The title for The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar is derived from the Irminsul, a pillar sacred to the Continental Saxon peoples, including my heroine, Leova. The one thing we know with certainty: Charlemagne ordered its destruction in 772 and took the gold and silver in its temple.
The nature and location of the Irminsul is uncertain—as is whether it was the only one. Some sources say it was a stone pillar, others say wooden pillar, and still others say it was a tree. It’s been described as having an idol of the war god atop it. Because of the presence of a carving, some have placed it at the Externsteine, north of the Saxon fortress Eresburg.
We can’t turn to the pagan Saxons for any clarity. They did not have a written language as we know it, and the Church did everything it could to obliterate a religion it considered devil worship.
So what’s a historical novelist to do with so many contradictions? Choose the most plausible version that best fits her story and confess her liberties in an author’s note. Or a blog post.
My first liberty is to call the Irminsul the Pillar of Heaven. Irminsul is often translated as “universal pillar.” I chose Pillar of Heaven in my novel because frankly it sounds better. And Wodan, the war god whose idol might have surmounted the pillar, was a sky god, so the Pillar of Heaven is not too much of a stretch.
Next was the location. Leova lives in a village just outside the fortress of Eresburg. Having it nearby allowed her to smell the smoke when it burned and see the charred blotch it left behind. It made the loss more real and more devastating.
Flames are a dramatic form of destruction, which is why I decided the pillar should be made of wood. To the Continental Saxons, the Irminsul’s destruction was the equivalent of burning a cathedral. Did the Saxons believe anyone who desecrated their sacred monument would face the gods’ wrath? Again, there is no text to verify it. But this was age that believed in divine favor and retribution, so that idea passes the plausibility test.
From a storyteller’s point of view, actual facts about the Irminsul are not as important as its impact on the characters. And in this case, Leova’s faith is shaken.
This was first published on Sept. 18, 2014, at Jester Harley’s Manuscript Page.