Wayland the Smith - Magical Professions

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Wayland the Smith
Magical Professions

Wayland the Smith is also known as Weyland, Woland and Völund, depending on region. The legend of Wayland, Saxon Lord of Smithcraft, appears throughout Teutonic territories, most famously in an Icelandic saga but also in Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, Germanic, and Nordic sources.

Wayland learned smithcraft from the dwarves. In his very earliest incarnations, Wayland is an Elven King and the creator of many magical objects. In his most famous tale, Wayland encounters a swan maiden (Valkyrie) bathing in a lake. He steals her feather cloak and she is obliged to remain with him. He falls deeply in love with her and they live happily together for a while—in some versions for as long as seven years. Eventually however, for reasons unknown, the Valkyrie flies away.

Wayland pines for her but remains faithful. He waits, living by her sacred lake, working in his forge, making beautiful things he intends to give his beloved on her return, especially magical, golden rings.

King Nidud of the Swedes and his sons discover Wayland and lust for his gold. They steal his treasures and kidnap him, keeping him imprisoned on a small island complete with smithy. Nidud orders Wayland to produce treasure for him, and he has the sacred blacksmith lamed to prevent his escape and to compel Wayland to serve.

The power of the metalworker trumps all; Wayland begins his process of revenge. He lures Nidud’s two sons to his island with promises of wealth. He kills them and converts their skulls into spectacular jeweled drinking cups.

Ironworking magic is intensely intertwined with sexual capacity and fertility, and metalworkers are traditionally identified with sorcery and spell-craft. Wayland causes the king to lose sexual prowess and vitality; because of this, Nidud stops sleeping with his wife. The queen secretly visits Wayland, and begs him, as a sorcerer, to give her a spell to regain her husband’s affections. He agrees but tells her the price is one night of love: she must spend the night in Wayland’s bed. He assures her that in return she will be the mother of a king.

Further Reading: Various works detail the spiritual and magical traditions surrounding iron and metalworking. Sandra Barnes’ Africa’s Ogun (Indiana University Press, 1997) and Patrick R. McNaughton’s The Mande Blacksmiths (Indiana University Press, 1993) detail the still vibrant traditions of Africa. Nor Hall’s Irons in the Fire (Station Hill, 2002) explores the worldwide poetry and mysteries associated with ironworking.

The next day he gives her the two skull cups, telling her to serve the king wine within them. She does. The king, having drunk deeply, hears the supernal voices of his sons and realizes he has violated a major taboo, akin to cannibalism, by drinking from their skulls. He commits suicide. In the meantime, Wayland has constructed wings for himself and flies away to freedom. The queen discovers she is pregnant with Wayland’s child. She sees him flying away and reproaches him bitterly: he assures her that he is an accurate prophet and that all he has told her is true. In fact, the son she bears does become the next king. Wayland’s son, unlike the previous king, turns out to be a caring, ethical, responsible ruler.

Wayland makes cameos in various myths and sagas including Beowulf, where he forges tools for the hero. Eventually, smiths would be diabolized rather than deified and Wayland’s name would become a synonym for Satan. He may or may not appear, in this guise, in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita. (See CREATIVE ARTS: Literature.)