Old English references
Wayland the Smith (Old English: Wēland; Old Norse: Völundr, Velentr; Old High German: Wiolant; Proto-Germanic: *Wēlandaz, from *Wēla-nandaz, lit. “battle-brave”) is a legendary master blacksmith. In Old Norse sources, Völundr appears in Völundarkviða, a poem in the Poetic Edda, and in Þiðrekssaga, and his legend is also depicted on the 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 Dietrich von Bern as the Father of Witige.
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.
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 Anglo-Saxon 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. 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, who 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 Bodvild, Niðhad’s daughter, who he then rapes when she is unconscious. Another female figure is shown in the centre; perhaps Wayland’s helper, or Bodvild 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.
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.
Wayland is associated with Wayland’s Smithy, a burial mound in Oxfordshire. 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, “The Sword of Weland”, which narrates the rise and fall of the god.