Exploring Our Gods and Goddesses – Weyland the Smith

Weyland (also known as Volund) is a legendary blacksmith, which we have references to from both Norse (Þiðrekssaga and the Poetic Edda’s Völundarkviða) and Anglo-Saxon (Beowulf, Deor and Waldere) sources. In the archaeological record we see his story depicted on the Swedish Ardre image stone VIII, the Franks Casket, and a variety of stone cross and monuments throughout England. Weyland has a reputation in folk stories that once he was paid, no matter how impossible the job asked for, that he worked hard to make the impossible possible. His tools and weapons are seen worn by heroes in varying stories, including Beowulf.

Matthew Reames' Photo of Dagfinn's Werenskiold's Weyland @ Oslo City Hall

Blacksmiths represented the luck, fortune, and self-reliance of a community. The weapons the blacksmith made defended the home, supported daily aspects of everday domesticity (cooking, sewing, dinnerware, utensils, etc.), and also helped make the very tools used in agricultural aspects of life: from working the fields, to contending with the livestock. Having a blacksmith in your community meant not only wealth, but that your community was not vulnerable to being preyed upon by others who may literally steal your fortune, or who figuratively would steal your fortune in charging outrageous sums/barters for what you needed. For these reasons, blacksmiths granted a community both fortune and a certain level of independence as well.

In the primary story about Weyland, we see that he had been married, and his wife had disappeared. When looking for her he was captured and hamstrung by order of a greedy King who wanted to have him churning out items so the King could get wealthy. But because Weyland was a blacksmith, he had the skills to overcome his captors and when he did so, he got some (slighty grotesque) justice by turning their heads into goblets, their eyes into jewels, and using their teeth to make a brooch. His ingenuity is such that he is able to even capture birds, and use them to ‘fly’ free of his imprisonment.

But sometimes the mythological seeming stories we have in our literature contain kernels of truth we may not even realize. Many cultures (including the Greek Hephaistos) depict blacksmith Gods as being lamed or malformed in their legs in someway, and that’s because Their depiction imitated the real-life occupational hazards of the craft. In antiquity blacksmiths used arsenic in part of the process to make bronze, as a result many blacksmiths suffered from lameness and cancer caused by the continual exposure to arsenic. So the reason he was hamstrung, may have something to do with this real life side effect of lameness in the legs that many blacksmiths suffered from.

In some of the stories we see that Weyland had a valkyrie for a wife (Hervör Alvitr). In most of the lore, the valkyries are usually named for elements and tools of war, which would make a great deal of sense to pair a maker of weapons and tools used on the battlefield with a chooser of the slain. The skills required for blacksmithing, to a more refined degree, are also the same skills needed for jewelry-smithing. In other accounts, his wife is described as a swan maiden instead.

A debate sometimes exist as to whether or not Weyland should be considered a deity, for what remains of his story seems to suggest he was merely a legendary man or hero. But, even in the limited items that survive from antiquity today, there is a sense that He is much more than merely a man.

In Oxfordshire, England we see a megalithic burial mound (or barrow) that through time was associated by the Saxons to be the site of Weyland’s smithy. According to 13th Century folk tradition associated with the site, if you left a horse and a silver coin there overnight, by morning the horse would be shod with new shoes. Obviously this isn’t a belief that one would associate with a mortal man, but rather with someone more numinous in nature, more extra-special if you will.

We also have sources that describe Weyland as having non-human ancestry. Weyland’s father was the sea giant Wade (or Vadi), and his mother was the sea nymph Wac-hilt. To the Angles, Wade was intimately tied to the Fjords, where he acted as both a ferryman, and also in a capacity that protected the local peoples. Danish folkloric tradition describes Wade wading through the waters with his son Weyland on his back. All throughout England there are a variety of folk beliefs pertaining to actual physical places that connect with Weyland or his father Wade. Stories that describe geologic formations as being Wade’s remains, or being caused by Weyland throwing a troublesome and annoying apprentice out of his smithy.

As mentioned previously, while Weyland’s wife is sometimes described as a valkyrie, she is also sometimes described as a swan maiden. Considering Weyland’s water influenced ancestry, it also makes sense that his wife could be a swan maiden.  While it may seem incongruous to some that a God with such strong connections to the sea and waters is a smith, I don’t feel it’s really all that much of a stretch.

Blacksmiths have to be masters of all the elements. Obviously metal ore is used to craft the tools of his trade, but other elements of the earth from clay, to sand, to dirt, and various minerals are also sometimes used. Fire is an element used to heat and anneal the components so that they can be shaped. Air must be used to both control the flames and heat, but also used to air cool and quench certain items during the annealing process that you can’t afford to use the more rapid method of water-quenching on. If we look to the natural world, these processes are essentially at a geothermic scale the very elements that drive plate tectonics, which are physically seen in Iceland.

From the stories, we get a sense of him as both a clever and industrious worker, but also the sense of someone who had a temper that could burn hotter than any forge. He is both crafter, and destroyer.

As someone who is an amateur jewelry-smith, I have felt the presence of Weyland as I used ball and cross-peen hammers to drive texture into sheets of metal I later worked into other projects. I have felt Him as I grew frustrated when soldered seams and flux weren’t behaving appropriately. He is a God of cunning, of craft, of patience, cleverness, strength and great fortune. I find that He is an excellent God to approach and ask for blessings in new endeavors and projects. And indeed, there are many heathens who approach them asking for just that around around the time of Charming of the Plough. Others like to honor Him at Walpurgis, due to the fact that in some areas signs and tokens of local area businesses are found on top of local area Maypole’s in Europe.

Hail to thee Weyland,
Crafter of Ways,
Swift nimble-fingers
Fanning the blaze.
Clever and cunning,
Scheming and wise,
Metal and Hammer
Brought forth a prize
Ripe are your blessings
Full with great wealth
So we do greet you
Community’s health.
Hail Weyland!

2 thoughts on “Exploring Our Gods and Goddesses – Weyland the Smith

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