Sacred poles form an important aspect of worship and the development of sacred space within our religion, and should be examined as an integral part of such practices. These poles can be central to our worship of the divine as catalysts for their beings and focal points of the rite.
These would include pole-gods, central poles, and prayers poles we call Ǫndvegisulur. We shall examine the nature of Pole-Gods under the Skurðgoðar, so here we shall look at the other two.
Central Poles are identical to the axis mundi, such as the World-Nail or Veraldar Nagli,1 which would act as a connection to the North Star as a fixed point of revolution. Such poles as the Irminsul likely represented this, as it was mentioned in many sources as being the height of worship among Teutonic tribes. The De miraculis sancti Alexandri describes the pole as a “universal column, upholding all things.” The Kaiserchronik says “On an Irminsul / stands an enormous idol / which they call their merchant.” We will note later that the word stalli, typically viewed as an altar, is also a pillar upon which idols rest. It is also connected to the “Pillars of Hercules” mentioned in Tacitus’ Germania ch. 34. What is most interesting is the name, Irminsul, which means “Great Pillar” or “Great Pole,” which in Old Norse would translate as Jǫrmunsulr. One of Óðinn’s names is Jǫrmun, “The Great,” and we also have Jǫrmungrund “The Great Ground” and Jǫrmungandr “The Great Gandr.” It is likely that the above “enormous idol” in the Kaiserchronik would have been of Óðinn-Jǫrmun, and it is likely seen as the same as the great central pillar that works its way through the Underworld. Because of this, it is seen as the same as Yggdrasill, but a case could also be made for it being the same as the World-Mill, which Rydberg makes the case for this being the Veraldar Nagli.2
The next sacred pole would be the Ǫndvegisulur, which are “High Seat Poles” we believe were utilized for personal prayers during gatherings or within Hofs in general. We have an allusion to personal prayers at Veizlur in Egils Saga ch. 49 where it states that “Þórolfr shall Blót and pray for happiness for his brother as well as himself” (skal Þórólfur Blóta ok leita heilla þeim bræðrum) which is in contrast to the general blessings of the gathering we see described elsewhere (f.ex. Ynglingasaga ch. 8). In each case we see about the Ǫndvegisulur the poles are images of Þórr, as in the Eyrbyggja Saga ch. 4:
Þórólfur kastaði þá fyrir borð ǫndvegissúlum sínum, eim er staðið hǫfðu í hofinu. Þar var Þór skorinn á annarri. Hann mælti svo fyrir að hann skyldi þar byggja á Íslandi sem Þór léti þær á land koma. En þegar þær hóf frá skipinu sveif þeim til hins vestra fjarðarins og þótti þeim fara eigi vonum seinna....
...Þar lét hann reisa hof og var það mikið hús. Voru dyr á hliðvegginum og nær ǫðrum endanum. Þar fyrir innan stóðu ǫndvegissúlurnar og voru þar í naglar. Þeir hétu reginnaglar.
Then Þórolfr cast overboard the Ǫndvegisulur, which had been in the temple, and on one of them was Þórr carven; withal he spake over them, that there he would abide in Iceland, whereas Þórr should let those pillars come a-land....
...There he let build a Hof, and a mighty house it was. There was a door in the side-wall and nearer to one end thereof. Within the door stood the pillars of the high-seat, and nails were therein; they were called the Reginnaglar.
This passage then coincides with a description we have of the Lapps honoring an image of Þórr and driving a nail and flint into him as part of his worship and to get him to strike fire.1 This reminds us of Þórr’s battle with Hrungnir in Skaldskaparmál 24, wherein the hone of the Jǫtun gets lodged into Þórr’s head and remains there due to Gróa forgetting her Galdr. There is also a skaldic poem called Glælognskviða which describes the Reginnaglar as being used in prayer. Here it states:
“when you perform your prayers in front of the reginnagla of the speech of books (þás þú rekr fyr reginnagla bóka máls bænir þínar).” It is likely that these nails have something to do with fate, and that driving them in with a hone or hammer signifies Þórr as the great hero who faces his destiny with the greatest courage. In Sigrdrifumal 17 there is mention of The Nornir’s Nails, which we would juxtapose with Helgalkviða Hundingsbana I v. 3 where they weave the threads of fate (ǫrlǫgþættir) amongst the stars as fixed points. This would imply that the act of prayer, in a fatalist system, seeks to gain influence over fate or the strength to endure whatever happens.
-Excerpt from ÆFINRÚNAR book 1