Wayland the Smith
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; Proto-Germanic: *Wēlandaz from *Wilą-ndz, lit. "crafting one") is a master blacksmith originating in Germanic heroic legend, described by Jessie Weston as "the weird and malicious craftsman, Weyland".
Wayland's story is most clearly told in the Old Norse sources Völundarkviða (a poem in the Poetic Edda) and Þiðreks saga. 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.
The oldest possible reference known to Wayland the Smith is a gold solidus with a Frisian runic inscription ᚹᛖᛚᚩᛞᚢ wela[n]du 'wayland'. 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.
Wayland's legend is depicted on Ardre image stone VIII, and probably on a tenth-century copper mount found in Uppåkra in 2011. 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.
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.
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). 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. 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. 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.
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) 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.
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. 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.
This son inherits the sword Mimung, and goes on to become one of Thidrek/Didrik's warriors.
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.
Old English references
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
The reference in Waldere is similar to that in Beowulf – the hero's sword was made by Weland – while Alfred the Great in his translation of Boethius asks plaintively: "What now are the bones of Wayland, the goldsmith preeminently wise?":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.
Continental Germanic references
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.)
'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.
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.
In the TV series Robin of Sherwood, Wayland is named as the creator of seven magic swords, including Robin's sword, Albion. Wayland also appears as a character in the spin-off gamebook, Robin of Sherwood: The Sword of the Templar.
In the MMO strategy game "Vikings: War of Clans" one of the ghosts the Shaman can fight is called "Wayland's Bride".
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.
'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.: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.:p. 351
- Gillespie 1973, pp. 142–143.
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