Wayland the Smith

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For character Woland in Bulgakov's novel, see The Master and Margarita.
"Weyland Smith" redirects here. For the Vertigo comics character, see List of characters in Fables.
An illustration of Völundr.

In Germanic and Norse mythology, Wayland the Smith (Old English: Wēland; Old Norse: Völundr, Velentr; Old High German: Wiolant; Proto-Germanic: *Wēlandaz, from *Wēla-nandaz, lit. "battle-brave"[1]) is a legendary master blacksmith. In Old Norse sources, Völundr appears in Völundarkviða, a poem in the Poetic Edda, and in Þiðrekssaga, and his legend is also depicted on the Ardre image stone VIII. In Old English sources, he appears in Deor, Waldere and in Beowulf and the legend is depicted on the Franks Casket. He is mentioned in the German poems about Dietrich von Bern as the Father of Witige.

Old Norse references[edit]

Völund's smithy in the centre, Niðhad's daughter to the left, and Nidud's dead sons hidden to the right of the smithy. Between the girl and the smithy, Völund can be seen in an eagle fetch flying away. From the Ardre image stone VIII.

Wayland had two brothers, Egil and Slagfiðr, and they were the three sons of the king of the Finns according to Völundarkviða. In one version of the myth, the three brothers lived with three Valkyries: Ölrún, Hervör alvitr and Hlaðguðr svanhvít. After nine years, the Valkyries left their lovers. Egil and Slagfiðr followed, never to return. In another version, Wayland married the swan maiden Hervör, and they had a son, Heime, but Hervör later left Wayland. In both versions, his love left him with a ring. In the former myth, he forged seven hundred duplicates of this ring.

Later, he was captured in his sleep by King Niðhad in Nerike who ordered him hamstrung and imprisoned on the island of Sævarstöð. There he was forced to forge items for the king. Wayland's wife's ring was given to the king's daughter, Bodvild. Nidud wore Wayland's sword.

In revenge, Wayland killed the king's sons when they visited him in secret, fashioned goblets from their skulls, jewels from their eyes, and a brooch from their teeth. He sent the goblets to the king, the jewels to the queen and the brooch to the king's daughter. When Bodvild took her ring to him to be mended, he took the ring and raped her, fathering a son and escaping on wings he made. Wayland (Völund) made the magic sword Gram (also named Balmung and Nothung) and the magic ring that Thorsten retrieved.

Old English references[edit]

The hamstrung smith Weyland from the front of the Franks Casket (see text).

The Old English poem Deor, which recounts the famous sufferings of various figures before turning to those of Deor, its author, begins with "Welund":

Welund tasted misery among snakes.
The stout-hearted hero endured troubles
had sorrow and longing as his companions
cruelty cold as winter - he often found woe
Once Nithad laid restraints on him,
supple sinew-bonds on the better man.
That went by; so can this.
To Beadohilde, her brothers' death was not
so painful to her heart as her own problem
which she had readily perceived
that she was pregnant; nor could she ever
foresee without fear how things would turn out.
That went by, so can this.[2]

Weland had fashioned the mail shirt worn by Beowulf according to lines 450–455 of the epic poem of the same name:

"No need then
to lament for long or lay out my body.
If the battle takes me, send back
this breast-webbing that Weland fashioned
and Hrethel gave me, to Lord Hygelac.
Fate goes ever as fate must." (Heaney trans.)

The Franks Casket is one of a number of other Anglo-Saxon references to Wayland, whose story was evidently well known and popular, although no extended version in Old English has survived. The reference in Waldere is similar to that in Beowulf; the hero's sword was made by Weland.[3] In the front panel of the Franks Casket, incongruously paired with an Adoration of the Magi, Wayland stands at the extreme left in the forge where he is held as a slave by King Niðhad, who has had his hamstrings cut to hobble him. Below the forge is the headless body of Niðhad's son, who Wayland has killed, making a goblet from his skull; his head is probably the object held in the tongs in Wayland's hand. With his other hand Wayland offers the goblet, containing drugged beer, to Bodvild, Niðhad's daughter, who he then rapes when she is unconscious. Another female figure is shown in the centre; perhaps Wayland's helper, or Bodvild again. To the right of the scene Wayland (or his brother) catches birds; he then makes wings from their feathers, with which he is able to escape.[4]

During the Viking Age in northern England, Wayland is depicted in his smithy, surrounded by his tools, at Halton, Lancashire, and fleeing from his royal captor by clinging to a flying bird, on crosses at Leeds, West Yorkshire, and at Sherburn-in-Elmet and Bedale, both in North Yorkshire.[5]

Toponyms[edit]

Wayland is associated with Wayland's Smithy, a burial mound in the Berkshire Downs. This was named by the English, but the megalithic mound significantly predates them. It is from this association that the superstition came about that a horse left there overnight with a small silver coin (groat) would be shod by morning. This superstition is mentioned in the first episode of Puck of Pook's Hill by Rudyard Kipling, "Weland's Sword", which narrates the rise and fall of the god.

Swords described as having been forged by Wayland[edit]

Böðvildr in Weyland's Smithy
John Gehring (1883)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ see Hellmut Rosenfeld, Der Name Wieland, Beiträge zur Namenforschung (1969).
  2. ^ Translation by Steve Pollington
  3. ^ R.K. Gordon, ed. Anglo-Saxon Poetry. (London: Dent) 1954:65. Partial text of the Walder fragments in modern English - see the start of fragment A for Wayland
  4. ^ G. Henderson, Early Medieval Art, 1972, rev. 1977, Penguin, p. 157
  5. ^ All noted in Richard Hall, Viking Age Archaeology (series Shire Achaeology) 1995:40.

Other sources[edit]

External links[edit]