Saturday, 5 November 2011

Wayland the Smith

"Where now are the bones
of Wayland the wise,
that goldsmith
so glorious of yore .....?
Who now wots of the bones
of Wayland the wise
or which is the low
where they lie ?"
Wayland was well known to the folk of England as the supreme smith of the gods.
His father was a sea-giant recognized by the coastal tribes of the North Sea and the Baltic. The story goes that Wayland’s grandfather was a Finnish King called Villcinus, who was seduced by a beautiful young woman Wachilde one day while walking through a forest. Later she rose from the sea and stopped his ship. When she told him that she was to bear his child he took her on board. After the birth of the child she disappeared back to the sea. The child was named Wade and grew up to be a giant with an affinity for, and power over the ocean. He was also possessed of great strength.
    (a Wada Hælsingum is mentioned in line 22 of Widsith : “Wade (ruled) the Hælsings”)

Wade later had a son; Wayland.
In Thidrek’s Saga it is told how Wade forded the deep channel of Groenasund between two Danish islands with his little son on his shoulders. Later, Wade took his son to learn smith-craft from the giant Mimir and later from two dwarfs. Weland seems to get confused with his father in the sagas : he also is said to have “strode through water nine yards deep” with his child Widia on his shoulders. Widia became a hero. Weland gave him the sword Mimming (either forged by Mimir or by Weland himself) to fight the Germanic hero Dietrich.
This is mentioned in Waldere line 2-3 :

        Welande(s)    worc ne geswiceð
        monna ænigum    ðara ðe Mimming can
        hear(d) ne gehealdan;

        "Weland’s work does not betray any man who can hold Mimming hard"

The story of Wayland is mentioned in Deor’s Lament [lines 1-13] :

        Weland him be wurman   wræces cunnade,
        anhydig eorl,     earfoþa dreag,
        hæfde him to gesiþþe   sorge ond longaþ
        wintercealde wræce;       wean oft onfond,
        siþþan hine Niðhad on    nede legde,
        swoncre seonobende    on syllan monn.
           Þæs ofereode:    þisses swa mæg.

        Beaudohilde ne wæs      hyre broþra deað
        on sefan swa sar,   swa hyre sylfre þing,
        þæt heo gearolice    ongieten h`fde
        þæt heo eacen wæs;     æfre ne meahte
        þriste geþencan,    hu ymb þæt sceolde.
          Þæs ofereode:    þisses swa mæg.

        “Weland, entramelled, understood wrack.
        He, stubborn eorl, suffered privation,
        had, as companions, sorrow and longing,
        a wintry-cold exile; experienced woes
        often, once Nithhad laid need upon him,
        lithe sinew-bonds on the better man.
          That passed away; so may this !

        Beaudohild didn’t for her brothers’ deaths
        feel as sore-stricken as she did for herself,
        when all too plainly she’d perceived
        that she was pregnant; nor ever could she
        consider boldly the outcome of that.
          That passed away; so may this !”

The story of Wayland is also illustrated on [at least] one panel of the Frank’s Casket
and also on the 10th C Anglian “Leeds Cross”which shows Weland escaping by means of a flying machine.
Wayland on the Franks Casket, circa 7th century
Most detail, however, comes from the Lay of Völundr in the Poetic Edda. Here, the story is told as it would have been in England;
Three swan-maidens flew from the south over Mirkwood to Wolfdales to fulfil their fate. They alighted by the shore of a lake and, discarding their swan plumage, proceeded to disport themselves in the water. Their names were Allwhite (Ealhwit), Swanwhite (Swanhwit) and Olrun and they were daughter of kings.
Three brothers, Ægil*, Slagfid and Wayland, came upon them there and seeing their beauty, secured their swan-cloaks. Thus constrained, the three maidens were rendered earthbound and became the men’s wives : Ægil took Olrun, Slagfid took Swanwhite  while Allwhite ‘threw her arms around the white neck of Weland’.
 (* also known as Earendel, the Morning Star or, in Old Norse, Orvandil) 
For seven years they lived together in love; but, during the eighth, the maidens were disturbed by longing to return to Mirkwood and in the ninth year they somehow found the place where the brothers had hidden their swan-cloaks. As soon as they put them on, the spell was broken and they effected their escape.

The three princes were much put out when they came home from hunting to find their loves had flown the nest and two of the brothers decided to go out and search for them. Ægil went east searching for Olrun, Slagfid went west to look for Swanwhite but Weland waited alone in Wolfdales, where he occupied his time in contemplating a golden ring which Allwhite had given him as a love token. He indulged the constant hope that she would return to him. As he was a most gifted smith, he employed his leisure in making 700 jewelled rings exactly like the one his wife had given him. These, when finished, he bound together on a bast rope.

Now Niðad, King of the Niars, having been told of Weland’s being alone in Wolfdales, saw his opportunity. Under the cover of darkness he sent out a party of armed men, whose studded corslets and metal-clasped shields glinted in the waning moonlight. Wayland had gone out hunting, so the hall was deserted and so the riders were able to steal one of the smith’s cunningly made rings to show to the king. When the hunter returned he made up his fire with brushwood and fir branches and feasted on roasted bear-steaks. He then sat on a bearskin rug and counted his rings. The Prince of Elves found that one was missing and joyfully believed that his lover Allwhite had returned to him. He sat there for so long that he fell into a deep sleep only to be rudely awakened when he felt his wrists being tied and legs fettered.
He  was dragged before King Nithhad who accused him of stealing the gold but Weland retorted that the gold was neither Nithhad’s property nor part of a legendary hoard but rightfully his. Nithhad ignored him and gave Beaudohild, his daughter, the love ring of pure Rhine-gold which he had taken from Weland. Himself, he took the prized magical sword which Weland owned. However, Nithhad’s malicious queen was wary of this wolfish smith from the wilds and gave council to the king.
 “See, O King, how he bares his teeth in craving when he sees that sword. He recognises that ring you gave to Beaudohild too ! His eyes are those of a serpent ! Let his leg sinews be cut and set him down on the island of Sævarstod”.

Nithhad did as his wife bade, and so Weland was cruelly hamstrung and marooned on a small island near the shore of the mainland and set to forge and fashion all kinds of jewellery work. No one save the king was allowed to visit him. Always he longed for his cunningly tempered blade which now hung at Nithhad’s belt and yearned for his lover’s golden ring now adorning Beaudohild’s finger. He slept not but plied his hammer, quickly producing treasure after treasure for Nithhad but planning revenge.

Some while later, Wayland’s brother, Ægil the Archer, also became the captive of  Nithhad. He was put to work helping Wayland. After his brother had apprised him of his plan, Ægil swiftly shot a number of swans and, making use of these feathers, Wayland contrived a pair of magical wings, similar to those his wife had used as a Wælcyrie. These he intended to don as soon as his vengeance had been accomplished. He and Ægil also planned this escape in detail.
One day Nithhad came to visit his captive bringing with him the stolen sword to be repaired. This he accomplished but cleverly substituted another inferior weapon so exactly like the magical sword that the king was fooled completely when he came to reclaim it.

Now Nithhad’s two young sons were greedy and made their way slyly to the island  and Wayland’s smithy there. They demanded the keys to his strong-box and to see all his treasures, jewels and gems. When they saw the multitude of necklaces of red gold and other treasures, avarice welled in their hearts. Wayland, however, cunningly promised them that if they told no-one of their visit and came to see him the next day, he would give all the treasure to them to keep themselves. Early the next morning the credulous pair were knocking on the smith’s door but instead of gold they found death for Wayland swiftly cut of their heads and buried the bodies under the dung heap outside the smithy. When they did not return that evening it was presumed that they had drowned and Nithhad grieved but suspected nothing. Wayland kept the boys heads, de-fleshed them and mounted the skulls in silver to make exotic drinking vessels, which he presented to Nithhad and received great praise for. By his arts, he transformed the boys’ eyes into exotic precious stones which he sent to the boys’ mother and of their teeth he craftily made two breast ornaments for Beaudohild.

Beaudohild was intrigued and curious to see the smith; so she broke the ring which her father had stolen from Wayland, making this an excuse to visit him in secret. She began by praising the ring and begged that he repair it secretly :
    “I dare tell no-one save you alone !” she confessed.
Wayland promised to repair the break in the ring so that it would be as good as new. Then, seeing his chance, brought them both horns of strong ale. Beaudohild was quite unused to so potent a brew and became drowsy. She made no outcry when he then had his way with her and the two stayed together some days. One morning, the smith, by his arts, knew that the girl was pregnant. His last act of vengeance accomplished he prepared to depart. Leaving the girl sleeping, Weland donned the ingenious wings he had crafted and taking his sword and ring, rose slowly into the air. He flew to the king’s hall and perched on the roof, out of reach and called out to Nithhad’s queen to fetch her husband. She hurried into the darkened hall, where the king was sitting slumped in a chair.
   “Are you awake, Nithhad, Lord of the Niars ?” she shouted. “Wayland is escaped and demands converse with you”.
   “You know well I sleep little, deprived of all joy, since the death of my sons, woman !” quoth the king; “but I will have speech with Weland.”

The king left his hall and called out to the smith perched on top of the roof.
  “Tell me Wayland, Prince of Elves”, he shouted, “what has become of my healthy young cubs ?”
Before answering, Weland first had Nithhad swear that he would do no harm to his pregnant girlfriend and when that was accomplished told Nithhad to look for the bodies in the dung-heap outside his forge. He also told his of the origin of the unusual drinking vessels and ornaments.

“And Beaudohild, your only child, is now with child by me ! ” he gloated.

Nithhad, beside himself with rage, and unable to get at the impudent Wayland sat on the roof of the hall, summoned Ægil, Wayland’s brother who he held in thrall, and bade him use his marvellous skill with a bow to bring down the impudent bird. At a pre-arranged signal from Weland, Ægil aimed for a swelling under his brother’s wing and loosed a killing arrow. The unerring shaft struck and gouts of blood spurted forth. With a loud cry, Weland sprang into the air and flew off. The blood, however, was not Weland’s but came from a concealed bladder which he had filled with blood from the dead princes against such an event. He flew away triumphant, without hurt, knowing his brother to be safe from Nithhad’s wrath.
Meanwhile, the weeping Beaudohild had left Weland’s island, grieving for the loss of her lover and terrified of her father’s fury. She was brought before Nithhad and collapsed at his feet.
  “Is it true, Beaudohild, what the smith told me”snarled the King. “Were you and Weland together on that island ?”.
Beaudohild raised her face from the ground and wept.
   “Yes, it is true”she cried,“alone and terrified, I came under his spell and was unable to resist him !”
Daedalus and Icarus

Some tales tell that Weland returned with an army and took Beaudohild from her family and that she bore him a son, Widia, who became a great hero. Others state that Weland flew to Ælfham, where he was reunited with his beloved wife Eallhwit. There he plied his craft, making wonderful shining ring-byrnies and numerous legendary swords including Sigmund’s and Charlemagne’s as well as Miming which he gave to his son.

Weland was thus the supreme craftsman to the Old English and we must note the similarity between Weland and the lame Greek God Hephaestos and to Daedalus the artificer, who also soared on home-made wings. Robert Graves argues that these are one and the same : Daedalus means “brightly or cunningly-wrought”. Daedalus was said to have designed the Labyrinth of Knossos and, interestingly, one tale tells that Niðad also compelled Wayland to build an intricate labyrinth. A maze in Iceland is to this day still known as ‘Völundr’s House’ !

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