[Main Index] [About Jordsvin] [Asatru Information] [Young Heathens Page] [Fun Stuff] [Asatru Events] [Norse Links]
Published in The Troth's Journal, "Idunna"
Greatly inspired by Vol. V of The Road to Bifrost by Thor and Audrey Sheil, back in print at:
Wayland Smith is a very enigmatic character in our Germanic Heathen lore. First of all, there’s the matter of his very name, which appears in many forms, mostly due to the divergence of the various Germanic languages over time. Wayland or Weyland is the English version (from Anglo-Saxon Weland or Welond), but Völundr (hence modern Icelandic Völundur) is the Norse form, and Wieland or Wielant is his name in Germany. The variant Velint also occurs (Grimm, 376-377). Thus, he is a pan-Germanic figure.
What his name actually means is unknown. It has been suggested that its root is in words for a “wood,” making him originally a forest God (Grimm, 376). It may also contain a Norse element “vél,” referring to an art or craft (op. cit., 378).
His “ethnic identity” is also a matter of speculation. He is held by some to be of the son of a king of the Finns (Hollander, 159-160), which could just as easily mean Lappish/Sámi. Nevertheless, he is also called an Alf (Grimm, 444). Given Ingvi Freyr’s association with Alfheim, this could well ally Wayland with the Vanir (North, 53-54). While Wayland’s story is a very human one and some see him as a heroic man, many Heathens today blót him as a God, and a rather important one at that, whether or not the “old-timers” did (which is something we will probably never know). He is blóted in particular by those seeking help in works of craftsmanship (Gundarsson, 121). He plays a particularly significant role in contemporary Anglo-Saxon Heathenism (Wodening, 95).
Despite all the confusion surrounding the person of Wayland Smith, his family tree at least is well-known. He is descended from a mermaid or sea-giantess called Frau Wâchilt. A king, “Vilkinus,” (re)named after the Roman Vulcan, another lame Smith-God, is said to have met her at sea and fathered a son on her at her instigation (Ellis Davidson, 131). Vilkinus’ original name is unknown. Their son is known as Vadi (Wada in Anglo-Saxon and Wade, still used a given name, in modern English). Wade, whose stories were remembered as late as Chaucer’s time, actually waded over the Grœnasund in Denmark, through water nine yards deep carrying his young son Wayland (Grimm, 376-377). Wayland himself fathered Wittich by the princess Baduhilt (op. cit, 377). Their names, like his, also have several forms: Beadohild, Böðvildr; Witeche, Widia, who is described as a “Goth” (North, 167). Wayland’s wife is the Valkyrie/swan maiden Hervör alvitr, and his brothers are Slagfiðr and Egill (Slagfid; Eigel, Egil).
What a lineage and what deeds were Wayland’s: grandson of a giantess, husband of a Valkyrie, son of a king, a man who begot his own son on a king’s daughter, and a man who was called an Alf. It is no surprise that he is worshipped by many as a God. The entire family can be seen both as heroes and as “ghostly beings and demigods” (Grimm, 378). It is interesting to note that in Wayland there are connections between Jotnar of the sea and those of their kind who dwell in the depths of the Earth and caves of the mountains (Ellis Davidson, 131).
Here is Wayland’s story in brief. Wayland and his brothers married swan maidens whom they met at their dwelling at Wolfdales by Wolf Lake. After seven years their wives returned to their duties as Valkyries, leaving their husbands desolate. While Wayland’s brothers went in search of their wives, Wayland chose to remain home in case his returned there (Hollander, 160). He was then captured by a Swedish (Hollander, 159) king called Nithad (also known as Nidud), robbed of his sword and ring, hamstrung, and forced to work for him on an island near the king’s abode. Wayland gained revenge by secretly killing Nithad’s two sons and making ghastly but beautiful treasures for the royal family from their skulls, eyes and teeth. He then seduced or raped Böðvildr (opinions vary as to which; she was drunk at the time) and flew away with the aid of mechanical wings he had forged (Gundarsson, 121).
Most of his story is told in the poem “Völundarkviða” of the Poetic Edda. A more embellished account appears in Þriðreks Saga (Hollander, 159; Gundarsson, 121). A detailed retelling of and discussion of Wayland’s story both in its Anglo-Saxon and later Norse contexts, along with the pros and cons of using the far more extant Norse lore to reconstruct Anglo-Saxon literature and beliefs can be found in Lost Gods of England (Branston, 7-14). Suffice it to say that the fragments of Wayland’s story preserved in extant Anglo-Saxon literary and artistic works would not form a coherent narrative without recourse to the Norse versions written down five hundred years later. By the way, one reason for the need to piece back together Wayland’s story today is that in the “old days” it was so well and universally known that no one felt the need to write it down! Remember that the writing of the Prose Edda was a response by Snorri Sturluson to the decline in accurate mythological knowledge among young Icelanders of his day, who as a result were botching their attempts to write in the traditional mythology-based poetic styles.
From Wayland’s deeds as they have come down to us, it is possible to attempt a reconstruction of his character. He is consistently calculating and possessed of a very keen mind. He is also capable of loving and hating with great intensity (Wodening, 94-95). He did nothing by half measures, which perhaps should not surprise us seeing that he was a skilled and meticulous craftsman!
Individual experiences from actually doing religious workings with Wayland can do much to flesh out what we know of him. Thor Sheil provides a wealth of ideas which can be checked with extant lore and our own personal experiences. He sees Wayland as the “archetypal” worker in metals. He is a fitting patron for craftsfolk, whether they work in metal or other media. Those involved in any kind of metalworking, such as welding, forges, steelwork or mills, or even mechanics of any sort would to well to invoke him.
He considers the “Alfs” of which Wayland was a lord to be Svart-Alfs, identified with the Dwarves, whose skill in metalworking need not be recounted here. The weapons, jewels and magical items forged by Wayland, and for that matter, the Dwarves, can be seen as symbolically providing a recognizable form for divine attributes. The “Alfs,” Swart or otherwise, provide vehicles by which energies can be acknowledged (and put to use). I would remind readers of the use of weapons in our ritual and magical work.
Heathens who fare forth into the Spae-Realms often see Wayland as a strong, dark-haired man whose facial features recall those of an Elf. He may be balding, tanned, and have graying hair. He is usually holding some sort of blacksmith’s tools, such as a hammer and tongs. He has powerful but very dexterous hands, capable of fine work. He may be invoked in all productive uses of fire, forges and kilns. He is a good teacher of both the physical and magical uses of metals and gemstones. He can teach how to make excellent items from unusual materials. Please note that these need not include the body parts of slaughtered enemies! Wayland is friendly, but wary at first. Considering his life experiences, that is exactly what one would expect! Repeated journeywork to visit him tends to encourage him to “open up” and divulge more information. As can be seen from the depths of emotion he experienced in Völundskviða, he is a sentimental man (Sheil; 68-69, 101).
His flying machine indicates to many modern Heathens that he is associated with the aircraft industry, including designers, mechanics, pilots, and anyone else whose occupation revolves around flying. There are also those who interpret Wayland’s flying machine as a clue that he is a useful teacher and patron for faring forth, journey work, and other techniques associated with Seiðr and Spae-working (Sheil; 68-69, 101). While by no means proven, this would be worth checking out by practitioners of these arts, given that in many cultures, smiths are seen as also being or at least having strong connections with shamans and magicians (Kodratoff, 138-139). While on the surface, Wayland is not a magician or a Seiðr-worker, and his creations are simply exceedingly well-wrought rather than “magical,” and he flies only in Midgard, further exploration might uncover deeper layers of his work!
It is easy to see why folks would impute magic to smiths. They start with some rocks dug from out of the ground (ore), and by a series of involved processes change their form and substance into something bright, beautiful, useful, and utterly unlike the original dull stones. If Óðinn used magic to change a twig into a spear and calf’s gut into a rope in order to claim a king vowed to him in sacrifice, then is not the transformation of ore into finished metalwork in its own way just as magical? In the Spae-Realms, Wayland might be of particular help in meeting Alfs both Light and Dark, and in safely gaining access to their realms and what they might teach you there.
For blóting Wayland, red, black, gold and metallic colors seem to work best, as do scents with a metallic twinge. Oak and ash woods are favored. Wolves, bears and hawks seem to have an affinity for him. Stones you might want to use (or offer) include hematite (an iron ore by the way), bloodstone, and jasper. Hammers, swords and axes are most typically “his” weapons. His energy tends to come through as a red, fiery force. Patience and persistence are required in order to invoke him. He will not come easily at first. Take the time to get to know him, and he can be a fine teacher and helper, especially for journeymen and apprentices of any sort. With experience, you may find that all in all he is not a bad Wight at all (Sheil; 68-69, 101).
Wayland’s memory, not surprisingly, was preserved longest among smiths. He is commemorated in a number of place names in various lands, including Wayland’s Smithy in England, which is a Bronze Age barrow located near the White Horse at Uffington (Owen, 39). There was also a site known as Wayland Smith’s Cave, which may or may not be the same place as his Smithy. The sources I found were contradictory on this point. Be that as it may, it was believed that if one’s horse needed shoeing, that if the horse were left there with sixpence that Wayland would come do the job while the owner was gone. It is said that gifts for Wayland are left there even to this day (Wodening, 94).
We know that his story was known among the Heathen English due to its inclusion as one of the carvings of the famous Franks casket (Hollander, 159), as well as his being mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon works Beowulf, Deor, and the Waldere fragment (Wodening, 94). Icelandic and Danish names for the medicinal herb valerian, original source of Valium, also contain his name. These are “velantsurt” and “velandsurt” respectively. Other plants, as well as places, also bore his name. Any outstanding piece of metalwork might be praised by calling it his work (Grimm, 377), fitting for one seen as the greatest among smiths.
Even when the Gods were largely forgotten, the stories of Wayland and his kin lived on. As already mentioned, the stories of Wada/Wade, father of Wayland were known in England as late as the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, who seems to have known him as an aider and abettor of illicit affairs (North, 170). It seems that Wayland came by his penchant for unusual and even illicit unions honestly!
The carver of the Frank’s casket saw nothing strange about depicting Wayland’s story right next to the adoration of the infant Jesus by the Magi (Owen, 158). Rock carvings of the Viking Age, in both Sweden and England, depict scenes from Wayland’s legend. The arrival of the Vikings may even have given the old heroic tales new popularity in England, where they were of course already known since the arrival of the invaders and settlers who would become the Anglo-Saxons (Owen, 172-173).
Wayland has not lost his appeal even in modern times. He appears in Rudyard Kipling’s historical fairy tale Puck of Pook’s Hill (Owen, 39). He was also mentioned by Sir Walter Scott (Wodening, 94), and was a character in his novel Kenilworth.
In terms of books specifically about Wayland Smith, I was only able to locate the following three: Weland: Smith of the Gods by Ursula Synge, illustrated by Charles Keeping, Wayland Wonder Smith of the Gods by Julian Darble (which I have also seen spelled as “D’Arbie” and “Darbie”), published by Arktion / ECCAARTH on April 1, 1999, ISBN: 1872543251 and Myths and Mysteries of Wayland Smith by Clive Spinage from David Brown Book Company online. Only the first one of these is available via interlibrary loan in the United States.
Nevertheless, Wayland has developed quite a presence on the Internet. Think about it for a moment: computers are a sort of crafted item (although they have Odinic and Lokian overtones as well), and the Internet a means to “travel” in a certain sense! From my “faring forth” on the World Wide Web, I was able to obtain and return with much of interest, although I must insert the caveat that I also saw lore errors both great and small on some sites. Here are some of the more interesting things that I found. There is a science fiction writer named Wayland Smith. Volund is the name of a line of fancy Scandinavian sweaters, evidently made in Norway.
Not surprisingly given the strength of tradition there, Völundur is still used as a given name in Iceland. One Völundur is a gourmet chef; another is a power lifter! Both of these seem appropriate. Fine cooks (who also fall under the guardianship of Ran and Ægir) finely craft their products, at times from unlikely ingredients. As metalwork has become increasingly mechanized and in a sense impersonal and dehumanized, many look to the stove as a forge, foodstuffs as a replacement in a sense for raw metals, and the spoon and fork as hammer and tongs. For that reason, many modern Heathens celebrate Wayland Smith Day at Thanksgiving (Lake). As for the power lifter, if apprentice blacksmiths start off physically weak, they don’t stay that way for very long, and of course require large and regular feedings!
At the same time, one of my favorite consultants on language and lore, Ms. Ingeborg S. Nordén, informs me that her Anglo-Saxon Heathen contacts blót Wayland Smith on or around Thanksgiving Day (late November in the USA) because of the Feast of St. Clement, patron of blacksmiths, which falls on Nov. 23rd. They believe that many of Wayland’s attributes in English folklore were transferred to him, and that they as contemporary Heathens are simply stealing back from Christianity what they stole from Heathenry to begin with. Since Thanksgiving Day is only celebrated in the USA and Canada (which celebrates it more than a month before the American observance), St. Clement’s Day is the best explanation for a late November feast of Wayland Smith anywhere outside the United States. Nevertheless, I do like the reasoning behind the custom of combining Thanksgiving Day with Wayland Smith’s day and blót!
Here are a couple of fiction websites about Wayland:
http://www.thorshof.org/smith.htm “The Smith of Dragon Hill” by Thorskegga Thorn (this is a Heathen site) and http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_runes.htm “The Runes on Weland’s Sword," by Rudyard Kipling it would appear.
Wayland Smith has even managed to journey into the worlds of role-playing gaming, as have other Heathen Wights. Many have first been exposed to Heathenry via their love of fiction and gaming. http://www.gaminggeeks.org/Resources/KateMonk/England-Saxon/Religion.htm.
Artists have also found inspiration in the deeds of Wayland Smith. Here is a modern painting of him, from the Heathen site I just mentioned, again by Thorskegga Thorn: http://www.thorshof.org/weylandpic.htm.
In conclusion, the story of Wayland Smith is in some ways not very different from our own, although it is written much larger, so to speak. Most of us have loved and lost, created things of lasting value despite our sorrows, and at times soared above our problems and on to a new and hopefully better life. The end of Wayland’s tale is fittingly open. We do not know whence he fared after flying away from the scene of his revenge. Nor aside from death, a debt we must all pay, do we know where life will take us! Wayland’s life can be seen as an example of the essential impermanence of the human condition, both of our joys and our sorrows (Alexander, 14-15). However, it is at the same time and almost in defiance of all this, a testimony to the enduring hope that continues to urge us forward.
Alexander, Michael, trans. The Earliest English Poems. London: Penguin Books, Ltd.,
1991. This is the 3rd edition of this text. While Anglo-Saxon literature as it has come
down to us is very self-consciously Christian, much of the old Heathen spirit remains,
along with very useful tidbits of surviving Heathenism.
Branston, Brian. The Lost Gods of England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.
Slightly dated scholarship but still mostly valid. Very readable and enjoyable and
well-illustrated in black and white. Based on the phrasing of a poem
translated/adapted from Latin into Anglo-Saxon over 1,000 years ago, this work
allegorizes its efforts to reconstruct the beliefs of the Heathen English as a search for
Wayland’s bones. Out of print, but easily available via interlibrary loan.
Ellis Davidson, H. R. Gods and Myths of the Viking Age. New York: Barnes and
Noble, 1996. Originally published as Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, a less
accurate title. In any case, this book is essential reading for any Heathen, and one of
the first books I would recommend to a beginning student.
Grimm, Jacob, trans. James Steven Stallybrass. Teutonic Mythology. New York, Dover
Publications, 1966. This four volume work is a real treasure, as it both includes an
enormous amount of scholarly information and preserves much folklore still extant in
the 19th century that would now otherwise be lost. In print again, for $119 at
www.amazon.com and well worth every penny. Just search for “Teutonic Mythology
(4 vol. set).”
Gundarsson, Kveldulf. Teutonic Religion: Folk Beliefs and Practices of the Northern
Tradition. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1993. A great “how-to” Heathen book.
One of the best Llewellyn has ever printed, in my opinion. Currently only available as
an e-book for US $12 at http://www.aswynn.phpwebhosting.com/home1.html
Please note that this URL is NEW and that Freya Aswynn has a number of other fine
selections there as well. Please support Heathen writers and merchants by shopping
there and by NOT giving out copies of your downloaded purchases to others!
Hollander, Lee M. The Poetic Edda, (Second Edition, Revised). Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1962. This translation is readily available and partially for that reason
is used frequently by English-speaking Heathens. Another reason is that the
translator makes an effort to retain a sense of the poetry of the original. On the minus
side, the poetic style and use of archaic words makes it somewhat difficult to follow at
Kodratoff, Yves. Nordic Magic Healing: Healing galdr, healing runes. n.p.: Universal
Publishers USA, 2003. This is the first volume of a planned three-volume series. The
second and third volumes will be Screaming, I gathered them (title is from Odin’s
Rune Song in the Hávamál) and Hand healing, Shiatsu and Seið: a spiritual journey.
It contains information for using Runes and Galdr for healing. Information is
incorporated from civilizations adjacent to Germanic areas, such as Finnish and
Gaelic, and practices from other areas are also discussed. However, the overall
viewpoint is Heathen. It is a practical hands-on guide for the practitioner, but not an
attempt at an archeological reconstruction of the techniques. To my knowledge, this
300-page book is the only one of its kind. Well worth ordering from
www.uPUBLISH.com/books/kodratoff.htm ($9 as an e-book or $29.95 for a nicely-
printed paperback). Also check out Yves’ website at www.nordic-life.org/nmh.
Lake, Nathan. Weland the Smith and Thanksgiving Day. Copyright 1999.
http://www.geocities.com/sessrumnirkindred/weylandsmith.html. A fine, thought-
provoking page and a good example of using the old lore in new ways.
North, Richard. Heathen Gods in Old English Literature. Cambridge (England):
Cambridge University Press, 1997. Assembles and analyzes the surprising number of
references ( in light of their early Christianization and the very self-consciously
Christian nature of their literature) in Anglo-Saxon literature to that people’s Heathen
religion. $85 on amazon.com, so you might want to check Interlibrary Loan at your
public library. Very highly recommended for the advanced Heathen scholar or any
Owen, Gale R. Rites and Religions of the Anglo-Saxons. New York: Barnes and Noble,
1996. Originally published in 1981, this book covers both the Germanic Heathenism
and the Catholic Christianity practiced by the early English. Definitely recommended.
Sheil, Thor and Audrey. The Road to Bifrost Volume V: The Mysteries on Bifrost’s
Path. New York: Trollwise Press, 1991. Part of a unique, unpretentious, and well-
written, six-volume Heathen series. Highly useful, especially for hands-on work with our Gods
and Goddesses. Married to a Norwegian-American from whose family he has picked up attitudes
toward Swedes typical in that nation, Thor takes delight in pointing out the Swedishness of the
wicked King Nithad.
Wodening, Swain. Hammer of the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism in Modern Times.
Little Elm, TX: Angleseaxisce Ealdriht, 2003. A complete, well-written, and very
readable “how-to” book on the subject. Highly recommended. Order online from
http://www.booksurge.com; search by title for “Hammer of the Gods.”
last modified 05/04/2010