no indication that Tiw was the leader of the God’s assembly, and thus no direct support for the connection to Yggdrasil. Furthermore Ares was associated with the Athenian judicial body known as the Areopagus, while Herodotus informs us that the Scythian war god (correlated with Mars) was associated with the seat of government for those people. [xxxvii]
4)  The Irminsul that was destroyed by Charlemagne may have been linked to Mars via its proximity to the location of Eresburg. On the other hand, this only describes the location of one such pillar, when evidence suggests there was more than one. Furthermore, the proximity of any other theonym (such as Ing’s, Wotan’s, or Donar’s grove) would invalidate the argument based on rough proximity.
5)  Widukind states that when erecting their Irminsul, the Saxons called the god Mars, and that Mars is called Hirmin. The evidence here is fairly strong, however it is not conclusive, especially due to the confusion regarding the image imitating Hercules in the quote. We shall return to this quote again in the second and third sections of this paper.
6) Grimm makes mention of a rhyme preserved throughout numerous parts of Germany, in which Irmin “is challenged, as it were, to strike up his war-music, to sound the catgut, pipe and drum; but the foe draws nigh with maces and staves, and will hang up Hermen”. [xxxviii]Grimm attributes this to the memory of Charlemagne destroying the Irminsul. One interesting bit of supporting evidence is that Irmin is associated with “war-music”, and so we might find this to be evidence for a connection to the Germanic Mars (Tiw). We shall also see an alternate explanation for this matter, towards the end of this paper.
7) Grimm attempted to equate the rune Ear with Ares, thus connecting Ares with Irmin through the runic intermediary. Grimm reports that some Anglo-Saxon alphabets use the term “Tir” to describe both Tiwaz and Ear symbols.[xxxix]He also points out that some runic alphabets list the Ear rune as “Zio”.[xl]These two facts provide support for associating the rune Ear, with the deity Tiw. Unfortunately, we have already reviewed how the rune Ear has no linguistic connection to Irmin. Therefore any link between Tiw and Ear has no bearing upon whether Tiw can be associated with Irmin or not - unless we base an argument solely upon the physical similarity in shape between rune and Irminsul. While such an argument may be of some mixed merit, it is far from conclusive. Furthermore, if Tiw was Irmin, it does make one ponder why any additional rune (Ear) was required, as the deity was already represented by the rune Tiwaz.
8) The Tiwaz rune is also frequently found on funeral urns, thereby possibly connecting Tiw with the concept behind the rune Ear (grave); [xli] however, multiple other symbols (such as the swastika) are also found on the urns. Furthermore, the presence of the Tiwaz rune may simply have been meant to imply that the deceased person was a warrior. Unfortunately, there is no way for us to know which answer is accurate.
9) There are some other historical pieces of evidence for the high standing of Mars and Tiw:
a) Jordanes perceived among the Goths, such a high regard for Mars, that he quoted Virgil in saying: “Father Gradivus rules the Getic fields.”[xlii]
b) Tacitus recording of the remarks by the Tencteri, describes Mars as the chief of their divinities. [xliii]
c) Procopius likewise gives the description, "Ares, whom they [the Goths] regard as the greatest god.”[xliv]
d) Ammianus Marcellinus remarks that the Scythian Alans “stick a naked sword in the earth and worship it as the god of war, the presiding deity of the regions over which they range.”[xlv]
Taken in conjunction with the evidence that Tyr and Tivar are generalized terms for “god”, these remarks might indicate that Mars was the head of the pantheon or alternatively, that he was just the most important deity (in a martial culture). Additionally, they might simply reflect that the head of the pantheon (say Woden) had a strong martial aspect, that caused the foreign historians to equate him with Mars.
Furthermore, even if Mars were the chief divinity, that does not mean he has to be a sky god or associated with the Irminsul. Indeed, in all the aforementioned remarks, there is not a single comment that suggests a sky god funtion for the deity being described, nor is there any testimony or sign that suggests Mars was in any way associated with the Irminsul. Thus, while providing some support for the theory, the above evidence remains quite circumstantial.
At this point we can conclude that there is no evidence for Tiwaz as a supreme sky or solar deity, he simply does not possess those traits. The assumptions seem to be based upon flawed linguistics. Furthermore, the loss of his hand does not require that we perceive Tyr as a demoted leader akin to the Celtic Nuadu, but rather the missing limb far more strongly underscores the martial character of Tyr.
There is however, good evidence that Tiw/Tyr was the patron of the local political system (the Thing, the Areopagus, the Old Icelandic Rune Poem, and the Herodotus quote that the Scythian war god was associated with the seat of government). There is the solid quote by Widukind about Mars being called Hirmin. We have seen that the runes Tiw and Ear both appear to be associated with Tiw, and that the Ear rune resembles what we believe the Irminsul to look like. Finally, we have the proximity between Eresburg (named after Ares) and the Irminsul.
Thus if no better alternative presents itself, then we might propose, with some reservations, that Tiw be accepted as the being identified as Irmin.