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Thursday, January 17, 2019

William Tell, Arminius and the Teutoburg Forest


Arminius purportedly defended the freedom of German tribes and defeated the Romans at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. In gratitude they erected an Irmensauele, or pole of Arminius
A tradition of erecting and worshipping a pole is alluded to in numerous legends and saga and has a wide geographic distribution. The opening paragraph of Grimm’s Saga No. 518 is a reference to this tradition:

Now it happened that the Kaiser’s bailiff named Grissler rode out to Uri. And when he had lived there some time he erected a pole under the linden tree and everyone had to pass by it. On this pole he placed a hat and ordered a farmhand to sit there and keep watch. He ordered the following public proclamation: Whoever passes must bow to the hat as if the master himself stood there.”

Such sacred poles were placed on the village green, the market square or sometimes even concealed within a copse. Over the centuries as Christianity took hold, the underlying pagan belief was forgotten but the folk custom could not be extirpated.   Did the pole commemorate a military victory or did it represent the indwelling spirit of a god within the tree, as described in The Golden Bough by James George Frazer? The custom lived on after the underlying belief had long since been forgotten.