Wayland the Smith

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Wayland the Smith, wearing the wings he had fashioned

In Germanic mythology, Wayland the Smith (Old English: Wēland; Old Norse: Völundr, Velentr; Old High German: Wiolant; Galans (Galant) in Old French;[1] Proto-Germanic: *Wēlandaz German: Wieland der Schmied; from *Wēla-nandaz, lit. "battle-brave"[2]) is a legendary master blacksmith, described by Jessie Weston as "the weird and malicious craftsman, Weyland".[3] In Old Norse sources, Völundr appears in Völundarkviða, a poem in the Poetic Edda, and in Þiðreks saga, and his legend is also depicted on 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 Theoderic the Great as the Father of Witige.[3]

Old Norse 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.

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 took her ring to Völundr for mending, he took the ring and seduced her, fathering a son. He then escaped, using wings he made.

Völundr made the magic sword Gram (also named Balmung and Nothung) and the magic ring that Thorsten retrieved.

The Scandinavian Thidrekssaga/Didrikssaga also includes a version of Wayland's story.[4] This part of the saga is sometimes called Velents þáttr smiðs. The events described at King Niðung's (Nidhad's) court 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 him escape). However, the rest of the story is different. It tells of how Wayland was the son of a giant named Wade, 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 also tells of the birth of a son, Wideke/Viðga, to Wayland and Nidung's daughter. This son goes on to become one of Thidrek/Didrik's warriors.

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.[5]

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 Old English 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[6] – while Alfred the Great in his translation of Boethius asks plaintively: "What now are the bones of Wayland, the goldsmith preeminently wise?"[7]:p. 29 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.[8]

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.[9] English literature was also aware of his giant father Wade.[3]

Adaptations in music[edit]

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.


Wayland is associated with Wayland's Smithy, a burial mound in the Berkshire Downs.[7]: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.[7]:p. 351

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gillespie 1973, pp. 142–143.
  2. ^ Rosenfeld, Hellmut (1969). Der Name Wieland, Beiträge zur Namenforschung.[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. ^ Sagan om Didrik af Bern. utgiven av Gunnar Olof Hyltén-Cavallius, Norstedt, Stockholm, 1850–1854
  5. ^ Pollington, Steve (Transl.) (1997). "deor". Wiðowinde. 100: 64. Archived from the original on 10 April 1997. Retrieved 18 March 2017. (Subscription required (help)). The home page for this print journal can he found here.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b c Shippey, Tom (2014). The Road to Middle-earth: Revised and Expanded Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780547524412.
  8. ^ Henderson, G. (1977) [1972]. Early Medieval Art. London: Penguin, p. 157.[full citation needed]
  9. ^ All noted in Hall, Richard (1995). Viking Age Archaeology In Britain & Ireland, Shire Archaeology Series (60), (Shire: 1990) p. 40

Further reading[edit]

  • Larrington, Carolyne (transl.) (1996). The Poetic Edda. Oxford World's Classics. ISBN 0-19-283946-2.
  • Mortensson-Egnund, Ivar (transl.) (2002). Edda: The Elder Edda and the Prose Edda. Oslo: Samlaget. ISBN 82-521-5961-3.
  • 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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