There has been much speculation over the years about the location of the historic Irminsul with the most popular choices being Eresburg and the Externsteine but I believe that it is a error to assume that there was only one Irminsul. I have now come to the conclusion that Irminsul columns are to be found all over continental Germania and England and indeed many of these pillars have survived down to the present day in the form of Jupiter Columns in Roman occupied Europe and indeed even in the humble marker crosses which are to be found all over rural England.
Eugene Goblet d'Alviella in his most interesting The Migration of Symbols (1894)mmakes reference to the perrons/perons (French) or perroen (Dutch) of eastern Belgium which are stone columns usually surmounted by a cross. In particular he discusses the Perron of Liege:
"The most celebrated of those perrons is still standing, above a fountain, on the market-place at Liege; it consists of a white marble column placed on a square base with five steps, guarded by four lions. The capital is surmounted by the three Graces, who support a Crown encircling a Fir-cone with a small Cross on its point."
Some of my readers may already be aware that the Fir cone or Pine cone is a symbol of the Goddess Zisa, the consort of the ancient Germanic sky God Ziu. According to Nigel Pennick Cisa/Zisa had a shrine at Augsburg in Germany and her annual festival took place on the 28th of September. (The Complete Illustrated Guide to the Runes), the original name of this city being Zisenburg (A History of Pagan Europe, Pennick/Jones) or Zizarim (The Book of Primal Signs, Pennick). The Roman name of the city was Augusta Vindelicorum. The symbol of Zisa is the pine cone and many large stone pine cones survive from Roman times. Mr Pennick states that the Stadtpyr is the emblem of Augsburg and Her cone appears as a weather vane on the church of St. Peter-am-Perlach, which was built on the site of a holy hill dedicated to the Goddess.
This Goddess is referred to extensively in Jacob Grimm's Teutonic Mythology Volume 1:
"Sie bawten einen tempel gross darein zu eren[in honour of] Zise der abgoettin, die sie nach heidnischen sitten[after heathen ways] anbetten zu denselben zeiten[adored in those days]. Die stat ward genennt[city got named] auch Zisaris nach der abgoettin[after the goddess], das was der pris. Der tempel als lang stund unversert[stood uninjured], bis im von alter abgieng[as from age it passed away], der berg namen von im empfieng[the hill took name], daruf gestanden was[whereon had stood] das werck, und haist noch huet[hight still to-day] der Zisenberck."
So the combination of a pillar surmounted by a cone reinforces the identification of the column with Ziu and His consort Zisa. There is a strong argument for assuming that Irmin, Saxnot and Ziu are in fact different names for the same deity. All three are both highly important and ancient sky deities who reach far back into the Germanic past. If this theory is correct then I would suggest that it is Ziu who is the oldest form of this deity; Irmin and Saxnot being later developments.
Indeed as a deity Ziu is so ancient that His existence can be traced right back to Proto-Indo-European times and He was clearly The God worshipped by the still undivided Aryans. He is the Welsh duw, the Latin deus, the Lithuanian dievas, the Sanskrit deva, the Avestan daevo (demonised as a 'false God' by the Zoroastrians), the Jupiter of the Romans and the Zeus of the Greeks. Our ancient Aryan ancestors would have called Him Dyeus, 'celestial being'. He was literally the Sky Father and this is particularly reflected in the Latin Iupiter (pronounced Jupiter), Dis-Pater, Deus Pater and the Greek Zeu Pater which is remarkably similar to the Sanskrit Dyauspitah. This deity's dominance as the primary God of the undivided Aryans diminished as the various Aryan tribes went their separate ways and evolved their own pantheons of Gods. The main area of operations of this God was in the daylight sky.
As Jupiter is the Roman version of Ziu we have here a further connection between Ziu and Irmin as the Jupiter columns which are to be found in the Romanised parts of Germania are clearly a form of the Irminsul.
Returning to The Migration of Symbols the author states:
"Lastly, old chroniclers relate that in the thirteenth century the destruction of the Irminsul by Charlemagne was still commemorated at Hildesheim on the Saturday following the Sunday of the Laetare, by planting in the ground, on the cathedral square, two poles six feet high, each surmounted by a wooden object one foot in height, and shaped like a pyramid or cone. The young people then endeavoured with sticks and stones to overthrow this object. Does not this tradition directly connect the Irminsul, or rather the Irminsuls, with the stake which, surmounted by a Cone, is presented to our view in the Frankish buckle, just as the stone column of the Hildesheim cathedral links them with the perrons of Belgium?"
Here the author is referring to Fir cones placed at the end of pillars and venerated by the Franks in eastern Belgium and north east France.
Ziu was the God who presided over the ancient Thing so it is not surprising that we find miniature Irminsuls in the form of market crosses in the market squares of England and other Germanic countries where it was the tradition for public assemblies to be held. As Christopher Fee points out in his interesting book Gods, Heroes, & Kings: The Battle for Mythic Britain (2004):
"Tiw was the protector of judicial assemblies; this fact is attested by a Roman inscription in Britain to 'Mas Thingus', who watched over legal proceedings, which were held on his day (Tuesday) of each week."