Wayland the Smith

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Wayland in Fredrik Sander's 1893 Swedish edition of the Poetic Edda
The smith Wayland from the front of the eighth-century Northumbrian Franks Casket.

In Germanic mythology, Wayland the Smith (Old English: Wēland; Old Norse: Völundr, Velent; Old Frisian: Wela(n)du; German: Wieland der Schmied; Old High German: Wiolant; Galans (Galant) in Old French;[1] Proto-Germanic: *Wēlandaz from *Wilą-ndz, lit. "crafting one"[2]) is a master blacksmith originating in Germanic heroic legend, described by Jessie Weston as "the weird and malicious craftsman, Weyland".[3]

Wayland's story is most clearly told in the Old Norse sources Völundarkviða (a poem in the Poetic Edda) and Þiðreks saga.[4] In them, Wayland is a smith who is enslaved by a king. Wayland takes revenge by killing the king's sons and then escapes by crafting a winged cloak and flying away. A number of other visual and textual sources clearly allude to similar stories, most prominently the Old English poem Deor and the Franks Casket.

Wayland is also mentioned in passing in a wide range of texts, such as the Old English Waldere and Beowulf, as the maker of weapons and armour. He is mentioned in the German poems about Theoderic the Great as the Father of Witige.[3]


Earliest evidence[edit]

Gold solidius dated AD 575−625; wela(n)du in runes of the Elder Futhark. Found near Schweindorf, East Frisia, Germany.

The oldest possible reference known to Wayland the Smith is a gold solidus with a Frisian runic inscription ᚹᛖᛚᚩᛞᚢ wela[n]du 'wayland'.[5] It is not certain whether the coin depicts the legendary smith or bears the name of a moneyer who happened to be called Wayland (perhaps because he had taken the name of the legendary smith as an epithet). The coin was found near Schweindorf, in the region Ostfriesland in north-west Germany, and is dated AD 575–625.[6]

Scandinavian references[edit]

Völund's smithy in the centre, Niðhad's daughter to the left, and Niðhad'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's legend is depicted on Ardre image stone VIII,[7][8] and probably on a tenth-century copper mount found in Uppåkra in 2011.[9][8] A number of other possible visual representations exist in early medieval Scandinavia, but are harder to verify as they do not contain enough distinctive features corresponding to the story of Wayland found in textual sources.[10]


According to Völundarkviða, the king of the Finns had three sons: Völundr (Wayland) and his two brothers Egil and Slagfiðr. 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, Völundr married the swan maiden Hervör, and they had a son, Heime, but Hervör later left Völundr. In both versions, his love left him with a ring. In the former myth, he forged seven hundred duplicates of this ring.

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

In revenge, Völundr killed the king's sons when they visited him in secret, and 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 Böðvild takes her ring to Völundr for mending, he tricks her into drinking beer and she passes out. While Böðvild lies unconscious Völundr rapes her. As she wakes up a laughing Völundr flies to Niðhad's hall where he explains how he has murdered the king's sons, fashioned jewelry from their bodies and fathered a child with Böðvild. The crying king laments that his archers and horsemen can't reach Völundr, as the smith flies away never to be seen again. Niðhad summons his daughter, asking her if Völundr's story was true. The poem ends with Böðvild stating that she was unable to protect herself from Völundr as he was too strong for her.

Þiðreks saga[edit]

The Scandinavian Thidrekssaga/Didrikssaga also includes a version of the story of Wayland (Old Norse: Velent).[11] This part of the saga is sometimes called Velents þáttr smiðs.

The events described at King Niðung's court (identifiable with Niðhad in the Eddic lay) broadly follow the version in the Poetic Edda (though in the saga his brother, Egil the archer, is present to help him to make his wings and to help Velent escape[12]). However, the rest of the story is different. It tells of how Wayland was the son of a giant named Wade (Old Norse: Vadi), and how he was taught to smith by two dwarfs.[13] It also tells of how he came to be with King Nidung, crossing the sea in a hollow log, and how he forged the sword Mimung as part of a bet with the king's smith.[14] And it also tells about the argument that led to Nidung's hamstringing of Wayland, and ultimately to Wayland's revenge: Nidung had promised to give Wayland his daughter in marriage and also half his kingdom, and then went back on this promise.[15]

The saga elaborates on the flying contraption he builds using feathers collected by Egil; the contraption was called the flygil which suggests it was a pair of wings (German: Flügel[16]) in the original German version, but conceived of as a fjaðrhamr (feather cloak) by the saga-writers. Wayland here also wears a blood-filled bladder as a prop, instructing Egil to aim his arrow at this bag, thus feigning injury and deceiving the king.[17][12][18]

The saga also tells of the birth of a son, Wideke (Old Norse: Viðga), to Wayland and Nidung's daughter. While he was still in captivity, the couple have a conversation, and they vow each other's love; the smith also reveals he has fashioned a weapon (Old Norse: vapn) and hidden it in the forge for his unborn son.[19] He settles in his native Sjoland and eventually marries the princess with the blessing of her brother who became the next king after Niðung's death.[20]

This son inherits the sword Mimung, and goes on to become one of Thidrek/Didrik's warriors.[21]

Other references[edit]

In Icelandic manuscripts from the fourteenth century onwards, the terms Labyrinth and Domus Daedali ('home of Daedalus') are rendered Vǫlundarhús ('house of Vǫlundr'). This shows that Völundr was seen as equivalent to, or even identical with, the classical hero Daedalus.[22]

In Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar, Völundr is the manufacturer of the magic sword Gram (also named Balmung and Nothung) and the magic ring that Þorsteinn retrieves.

Old English references[edit]


Panel Civ (south face, lowest panel) of the c. tenth-century Leeds Cross, depicting Wayland (below) holding Beaduhild/Bǫðvildr above his head, at a right angle. Wayland's head has been lost, but his wings are visible to the left and right, and his tools at the bottom of the panel.

The Franks Casket is one of a number of other early English references to Wayland, whose story was evidently well known and popular, although no extended version in Old English has survived. 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, whom 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 Böðvildr, Niðhad's daughter, whom he then rapes when she is unconscious. Another female figure is shown in the centre; perhaps Wayland's helper, or Böðvildr 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.[23][24]

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.[25]

English local tradition placed Wayland's forge in a Neolithic long barrow mound known as Wayland's Smithy, close to the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire. If a horse to be shod, or any broken tool, were left with a sixpenny piece at the entrance of the barrow the repairs would be executed.[4]


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.[26]

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 reference in Waldere is similar to that in Beowulf – the hero's sword was made by Weland[27] – while Alfred the Great in his translation of Boethius asks plaintively: "What now are the bones of Wayland, the goldsmith preeminently wise?"[28]:p. 29

Swords fashioned by Wayland are regular properties of medieval romance. King Rhydderch Hael gave one to Merlin, and Rimenhild made a similar gift to Child Horn. English literature was also aware of the character Wade, whose name is similar to that of Vaði, the father of Wayland in Þiðreks saga.[3]

Continental Germanic references[edit]

Wayland is known by the name Wieland in line 965 of the Latin epic Waltharius, a literary composition based on Old High German oral tradition, as the smith who made the poem's eponymous protagonist's armor:

Et nisi duratis Wielandia fabrica giris
Obstaret, spisso penetraverit ilia ligno.
(And had not Weland's work obstructed with hardened rings,
He would have pierced his guts with the tough wood.)

Cultural legacy[edit]

'Weyland Smith' is noted as the possible maker of the sword of Macsen Wledig, found by Myrddin Emrys (Merlin) and hidden for Arthur, who names the sword "Caliburn" in the Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart.

Both the Austrian composer Siegmund von Hausegger (1904) and the Russian composer Leopold van der Pals (1913) used the Wayland saga as inspiration for symphonic poems.

Weland the smith is one of the characters in Puck of Pook's Hill, a fantasy book by Rudyard Kipling.

Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series of young-adult novels features an important supporting character named Wayland Smith.

Anthony Boucher references Wayland in his novella, We Print the Truth. The work features a "tramp printer" named Whalen Smith (although, as that character notes, few of his temporary employers ever get his name right). Whalen is shown to be responsible for fulfilling a number of wishes for his former employers, including the one that precipitates the novella's main plot. He appears to be an amoral character, allowing the good or bad consequences of the wishes he fills to take their course without intervention, although he does at one point display a mild curiosity about how one in particular turned out.

Wayland Smith appears as a character in Raymond Feist's 1988 novel Faerie Tale.

Wayland the Smith appeared as a character in the 1978 BBC drama The Moon Stallion.[29]

In the TV series Robin of Sherwood, Wayland is named as the creator of seven magic swords, including Robin's sword, Albion.[30] Wayland also appears as a character in the spin-off gamebook, Robin of Sherwood: The Sword of the Templar.[31]

In the MMO strategy game "Vikings: War of Clans" one of the ghosts the Shaman can fight is called "Wayland's Bride".

Weyland-Yutani in the Alien franchise.[citation needed]

Weyland is a key antagonist in the audio drama Gods and Monsters, based on the long-running science fiction series Doctor Who. He appears as one of a race of ancient aliens from before time, known as the elder gods.[32]

Wayland the Smith appears in the comic series Injection from Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey. He appears in Wayland's Smithy and is based on the characterisation from Þiðreks saga.

'weland smith' calls on the protagonist 'buccmaster of holland' to rebel against the Norman invasion in Paul Kingsnorth's novel The Wake. One of the epigrams opening Kingsnorth's novel Alexandria is from Alfred the Great's mention of the famous and wise goldsmith Welond, and Wayland is the name of the builder of Alexandria.


Wayland is associated with Wayland's Smithy, a burial mound in the Berkshire Downs.[28]:p. 109 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.[28]:p. 351

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gillespie 1973, pp. 142–143.
  2. ^ Gillespie, George T. A Catalogue of Persons Named in Germanic Heroic Literature,[full citation needed]
  3. ^ a b c Weston, J. (1929). 'Legendary Cycles of the Middle Age', in Tanner, J.R. (ed.), The Cambridge Medieval History Vol. VI, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, p. 841f.
  4. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Wayland the Smith". Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 431–432.
  5. ^ Faber, Hans (Nov 16, 2019). "Weladu the flying blacksmith". frisia-coast-trail. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  6. ^ Düwel, K., Merkwürdiges zu Goldbraktaeten und anderen Inschriftenträgern (2018)
  7. ^ Vandersall (1972), p. 18.
  8. ^ a b Zachrisson, Torun, Hermann, Pernille; Mitchell, Stephen A.; Schjødt, Jens Peter (eds.), Amber J. Rose, "Volund Was Here: A Myth Archaeologically Anchored in Viking Age Scania", Old Norse Mythology – Comparative Perspectives, Cambridge, Mass.: Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature, Harvard University, pp. 139–162
  9. ^ Helmbrecht, Michaela (2012). "A Winged Figure from Uppåkra", Fornvännen, 107; 171-78.
  10. ^ Sigmund Oehrl, 'Bildliche Darstellungen vom Schmied Wieland und ein unerwarteter Auftritt in Walhall', in Goldsmith Mysteries: Archaeological, Pictorial and Documentary Evidence from the 1st Millennium AD in Northern Europe, ed. by Alexandra Pesch and Ruth Blankenfeldt, Schriften des archäologischen Landemuseums, Ergänzungsreihe, 8 (Neumünster: Wachholtz, 2012), 297-32.
  11. ^ Þidriks saga Ch. 57–79: "Velents saga" Unger (1853), pp. 65–96; "The Story of Velent the Smith" Haymes tr. (1988), pp. 40–55
  12. ^ a b Shröder, Franz Rolf (1977) "Der Name Wieland", BzN, new ser. 4:53–62. Quoted by: Harris, Joseph (2005) [1985]. Clover, Carol J.; Lindow, John (eds.). Eddic Poetry. Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Critical Guide. University of Toronto Press. p. 103. ISBN 9780802038234.
  13. ^ Þidriks saga Ch. 57–61, Unger (1853), pp. 65–70; Haymes tr. (1988), pp. 40–42)
  14. ^ Þidriks saga Ch. 61–68, Unger (1853), pp. 70–82; Haymes tr. (1988), pp. 42–48)
  15. ^ Þidriks saga Ch. 70–74, Unger (1853), pp. 82–90; Haymes tr. (1988), pp. 48–52)
  16. ^ Cleasby & Vigfusson (1974), An Icelandic-English Dictionary, s.v. "flygil".
  17. ^ Þidriks saga Ch. 75, 77–78, Unger (1853), pp. 90–96; Haymes tr. (1988), pp. 52–54)
  18. ^ Wadstein (1900), pp. 19, 7.
  19. ^ Þidriks saga Ch. 76, Unger (1853), p. 92; Haymes tr. (1988), p. 53, though translated as "armor".)
  20. ^ Þidriks saga Ch. 78–79, Unger (1853), pp. 94–96; Haymes tr. (1988), pp. 54–55)
  21. ^ Þidriks saga Ch. 80–81ff (to Ch. 95), "Vidgas förste Bedrifter", Unger (1853), pp. 96–98; "The Story of Vidga, son of Velent" ,Haymes tr. (1988), pp. 56–57ff)
  22. ^ Rudolf Simek, 'Völundarhús -- Domus Daedali Labyrinths in Old Norse Manuscripts', NOWELE: North-Western European Language Evolution, 21-22 (1993), 323-68; doi:10.1075/nowele.21-22.23sim.
  23. ^ Wadstein (1900), pp. 18–20.
  24. ^ Henderson, George (1977) [1972]. Early Medieval. London: Penguin, p. 157.
  25. ^ All noted in Hall, Richard (1995). Viking Age Archaeology In Britain & Ireland, Shire Archaeology Series (60), (Shire: 1990) p. 40
  26. ^ Pollington, Steve (Transl.) (1997). "deor". Wiðowinde. 100: 64. Archived from the original on 10 April 1997. Retrieved 18 March 2017. The home page for this print journal can he found here.
  27. ^ Gordon, R. K. (1954). Anglo-Saxon Poetry, London: Dent, p. 65. This is a partial text of the Walder fragments in modern English. See the start of fragment A for Wayland.
  28. ^ a b c Shippey, Tom (2014). The Road to Middle-earth: Revised and Expanded Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780547524412.
  29. ^ Mark J. Docherty & Alistair D. McGown, The Hill and Beyond: Children's Television Drama: An Encyclopedia. British Film Institute, 2003. ISBN 9780851708782 (pp.126-7)
  30. ^ Richard Carpenter and Robin May, Robin of Sherwood and the Hounds of Lucifer. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England : Puffin Books, 1985 ISBN 9780140318692 (p.33).
  31. ^ Paul Mason & Russ Nicholson, Robin of Sherwood: The Sword of the Templar. Harmondsworth, Puffin, 1987. ISBN 9780140322958 (p.261).
  32. ^ "164. Doctor Who: Gods and Monsters - Doctor Who - The Monthly Adventures - Big Finish". www.bigfinish.com. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  • Gillespie, George T. (1973). Catalogue of Persons Named in German Heroic Literature, 700-1600: Including Named Animals and Objects and Ethnic Names. Oxford: Oxford University. ISBN 9780198157182.

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