It was a convention in northern Europe in early medieval times to portray the cosmic axis in the form of Irmittsul, which was represented as a column with a top composed of interlace patterns or opposed scrolls. Perhaps this was in imitation of classical columns or the middle-eastern palm tree of life from which those columns were derived. The axis of Irminsul sometimes resembles the lower part of a Celtic Cross, without the head. This has both a stylistic and a symbolic meaning because the same form was used frequently by Celtic crossmakers, both as the transition point between the cross-shaft and its head and also as additional ornament. In the days before the literalism of the witch-hunts and the

Swedish Runestones Sun


Left: a drawing from an illuminated manuscript of the Reichenau School, tenth century, showing a man climbing the cosmic axis Inninsul. Centre: the runestone of King Harald Bluetooth at Jelling, Denmark, depicts Christ and the bound Fenris-Wolf flanking Irminsul.

Right: Celtic Cross at Ballaugh, Isle of Man, in the form of Irminsul.

Reformation, many believers recognized that the Christian religion was a continuation and a refinement of the elder faith rather than its inflexible enemy. The integration of Irminsul with the cross was therefore a natural progression, where a cross-head was simply added to the top of the cosmic axis.

Irminsul itself appears in Christian art as a representation of Jacob's Ladder, linking earth and heaven. A tenth-century Christian manuscript of the Reichenau School kept at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbiittel actually shows a man climbing up Irminsul. It is an image of the soul's ascent from earth to heaven. The great eleventh-century runestone at Jelling in Denmark, erected by King Harald, has both the crucifixion and Irminsul. It shows Christ crucified and bound with interlacing ribbonwork. Beside him, carved on the edges of the stone, are twin representations of Irminsul, resembling that on the Wolfenbiittel manuscript. Thus, the Pagan cosmic axis reflects its Christian counterpart in the cross, integrating the older and newer sacred cosmologies. Many Scandinavian runestones used the Irminsul form for the presentation of the runic inscription. Conventionally, the script began at the bottom of the stone, and read upwards along the

Runestone Cross

Swedish milestones, with runic inscriptions carved inside the littdwuwi serpent, incorporating Pagan and Christian motifs.

Clockwise from top left: Grynsta Backe, Tible, Upland; Arsunde parish, Gestrike; Glomsio bridge, Borke, Smaland; Hesle, Eggcby, Upland.

Swedish Runic Inscriptions

stem of the axis to its top. Then, if the script was longer, it continued downwards to the right of the axis, effectively in a sunwise spiral, until it reached the bottom of the stone. Further text was written upwards to the left of the axis. Other runestones depict the Tree of Life at the centre of scrolls that bear the runes. In these images, artistic elements integrate Irminsul, the cross and the Hammer of Thor to produce unique designs. Finally, there is a form that puts the runes in a spiral serpentine ribbon that coils around a Christian cross, making the sun-wheel pattern.

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